Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Race, Space and the Body

Oh joy! The quarter is finally, almost over. That means some me-time for doing my own writing. And it also means looking forward to teaching a new class, new students next year. (Damn... it's "next year" already.)

This quarter ended on a pretty high-note for me because I got to "teach" my first class ever - i.e. I got the opportunity to guest lecture in the class I T.A. for - Intro to Asian American Studies. I think it went pretty well, but the reason it feels so good is: 1) because I finally got to talk about stuff I really care about; 2) although prepping was a little stressful, it was a lot of fun and I got to be a little creative with it; 3) I was professor-for-a-day - i.e. I felt like I was finally on my way (a bit of an exaggerated response, perhaps... but still.)

In any case, here's my lecture from yesterday. I've learnt that the best way for me to prep, at least for now, is to write out much of how I would "speak it." I rarely ever refer to my notes when I'm actually teaching, but I think the fact that I've written stuff out really helps. It's like performing your lecture in your mind. It is a little time consuming sometimes and I probably won't be able to do it once I start teaching for real, but, for now, it works well for me.

Warning: The stuff in here is not theoretically sophisticated. It might in fact even be a bit reductive. But, given that it was a lecture for undergrads, for whom almost all of this was completely new, simplification (over-simplification even) seemed necessary.

Oh, and also... it's choppy.


Race, Space and the Body
Intro to As Am
Dec. 1, 2009

Combine my own research interests with the texts. My own research interest, or obsession, deals with understanding how ideas of “body” and “flesh” play a crucial role in the production of violence. The texts deal primarily with 2 ideas – interpellation and queer critique. So in trying to bring these two sets of interests/ideas together, I am going to center the ideas of “space” and “body” in this lecture. And my primary aim will be to understand how “space” and the “body” are socially produced.

Get to that in a sec. But first, I’d like to note something about the nature of this lecture. I will be discussing two cases that involve a form of sexual violence. I recognize that these issues are often very hard and overwhelming to talk about. I recognize this and will be very cautious about how I talk about it... I don’t want anyone to feel unsafe or uncomfortable. But if you do feel so, it is completely fine if you feel like you need to leave. Or you can come talk to anyone of us about it.

I Lecture Overview
To understand space and body as social productions.
- “space” and the “body” are both not just given, do not have an a priori existence but are in fact socially produced.
- that they emerge from within various discursive practices and social relations.
- race, gender, sex, sexuality, and class both, produce and get produced by, space and the body.

- Space as socially produced: Indigeneity and the case of Pamela George
- Body as socially produced: Queerness and the case of Angie Zapata
- The critical possibilities of queer critique: Puar
- The productivity of space and the body in the politics of interpellation: Chong

II The Case of Pamela George
Show video:

Who is Pamela George?:
Pamela George is a young Canadian Aboriginal woman. In April 1995, Pamela George is found dead in an isolated spot on the outskirts of the city of Regina. Pamela George is from the Sakimay reserve which is also just outside of Regina. But the area where she is found dead is called the Stroll and it is known as a place where people from Regina often engage in sex with Aboriginal women working as prostitutes.

In investigating the death of Pamela George, the police had 2 options, 2 different kinds of spaces to investigate. The first was the Sikmay reserve and the other the city of Regina, which is inhabited primarily by middle- to upper-middle class folks – professionals and students, because the city hosts a university.

For the first three weeks, the police chose to question people on the reserve – family and friends of George’s but each time they came up empty handed. But they persevered in this direction, interviewing people on the reserve and “street people.”

Finally, 3 weeks later the police decide to follow-up on a tip from another Aboriginal woman. This woman had seen George get into a car with 2 young university athletes who she recognized because they had try to solicit her before they picked up George.

The police finally pick up these students, the students acknowledge their involvement with Pamela George, admit that they beat her, but deny that they murdered her. And so the case goes to trial.

These two young men are white, upper middle-class students at the University of Regina. They were both found guilty not of murder, but of manslaughter and sentenced to 6.5 years in prison. But both were released early.

Ok. So these are the bare minimum details of the case.

Q: What does this case tell us about how space is socially produced?
To answer this question, let’s consider the following:
- How is Pamela George marked? What are the social markers through which I described her to you? Aboriginal, woman, prostitute
- What about the defendants? White, middle-class, students
- Next, what are the spaces that they belong to?
George: the reserve (space of indigeneity); the Stroll (space of prostitution)
Defendants: middle class homes; the university

Q: What common understandings or images constitute indigenous communities?
alcohol and drug abuse, poverty/unemployment, domestic violence, high rates of incarceration.
Prostitution is similarly marked.

Q: But what about the defendants? How are they marked?
stable, morally upright, privileged, bright futures, etc.

That is, none of the deviancy or degeneracy associated with indigenous peoples or prostitutes, and the spaces that they inhabit, ever gets associated with the defendants.

And we see this very clearly in who the police chose to interview and who they didn’t really consider.

So for, example, the police found prints from an expensive brand of boots near Pamela George’s body – the kind of boots that neither people on the reserve or “street people” could afford. So, why then did it take them 3 weeks to even consider that somebody from beyond the reserve or the Stroll could be involved?

Here is the testimony of the one of officers involved in that investigation:

Slide: (get someone to read)
Q: Who do you usually suspect when you get a murder?
A: Well- ...
Q: Let me give you a better example. If it’s a woman who’s killed and there is [sic] boyfriends, husbands, are those people often the suspects?
A: Yes.
Q: And that’s simply because of the reality because oftentimes there is violence in relationships?
A: That’s right.
Q: And do you often suspect associates?
A: Yes.
Q: And if a person happens to live a life on the street, involved in that type of world, you might suspect other associates in that area?
A: That’s right?
Q: Did you suspect anybody who was attending the University of Regina when you first got the case?
A: No.
Q: And why not?
A: Nobody had ever come forward or there was never anything to point to anybody there.
Q: And why would you suspect somebody far removed from Pamela George’s life, I take it?
A: Right.
Q: And did you get much, make much headway in this case pursuing the leads where the suspects were street people, people involved in a sort of a lifestyle different, maybe,
than most of us have?

Q: So what do we notice here?
Pamela George’s world is defined as “that type of world,” different, as “far removed” from normalcy, from the worlds that “most of us have” or inhabit.

In these phrasings we see a tacit acknowledgment of the fact that certain spaces, like the reserve and the Stroll, and the bodies that regularly inhabit these spaces, are always marked by violence and degeneracy. So that there is nothing “out of the ordinary” when violence, dispossession or death happen within these spaces.

In fact, before the jury goes off into deliberations, the judge instructs the jury that, while making their decision, the jury should take into account the woman killed was a prostitute. What the judge does here is reinforces the idea that Pamela George’s death is not exceptional because such consequences “come with the job.” Here, George becomes fixed as no more than a prostitute and hence becomes normalization as a subject of violence.

But what about the perpetrators?

In the course of the legal proceedings, we learn that:
1. immediately prior to their meeting with Pamela George, the two defendants had been out drinking and that a day or so after, they had gone off with family and friends on luxury vacations.

2. We also find that they had confided in a couple of friends, and also to one of their mothers, about what had happened.
- They admitted to picking up and beating up an “Indian hooker”.
- One of them reportedly said to a friend, “She deserved it. She was an Indian.” – it is unclear whether that refers to the beating or to the death.

But, in any case, during the legal proceedings, all of this information is explained by the defendants’ lawyer as “the boys did pretty darn stupid things.”

And since they never meant to kill Pamela George, the fact that they beat her up does not reflect violent behavior, but mere drunkness gotten out of hand. The “boys” are afterall from respectable families, with bright futures ahead of them.

Also, the acts that they committed were done in spaces already marked by violence and degeneracy, and to which they do not belong, they were only “visiting,” which they can walk in and out of. So, the mere fact that they entered this place of violence and degeneracy does not reflect on them – it is just another “darn stupid thing” that they did. They entered this space as a cheap thrill. They do not belong to the space and so their actions do not reflect upon them, but rather upon the violence of the space itself.

The actual degeneracy is associated with Pamela George agreeing to get into the car with them and drive to the Stroll. The “boys” were just having fun and things got a little out of hand.

In her analysis of the case, Sherene Razack writes:
Slide: “[Not] only did George remain the “hooker” but [the two defendants] remained the boys who ”did pretty darn stupid things’; their respective spaces, the places of white respectability and the Stroll simply stood in opposition to each other, dehistoricized and decontextualized. If Pamela George was a victim of violence, it was simply because she was of the Stroll/ reserve, Aboriginal, and engaging in prostitution. No one could then be really held accountable for her death.”

