Solnit stories, in metaphors. 

Starting a new book by Rebecca Solnit, Whose Story is This? Old Conflicts, New Chapters (Haymarket Books, 2019) it opens with some beautiful writing summarizing current events and social movements and political moments of the past decade. In pages 1-9, I am struck by the following metaphors: 

  1. Building a structure;
  2. Collective projects;
  3. most important are the most subtle.
  4. A million tiny steps;
  5. Delegitimization of the past and 
  6. Hope for a better future.
  7. New clarity about how injustice works … Makes it recgonizable when it recurs, and that recognizability strips away the
  8. Disguises of and
  9. Excuses for the old ways.
  10. Culture matters.
  11. It’s the substructure of beliefs that 
  12. Shape politics, that change begins on the
  13. Margins and in the
  14. Shadows and
  15. Grows toward the center.
  16. It’s the pervasiveness that matters most.
  17. We live inside ideas:
  18. Shelters,
  19. Observatories, 
  20. Windowless prisons.

There are so many fabulous sentences in “Cathedrals and Alarm Clocks”:

The title essay of this anthology is about the struggle of new stories to be born, against the forces that prefer to shut them out or shout us down, against people who work hard at not hearing and not seeing. (7)

This is a time in which the power of words to introduce and justify and explain ideas matters, and that power is tangible in the changes at work. Forgetting is a problem; words matter, partly as a means to help us remember. When the cathedrals you build are invisible, made of perspectives and ideas, you forget you are inside them and that the ideas they consist of were, in fact, made, constructed by people who analyzed and argued and shifted our assumptions.  (4)

Remembering that people made these ideas, as surely as people made the buildings we live in and hte roads we travel on, helps us remember that, first change is possible, and second, it’s our good luck to live in the wake of this change rather than asserting our superiority to those who came before the new structures, and maybe even acknowledge that we have not arrived at a state of perfect enlightens, because there is more change to come, more that we do not year recognize that will be revealed. I have learned so much. I have so much to learn. (5)

Despite the backlashes — or because they are backlashes — I remain hopeful about this project of building new cathedrals for new constituencies (9). 

You can see change itself happening, if you watch carefully and keep track of what was versus what is. (3) 

Amnesia means that people forget hte stunning scope of change in recent decades. That change is itself hopeful, as evidence that people considered marginal or powerless — scholars, activists, people speaking for and from within oppressed groups — have changed the world. (6).

The opposite is falling into the nightmare that is also such a powerful force in this time, the nightmare of white supremacy and patriarchy, and the justification of violence to defend them….. I call it a nightmare because it is delucional in its fears and its fantasies a of grandeur and its intention of making decades of changes evaporate, of showing new ideas back into the oblivion from which they emerged and returning to a past that never existed. (8-9)

We live inside ideas. Some are shelters, some are observatories, some are windowless prisons. We are leaving behind some and entering others. (3)

We are building something immense together that, though invisible and immaterial, is a structure, one we reside within — or, rather, many overlapping structures. (1)

The consequences of these transformations are perhaps most important where they are most subtle. (1)

When facing racism, undercut and expose

I wrote an email on Wednesday with a subject of: “About Black hair & portrayals of Blackness” to the mother of another child in the 3 and 4 year old class. What propelled, if not compelled, me to do so was having read a helpful article on microagressions by Ruth Terry in the October 2019 YES magazine a few weeks prior. In it, Terry describes how Derald Wong Sue responds to microaggressions with:

 By “naming” a microaggression, a concept Sue borrows from Paulo Freire’s seminal work, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, we are able to undercut its power and expose metacommunication behind it.

I’ve had mixed feelings about microaggressions for years, yet the article provided me with some new perspectives of how to name what happens with ignorant interactions and how to deal with them, leading me to conclude that this was an opportunity to practice confronting the petty bullshit that white people spew and do in the faces and over the days and lives of people of color.

