Friday, January 27, 2012

"This is Panic Attack Rap"

Title thanks to Das Racist.

We are in a crisis that happens to be playing out in schools but isn't only about schools. It's about white supremacy, and those cuts run deep.

I assume NWF readers are aware of big events and generally keeping up with the news, so you probably already know about the ABSOLUTE FUCKING RACISM happening in Arizona schools right now. Here's one recap, and more from Common Dreams:

Arizona is closing public school ethnic studies programs that accuse whites of oppressing Chicanos and Native Americans on the grounds that these historical lessons constitute racist hate speech. But scholars and activists are protesting the state’s latest move as racist itself because it keeps students from these communities from learning about their own history and heroes.
As Paul Ortiz - a fellow radical historian at my university - says:

These people want us to mow their lawns, pick their crops, clean their public restrooms, teach their kids, and truck their consumer goods from coast to coast and yet they will not allow our children to read books about their own histories? What is the problem with this country?
And then:
What I'm trying to figure out is this: what is happening today in white American culture that is driving this kind of rage towards children of color? Many of us experienced these types of abuses in the 1970s as kids but had hoped that the nation had moved beyond pulverizing the minds of its children. Guess not....

The Tucson kids didn't take this shit lying down. Students from three high schools organized a walk-out. They met in a park, marched to the Tuscon United School District, and held teach-ins on the lawn. It's tear-jerking, it's awe-inspiring, it's heroic.

So, I didn't let this shit go untouched on my own Facebook wall. I had a conversation with Alert Reader Steve, who correctly pointed out that this is all part of the system and asked what I'd do to change it. I said this:

I want colleges of education and [the American Educational Research Association] and [Teach For America] to be less attached to assimilation, for instance. Instead of asking, "What's wrong with the brown kids that's keeping them from succeeding in schools," and placing the blame on communities of color, they could do some self-reflection and ask what's wrong with The System, and what they're doing to create schools in which only some kids can succeed. All the big research money goes to asking the "what's wrong with brown people" question, and when you ask the "what's wrong with the schools/system/us" question, you're a radical and they don't have to listen to you anymore. It's easy for colleges of ed and AERA to look at what's going on in Tucson right now and say "that's wrong," but haven't looked at their complicity in the system that allows it. They're still working under assumptions that the system that works for white people should work for everyone, for instance. They still, in general, marginalize other narratives of success and draw lines around what it means to be a "good kid" or a "productive adult." There is too much meritocracy at work. You should see the reactions that happen when you get white grad students to read Faces at the Bottom of the Well, for instance. I've seen it. It isn't pretty.

As for queer stuff - because, let's be real, the patriarchy is both white and hetero - AERA has been almost militantly silent. They have said they "don't take stances on political issues," even as kids are dying. Queer kids aren't a political issue. These institutions sanction a system that allows the queer kid to be kept out of school for "his safety" but lets the bullies have access to school. That happens all the time. They perpetuate a system that requires cis/hetero gender conformity. Etc.

In the cases of queer and/or of-color populations, schools are forces of colonization, socialization, and assimilation. That's gotta stop, because it's a milder form of what's going on here. Tuscon is a really visible attempt to silence and erase people, but in many ways it's more of a quantitative difference than a qualitative one.


We should be panicking right now.

Image via.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

On Coming Out When You're Famous

Or, at least, semi-famous.

I'm kind of a comedy nerd, and I've long had mixed feelings about that. Sometimes I get disgusted with comedians - most frequently straight white dudes, but not always - who use their comedy to pick on people with less social capital than them. Misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia are frequently part of comedians' acts. I'm looking at you, Andrew Dice Clay, Patrice O'Neal, Steven Wright, Tracy Morgan, etc.

