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
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?
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?
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?
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?
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.”
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.
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.
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?
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.
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]
- human existence as socially produced
- produces possibility for resistance/counter-hegemonic practice
- Ethnic Studies as liberatory (not revolutionary) project