Author Archives: ancarias

“When you assume….you make and ASS out of U and ME”

Coming into Vassar as a freshman I had no idea what concepts like heteornormativity, cultural appropriation, white privilege, and gender binary meant, as a suburban Ohio girl my school did not prepare me for anything close to what Vassar curriculum is like and I was thrown head first into real world issues that I had never dealt with before. If at any point they were brought up in class or in conversation my Vassar peers seemed to mutually understand and have the skills to discuss and dissect them, I however was flying blind. Not wanting to seem less informed or less intelligent I went along with the discussion or simply agreed or disagreed with the people making a point. It was obviously my own fault for not asking for a definition or explanation but in the bigger picture of things I felt like there was an assumption made that myself being a Vassar student had an basic understanding of certain concepts and definitions which I actually had no clue about.

As Vassar Students I think it is easy for us to assume that any given Vassar student has the same basic knowledge of social issues and awareness that most students do. And if anyone else was like me as a freshman it may seem like there is a level of awareness that in reality is unbalanced. And if that imbalance is left alone it grows larger and larger as the informed group becomes more informed and the uninformed, confused, and unaware group either are not confronted with the issues or remain silent. (There are students no doubt who actively work towards informing themselves and are not afraid of asking about concepts they don’t know but I don’t want to assume everyone is a certain way) By assuming that there is a level of knowledge are we simply widening the gap between the informed and uniformed?

As a senior I have taken my fair share of classes and had numerous discussions and feel that I am now more deeply informed about such issues and concepts and can hold my ground in a discussion but am I making the same assumptions about others that was made about me as a freshman. Do I assume that everyone coming into Vassar has some sort of knowledge and awareness of social issues? My answer is generally yes, I think that I do assume people have the level of knowledge but I acknowledge that getting to a particular level of awareness takes time and experience and for some it really is difficult to get there or even begin thinking about it. So how do we as a student body and administration work to make students more social aware.

I don’t believe the answer lies in an academic requirement but in more of a educational requirement. Lecturing people about social issues, race, gender, class, etc is not the answer but somehow working with student at a more individual level could be beneficial. I think Anna mentioned in class the idea of a Freshman orientation required activity be a social issues awareness workshop, and while that might be difficult to implement in the beginning having a basis for which to begin discussing these issues would be tremendously helpful. Even if it didn’t stick with or resonate with everyone there would be some basic level of knowledge given to all, at least I would have appreciated such education as a freshmen going into Vassar classes. We are a long way from a solution but assuming people have the knowledge to communicate and engage in a Vassar situation is not the way to begin conversations either.

An endless war

 

Jeremy Scahill said it correctly when he said the world is a battlefield, it seems these days that we are fighting a war that never ends but simply shifts to the next target that fits the WAR ON TERROR model. The United States government has taken a hands on all or nothing approach to the wars on terror in Iraq, and Afghanistan, from 2001 until now the amount of violence and force used by the military has only increased. But is this violence only perpetuating anti-american sentiments? Something I will never understand about the military and it’s decisions is why kill the masses on suspicion of terrorism when that only stirs the pot and creates more violence to deal with in the future.

I really have little knowledge on this subject but common sense tells me that the United States government is simply fueling the fire with the decision to use drones, night raids, and illegal detention against the people of Afghanistan. As more and more innocent people are killed and families destroyed the feelings toward American forces changes, people rally and suddenly an entire population is against US forces and we’ve created a bigger situation than was ever necessary. Scahill speaks to this issue several times, The decision of the US government to “waste a lot of very good assets going after midlevel guys who don’t threaten the United States” simply “engenders more hostility”. And by creating more hostile extremists the US has further and further to fight before it’s War on Terror can end. 

My question is why were the decisions made if the outcome was to create a larger problem. And I could speculate as to how government power and US imperialism play key roles in this, as well as the superiority complex the US seems to have created in relation to the worlds problems and threats. Since 2001 when the United States felt it’s first real outside threat and the war on terror began, our military tactics have become increasingly devastating and invasive as the US tries to assert it’s dominance over all those who harbor anti-american sentiments. Imperialism is the current dominant trait of the United States with regards to the war on terror, the government and the country are threatened and the military is instantly invading countries left and right looking for terrorists and weapons of mass destruction. We are military based country so I guess it makes sense that we would react military first.