But there are some comedians out there whom I usually feel are reliably progressive and cool. Jimmy Dore, for instance, frequently talks about how he believes that it's okay to pick on people with more social capital than you (Wall Street CEOs) but not less (homeless people). Louis CK, while sometimes a raging gender essentialist, can call out racists like you wouldn't believe. Jamie Kilstein not only does expressly political comedy, he hosts a podcast about progressive issues meant to counter the shit we get from the mainstream media. And Todd Glass, who used to co-host a podcast with Jimmy Dore, has been calling for homophobes to kill themselves for at least the last five years, which is about as long as I've been following his career.

Glass used to - and still does - talk about how people opposing gay rights and shit like that in the 2000s is like someone calling for segregation in 1989. It doesn't make sense, and people are going to be embarrassed as shit about this later, or at least, so we hope.

Well, yesterday, on fellow comedian Marc Maron's podcast, Todd Glass came out as gay. I sat down on the floor of my dining room and just listened to Todd talk about his experiences as a closeted gay comedian and didn't move for a solid 45 minutes. Then I re-listened to the podcast this morning, and I'll probably do it again later today. At first I wasn't convinced it was for real, but it is. Todd Glass is gay. This is really, really great.

It's not just great because I think gay people are great - though it is for that reason also - but because Glass is a really famous comedian. He's had enormous levels of success in the field, appeared on Last Comic Standing, and is frequently referred to as "the comedian's comedian." He's brilliant. And now he's out, and people like Dice Clay and Morgan and those other shitheads who know him are going to have to think again about their homophobic shit because one of their friends is gay now.

What got me super teared up was his statement that he's coming out now because he can't watch any more kids kill themselves and stay silent. He's 100% right. People need to come out, we need to be out, because, as I've said before, it's making the world safer.

Caveat: Don't come out if it's not safe for you. I get it. Some of us are privileged to be able to be out and not lose our homes or put ourselves at the risk for violence from family or roommates or whatever. Not everyone is. This is important.

I wrote a gushy e-mail to Todd Glass and I'm sure he's going to get more of those. People everywhere will be as delighted and filled with warmth as I am, I hope. If I could give Todd Glass a huge hug, I would. I'm so glad he's using his privilege to help people. He alluded to starting a campaign of some kind to help kids. Todd, I eagerly await the details. I'm so proud of you.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Racism Antidote

For some reason I encountered a lot of random racism over the holidays, I have no idea why. That shit can wear on a person, even a person with a nice protective coating of white privilege, so I headed over to Yo, Is This Racist? to recover. I recommend it for whenever you have a need to see someone straighten out racists and also be very funny. And just because we heart you so much, dear readers, I've compiled a list of my favorites for your reading pleasure.

The Should-Be-Obvious-But-Sadly-Needs-Pointing-Out:

On Privilege

Slightly more complex issues:

Just funny:


Happy New Year, everybody; I wish you a racism-free 2012.

Silencing Efforts: It's Time for the Homophobic Student Evaluations

In the last year, my university switched to online student evaluations. This is bad in the sense that fewer students fill them out, and when they do, tend to spend less time on them. But it's kinda cool in that I get to see them much sooner and, if a student raises a point I want to consider, I have time to implement it before I'm halfway through the next semester.

I don't want to seem like an egomaniac or anything, but I'm a pretty good teacher. I've won the university-wide teaching award, and my evaluations are generally quite positive. This semester, some students wrote some particularly sweet and lovely things in their evaluations, and I find this quite touching, and encouraging. I also find it necessary to my survival in this field, because I also got a handful of students who wrote that they wished I didn't talk about queer stuff so much. They talked about my "gay agenda" and how I'm apparently biased.

They're right, you know. I do have a gay agenda and I'm totes biased. My agenda and bias paid off, though, because I made my classroom safer for some of my kids, the ones who feel uncomfortable and unsafe in other settings. That I didn't uphold heteronormativity, as was expected of me, or pretend to be "neutral" on these issues, is good. It's also fucking scary as hell. I don't want to stop teaching, ever.