So, Pamela George’s death was seen as her own doing. Her death was always imminent because she was an aboriginal woman who lives on a reserve and she sometimes worked as a prostitute on the Stroll.

So far so good? Questions?

Q: What if Pamela George had been white?
Her inhabiting the space racializes her.
That is, race = space.
Race and space are socially produced in similar contexts and similar ways, so that spaces get marked by the bodies that regularly inhabit them but also bodies get marked by the spaces they regularly or normally inhabit.

Q: What if Pamela George had not been a prostitute? i.e. Why does race, or more
precisely, indigeniety matter, here? Why is the fact that Pamela George is aboriginal matter?

-Indigenous Lands/Bodies are naturalized objects of violence
Slide: 1885, Proctor & Gamble ad for Ivory Soap:
We were once factious, fierce and wild,
In peaceful arts unreconciled.
Our blankets smeared with grease and stains
From buffalo meat and settlers’ veins.
Through summer’s dust and heat content,
From moon to moon unwashed we went.
But IVORY SOAP came like a ray
Of light across our darkened way
And now we’re civil, kind and good
And keep the laws as people should.
We wear our linen, lawn and lace
As well as folks with paler face
And now I take, where’er we go
This cake of IVORY SOAP to show
What civilized my squaw and me
And made us clean and fair to see.

Indigenous women, from the time of contact have been seen as natural and necessary objects of sexual violence. The bodies of indigenous women, like the lands they occupied, were seen as wild, untamed, and dirty. The land supposedly bore no marker of civilization, and the bodies that inhabited these lands similarly had no bodily integrity or morality. So, like their lands which were spaces of violence, their bodies were also natural sites for violence. There was no ethical crisis or crisis of conscience where sexual violence against or the death of indigenous women were concerned.

So, as Razack states, when it comes to indigenous women: “No one could really held accountable for her death.” It was almost her natural state of being.

- Fantasy of Revenge:
What might the defendant have been referring to when he said of Pamela George, “She deserved it. She was Indian.”

Slide: 1982 video game: Custer’s Revenge.

“You are General Custer. Your dander’s up, your pistol’s wavin’. You’ve hog-tied a ravishing Indian maiden and have a chance to rewrite history and even up an old score. ... . If you’re to get revenge you’ll have to rise to the challenge, dodge a tribe of flying arrows and protect your flanks against some downright mean and prickly cactus. But if you can stand pat and last past the the strings and arrows – You can stand last. Remember? Revenge is sweet.”

One website lists this game as #3 out of 10 of the most “manly” games.

This fantasy of revenge is a reproduction of the fantasy, and the imperative, of taming the wild Indian. So again, indigenous women are normalized as objects of sexual violence.

- “Stolen generations”
“Stolen Sisters” is a play on the stolen generations. What is the stolen generations?

Refers specifically to the case of indigenous children in Australia being forcibly removed from the families and being made wards of the state. Special homes, boarding schools, churches became sites for a process of forced assimilation, where children were taught that their cultures were degenerate and backwards; they were given new names, prevented from speaking their languages. In Australia, this was official government policy from 1909 to 1969. But unofficially, it began long before and ended a little after.

Also, not limited to Australia. Also U.S. and Canada.

But the main reason was that indigenous people were biologically inferior, diseased, and socially inferior, violent and would therefore not last as a people for much longer, so children had to be “adopted” and taught new ways of survival. The other was cultural genocide, where the culture was so detrimental to human existence and progress, that it needed to be destroyed. Assimilations through forced removal from the spaces of degeneracy.

So back to the Pamela George case, do you think that the police or the lawyers or even the defendants and their supporters, deliberately thought about these ideas of indigenous women as natural sites of sexual violence, or a sites for the exaction of revenge or cultural genocide, when they were deliberating the case?

Probably not, unless they were social or historical critics. So then why does this history matter?

Because the knowledge that produces this history, and that is in turn produced by these historical events or ideas, sticks to the bodies and spaces concerned and becomes embedded in popular understandings.

Think about the Kang article for instance and how she implicates laws, education, religion and other ideological apparatuses of the state in disseminating knowledge as information or truth among the general population, so that this knowledge and the power it represents becomes banal, un-noteworthy, a given and hence these ideas remain relatively unquestioned or uncontested.

So if another prostitute is murdered or another indigenous women is disappeared or another deportee dies in a detention center the media or government or law enforcement doesn’t go into a tizzy about it. It might be “sad,” but not “shocking.” It is almost understandable.

Violence against these bodies or in these spaces doesn’t represent any crisis in the social fabric, because it is implicitly understood as “normal,” “commonplace.”

So, does this idea of race=space make sense?


III The case of Angie Zapata

Who is Angie Zapata?
Angie Zapata is a young woman from CO. In 2008, she met a man over a networking site and they had been dating for a few days during which they once had consensual oral sex. One morning, while this person was alone in Angie’s apartment, he became suspicious about Angie’s sex because of some pics he saw lying around. He confronts Angie when she comes back, grabs her crotch and confirms that she is a transgender woman. At which point, he “snaps” and hits her over the head with a fire extinguisher and makes to leave. But as he is leaving, he sees Angie coming to consciousness, and trying to get up, so he strikes her again, killing her.

During the legal proceedings that happened in April of this year, the defense lawyer explained, that when his client found that Angie was trans, he snapped.

“Allen snapped. Allen flew into an uncontrollable rage. And when it was over and Allen realized what had happened, he ran out of the apartment."

Moreover, during his questioning by the police, the defendant refers to Angie as “it.” His defense attorneys on the other hand refuse to call her Angie, and always refer to her by her birth name, Justin.

What is happening here? How does this case tell us something about the body and queerness?

Queerness as monstrosity
Q: What is a monster?
- improper being, both physically and mentally.
- Signified through deformed body, sexual excess, moral deficiency, threat to normalcy, madness.

In popular culture, monsters are often produced as queer – not as in gay, per se, but as something that exceeds the limits of the normal and threatens its stability. So, queer theorists, for instance, critique the figures of Frankenstein’s monster and Dracula to show how these are queer bodies.

I won’t go over those analyses here, but let’s watch instead a clip from another cult classic.

Video: Interview with a Vampire

“I am flesh and blood, but I am not human.”
Feminized bodies
Sexual excess

In the case of Angie Zapata, we see a flip. If the monstrous body of the vampire is queer, in this case we see Angie’s markedly queer body as monstrous. It is more than what it seems. It is deviant. And so, something that is so scary, so repulsive that it must be destroyed. Here Angie’s body is queer par excellance. It is not merely the other, it is not merely different, but is not human, it is incomprehensible as human, it is in fact an “it.”

So the violence it elicits, is again, almost understandable. It may be wrong, but it isn’t shocking that such a murder or death could happen. There is again no ethical crisis.

Angie’s body says something about her mind, her morality as well. The fact that the defense attorney keeps referring to her as Justin is to highlight the “queerness” of Angie’s mind. Until recently, and in many cases even in the present, LGBTQ identities are seen as markers of mental illness. People were institutionalized if there were seen as queer in any way. The whole ex-gay movement is premised on the idea of psychological weakness or illness.

So when the lawyer names Angie not as Angie, but as Justin, he is positioning him self as somebody who has the mental health and ability to see Angie as who she really is – i.e. a man, Justin – while reinscribing Angie as mentally unable to recognize her true self.

So here we see the body as a site of social contestation. There is a battle over meaning, over self-determination – what is normal, what isn’t. But there is also a negotiation of proper social relations that happens over Angie’s body. That is, is violence against queer bodies truly violence or is it condonable, understandable, unexceptional because her body, like the body of the indigenous woman, has no integrity, it is non-human anyway.

IV Minarets
What happens when race and space and queerness and body and monstrosity, all of
these ideas collide? What do you get?

You get this...

Q: Recognize this image?
Have you heard about the ban on minarets that was passed a few days ago in Switzerland? There was a vote on whether to ban the construction of any new minarets in the country and the people actually voted yes on the ban.

This image was one of those that was used to garner support of the ban.

So what do we see here?
- Minarets as missiles (or perhaps missiles as minarets)
- Muslim woman in hijab become a fearful terrorist figure.
So here, the lines between a recognizably muslim space and a recognizable weapon of mass destruction get blurred. So that the minaret or the mosque becomes marked as that which produces violence. Which appears to make perfect sense given that in popular imagings terrorists are all mosque-grown. They are recruited in mosques, plot in mosques, etc. So the overlay between minaret and missile creates no form of cognitive crisis – it simply seems to replay or confirm fact.