Simultaneously, I have been doing work this year where a big piece in the group dynamics work is to “name the thing.” Having to practice what I am preaching, I sent the “portrayals of Blackness” email in order for me to name to one white mother how whites — in her family and in the world — need to figure out how to talk about and tell stories about whiteness, family histories, and experiences with race. And when I say race that is shorthand for racism and racial differences and race-based consequences be they in school, in workplaces, or in society.

I had to name the thing for myself because to not do so would be to placate and accommodate ignorant, hurtful conduct. I was deliberate about writing how this other parent’s behavior was racist as well as name some of the larger implications of racism and the heft of what it is to be Black in the United States; though, I could have said Black in the world, but that would have been a bit too meta and likely abstract for a white person that I had never had a conversation about race before Wednesday’s email.

I made a clear request for corrective action and also asked that they let me know of their choice. I made that request not assuming that they would definitely respond or even acknowledge my missive. On Thursday, I did get a response from the husband saying two things: that the corrective action had been done and that I should not (maybe it said never) contact them again.

I was not looking to make friends with the other parent. If anything, I was undercutting power by exposing what was already in the internet. And I was practicing for my own liberation. And for the liberation of my descendants, both blood and chosen.

Twin guards of the Old Guard

In academia, the twin guards of the Old Guard, White Supremacy and Misogyny be triflin’.

That’s the pithy one sentence reaction I had after reading “The Tenure Game” by Teresa Steinhoyer in the Yale Daily News, about the miserable and failing efforts by Yale University between 2006 and 2011 to greatly catapult the number of women and people of color in faculty ranks written. I encountered the story since a FB friend, and former professor of mine, who instructed me in one of my most instrumental undergraduate courses titled, Black Public Intellectuals, posted it. It was in this course in the Fall of 1998 that I read Ida B. Wells for the first time and learned her history. It was in that course that I wrote one of my best papers about the lyrics of Tupac Shakur, citing passages from the 2Pacalypse Now album, released in 1991.

I recognize that this social blight — this epic failure, this structural deficiency — is not just at Yale. This discrimination is not just in academia, as similar dynamics, subtleties, and closed doors pervade the social profit sector, government, the military, the private sector, and K-12 education. In other words, any mixed race or coed institution. This is what it feels like and what the humbling (if not humiliating) demographics look like for any predominantly institution or workplace where white males are predominant in numbers, particularly so in the upper layers of an organization that have the authority and power to determine other’s fate.

What is insidious about how academia does it, is that the hoops of being considered for tenure most often depend on jumping through hoops years in advance. As this article indicates, an aspiring professor spends somewhere between 3 and 7 years of showing their merits before actually being given the yeah or nay on getting tenure. Since the Civil Rights Movement opened up new paths to academic positions and hastened the integration of education from pre-school to post-doctoral four or five decades ago, it appears that academics and academic institutions have figured out a variety of ways to track disproportionate numbers of professors of color and women into some second-class status all but guaranteeing that they will not get tenure, and not be around for the long-term. A whole lot of pomp and circumstance that isolate individuals so they cannot coordinate and collectively wield power. I call it insidious because Misogyny and Supremacy have cleaned up their decorum. They don’t tar and feather quite like in lynching’s heyday, but they sully people and women and people of color who attempt to stand up, they diminish and belittle research and rigor that focuses on the experiences of Chinese Americans, or facets of immigrant lives. It may not be lethal in a life/death sense, but not getting tenure is lethal to one’s academic profession and academic pursuits, or so it appears to me from my non-academic perspective.