Part of the reason I think that the kids felt like we talked about queer history so much is that they never hear about it anywhere else. As Kristen said, any amount of discussion about queer stuff above 0% is a lot to them, because it's novel. But I've written about how it is essential to teach queer history before. And because I like it and I can, I'm going to go ahead and quote Feinberg again here:

I always wanted to leave something important behind. Remember the history book you gave me for Christmas?... I've been going to the library, looking up our history. There's a ton of it in anthropology books, a ton of it, Ruth. We haven't always been hated. Why didn't we grow up knowing that?... It's changed the way I think. I grew up believing the way things are now is the way they've always been, so why even bother trying to change the world? But just finding out that it was ever different, even if it was long ago, made me feel things could change again. Whether or not I live to see it. At work, when everyone else is at lunch, I've been typesetting all the history I've found, trying to make it look as important as it feels to me. That's what I want to leave behind, Ruth - the history of this ancient path we're walking. I want it to help us restore our dignity.
- Leslie Feinberg, Stone Butch Blues

Remember that? So, so important. My queer kids aren't finding themselves in history in other classes, so it's my fucking responsibility to make sure they find themselves in my class.

A lot of these students are wrestling with the idea that anyone who isn't a cis straight white man has bias. Because I'm out to my students, I take great risk, as do all out people in education everywhere. I can't cave to their expectations that I will be neutral. It's not possible for me. I'm not neutral. Neutral means invisibility, and invisibility means death, in the most literal sense. Queer kids are killing themselves, getting kicked out of their homes, running away from abusive situations. Am I supposed to be quiet when my kids are dying? Fuck that. I'll take making some privileged straight kids annoyed or uncomfortable over letting kids die because they think they're alone.

I wrote about a study awhile back that talked about how openly queer teachers are negatively reviewed thanks to "modern homonegativity" (the "I'm not anti-gay but..." shit), and - more interesting to me - comments on the study that come from people in the field, some of whom are openly queer. I'm going to re-post the comment I liked the most from the Inside Higher Ed piece here, and I want to emphasize that he's talking about doctoral students:

Michael Dumas: Interestingly, I just taught about LGBT issues last night in a doctoral class on diversity in education. The course is taught by two instructors, both African American, one straight-identified female, and one gay male (me). If this year's student evaluations are similar to last year's, I fully expect to see one or two students complain that "too much time" was spent on gay issues, even though the LGBT content is--coincidentally-- only about 1/10 of the subject matter covered. I also can expect similarly critical comments about how much time was spent on race and African Americans, even though both instructors are conscious about including other populations in readings, media and examples. I don't want to comment on methodological rigor of the study without reading it, but I can say that it is consistent with my experience, and that of a whole range of LGBT, women and people of color in the academy. And yes, negative and untruthful course evaluations can hurt one in the tenure and promotion process.

 Now, as for the question raised above about why a professor would reveal her or his sexual orientation, the study states that sexual orientation was indicated in the autobiographical statement given to research participants. It did NOT say that instructors listed their sexual identity on the syllabus itself! And yes, students do talk amongst themselves about who their professors are as people; they see photos on our desks; they know about our involvement in various advocacy groups on campus; and, importantly, they make assumptions based on gender performance (length of hair, style of dress, speaking voice). So it is entirely reasonable that a student would be aware of, or at least presume, specific sexual identities.
Yesssssssss. You can go back to my earlier post on that, linked to above, to see my commentary on it. I'm posting it here for therapeutic reasons. I needed to read that again.

Look, I don't expect that my department is going to let me off the hook for the homophobic evaluations, ever. I have every expectation of having to explain myself. And so I wrote this post in large part to strengthen myself. I need to have all these thoughts at the top of my head when I get called in for the meeting. Maybe I will be surprised, but I expect that someone will tell me to tone it down, or be strategic, or talk about queer stuff less. I'm hoping the folks in my department will be allies, but I'm never sure. And isn't that a problem?

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