What about the hijab being transformed in a terrorist figure?
To understand this, one must first recognize that the social production of the body includes not just the organic – i.e. the skin, the hair, the nails, etc. – but also the inorganic – the clothes, the shoes, the headgear. All these also make up the body.

In an earlier chapter in Puar’s book, she refers to the body as produced through the machining together of the organic and the inorganic.

So the hijab is a central marker of the muslim body. And its blurring with the image of a terrorist again appears to create no cognitive crisis because the muslim body is a terrorist body. So, the overlay of the hijab-wearing figure and the terrorist figure merely appears to confirm what is already known.

Ok. So this image very clearly shows both: 1. how race becomes spatialized and embodies; but also how 2. Space and the body get racialized.

But where does queerness fit into all this?

V Queer Critique: Puar
And this is where we finally turn to Puar.

1. not an identity = not merely LGBTQ
not an anti-identity = merely anti-heterosexual, or hetero-normative

2. recall queer = monstrous
here, queerness, as the monster, is that which exceeds comprehension, challenges and exceeds the limits of normalcy.
The queer, like the monster, has little if any claim to a legitimate social existence.
So from this hegemonic perspective terrorists are queer. They become, as Puar refers to them, “terrorist-monster-fag.”

3. but is all that queer means is bad or evil, then were is the possibility for resistance? That is, can the queer figure ever be a figure of resistance?

4. This is why Puar brings in the idea of “queerness as assemblage.” But what is an assemblage?
To put it very, extremely simply, it is the coming together of various organic and inorganic particles, and various social and political forces, to produce a certain figure or a certain existence.

5. Slide: To explain this, Puar uses this image:

Q: What do we see here, at first glance. Shout it out!
We see an image that is a play on the terrorist body.

6. But how do we recognize this figure as a play on the terrorist figure?
- there is first the organic? i.e. the body – the skin, the hair, and its various markers, especially of race and sex.
- then there is the inorganic? The clothes, the headgear, the guns, the bombs, the ammunition the terrorist may carry.
- even further there are the political and social conditions within which the terrorist is read – so that might be the war on terror, or the spate of suicide bombings.

All of this – the organic, the inorganic, the social, the political – all this comes together to constitute “the terrorist.” The terrorist body as assemblage.

7. But it is only through this assemblage, this coming together of various particles and forces, that the terrorist is seen as “terrorist-monster-fag.”

And in fact, Puar argues, that is how all queerness – queer bodies, queer spaces – get produced. That is, queerness, if thought of as a critical social production, is always an assemblage.

8. So, only by viewing queerness as an assemblage, does “queer” become more than merely bad or monstrous, because, as assemblage, queerness actually highlights how dominant or hegemonic ideas and formations are complicit in its production.

Infact, queer as assemblage demonstrates how dominant ideologies are dependent upon queerness to produce their own “normalcy.”

This is the possibility of queer critique – that by occupying the position of queer, you can actually critique and resist the production of hegemony.

9. One more thing about assemblage. Puar says that to look at “queerness as assemblage” is more production than looking at “queerness” through intersectionality. Why?

Because Xn institutionalizes it queerness. The only way that Xn can recognize queerness is by recognizing it, and disciplining it, as an identity or an anti-identity.

e.g. from an Xn perspective, gay marriage is important because, through it, queerness gets included, becomes legitimate, within the social. Queerness becomes an object that can be regulated and controlled by law.

But if you look at “queerness as assemblage” then you will recognize that everytime there is something that gets included, new “particles” and new forces become visible, that remain excluded from the social, from law.

Right? Because for law to function, there is always an inside and an outside; always something that must be included and excluded. Critical queer analysis says that everything that is created as outside, as excluded from the law, is queer.

But you can see that only if you see queer as assemblage. Because for every particle and every force, that gets normalized, there is always a whole bunch of others that remain queer, that remain “abnormal.”

To go back to Puar’s image then, if at one point Sikhs (as Asians) were considered queer say because of their bodily traits – their long hair and brown skin, their religious beliefs – the carrying of the kirpan and wearing of the turban, and their hyper sexuality, then with their inclusion into nationhood and citizenship they become perhaps partly normalized.

But in the context of suicide bombing and the war on terror, the turban institutes queerness because of the easy comparison with the turban Osama bin Laden wears. Or that the kirpan that Sikhs carry becomes the imagined as a bomb carried by suicide bombers.

So, the figure of the Sikh male, remains queer. It’s just that the particles and forces that define his as queer change over time and space.

Make sense?

So, again, reading queerness as assemblage allows for a recognition of, and resistance to, the hegemonic ideas and imagines that produce queerness in the first place.

So what does any of this have to do with the idea of interpellation?

VI Interpellation
Slide: Interpellation is a term developed most prominently by Louis Althusser and can be defined as a mechanism whereby the human subject is constituted by already existing social structures.

What does this mean?
Do you see that in all the sites I have mentioned so far, whether Pamela George, Angie Zapata, the image of the minarets, or the figure of the terrorist, we acknowledged the caterogires the constitute these sites – e.g. indigeneity, transgendered-ness, islam, etc. – and we also acknowledged, either vocally or tacitly, the underlying ideas or principles that produced mark these categories.

In short, we looked at each of these sites through a particular lens or even multiple lens of knowledge and meaning.

This is what is called the gaze.
Slide: Gaze can be defined as “the way the viewer views its object, which defined most
often by dominant formations of power/knowledge.”

The idea of interpellation is that the person which is being viewed recognizes themselves in that gaze. That is, when you look at me, depending upon the social context, the social space, the social relation, I recognize myself not as me, but as who you most probably see me as. That is I become interpellated as a subject in your gaze.

Example. Less than 24 hours after the shooting at Fort Hood, I was traveling by plane, and seated next to me was a family that was visible marked as Muslim. The woman was wearing a hijab, the man a skull cap, and they were speaking with their son and amongst themselves in what I am presuming was Arabic.

When I saw them, the first thought that came to my mind was, I wonder if they are feeling hyper-visible today. That is, I wondered whether in the context of the Fort Hood shooting –which was carried out by a Muslim – and in the continuing context of the war on terrorism, and the racism and xenophobia that accompanies it all, and given that they were marked so clear by clothing and language as muslim, I wondered if they felt like they were being viewed as dangerous, violent, with terrorist potential, etc. That is I wondered how they were being interpellated.

So, interpellation is I become a subject based on how I see myself reflected in your gaze.

Chang writes that interpellation represents not just a moment where you become subjected by the gaze of another – so it is not only a moment of oppression; but more importantly, how you respond to that moment of interpellation can has possibilities for resistance.

So in the case of this family I was flying with, if they were in fact interpellated as dangerous, then the fact that they didn’t get rid of the hijab and the skull cap, and they continued to speak in Arabic in public, could potentially signify an act of resistance. Because, in that act they refuse the gaze that casts them dangerous, as terrorist. They may recognize themselves in that gaze – that doesn’t change, that moment of interpellation still exists – but it is what comes after that marks resistance. Do they try to assimilate? Become less visible physical by discarding their dress? Speak only English? Or do they refuse to do all this and continue to live based on their own self-
definition rather than become subjected by the moment of interpellation.

Make sense?

So the reason, I wanted to center the body and space in this lecture, is because both these formations are crucial to both, the constitution of the gaze and the interpellation of a subject.

One last question? Is race here biological? [Refer to Wyatt]

VII Conclusion:
- human existence as socially produced
- produces possibility for resistance/counter-hegemonic practice
- Ethnic Studies as liberatory (not revolutionary) project

Saturday, November 21, 2009

When my life becomes fodder for your conversation...

Before I went home this summer, I mentioned here that I had had some realizations about what "friendship" means and, more specifically, what it doesn't. I had intended to write some about it but, for many reasons, never got around to it. Yet, it was a subject that I mulled over constantly and I made quite a few decisions in its wake. So far, those decisions have worked out pretty well for me... and I'm glad I stuck to them, despite the fact they are not "easy" or "convenient" ones.

But the burn that precipitated my decision to change directions still lingers. As much as I try to distance myself from it, it keeps reminding me of its presence. Perhaps, though, this is a good thing because it prevents me from being lulled into a false sense of security, and it reminds me of what I truly value in my life.

