Friday, October 25, 2002

Budding Academics

As an aged veteran of the university, I often like to look around and see what those precocious whippersnappers, the future shapers of American minds, are up to. Here's an exciting example of modern thought. This young lady writes for her school's paper, and has created her own major in "Cultural Politics and Social Protest." Oh, you tiny socialist scamp! She has a recent editorial entitled, "Capitalism is not Democracy." Here are a few gems:

Democracy is a funny word. It doesn't have a universal definition; rather it is defined by different groups of people for different interests. The U.S. government, for example, uses the word democracy to mean neoliberal economics. I would like to try to imagine a different definition toward a different end. Especially in a time of silencing dissent, it is imperative that we try to understand what the potential of working democratically for democracy is. Yep, that dissent sure is silent. That would be why every paper and news outlet feature protests on a daily basis, even if only 5 aged hippies bother to show up.

Paragraph removed...Weird aside about Zapatistas and their benign idea of rulership ...

Racism, sexism, homophobia and the existence of social and economic classes are all obstacles to democracy. These oppressions silence voices and undermine economic and political freedoms. Hierarchies, whether formal or informal, often impede on freedoms and dehumanize those are disenfranchised. Blah, blah, blah. Swiped this straight from her feminist studies manual, no doubt.

The concept of democracy is so warped in our minds right now that we cannot even imagine what it would look like. Democracy does not simply mean representation, but rather reaching consensus and doing what is best for the collective group. Which is what we are doing here. It is the exact opposite of a capitalist system, the dominant definition in the United States--that would be her dominant definition, in case you haven't caught on yet, and that definition isn't anchored in reality.

We cannot quickly transform our culture into one that is truly democratic. Nothing short of a total and complete revolution in our economic system and the way we function could. However, we can try, practice and experiment with democracy at every chance we get. We can question authority, make change within oppressive structures and take power for ourselves. Ahh, I love the smell of nascent fascism in the morning--let's all take power. There is no sharing here! That's REAL democracy, baby!

One of the best ways to begin this process is within the classroom. Children are socialized into the world through many ideological outlets, including media, religion and family. However, many times school is the first opportunity for children to interact with their peers and to face an authority figure in a "professional setting." Children are taught from their first day in kindergarten to listen when the teacher speaks, to raise their hands, to be deferential and to allow authority to define their learning process. If we could begin to change this process, perhaps we could change the way we participate in our society.Ya know, some other great leaders of our time thought that the best way to inculcate change was by "re-educating the children." Hmmm, I wonder who they could be? Suddenly I'm in the mood for bratwurst...

Paragraph removed. Odd blather about trust. Did this poor child never watch The X-Files?

While the United States prepares to launch preemptive strikes on Iraq, we should question who would benefit from this action. Iraqis who are killed will not benefit. Americans in the military who will die will not benefit. Americans who rely on social programs that get cut due to the military budget will not benefit. I will not benefit. And there, in a nutshell, is her argument. It's all about Jessica! She wants to grab the power, re-educate the children, and get rid of any war that doesn't immediately benefit her interests. There is no big picture--there is only Jessica! Whee!

Oil companies, the military complex and President George W. Bush might benefit. But if we are working for democracy we need to assert that this war is not good for the people of the United States, nor the majority of people in the world. Let's see...democracy is kind of about freedom from oppression, terror and fear. Freeing the people of Iraq from an oppressive dictator and the people of the US from, never mind. She makes me tired.

Wow, that was amazingly naive and ill thought out. In all fairness, however, this is a college sophomore, and she's just toeing the party line and regurgitating what she's been taught. The most salient feature of this garbage is not that a 19 or 20 year old thinks it, but that more than a few tenured professors and assorted academic intellectuals do, and that they are spoonfeeding this crap to generation after generation with no real opposition. Just think, Jessica will soon be in a position to teach those who are going to take care of us in our old age! Makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, doesn't it?

Thursday, October 24, 2002

I Just Want To Park My Car, Okay?

Note to woman in giant Lincoln Town Car:

This is a college campus. Parking is therefore at a premium, and the Transportation Department in their infinite greed has made the parking spaces as small as possible in order to maximize spaces and profits and minimize convenience. However, the lot we pay to park in is designated for employees, and when we arrive each morning at 7:15, there are actually lots of empty spaces. So please answer me this question:

WHY do you INSIST on BACKING INTO THE SPACE DIRECTLY NEXT TO ME AT THE EXACT MOMENT THAT I AM TRYING TO EXIT MY CAR EVERY FREAKING DAY?!?! Why? Do you enjoy pinning me in, making me wait to open my door until you have backed up and pulled forward fourteen times in a futile attempt to position your motorized behemoth in the exact center of the space so that no one opening their car doors beside you will ding your precious paint? Are you a sadist, or merely too stupid to realize that there is no parking space on campus wide enough to accomodate your wish for a ding-free vehicle? Can you not move 1 space down from me, where there are NO CARS, and you may tweak your parking to your heart's content without inconveniencing anyone? Do you enjoy the look on my face every day when, after finally coming to a stop, you fling wide the door of the Lincoln and ding MY driver's side door?