War has never been my strong point but I do understand literature, so maybe putting it in Utopic terms would make things easier for me to comprehend, similar to George Orwell’s 1984 at some point we enter a war that never ends but simply shifts from one enemy to another, from Eastasia to eurasia and back with the coercion and deception of the government pulling the wool over the publics eyes to the true nature of the war and the violence that occurs. Even the secret prisons and torture of domestic and foreign terrorists relate, and if 1984 is where we are headed with this war on terror then I don’t want to know what’s coming next.

 

 

Performance as reality

The artists included in the documentary Bling represent the small population of rappers and hip-hop artists that have been successful in the music industry, the clothing, cars, women and bling they surround themselves with is usually the product of a rags to riches american dream story involving hard work, determination and a dream.

Once success is reached they maintain a certain level of luxury and opulence in their music and performance that then inspires the next generation of young artists. Performance in the form of music videos, advertisements and tv appearances portray a highly stylized and rich lifestyle that consumers strive to emulate and which leads the artists to discuss the significance of the diamonds they wear around their necks and the violence and conflict that surrounds the diamond industry.

At the start of Raekwon and Paul Wall’s journey they really had little sense of the journey they were about to embark on and how it would lead them on a self critical and self reflective roller coaster through the violence, oppression and strength of a nation. The artists along the way discussed the meanings behind their music and the struggles they had to overcome to reach the success and notoriety they currently enjoyed. Performance for them was connected to their struggles and hardships but was used as a demonstration of their new lifestyle and it’s bling.

For the young artist’s in Sierra Leone and other African nations performance becomes reality, for Ishmael performance was his one reality, he performed before the conflict and even more intensely he performed for his life during the violence. Raekwon and the group begin to realize that performance and music mean much more to the youth of Sierra Leone than they knew and would understand. The reality of performance and it’s meaning in the lives of the people of Sierra Leone was something greater than the struggles that they themselves performed about.

In the clubbing scene towards the end of the film the artists have grown in their views of performance and its significance and connect with the people who truly feel and are inspired by their music which may have very well saved them at some point. Performance becomes so much more than simply a display of success it becomes a connection between two groups of people that have lived very different lives. If the artists took anything away from their experience I hope they realized the impact of their music and appearances in a setting so different from the lives they created for themselves.

Capitalist Movie Madness

 

As a avid cinema consumer and Italian student I have experienced many forms of cinematic display from the 1960’s ranging from Fellini’s plays and documentaries to unseen directors cuts from Pasolini’s La Dolce vita. The messages conveyed in movies of this era vary but almost always touch upon the delicate political situations of the time. One, Two, Three by Billy Wilder is no exception, I found myself laughing and even commiserating with the storyline as the gradual take over of consumer capitalism in the movie is still so applicable to life today, while a rather over exaggerated and unrealistic situation is displayed the overarching themes of the movie hit at a deeply political and unstable aspect of the world at that time.

Small details of the movie that were meant to be funny or silly really stuck out to me as significant indicators of capitalism, its effects on people and the political situation, the names of certain expensive clothing items in the escalation dressing scene that could be tied to certain negative or unallied countries along with the sheer absurdity and frivolity of the transformation scene in general. The significance of the German secretary and her sexualization, exploitation, and commodification by both the Americans and the Russians ties into the political and economic atmosphere and the real punchline of the entire movie, the pepsi bottle in the vending machine bought by the Coca Cola man just seals the deal for me. I felt like it accurately demonstrated the excess, extreme and competitive nature of capitalism even in divided Germany during the Cold War.

pepsi-vs-coke

As one of my classmates pointed out in their blog post One, two, three, four, five six…. the movie does run extremely long and maybe as they said, 45 mins too long but if we refer to the reading by Pells we are given an insight into the cinematic mood of this time period which would not have necessarily agreed. Movie goers were eager for European movies and European based movies as there was a shift in the demand right around the time of the production of One, Two, Three. While it did not do well at the box office it is a prime example of the cinematic displays of the time, all at once a political satire, comedic show and love story while it’s supremely quick paced actions gave the audience a hard and fast political slap in the face. The movie accurately demonstrates the audiences desire for a break from reality, i.e. length, while still giving them the satire and politics of the time period.