It has been a really long time since I have been cut by the fickleness of friendship. Ever since arriving in the States, it seems, I have had friendships that have withstood all kinds of hurt and pain and strife, and until recently, I had assumed that all friendships work out the same way. I had forgotten though how much trust goes into developing a friendship... a trust that can never be just established, but takes time and work and, yes, tests. And of course, to trust someone does not imply never being betrayed by them. In fact, the more you trust, it seems, the easier it is to feel betrayed. (Or perhaps that's just me?) Yet, looking back at my friendships that "work" I have come to realize that when there is genuine trust it withstands all forms of hurt and conflict and rejection and betrayal. Because, ultimately, what you trust is the other's deep, unwavering love/support/concern for you.

Most of the people that I consider my close friends, I don't speak with more than once or twice a year, sometimes less (unless they're in the same city). But this isn't weird or off-putting for us because we recognize that our busy lives, our very present conditions of living, don't necessarily allow for it. And we understand that the lack of communication doesn't mean we've disappeared from each other's lives, but that we are still very present in them. Then, when we do talk, it's like nothing has ever changed... that connection, that chemistry, that makes us friends is always there. And when we need someone to talk to, no matter how long it's been since we've spoken, it is comfortable to pick up the phone, or send an e-mail, saying I need you in my life right now. And we can still share the most intimate, difficult details of our lives without the fear of being judged or rebuked.

Friends are those that can make you the angriest, and hurt you the most (and vice versa) - but they are those that, even through your tears and fears, you know you will always have in your life. Even if you have to let them go in every way other than in your memories, you always want them, will them, to be a part of you.

Such friendships are never easy to come by. They can never just happen, be replicated. And, most importantly, the burdens they are capable of bearing can never be borne by other kinds of friendships. Indeed, in the case of the latter, one's life becomes not something that is held in trust, but rather becomes the fodder for "conversation." This was a lesson I learned, maybe re-learned, recently.

Gossiping, I understand, is fun. It is a predominant form of social interaction; it is a way of connecting, perhaps; maybe it helps in keeping conversations going. Oftentimes, it is a necessary means of venting. I'm no saint... I engage in gossip, especially of the latter kind. But the reason gossip is, well, gossip, is because it is superficial. It isn't intended to do the entity being gossiped about any good; it isn't a deep analysis of that entity, of its situations, etc. It is, simply, talk. And, as far as I am concerned, when one's life becomes the subject of another's talk, there is a deep breach of trust. And especially when such talk seems to forget, deliberately or otherwise, the difficulties, the complexity, of issues communicated in confidence - forgets the internal conflict, the messiness of it all - so that a multifaceted issue, with no easy right or wrong, gets reduced to dinner table conversation, it is quite easy to be feel utterly betrayed. And to feel little guilt in walking away.

When I think of my closest friendships - I think of three in particularly. These three probably know every detail of my life... all the significant ones at least. The first is one of sisters - it is probably one of the few relationships I have in which I am not the dominant one. (Yes, I admit it.) We are so very different in so many ways, yet we've been the best of friends since we met about nine years ago. She's probably the only one who can rebuke me, use harsh words against me, but get away with it without my putting up a fight. The other... I can't describe. She pushed my buttons because she loved me, I encouraged it and gave it back, because I loved her. The last year or so of her life, we barely spoke, and when we did, we'd end up fighting. We said terribly hurtful things to each other, but we could never deny that we loved each other. She drove me insane, but I let her, because I knew who she was and she knew who I was. It took a special kind of trust, and a lot of work and heartache - but it was worth it. And I'd do it all over again. The third is my ex. Our relationship was complicated as hell, painful and hurtful as hell, and it ended because of betrayal. But it was a friendship. The only way we survived our relationship, and our break-up, was because it was a friendship. Because we understand each others deep flaws and failings - but also recognize each others strength and beauty - we can keep re-learning to be friends. Despite a certain kind of breach of trust, that deeper aspect of it that I refered to above still exists.

To the unknowing eye, the last two friendships might seem abusive. And, like all others, they were... from the perspective of all parties concerned. There is no single guilty party; no singular victim. These relationships don't fit into neat boxes. When judged from the outside, they are necessarily dysfunctional, pathological. But I would pick these over and over again because they have each given me, and continue to give me, something this is not easily replicated, not easily reproduced. And whatever form these relationships survive in, they will always be a huge part of me.

See, certain folks understand that. So that when I communicate my pain and anger and frustration about these relationships, I know I am safe - and I know my relationships are safe too. With others, apparently, this is not so much the case. Forgive me, then, if I must walk away.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Cutting Class Against Class Cutting

I referred, in my previous post, to the budget crisis facing the UC system. Starting today, until Nov. 20th, there is a system-wide strike action to protest the measures proposed by the Board of Regents - which include fee hikes, job cuts, fewer classes - the usual, predictable stuff that follows calls for budget cuts.

I generally teach sections on Thursday, but naturally I will be canceling them for tomorrow. But I wanted to impress upon my students why this strike represents not a waste of their education (in terms of time and money) but rather is central to it. That it is, in fact, a much better, more productive use of their time and money than a corporatized educational system would ever want them to have. So I drafted a "statement" (it's more an analysis) of the strike in terms of some of the ideas we've been discussing in class. Hopefully, it'll get them to see theory in practice, in real time! I'm posting that statement below.

There is, however, one thing that I left out of the statement but have been wanting to write about for a while now. I returned from Oberlin a couple of weeks ago and, as usual, it got me thinking about the direction of the school in terms of student, staff and faculty demographics, the presence of critical social justice programs, academic and otherwise, and the general ways in which the institution represents itself - and how all this is balanced against financial/budgetary concerns. My visit, in conjunction with all that's happening at the UCs, made me think about a letter I wrote to the Oberlin College student newspaper, when I was a Senior.

I'm not going to re-produce that letter here because it is probably not contextually appropriate to post outside of the institutional arena. However, in brief, the letter was a critique of how certain kinds of education and intellectual praxis got valued, were deemed as productive and hence worthy of institutional recognition, while others became marginalized as "not a real major" or got reduced to extracurrical activities. Of course, this isn't a new phenomenon, nor is it any way limited to Oberlin. In fact, Oberlin probably does a better job in supporting and recognizing social justice and intellectual praxis more than other institutions. (Now that I have some distance from the institution, I can say that. No, I'm not going soft...) Of course, that doesn't imply that Oberlin's getting it all right. The institution can undoubtedly be doing much more and much better, and it is just as vulnerable an institution as any other to the dangers of corporatized education (where institutions self-consciously produce themselves in the image of capitalism).

I have begun to joke often about how, in a capitalist system, I am an inefficient, unproductive worker. But the truth is: this is in fact true and it's not very funny. As an inefficient, unproductive worker, my labor is expendable. And this is true not because of the nature of my labor (i.e. research/teaching) but because of what academic formation my labor is attached to - i.e. humaities/social science. Were I an academic in an engineering or medical or law program, I'd be a "good worker." The point I'm trying to make, quite simply, is that as the plot of the global financial crisis thickens, critical intellectual work is going to more and more devalued so that programs like Ethnic Studies will no longer be "financially viable." We will either completely disappear, or be "absorbed" into other programs. (Institutions generally articulate this as "looking for creative ways to collaborate with other departments across campus." I've heard this statement once too often.)

I'm not exactly sure where I was going with this other than to say the UC strike and others nationwide are just the start. I think we have a big fight on our hands against numerous entrenched interests - one that I am both apprehensive about and very excited for. Perhaps the revolution is really coming! 2012?!


The UC Strike as an Educational Moment

The UC Board of Regents is meeting at UCLA from Nov. 18-20th to vote on the following issues pertaining to system-wide budget cuts:

o An additional 32% fee increase over the next two semesters.
Should this fee increase go through, the cost of a UC education will have increased three-fold since 2000.

o Laying-off an additional 2000 workers.
These cuts are likely to predominantly affect service and support staff at the UCs.

o Continuing with furloughs, cutting classes and critical student services.
This implies paying more for fewer/limited services – fewer classes, larger class size, limited library hours, limited access to student support services, etc.

In response to these potential changes, there is a call for a system-wide strike and for a mass protest – involving teach-ins, and sit-ins/sleep-ins – from Nov. 18-20th at UCLA, where the Regents are conducting their meetings.

Tomorrow’s sections have been canceled as a response to this call.

Canceling class does not represent a de-valuation of education, or a waste of the time and money being invested by you and your families towards gaining an education. Nor is it an opportunity to “slack-off.”