When multiple female mentors tell a younger female factuly that they have to choose two of three between “husband, children or career” is internalized misogyny placing career over children. Particularly, when only 19% of male faculty (compared to 43% of female faculty) felt that they did not have to choose between their academic pursuits and family lives. This is what gender imbalances look like in capitalism. In academia, tenure-track and supremacy reward patience with the Old Boys network, the kind of patience that has to last longer than a presidential term or olympic cycles. This is a long game.
~~~

These are the same recurring dynamics — of recruitment and retention — that I saw as a college student. As a sophomore and junior, I attended countless meetings and meals focusing on how to recruit and retain more students of color. In a nation where people of color were a much larger percentage of the population than the student population, something was undemocratic and skewed in who attended Macalester College. Yet, the numbers did not change, and got worse from the mid-90s to the late-90s. This lackluster system was exacerbated by an administration and faculty voices that espoused how international students could make up the difference. But they did not. The math did not add up.

We could talk about the social aspects of what could attract/repel a prospective student of color. However, those exchanges led by a Black employee in the Admissions Office rarely, if ever, brought up the material matters of budget decisions, financial aid, and what financial resources were being expended to make a four year, liberal arts college degree more of less accessible to more students of color or what considerations were being made for students who were coming from high schools segregated by class and race. The systemic imbalances of K-12 education were glossed over, as were the structural deficiencies at Macalester that were ill-equipped to grapple with institutional racism and institutional sexism.
~~~

The section in the Yale Daily News article about assertiveness is dicey. And saddening. The Latina quoted in the article was cognizant of having to be assertive from her freshman year at Yale and continue to do so into her first years as the first tenured Latina professor in the Law School. The diceyness of the entire set-up is that people of color and women have internalized messages that we get angry too hastily. We have been pummeled with the notion that the playing field is level and will give us a fair chance so long as we work hard. Most people of color and women sublimate their assertiveness because it is spun as anger. The micro-aggressions are one form of it, and the internalized racism and internalized sexism are another. (And, I consider the latter more harmful because it is what we do to ourselves rather than what someone else is doing to us.)

In the last 50 years, Supremacy has learned how to give the appearance of fairness, when the reality is far from that. In the five decades since the Civil Rights Act, we have had scattered progress as segregation and bias has gone from de jure to de facto. What this has meant is that the guards of the Old Guard have determined what can be done to pass a legal test yet uphold segregation and the persistent imbalance of access and power, evolution and adaptation. The figures cited in the YDN article demonstrate how persistent the Old Guard is, and how craftily they have figured out how to protect their neck and protect their tenure protocols so they will endure the test of civil court, or when someone files a discrimination suit with the EEOC. These are the house rules in a game that the Old Guard still dominates, decades after the Civil Rights Movement and Women’s Movement.

So long as there are a fixed number of positions, or metaphorical seats at the table, then there are those who will lose their seats. This is the case in academic departments, in Congress, and in any workplace, political body, civic association that has a limited number of slots. Capitalism is a social order that suggests that there will always be a fixed number, less spaces than what we desire. Fostering competition and animosity rather than instilling a sense of shared destiny, this perceived stagnation creates ire causing some to hoard power and figure out how to subjugate others.

And those who have historically occupied those seats, in the 240 years of the United States, are not going to simply give up what they have known as their’s. There is greed and selfishness, and there are also just old habits that are hard to break. As Frederick Douglass said [credit is due to PublicEye.org for making this lengthier version of his “power concedes nothing” quote more accessible],

If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightening. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.

seeing race

So, do you want to devise a way to bring more pocs to that venue?
Is it a worthwhile venue?

I’m not surprised by the heavy whiteness of such places. Our lives demonstrate how pervasive and divisive race is. We need deliberate, concerted, intentional efforts to overcome pervasive whiteness. It is what institutional racism looks like, in this day.

cuz ima move. and get out the way.

kinda like Ludacris once rhymed.

seeing Nicole this weekend, i remembered something significant. how vital it is that we foster the relationships and lines of communications amongst our selves, because as Black folks and as people of color, the affirmations of our humanities gets short-shrift oftentimes.

all 3 of you are in 1 city.
each of your are beautiful black people.
and you each could tell some stories about RG.
and tell more stories about your versions of this thing called life.
i pray that you can get to it. and get to one another.