Ironically the building of the Berlin Wall disrupted production of the movie and makes the film an even more significant historical piece to us, capturing both the political and social climates of the 1960’s and forever recording it in black and white. I would love to know if the director of the film had any idea of the political upset about to occur and how his movie was influenced by the building of the Berlin Wall. Did he have any idea of the effects the wall would have or how long it would scar the face of Berlin and it’s people and how relevant his movie would be to capitalism today?

“Incorporation”

Every one of us has an outward identity that defines us to out fellow humans as belonging to a certain race or ethnicity. What I found most interesting in Jung’s work on White supremacy is the idea that we are define in those races/ethnicities according to a white norm. While we may not acknowledge that fact in daily life, the grounds which we define our racial identities upon are strictly rooted in white identity, the way we are perceived, treated, understood and acknowledged are all based on a single deviation from what has been perceived as normal. Most people do not think of themselves as being a product of white normalcy, but as Jung shows us, the racial/ethnic identities or lack of identities that we posses have all been created from a sense of white being the standard from which people are compared to.

Jung in addition to a white standard deviation point, attached that to the concept of citizenship pertaining, obviously, to the United States.  Explaining that citizenship pertained(s) solely to those we perceive(d) as “incorporated” into the society, and “that the taken for granted certainty of white dominance was a necessary condition of possibility” (Jung 7) She gives us the example of Chinese immigrants not as citizens but with white privilege in comparison to black citizens who had no such privileges or access to white society at the time. While the Chinese immigrants were not American by nature they gained access to white citizenship privileges by being a lesser deviation from the standard than black Americans.

In further arguments she touches upon the conflict of bestowing citizenship on a territory, of which the United States still has several, although citizenship could be delayed and even with non-citizenship status their children would become natural born citizens of the United States and therefore be given all rights and privileges that come with it. I correlated this concept with the phenomena of anchor babies from Mexico to the United States, children of Mexican immigrants who come to the United States, whether legally or not, and have naturalized children. When said child comes of a certain age they have the right as a U.S. to bring family to the United States and with time they can become U.S. citizens as well. As American citizens anchor babies are “incorporated” into society and gain access to education, healthcare, language and culture, and can become extremely Americanized. To the most extreme they themselves are considered American of a certain heritage or race but have been accepted as simply a deviation from our standard. (With the advent of social media and “American” media displays this is becoming more and more common, speaking from personal experience with family in the U.S., having become citizens through their children)

(re)creation of history into social displays

“Governor, in a new country, means creator” A passage taken from Jose Marti’s Our America on the concept of “American” tyrants verses natural men. The idea that the non-native population of an area does not matter in comparison to the “white” (American) population that now claims their land, culture, traditions, people etc. The “white” (Americans) establish laws, regulations, agreements and cultural norms that encompass native populations as well as the white populations and natives must adhere to these laws without question. Most likely the “white” population will claim the land as theirs seeing that the native population are not using the land in the “correct” manner and forcefully remove them to commercialize and commodify the land as they see fit.

Starting in the 1830’s there began a mass relocation and redefinition of the native people of the United States, Hundreds of years later we as a society have warped and reconstructed the history of native americans in the United States to be a part of “our” history as a whole. We feel entitled to the re-appropriation of indigenous cultures because we have created the idea that it is a part of our collective past therefore it is acceptable to characterize and exploit their culture. We see this cultural re-appropriation integrated into normalized society in everything from sports teams, to school mascots to classroom plays.