I can only conclude that you are evil, Lincoln Town Car woman. Evil, and bent on shortening my life by regularly raising my blood pressure. A pox on you and your satanic conveyance!

Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Being Trained in Diversity

As part of this university, I am required to attend two "diversity events" each semester. My attendance is duly recorded and submitted to the Vice Chancellor every year. I've been employed here for five years, so that's, what, 20 diversity sessions? And you know what? With two exceptions (one class on Exploring Chinese Culture and one lecture by the fellow in charge of the Mexican consulate in Raleigh), they've all been on race relations. And race relations is always code for black/white relations. The attendees are always the same--folks from my division there to fulfill the diversity event requirement, a presenter (usually African-American), and a smattering of faculty and students. The subject matter is always the same, too: Racism on campus is overt and covert.

Now, overt racism I get. It's happened to staff members here, so I'm not ever gonna say it doesn't exist. Yeah, we've had students with swastikas painted on the ceiling of their dorm room complain that they don't understand "why that n***** had to come in my room and give me a hard time" when the person in question was a staff member enforcing campus regulations. Okay, it's here, it's hurtful, I get it. But I can only police myself in terms of what I think and feel and say about other folks, and I was raised to respect people (or make hideous fun of them) based on their actions, not their race. Sitting in a room for half a day being lectured on racism doesn't contribute anything new to my understanding or change my behavior. It's preaching to the choir. Let's put it this way: Joe skinhead with the swastika on his ceiling is probably not gonna be at the race relations forum.

So then we move on to the other subject, and this is where things get weird and PC and the whole idea of meaningful dialogue on race goes down the toilet. Racism is covert. What does this mean? That there is such a thing as white privilege and it's so ingrained in our culture that black people must always fight it and it's just as hurtful as swastikas on the ceiling and the "n word." This is where the white people start calling "bullshit" and the black people reply that white folks aren't there and can't understand and that's that. Maybe we're both right, maybe we're both wrong, maybe one is right and the other is wrong but you know what? We'll never find out, because as soon as the covert racism subject comes up on a college campus, people start speaking in PC code and dialogue shuts down. Let me use examples from this article on a recent NC State race roundtable discussion:

Nacoste opened the discussion by saying, "The point of this dialogue was to get into the social fabric of N.C. State and find out what's really going on."
With that in mind, he first posed a question to the audience and panelists.

"Is NCSU racist?"

"Based on the students and colleagues that I interact with, I see no evidence of racism [at NCSU]," said Thomas Stafford.
(White guy.)

In contrast to Stafford's opinion, Al Headen said, "There are problems here. NCSU implies racism because it was relatively slow in removing the vestiges [of racism]." (Black guy--there is no elaboration on what these vestiges were.)

Both sides continued to debate. (White consensus--not a racist institution. Black consensus--racist institution)

In regard to NCSU's approach to racial issues, Monica Leach said, "We are addressing issues head on." (No, we're not. Not if this "dialogue" is an example of how we "address issues head on." We're talking around the problem.)Leach added, "Focusing on the institution takes the focus away from the individuals who practice racism." (So, the issue being addressed--is NCSU racist--is not the real issue and we aren't addressing anything).

Nacoste then posed the following question to the panelists: "What was on your mind when you moved in this direction [either supporting or objecting that NCSU was a racist institution]?"
"Students choose to be more proactive than faculty. They look at issues," said Headen. (This doesn't answer the question)
"[Students] live, learn and grow here, not just work here," said Tony Caravano. "That's the difference." (Neither does this)
"Students are very proactive but only a select few are," said Melissa Lampkins. (Again, we're sidestepping)

As the dialogue proceeded, panelists covered other points.
"[Racism] is everyone's issue, not just African-Americans' issue," said Kathy Hamilton-Brown.
(Well, hellooooo captain obvious.)
Lampkins brought up the issue of "white privilege" acknowledging its existence. She added, "To be nonracist is to be actively anti-racist, not just toning down racism." (Okay, but weren't we talking about whether racism exists--have we established that it has, what the parameters are, and how to be actively anti-racist within those parameters? No? Why not, I wonder? Could it be because if we actually sat down and started dissecting this issue tempers would flare, and our happy little veneer of PC racial harmony would crack? Naaaaah.)