Rather, this strike/protest is a crucial site of education – of knowledge acquisition, production and practice. For, if we think critically about this event, we will clearly see how the discourses and practices of subjugation, exclusion, discrimination and resistance that we have been investigating in class with respect to immigration, citizenship and nationality are reproduced here in the context of education.

Thus, this event is in fact an integral part of the education that your time and money are being invested in.

The following are some of my thoughts about the educational and political significance of this event, and hence the need to respond to the call for a strike:

Access to Education:
o From the perspective of this class, thinking about the protest in the context of access to education is imperative because it raises issues of systemic exclusions and discrimination with respect to race, class, gender and sexuality.

o More than just a catch-phrase: One seldom hears college or university administrators argue that access to education must be limited, regulated and controlled. Indeed, everyone touts the imperative of “access to education.” Yet, policy changes made by educational institutions, especially higher ed institutions, almost always make education generally less accessible with a few token examples, perhaps, of how the marginalized and disenfranchised continue to be recruited and supported within their hallowed halls. Financial and budgetary concerns almost always trump issues of access and support, rendering “access to education” no more than a mere catch-phrase.

o Systemic discrimination: This is an example of systemic or institutionalized discrimination (i.e. de fact, not de jure, discrimination). For there is rarely ever any evidence that an effort is being made to balance budgetary imperatives with the imperative of education as a public, not private, good. That is, education becomes more deeply entrenched in systems (primarily capitalism) that are founded on exclusions and exploitations of the many by a few, and merely gets “re-designed” in order to be made more inclusionary and multicultural, without actually questioning the deep-rooted violences and exclusions that produce the system itself.
• Think about how conquest, slavery, indentured labor, (neo-)colonialism, imperialism, militarism, globalization, etc. have all been deployed to support the capitalist economies of the U.S. and Europe at the cost of indigenous and Third World lives. Think about the questions we’ve been discussing in class – Who can own property and who is property? Whose labor is wanted and whose lives are expendable? Whose lives does this “labor not lives” trope serve? If inclusion and multiculturalism are supposed to transform the evils of discrimination and exclusion, why do sweatshops, slave labor, indentured labor etc. still constitute the majority of domestic and global labor formations?
• The transformation from “old capitalism” to “new” or liberal capitalism does not represent systemic transformation. It only represents a transformation of the discursive practices and images propagated by the system.
• This is true of education systems as well.

o Rhetoric of Elitism: Too often we hear higher education and intellectualism being derided as “elitist.” This is an example of how discourse gets used to sustain systemic discrimination. So, for example, think about the contradictions between the rhetoric of education as elite, and anti affirmative action rhetoric. If higher ed is, in fact, elitist, and thus of little use to “real Americans” or “American values,” why is there so much opposition of affirmative action practices in education? In the context of these discourses, who is seen as the truly worth and deserving subject of education?

For all these (and many other) reasons, access to education is always a crucial issue (a site for consciousness-raising and resistance) regardless of whether budgetary or other similar concerns are in play.

Labor not lives:
o As mentioned above, 2000 jobs are likely to be cut system-wide, presumably affecting service and support staff the most. Oftentimes, the workers most affected by such cuts are low-wage workers, immigrants and people of color.

o Lay-offs are an excellent example of how these bodies are needed only for labor, but their lives (the quality, the possibility of leading an economically and socially stable and secure life) are expendable. When times are good, more labor is hired to serve our interests. When times are bad, labor is cut, once again to serve our interests. (“Our” here includes the people who benefit most from the institution, financially and intellectually – i.e. students, faculty, administrators, etc. It also refers to a more general “our” – i.e. those that have a stake in maintaining the institutional and larger societal status quo.)

o Yet, not only do these constituencies regularly support and join student strikes, globally, that aim to resist and transform systems of subjugation and violence, but often times their own activism is the inspiration for student movements. Think for instance about the TWLF and the various solidarities that the movement built and benefited from. Or the AsAm Movement, in general.

o Access to education and economic security are not in fact distinct issues. In fact, they mutually constitute each other. Not only do they both affect the same communities, but the exclusions and subjugations they produce are dependent on each other and are crucial to serving capitalist desires. Think about the vicious cycle – lack of educational access leads to de facto employment discrimination leads to economic insecurity leads to…?

Productivity of a Strike:
o When deciding whether to participate in a strike we are often compelled to make various economic calculations, weigh costs against benefits, etc. We wonder: Will I lose my job? How much will I lose in wages? Or, as a student one may wonder, why am I being denied an education when the strike is about access to education?

o Yet, to strike is to recognize that the capitalist system (or in this case, corporatized education) counts on the fact that, for all these reasons, one will not strike. This is precisely how systems of subjugation are intended to work – they count on a paralysis of action brought about by immediate needs versus the possibilities for future, long-term gains.

o This is why strikes are so productive, because they reveal the weakness of the system itself, and bring its founding ideologies into crisis.

o To strike, then, is productive not because it brings about a complete over-haul or dismantling of the system, but rather because it, metaphorically, puts a mirror up to the system to reveal its weakness and cracks, and disallows the system from reproducing its violence without hindrance.

These are some of my personal reasons for canceling class and joining the strike tomorrow.

As students of UCSD – as a constituency that has a stake in what the UC system values and how it functions – but also as Ethnic Studies students who engage in the intellectual-political project of the this field, you are highly encouraged to participate in this strike in whatever ways you deem appropriate.

Social justice projects like Ethnic Studies owe their emergence to, and should remain accountable to, working class people, immigrants, and people of color. This is a possibility represented by joining the strike.

This should begin, however, with educating yourself about the various constituencies involved in the strike, the various debates surrounding it, etc. Here are some web-sites to help you get this going:

Monday, October 26, 2009

Dear Disgruntled Academic...

I started in my very first Ethnic Studies class a few weeks ago. In my introductory lecture, I tried to lay out for my students what the Ethnic Studies project is, and what its intellectual and political imperatives are. As I was winding up, my "take-home point" to them was about the keeping in mind the connections between theory and practice, and not falling prey to the idea that there is always already a rift between the two. Given that the project of Ethnic Studies emerged from radical, grassroots student movements, oftentimes theory is looked upon with great disdain within the field because it is presumed to signify the losing of one's roots, an act of "selling-out." I have a serious problems with articulations of such a split because it completely elides the intellectual underpinnings of the movement for Ethnic Studies, and it also presumes that grassroots work/activism is something distinct from, or other than, intellectual work. I didn't want my students to somehow come away with that idea, so I made it a point to emphasize that the rift between the two would exist only if they wanted it to; that is, it exists only in the moment of choice. And over the past few weeks, I have used the course readings to keep coming back to this point, so that they don't think I'm being an apologist for academia, or just pulling stuff out of my arse... but they actually see the connections manifest in the work assigned them.

The sad and frustrating thing though is that numerous academics themselves buy into this rhetoric about the split between theory and practice. It irritates the life out of me when I hear academics piss on intellectual work because it has no "real life implications." My response to these is, just because you don't see the connections doesn't mean they don't exist! The inability to note how intellectual work, theory even, impacts the everyday, and vice versa, signifies either a weakness of one's mental abilities (ok, I'm being a bitch), or a simple laziness. The dismissal of intellectual work doesn't make one somehow more radical; it makes them less capable of recognizing and confronting the socio-symbolic violences that pervade our world. It means that one has little understanding of how the world and human existence is constituted. The structures that we find ourselves confined within, subject to, aren't just a given - they are the effects of intellectual work. If you want to transform them, you've got to understand them in all their complexity... or else, you've lost the battle and the war.

I am sick too of those that valorize the 60s as if they represent a pure moment of political activism, untainted by intellectualism and "theory-heads." That form of idealization, in my opinion, does a deep disservice to the intellectual investments of those involved. It over-simplifies what was a complex, contentious moment of the political and intellectual re-writing of the U.S. Academics seriously need to re-think their mythologization of the 60s. This is especially true right now, in the context of the crises facing higher ed institutions, specifically the UC system.

I have heard folks complain that the acts of protest at the UCs are just an instance of the privileged acting out against pay-cuts and furloughs. First off, this is an oversimplification of the what's going on. The crisis also involves massive tuition hikes, larger classes, job loss among staff, etc. So the budgetary decisions in play have a more far-reaching effect than some seem to recognize - especially with regards working class and of color communities, as well as academic programs, like Ethnic Studies, that are, in fact, their heirs. Moreover, the conditions that have produced this crisis, and the effects they are bound to engender, closely mirror those in play in the 60s. Had students and activists in the 60s refused to walk-out, protest, and strike because they were intellectually and politically paralyzed by the fact their lot was better than those dying in wars in Asia, perhaps today we wouldn't have the language, the tools and the legacies that enable us to do the kind of anti-violence work that is actually possible today.