Re-appropriation begins at a young age in the classroom setting where children are taught about the pilgrims and indians and their sharing of land, food and lifestyle, there is no mention of the atrocities committed against the native people of the United States and the pilgrims are spun as the first real settlements of populations in the United States. Most schools teach more about the pilgrims and their daily lives than they do about the pain and hardships we inflicted upon the native population. Growing up in Northeast Ohio my everyday life is filled with nods to Native culture, Cuyahoga county, named after the Cuyahoga river, Cuyhoga possibly meaning crooked river in Algonquian, is the county I live in, I went to a school where the mascot was a brave

,BereaBraves

painted in blue, red and white and over characterized to be a large nose, large faced cartoon. My high school spirit weeks consisted of “pow wows” “tomahawks””whooping” and native costume all transformed into juvenile fun for a population of people who have no ties to the culture that the displays are based on.  My baseball team is the Cleveland Indians with Chief Wahoo as a large feathered face painted to resemble an Indian Chief. Miami of Ohio University has deep roots in Miami Indian territory and the list moves on to historical sites, re-constructions and cultural displays all used to display the “history” of the land that we now occupy.

cleveland-indians-wallpaper-computer-wallpapers-i-e-ibackgroundz.com

 

indian

 

What gives us the right as non-native citizens of the United States to adapt parts of a terrorized and marginalized culture for our entertainment and display purposes. My school has little to no ties to Native culture yet we have adopted a long standing tradition of “Brave” pride, why do we feel that we can disassociate these images from their people and strip the long and brutal history down to confusion and sports teams. We can’t even agree on the correct term to address the people that were uprooted, ripped apart and de-cultured, so why is the re-appropriation of their culture into our everyday society acceptable?

Suspicions of Race in Benito Cereno

From the moment Captain Delano sets foot on the San Dominick there is an inherent feeling of suspicion and unrest as the Captain immediate recognizes that something is out of place with the hierarchy of the ship. Delano picks up on the underlying tension between Don Benito Cereno, the crew and the “slaves” focusing in on the relationship between Babo and Benito Cereno as master and servant.

“Ha, Don Benito, your black here seems high in your trust; a sort of privy-counselor, in fact.”

Upon this, the servant looked up with a good-natured grin, but the master started as from a venomous bite. It was a moment or two before the Spaniard sufficiently recovered himself to reply; which he did, at last, with cold constraint:—”Yes, Señor, I have trust in Babo.”

These particular suspicions arise from a definite set of social behaviors ingrained in Deleno’s (and all character’s involved) brain about how blacks and those perceived as white should interact. The suspicion develops in Babo’s and Benito’s relationship because they are not following those set social guidelines for master (white perceived) and servant (black) interaction. Deleno recognizes many of these situations and they only add to his suspicions, the scene involving the Spanish Sailor being cut down by 2 black men in particular invokes suspicion. Don Benito does nothing to stop the interaction and the men receive no punishment, leading Deleno to dwell on the abnormality of the situation.

The idea of being perceived as white/having white privilege, in the case of the Spaniards, ties into our readings on slavery where categories were created to separate black/mulatto/mixed crew members from the slave cargo. Rediker mentions a labeling of crew members as “browne or blacke” on p. 57 so they might be distinguished from the slaves, this even includes the Captain and European crew members. But no matter the label given on paper these browne’s and blacke’s were given status and power over the slave cargo and were treated as white in comparison to the slaves. (although as we have read this doesn’t really make much of a difference under the tyranny of a Slaver Captain.)

As those who have read Benito Cereno know the official story includes the mutiny of the blacks over the crew and the forced sailing to an nation of black ancestry. When Captain Deleno is thrown into the situation Babo makes the perceptive decision to treat “Don Benito Cereno” as the Spanish Captain of the ship, conforming to the social behaviors of the time. If Babo had not engaged Deleno and his ship but had simply kept on sailing or if the ship had been better armed and prepared for a battle what would the outcome have been? Would there have even been friendly relations between them? How could the story have turned out differently if Babo were not black but Mulatto or White passing?

In real life race is a much harder concept to define, we no longer use words or categories like Mulatto or Browne, but the suspicions behind them still exist. The idea of being perceived as something, i.e. black, white, hispanic, etc etc, when you identify as something else plagues generations of people looking to find their own identities. As a mixed student I struggle with the concept of being perceived as white but dealing with the hardships and cultural connotations that come with having immigrant parents. This concept of white or white passing Spaniards in Benito Cereno really resonated with me and hits rather close to home.