"Individuals don't make social change," said Barbara Risman. "Collectivity makes social change." (This diversity roundtable brought to you by the Borg. You will be assimilated.)Soon after, Nacoste invited the audience to participate.

Audience members addressed several issues, such as contemporary segregation and racism, the power to influence intolerant minds and racial identity versus human identity.
"N.C. State is racist. Why is it racist? We have two types: overt and covert racism," said Brett Locklear.
(Examples, Brett? We're just parrotting the party line here, guy.)

Another audience member approached the microphone and said, "I think everyone is inherently racist." He noted, "We're talking but we're not really saying anything." (FINALLY! Someone hit the nail on the head! All these pretty words don't address any real issue.)

"Let's find commonalties among the races," suggested one audience member. (Look! Captain Obvious brought her sidekick, Platitude Boy!)

A female Native American student acknowledged that she hangs out with only Native Americans. She said that it was hard not to.
"[Racism] starts at home," she added.
(Well, so far we've discovered that folks tend to hang out with those like them, and that your childhood experience influences your attitude. Consider me enlightened.)

As the discussion came to a close, announcements were made about additional dialogues that are planned for 2002-03, the Study Circles Program that will allow faculty, staff and students to continue the discussions of race in a structured setting and the campus climate survey.

"I think [the dialogue] was a good start," said Kyle Huff, a doctoral student. "However, there really is more to be discussed."
(Thanks for pointing that out, buddy.)

The campus dialogue was "a joke," said Locklear. "It's a vehicle being used to appease students, and there's no real accountability to the institution to make sure they address issues and needs of the community." (But how do you address the amorphous term "institutional racism?" Lobotomies for everyone? There is more going on here, but you haven't articulated it and even if you did, no one would debate it.)

"As a student leader and member of the international community, it seems that many of these events are focusing on issues that are just black and white. It's imperative to move beyond just black and white issues," said junior Crystal Young. "It was a productive dialogue on race." (I'm being obvioused to death, but thanks for that final twist of the "duh" knife.)

Nacoste left both the panelists and the audience with one last thought. "The message is there has to be institutional change. The institution has its responsibilities." (What? What are they? What the hell just happened? We spent two freaking hours talking about nothing--it was absolutely Seinfeldian in its nothingness!)

Alas, this is the state of dialogue. Everyone gets together and says that racism is bad. The black attendees talk about institutionalized racism and the white attendees nod sagely while no one gives any examples of anything or poses any constructive suggestions for improvement or bothers to mention anything that might have an emotional component, and then we all leave and promptly forget about the entire experience until the next two hour session of talking about nothing.

What would be my idea of a constructive dialogue? Well, for starters we'd talk about concrete campus examples of racism. We'd define "institutionalized racism" and talk about examples of that. We'd talk about the hidden assumptions of whites and blacks about racism. And if folks were absolutely honest, it would probably degenerate into a shouting match. But that'll never happen here, because the PC culture makes it impossible to talk about race. Because to talk about race would mean leaving behind the PC behavior codes, and no employee will do that because of the extremely high likelihood that he or she will end up labled racist and that there will be a huge controversy and you know what? It just ain't worth it. So we'll all just mark our calendars for the next roundtable discussion on race where the above scenario will be repeated, turn in our attendance forms, and get a gold star next to our names in the Diversity Training category.

Tuesday, October 22, 2002

Well, This Is Typical

Sometimes, academics get so caught up in their images of themselves as groundbreaking freedom fighters who must defend their comrades-in-arms they kinda ignore the details--like, what exactly their comrades-in-arms stand for. Campus Watch has been at the center of a hullabaloo because it listed the names of professors who were apologists for Islamic terrorism. The New York Times ran a typically hysterical article about "dossiers" being compiled by the "pro-Israel research and policy group" which cited "eight professors and 14 universities for their views on Palestinian rights or political Islam." Actually, if they had bothered to read the statement of purpose, they would have discovered that "CAMPUS WATCH, a project of the Middle East Forum, monitors and critiques Middle East studies in North America, with an aim to improving them. The project mainly addresses five problems: analytical failures, the mixing of politics with scholarship, intolerance of alternative views, apologetics, and the abuse of power over students. Campus Watch fully respects the freedom of speech of those it debates while insisting on its own freedom to comment on their words and deeds." But I guess it just takes up less precious column space to reduce a statement of purpose to the sinister compilation of dossiers. Whatever. I mean, why quibble over accuracy when you can replace facts with loaded phrases?