I am not trying, here, to deny that we are privileged to be in academia. I agree that as academics it is our responsibility to be aware of and continue to critique the conditions that make this privilege possible. But that doesn't mean we should piss that privilege away by merely complaining about how bad it is. We need to learn to use that privilege productively instead! That is crucial to the work of an academic!! We have an extraordinary opportunity to enable some form a social impact... we either use it, or get out of the way because there's many more deserving folks waiting to for a spot like ours.

Also, the next time someone talks to me about privilege with their Prada bag in sight... Internalize your critiques please!!

I am myself pretty disgrutled and cranky with academic right now. And in trying to rein in my frustration, rage too perhaps, this post may have turned out a little awkward. But, a couple of years, I wrote something similar for a student of color newspaper at Oberlin. I am pasting this here because I think it articulates a little better my displeasure with cranky academics.


As I write this, I have just returned from a protest at Thurgood Marshall College, one of the six colleges at the University of California, San Diego. Marshall College, established in 1970 through a student movement initiated by fierce and radical scholar-activists such as Angela Davis and Herbert Marcus, was created specifically as a space for the intellectual and political growth of working class students and students of color. Central to the College’s academic requirements is the Dimensions of Culture (DOC) Program, an “interdisciplinary sequence that has Diversity, Justice, and Imagination as its main themes. In this course, which includes intensive instruction in university-level writing, first-year students study American social issues and gain an awareness of American cultural perspectives” (

Over the past few years the DOC curriculum, has been substantially “watered down,” which is evident, for example, in the replacement of the study of critical race theory with that of “downward assimilation” theory, a concept that argues that if new immigrant groups intend to successfully “Americanize” or assimilate, they must “avoid” interaction or integration with certain ethnic groups. Such spectacularly problematic, ignorant (and may I add, “pin-headed”) curricular changes were made in response to complaints from some “concerned” parents regarding the “indoctrination” of their children. Further, a college that was founded with a radical mission to serve underrepresented and disenfranchised students, now serves numerous (over-)represented and (over-)privileged students who chose to attend Marshall College because of its proximity to the beach and its wonderful residence halls.

In response to the growing critiques made by students and Teaching Assistants to the changing curriculum, the College recently fired 2 T.A.s for their political activism around the issue, defending its curricular changes and the firings through the rhetoric of “academic freedom.” The day’s protest, then, was to challenge these bogus claims of “academic freedom” and to demand the restoration of the critical, progressive mission that the College was founded upon.

I begin with this story because the on-going events at Thurgood Marshall resonate with my own memories of Oberlin, and will probably resonate with numerous other Obies, past and present. This is not to say that the events and circumstances at Thurgood Marshall are identical to those at Oberlin, or vice-versa. Instead, it is a comment on the non-uniqueness, un-exceptional-ness and non-isolation of the regressive changes occurring in various “social spaces” across the United States. Too often at Oberlin, we complain about the “Oberlin bubble.” But over the years I have come to realize that, while Oberlin may be spatially and socio-economically distant from the “real world,” it is in no way immune from, unaccountable for, or non-complicitous in the changes occurring “outside.” In fact, the “Oberlin bubble” is a microcosmic reflection of the “real world” – that space that we, so often, are tempted to valorize. As one of the speakers at the protest mentioned, what does it mean when an academic institution tells us that race and indigeneity and gender and class and nation are “controversial,” or worse still, “do not matter,” when each day people continue to die while crossing the border, and indigenous communities continue to encounter the violation of their environments and cultures, and immigrant communities of color continue to be subject to slave labor?

While academic institutions may not contribute directly to these unjust and inhumane circumstances, are they not perversely complicit – in line with the militarized nation-state and the corporatized global economy – in eliding the all-pervasive violence that communities continue to encounter across the various local and global spaces? I am not attempting to suggest here that academic institutions are as violent as, say, multinational corporations; rather, the point I am trying to make is that H/history, as living past and multiple futures, does not stop at the boundaries of Oberlin College, Ohio. The “Oberlin bubble” is part of the limitless, fluid and intersecting “bubbles” that constitute H/history. That is why it matters who Oberlin serves and what it teaches; whose voices are respected and whose dismissed; what is spoken and what remains mired in ghostly silences; what Oberlin values and what it proactively strives for. And more importantly, that is why the tireless and relentless social justice work of students, staff, faculty and alums at Oberlin, is crucial – it is not isolated action, restricted within the time and space of Oberlin, and it is definitely not any less “real” than that which occurs “outside.”

Yes, those of us in academic institutions are substantially more privileged and generally enjoy a greater level of security and comfort, at least within the space of academia; and while it is crucial to be critically aware of this privilege, to get bogged down by “privilege guilt” can be paralyzing and unproductive. Over the past few months, as a graduate student at UCSD, I have come to realize that non-complicit action is impossible – mired though we may be in the rhetoric of individualism, we are all intimately and violently linked to each other though oppressive systems and structures. Therefore, what is crucial to social justice activism is how we chose to insert and position ourselves, and our work, within such always-already complicitous frameworks.

I apologize for turning what was meant to be a “reflection piece” into a political spiel. However, I chose to write this because it is, in fact, what I have learnt through my time Oberlin. I owe Oberlin my life. While this statement may be somewhat of an exaggeration, it is not totally off the mark. I am where I am and I envision my future as I do because of Oberlin – because of my relationship with students, faculty, staff and alumni who were committed to social justice. It was at Oberlin that I came to consciousness, and learnt to be socially aware and active; it was also at Oberlin that I learnt to be angry, hurt, cynical and suspicious. But working through the pain and disappointments of Oberlin has been crucial to my ability to develop, what I perceive to be, a broader and more productive view of social justice work.

Oberlin is special, a friend (and also an Oberlin alum) recently said to me, while we were reminiscing about our time there. Yes, I responded, but it takes a lot of distance to recognize that. Oberlin has an uncanny ability to burn people out, but I hope that after some wounds have healed (even partially), we can “come back” to Oberlin to support those who come after us, and who continue to struggle for an Oberlin reflective of the revolutionary changes we envision for a global society.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Little Bit of Me

I've been wanting to post on here for a while, but transitioning from vacation mode to work mode has kept me more than a little busy. This evening, though, I found myself in a slightly introspective mood. It's the effect of all those planets out there... all the trines and conjunctions and retrogrades and going directs. In any case, so instead of writing my prospectus or reading for section, I decided to do the "writing as self-therapy" thing, which I guess evolved into this blog post.

So, here's a little bit of me. Be nice.


I am full of contradictions and, although it can get hard sometimes, I’m happy that way.

I’m never sure what one “needs” to know about me. And my limited knowledge of psychoanalysis inhibits my ability to profile myself.

Yes, I do tend to overthink things sometimes. And someday, I’d like to know Lacan inside out.

Which makes sense, given that I’m an academic – at heart, mind and professionally. Although, technically, I’m still a student... People back home still think I’m studying to be an engineer (which I was, over 10 years ago, till I saw the light), or that I work at the U.N. (where I interned for just one summer, 5 years ago). It’s funny how perceptions stick. But that might have something to do with the fact that I travel home once every 2-3 years. Flying to India is expensive…

I am an “almost math major,” which means that if I had one more class, I would in fact be a math major. But I decided that enjoying the last semester of my senior year was more important than having a major I wasn’t planning on using. Not that my “real” major, i.e. politics, is that useful either. A politics professor once told me that I think like a mathematician... which is partially true, I now realize, because I can design fantastically “logical” lesson plans, grading rubrics and essay-writing guidelines for my students. Not that I really believe in logic, or rationality, or truth. I think I’d rather be Nietzsche’s mad-man; but I’m not that “evolved.”

I love teaching. I think of it as a process of rocking the students’ world… mentally and emotionally. Academics are personal trainers of the mind. That’s why we’re so cool… and also potentially so dangerous. Though I’m never sure why academics are cast as the leftist plague. Has anyone looked at a college course catalogue or syllabus recently? I could count the instances of leftiness on my two hands. Besides, I’m proud to be a leftist (which, in my head, is different from being a liberal, which I am not. I could give you a spiel on that…)

I am obsessed with violence – not enacting it or the spectacle of it… I can’t actually even watch violent movies. But I am obsessed with understanding it, theorizing it. Say something to me, and I’ll show you the violence that underlies it… kinda. But that explains why, in another lifetime (my engineering one), I was obsessed with nuclear chemistry and quantum mechanics. The thought of it still makes me tingle.

I believe in karma, and astrology, and spirituality (even religion, to some extent)… all the things that a secular, “rational,” lefty is not supposed to believe in. But like I said, I think rationality is full of it… It all comes down to energy, and I believe in energy a hundred per cent. All those Enlightenment folks had it wrong… they were just terrified about their bodies (go Bataille!) and deflected those fears by focusing on the mind. But, of course, we’re still terrified by our bodies… we just sanitize them through beauty and glamour, and viola, the body becomes manageable, sexy even.

Some of the folks I know back home are taken aback by the fact that almost all my friends her are people of color and/or queer. I wonder why. I mean I wonder why the thin its weird. I mean, it's not like I hand out a questionnaire before I make friends, but I really being around people who don't think it should be my life's work to teach them about oppression. Those that I do do that for, I call students. And I get paid for it.

I sometimes fear what would happen if my friends from the States and those from back home were ever in a room together. I wonder in what ways they might be able to relate to each other... besides alcohol. I think any attempted “intermingling” might ensue in hilarity, or could turn out to be painfully embarrassing for me. But Saturn returns to my sign in 15 days. Which means, I get to start over… and find a way to integrate these two distinct circles that signify my two distinct lives.

I don’t do favorites. Because every time I propose a favorite, somebody around me is a bigger fan and more knowledgeable, and I end up looking like a phony. I was once obsessed with Jake Gyllenhaal. I did the whole web-stalking thing, reading fan sites… I stopped just short of posting on one of those sites or sending him fan mail. That lasted about a month… perhaps less. Also, I once mentioned to my co-workers that I “loved Rob Thomas.” They thought I meant really, like a true fan. A picture of him graced my office walls for an entire year, courtesy them.

I think Eddie Izzard is a genius. He's one of the smartest and most socially conscious comedians/actors out there. I own all of his routines on CD or DVD, and I saw him live last year in L.A. Also, I enjoy British humor better than the American stuff. But that might just be me being a good post-/colonial subject. :)

I don’t like poetry. I think it’s pretty and powerful and all that, but I can’t get into. Give me lyrical prose though, anyday. Gibran. Coelho. I do like spoken word though.

I think spicy food is the best cure for a cold. I went all the way to India and didn’t get myself any pickle. Now I have to wait till next month when I get paid.

I am pro-life and pro-choice. I support gay marriage but am anti-marriage in general and for all. I am Zoroastrian but I can’t get behind all the associated pedantic, formalist shtuff. I think Indians need to re-read Fanon. And if they haven’t read him yet, read him for the first of many times.

I have this weird desire to train for a marathon. Weird because, well, I have no idea where it came from. And also because, ahem, it’s me. Let’s see if it sticks. Hopefully. But I can weight-train like a dude… albeit not a super strong one. Just gimme time.

I love the sound of the 12.30 AM Amtrack in the distance, passing between Old Town and Downtown.

I need to drink more water and consume more protein.

I like eggs.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Today I Cried

I'll be leaving home again pretty soon. I'm not really sure how I feel about it... I feel like I just got here, and I've had a pretty good time. But I do have stuff to look forward to back in the States. Then again, I hate goodbyes.

In any case, the next couple of weeks are going to be pretty hectic. I'll be at the Critical Legal Conference at the University of Leicester the weekend of the 11th. And then, when I'm back in San Diego the following weekend, it'll be all about getting back in the swing of things. So, in short, I'm no certain how often I'm actually going to be able to write in the next month or so.

I recently recovered data from my old hard-disk and found some stuff I'd written a few years ago. Here's one of those pieces. I wrote it the day after George W. won re-election in 2004. It's kinda sappy perhaps... apologies. But a good reminder of how shitty that time was.


Today I cried; I’m not sure why, but I did. I couldn’t move; I kept staring at my computer screen; I don’t know why. Sometimes it seemed like I was forcing myself to cry, so I’d stop; but then I’d cry all over again.

Today, the campus seemed dead; maybe it was just my imagination, but it seemed dead. I think I saw other people cry; maybe they just had a cold, but I think I saw them cry too.

Today, I cried in public; I’m still not sure why I was crying, but I was. Each time someone asked how I was doing, I’d say fine and my eyes would well up.

Today is Nov. 3, 2004. I cried; I know others cried too. I’m not sure why, but it may be because

Today was a victory for indifference and ignorance; for insensitivity and arrogance; for fear and hate; for lies and deceit; for white supremacy and global supremacy; for corporations over people; for religion over faith; for ideology over ideas.

Today I cried. I’m not sure why, but it may be because

Today I felt anger, hurt, frustration, disbelief, rage, pain, hopelessness, shock, fury, fear, hate.

Today I cried because today I felt less human, less humane.

Today I cried; I know others cried too.

Today I cried and I think I know why.

Today I cry.

Friday, August 21, 2009

New Rule: No Shame in Being the Sorry Party

Bill Maher
posted Aug. 21, 2009

New Rule:
If Mitt Romney, Karl Rove and Sarah Palin all think America has never done anything wrong, we must be doing something wrong. Look at them: an empty suit, an empty heart and an empty head. It looks like the news team on Good Morning Hell. And what they've been competing about lately is who would not apologize the most. America is infallible, and apologies are horrible things that must never, ever be given. Except by me when I make a joke about the Pope. "We're perfect -- deal with it," is their new handshake. But I say, what's wrong with America occasionally saying, "I'm sorry"? Because these are the three sorriest white people I've ever seen.

If in your eyes America can do no wrong, you should really look into Lasik surgery. There's the rational, mature assessment of our country: that it's a great nation -- especially if you like fried foods -- but it also has its faults. And then there's the Republican view: that it's perfect and pure in every way and it's always right all the time, just like Leviticus and Ronald Reagan.

If the founders were alive today, Republicans would be giving them shit because the Preamble to the Constitution says, "In order to form a more perfect union? Hello, it's already perfect! Why are you suggesting American apologetics, Ben Franklin?"

One of the things that makes Republicans furious about our current president is their idea that Obama is always apologizing for America's biggest mistakes. Unlike President Bush. Who was one of America's biggest mistakes.

In his first week as president, Obama did an interview with Arab TV in which he said, "We sometimes make mistakes. We have not been perfect." Thought crime! And then he went to Cairo and violated one of those absolute eternal rules the Right Wing is always making up out of thin air: "The president must never apologize on foreign soil. Lest our allies begin to doubt that we're assholes. "

But what did Obama actually say to make Karl Rove's head explode and the popcorn fly out? Cover your children's ears: When he was asked if he believed in American exceptionalism, he said he did, the same way "the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks in Greek exceptionalism." Yes, our so-called president actually said people in other countries might like their countries better. I was so shocked I nearly dropped the Bible I was using to help me masturbate into my gun.

In her farewell speech -- if only -- Sarah Palin kept telling us "how she's wired." Now I'm not a doctor, or an electrician -- but this is faulty wiring, this worldview that, in her words, "we should never apologize for our country." Really? Never? Not for slavery? Or Japanese internment camps, or if we tortured the wrong guy at Guantanamo? The Indians? Nothing, Sarah? "The Real Housewives of Atlanta"? Shouldn't John McCain apologize for... you?

When did intractability become a virtue? Mitt Romney's new book is called No Apology: The Case For American Greatness. You can find it at Borders, in the "Suck-Up" section. It's such a perfect title, combining paranoia with arrogance: "No one has yet asked me to apologize but, if someone ever does, fuck them."

Conservatives think apologizing is a sign of weakness. It's what liberal pussies do, when they're not busy driving electric cars and feeling empathy. When in fact it's the weak and the scared who are too insecure to apologize. Apologies are actually a sign of strength. That's why six-year-olds hate them.

In Rwanda, after a genocide that killed a million people, they set up special courts where people stood up and said, "Hey, sorry I macheted your entire family. My bad." And believe it or not, in most cases, that was enough. That's the power of an apology. A recent study reveals that doctors who are willing to apologize to patients for their mistakes are sued for malpractice about half as much as doctors who aren't willing to apologize.