And academia didn't fail to disappoint in its response. So now 100 professors have emailed Campus Watch, asking to have their names added to the list of the original eight in a show of "solidarity." As site founder Daniel Pipes put it (rather mildly, I think), "'Most of them are academics from other fields,' ... 'and I suspect that few of them actually read our statement of purpose, for very few of them understand what issues Campus Watch was created to address. Still, if they insist on declaring public solidarity with Palestinian or Islamist violence, this is important information for university stakeholders to be aware of, so we are posting their names.'" Read the rest, if you're so inclined.

Indeed, we now have professors of Computer Science who are apparently using their academic position to apologize for terrorism. Reading is fundamental, kiddies. Perhaps you should try it sometime. Then, after you've practiced, maybe we can move on to reading comprehension. From there, logic and actual tolerance may be in reach. Damn my cockeyed optimism.
Campus News

Submitted for your perusal today, a couple of items from Duke University's newspaper. The first is an editorial about freedom of speech on Duke's campus--the rhetoric is presented in the typical overblown senior english major more-and-bigger-words-are-always-better writing style, but the argument is well-ordered. The second item is a letter that touches on the same stuff--shorter, less wordy, but you can see the beginnings of the overblown style (this writer is only a junior--give him a year). Encouraging.

However, lest you get excited about the fact that there are those on campus willing to challenge the exisisting hegemony, read this editorial from NC State's premiere African-American publication. Yeah. It really says that. And it isn't a parody.

Monday, October 21, 2002

I Want My Two Dollars! (Points to anyone who recognizes that pop culture reference)

Or more like $550, since that's the amount of cash I dropped a year ago on the wedding of a friend who is now--you guessed it--getting a divorce. It's not like the demise of this happy union was in any way unexpected; however, as I am not independently wealthy, reflecting on the money wasted gives me physical pain, especially when I realize that the DVD player I cannot now afford could have been paid for twice over for that amount. And I bet it would have lasted more than a year--the warranty says so.

What did I get for my $550? Let's see..

  • A lime green dress that is now 3 sizes too large (and still lime green), because I was 5 months pregnant (and carrying the fetus entirely in my ass, as I confused the term "pregnant" with "eat like a freaking moose for nine months") on the date of the nuptials.

  • A pair of matching lime green shoes that almost looked cute on the shelf but that I had to lash to my feet with twine to keep them on.

  • A bouquet that died within 2 hours of being toted down the aisle.

  • And a 1/3 share in a completely useless silver trinket box from Tiffany's™, because the other bridesmaid thought we needed to follow the Martha Stewart's Weddings book to the letter and purchase wildly expensive gifts for the rehearsal dinner in addition to the wedding presents we were required to bring, and the showers we were required to throw.

I'd just like to mention, re: the wedding presents, that my "friend" registered for Waterford™ and Wedgewood™ exclusively.

What else did I get? Surprised, when I discovered AT THE REHEARSAL that I was the matron of honor and therefore required to read a Shakespearean sonnet during the ceremony. Which I did, cold, with the preacher clutching my elbow in a death grip as I tottered up the steps in my loose shoes with my giant ass threatening to overbalance me and send me into a decorative fern.

I also got completely ignored by the groom, even as I sat NEXT TO HIM at the rehearsal dinner. No "Hi, thanks for participating in the most important day of my pathetic life thus far, " no acknowledgement of my presence (or anyone else's who wasn't an old Navy buddy) at the table, not even a "Hey, could you pass the butter?" to let me know that he was aware that the bride might have some friends, too. I considered hitting him with the ubiquitous copy of Martha Stewart's Weddings, but the other bridesmaid was afraid he might bleed on the cover.

The only saving grace was that the happy couple did not write their own vows, so we were all spared having to pretend we were "touched by the heartfelt emotion" of the ceremony. Don't know if I could have pulled that off in any case, since having your shoes tied to your feet tends to be distracting.

My husband has always complained about the numerous weddings we've had to attend and participate in over the years, and usually I can defend my friends' choices of venue, bizarre "personalized" ceremony glitches, crap food, and bad taste, mainly because in most cases I've believed in the people involved. But I think I've had it. Unless you can guarantee me, in writing, that the marriage will last longer than it takes me to pay off the credit card bills I've accrued from participating in your wedding, I will not be attending. I will, however, think of you fondly as I pop another movie into my new DVD player.
The Usual Suspects

Okay, so the Bali bombing occurred on October 12. It only took Berkeley 6 days to convene a roundtable discussion in order to blame the US. Who says that academia isn't on the ball when it comes to current events?