Apologies can do great things, and they can enable great things. And if you still don't believe me, I have three words for you: make-up sex.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Of the Two Largest Democracies

When the Congress Party won the national elections earlier this year, I felt a sense of pride for my nation. India has a multi-party parliamentary system. However, national politics in this country is dominated by the Congress (a more centrist, secular party) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (or the BJP - a right-wing, hindu nationalist party). Given that this year's elections followed close on the heels of the attacks in Bombay, I was terrified that the BJP would be voted back into power. Terrorism invokes, in response, the worst kinds of racism, communalism, xenophobia, nativism - the kinds of anxieties that right-wing nationalist groups feed off. And so, going off my experience with the U.S. response to 9/11, I was pretty convinced that the BJP would win... happily I was proven wrong.

National trends not withstanding, state politics, especially in Maharashtra - which is where I live and therefore what I'm most familiar with - seem to be becoming increasingly nationalist. Until a short time ago, the party in power was the Shiv Sena, a hindu/marathi nationalist party. And while the Congress is currently in power at the state level here, the Shiv Sena is still very powerful. As is its more recent, and apparently its more violent, off-shoot, the Maharashtra Navanirman Sena (or the Maharashtra Renaissance Army). Most recently, the MNS was responsible for large-scale violence against taxi-drivers in the state, many, if not most, of whom are of North Indian descent.

This post though is not about Indian political parties. It is actually about the violent rhetoric and acts surrounding health care reform. For there is a strong connection between how parties like the BJP, the Shiv Sena, the MNS, etc function here, and the tenor of right-wing politics in the States, eve if the contexts and constituencies are not easily interchangable.

I recently read the an article by Cenk Uygur that captures this connection really well. The piece, although not particularly insightful in the context of those who get critical race politics, is still well worth a read. I've "redacted" though parts that I think are unnecessary because of the false and gratuitous yet inevitable glorification of U.S. democracy. Blah!

The Last Gasp of the Angry White Man
Cenk Uygur
August 10, 2009

What we're seeing in these angry town halls these days is the last gasp of the angry white man. He's not quite sure what he's angry about, but he knows he's angry. It's not the world he used to know. He gets the disquieting feeling that he doesn't rule the roost anymore. And it's driving him crazy.

One of the chants at the town hall events was, "No national health care!" Okay, mission accomplished. No one has proposed such a thing. So, I guess they can go home now, befuddled at what they were yelling about.

The reality is that what they have been manipulated into arguing against is a public option that would give them more choices, not less in health insurance. It wouldn't nationalize health insurance at all, let alone any part of the rest of the health care industry.

But this isn't about health insurance. It isn't even about health care. You think those people are really this animated about having less health care options and making sure it costs more for them and their family? No, this is visceral for them. And it has nothing to do with their perceived choices on health care. This is about the sinking feeling in their stomach that they are losing power in this country -- losing control. That the reins of power are slipping out of their hands and they don't know what to do about it, except yell, really loud.

One guy famously shouted, "Keep your government hands off my Medicare." Everyone is understandably amused by this. But there is a larger point here. They don't care about the logic of the issue at hand. I'm not convinced they even care what the issue is. These are the same people that were yelling at the Palin rallies. They were screaming just as loud then, and it was different issues, or no issues at all. Just name calling and fear. Pure, unadulterated fear.

At a recent Tampa town hall people were yelling at the top of their lungs, "Hear Our Voice." Ironically, that's all we could hear. No one could hear the congresswoman there. Or any arguments that were being made or any issues debated. All they could hear was the loud, angry voices demanding to be heard.

And who is stoking these fires? Encouraging and egging on these screams, this anger, this fear? Conservative talk hosts all across the country (and, of course, special interest groups funded by the health care industry who are relishing using these poor schleps as fodder for their effort to kill health care reform). They're telling them the proper response is anger. Don't wait your turn. Don't listen to the congressman. Shout. Be heard. Be angry. Obama is taking this country away from you.

The woman who now famously stood up in a Delaware town hall and demanded that her congressman recognize the illegitimacy of Barack Obama's birth certificate, said something telling in her rant. She said, "I want my country back!"

Indeed. Where did it go? Of course, the country is still right here. It's the "my" part that's missing. She doesn't want this country back. She wants her country back.

I want everyone to be heard, too. I hated it when the Bush handlers would keep out dissenting voices from their town halls. If conservatives are frustrated with some of the policy initiatives of the Obama administration, I think it's an appropriately democratic reaction to show up at town halls and ask questions. In fact, if they did it in a way that asked their representatives interesting and tough questions, I'd be proud of them.

Some of them are holding up constitutions. They finally got them out of the drawer where they were collecting mothballs as the Bush administration ran roughshod over that sacred text. They didn't seem to demand loyalty to that document as the Bush team eviscerated the Fourth Amendment.

But bygones be bygones, if they want to hold Obama responsible for his signing statements for example, great. You can argue he is impinging against Article I of the Constitution just as Bush did.

Do you think that's the argument the town hall screamers are making? Come on, can anyone really discern an argument? Could they point to one clause that they think Obama has violated? My guess is if challenged they would scream out the Second Amendment. Except Obama has not only not done anything to impose gun control, he has gone out of his way to rein in his Attorney General to make sure he also does nothing about it. It isn't about the Second Amendment. It isn't about the Constitution. It's about the anger.

It's a self-justifying anger. The angrier they get the more they feel the imperative to get angry. What is it? What's really eating away at them? I don't think it's a conscious racial thing for them. It's more a feeling of their way of life slipping away from them.

Think about it. If you worked at the local shop and in the old days you could get your son hired there, things were pretty good. Now, they tell you that they have to give the job to someone else's son. Someone that doesn't look like you, someone that you've never met or ever talked to. There's been a lot of generations of that now.

You think those guys are going to inquire into the history of racial prejudice in this country and why it might make sense to increase diversity in a workplace when some groups have been excluded entirely? No, all they know is that their son couldn't get the same job that their dads got for them. They want their country back.

Of course, this has been building up for quite awhile. But now they have lost their political power. Now the epitome of what they were fighting against is their new leader. His first hire for the Supreme Court is a Hispanic woman, who they hear is racist against white men and was only picked because of her race and gender.

And when the president is talking about a confrontation between a white man (a cop trying to do his job) and a black man (another one that got to be a professor, though God knows if he earned it), he immediately chooses the side of the black man -- without even knowing the facts. Man, they're angry. This is the guy they were warned about.

Whether their perception is true is not relevant. It's the intensity of the perception that is relevant. And on top of all this, they feel the whole system is rigged against the average guy (and they're right about this one).

The bankers get all the money. The government spends a ton of cash, but they feel like it never comes to them. It feels like the guys at the top are the ones who always make out like bandits (the fact that their anger against this is being used by those same guys for their own interests is of tremendous irony).

But then add on top of that, their team lost. They don't feel like the president is "one of them." Maybe that's not even malicious, or at least consciously malicious. But that's how they feel. The world is changing around them and every time they turn on the radio or television (which, of course, is glued to Fox News), they are being told they're right to be angry. And that their anger should be directed primarily at one man: Barack Obama.

That's where the trouble comes in. It's starting to feel like a third world country around here. In developing countries there are organized mobs. There are disruptions of political gatherings. There are angry crowds and talk of gathering weapons. Talk of revolutions (one man in South Carolina told Rep. Inglis that "there is not a day that goes by ... that I don't hear talk of revolution in our country.").

We're America. We're supposed to be better than this.

We're supposed to resolve our differences peaceably and civilly. We're supposed to listen to one another. We're supposed to have the best democracy in the world. As it stands, we're one burning tire away from Haiti. We have to dial this thing back down.

Of course, the problem isn't the progressives here. Their side won. The moderates and independents aren't necessarily boiling over with anger. No, in this case, it's the right-wing. And there's the problem. Because there does not seem to be anyone on that side who is capable or inclined to bring down the volume of the conversation. If anything, their response is more shouting, more disruptions, more rancor and more accumulation of weapons. As one local Republican nominee in Virginia put it, "We have the chance to fight this battle at the ballot box before we have to resort to the bullet box." So, what happens when they keep losing at the ballot box?

It's beginning to smell a lot like banana republic around here. And there is no answer. If you try to suggest that they bring it down a notch, they scream censorship and warn their audience that their rights are about to be taken away from them. And so is their country. If you say it might not be such a good idea to have all of these weapons in the hands of all these angry men, they scream about the Second Amendment and tell their audience to hold on to their guns even tighter. And many have held on so tight that some of them even pulled the trigger.

How many more will? When does this stoking of anger and fear stop? And who would stop it? I really don't know. Here's one more thing I don't know. What happens if it doesn't?