Author Archives: rajacksonstone

What to do…

This economic trend we have seen of late is in no way surprising with regard to the data presented in the articles. I think the Occupy Wall Street movement had a good message and could have had a lot of impact if it was not organized via twitter. The growing disparity in wealth is a huge problem in this country, highlighted by the economic recession that started in 2008. This coupled with the recent capitalistic practice of moving production overseas, where production is less expensive and regulation is not as strict. Companies are taking good paying, reliable jobs elseware, leaving people without a job, and with few options. This is not just the plight of the factory worker; whole divisions of large companies have been laid off. Much of the despair in Poughkeepsie was caused when IBM downsized drastically; with less money flowing into the county, there was less leisure money to spend in the city, turning a pedestrian Main Street into what it is today.

The US News article brings up a very good point about higher education. It is more and more expensive, making scholarships more and more competitive, and dashing the dreams of higher education for many kids. Though I am highly appreciative to the 60% of Vassar students who are not on financial aid, making it possible for me to attend this school, I feel this underlines the problem. If so few have so much, what is left for the rest of us?

Patriarchy?

In leaving class today, I was thinking about the merit of a Social Consciousness requirement for our curriculum. Initially, I think this is a good idea; to ensure that students get this kind of exposure to a world that they are unfamiliar with, or to contextualize a world that some of us know intimately instead of only reading statistics. However, would this requirement really do what we think it will, or is it just more “preaching”?

I agree with the points brought up on behalf of the professors; that it would be a larger course burden, the almost artificiality of trying to address these subjects, and even the incapability of professors to facilitate these discussions. I do feel that the classroom can be a place of tension, and can quickly become a place of conflict if a professor does not know how to dispel that tension or make it fruitful.

My main hesitation to a Social Consciousness requirement would be a false knowledge and assumed understanding of an issue; the possibility that someone will take a class about black culture through hip-hop, and assume they know all there is to know about being black in America and race issues, and feel comfortable saying the N word. First of all, I don’t even feel comfortable saying the N word, because it was not apart of my vernacular growing up. Secondly, there is no “way” of being black in America. I have been black in America all my life, and there are still things that I am just beginning to understand. Our lives shape our experiences and our understanding of those events; because one group has been under an oppressive system doesn’t mean that their experiences have been the same. I had never been, or at least had never been conscious of, racially profiled simply walking down the street until this summer, when I lived in a space that was completely different than anything I had ever experienced. My experience as a black female from the suburbs alters drastically from that of my boyfriend, a black male growing up in the Bronx.

There are so many complexities in deconstructing a system we were never prompted to question, that one Undergraduate class can only begin to unravel. To force the requirement may not have the lasting effect as discovery. I think it is on the part of the Vassar student to study and learn about what interests them; if, in a woman’s studies class you discover there is patriarchal structure prevalent in our society, all the better for you. If you are interested in furthering your understanding of this system, you can take more classes, do research, or engage with your friends about this system you just discovered existed…but the choice and discovery have to be yours. Otherwise what makes this time different than when you learned who Susan B. Anthony was?

But Why??

I had mixed feelings when we started watching the movie. I knew the story of these innocent men who ended up in Guantanamo Bay detention center, but watching their story unfold on film was entirely different than what I imagined. The movie did a good job of reenacting the chaos and confusion that led to them being in these circumstances, and the daily brutality they faced while under US military control. One thing I was glad of, but still leaves more questions, were the interrogation scenes. For obvious reasons, those scenes depicting the “interrogation tactic” were diluted form the torture that has been reported in places like Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib; the question that haunts me is why these places exist. They are justified under the guise of intelligence gathering, but as it took the US years and a lucky break bin Laden it seems the US military efforts have effectively failed in their endeavor. Even looking at the statistics of Guantanamo that were read off at the end of the movie, out of the 700+ people in Guantanamo, only 10 have ever been charged or convicted with anything.

Essentially, the US simply went into Afghanistan and took a random collection of people to torture and terrorize. What is the purpose for this? Why was there such importance on taking these people and holding them for so long? I was talking with a friend after the movie, and we questioned why the three British young men, who were around our age, didn’t simply turn around and attack the US, as they had 5 years of just cause to act as such. Why, if they were all still of sound mind enough to be belligerent as the movie shows, did they not seek any sort of justice for their pain, suffering and disruption of their life?

I feel there is more of a parallel between the reading and the movie than the same subject matter. The prison, it seems, served as an international correctional facility for individuals whose existence is at odds with US international agenda. Regardless of the actual involvement of these Taliban men, they were still aligned with a power structure in opposition to the US taking a random assortment of people, systematically breaking their will until they are obedient and will lead a placid life within the bounds of what the US deems acceptable. This, I believe, is the true goal of places like Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. I think we as Americans try to justify our treatment of people by labeling them as dangerous, and thus there is a purpose to this form of violence, when there is little validity to that statement.

I think the next step in resolving these violence is to understand why it was committed in the first place, what is its purpose.

Imperial Representation

The concept of Imperial Representation that we talked about on Tuesday was something I never knew had a name.  African Americans have had to conceptualize themselves and their role in society, or else risk being completely erased from societal narrative when their predetermined role as slaves was no longer relevant. Black solidarity has always been something that fascinated me, how individual action was always for the betterment of the whole; the pride of individuals who ultimately reflect the resilience of a forced community of people. Though imperial representation has a negative connotation and is normally seen as the fulfillment of stereotypes, I think this need to create and obtain a place in society is what drove many to act in a way that progressively change their narratives.

Yet, as shown in Darkening Mirrors, all progression is subject to influence and hindrance by the dominant narrative. While there were very progressive roles being played by black actors, and great plays being produced by black authors, there was still a lot of prejudice and stereotypes being portrayed. The best example of this complex double standard is Hattie McDaniel. Though she was the first black woman to win an Academy Award, it was for her role as “Mammy” in Gone with the Wind. Her success as a black actress is undermined by the role of imperial representation which gained her this acclaim.

Bringing it into today’s contexts, there is still a fair amount of projection taking place in the public sphere, but this time the dominant narrative is not the only one. Hip-hop culture, just as Jazz did in the past, is giving agency to those whose lives and experiences are different than those in the main stream. The popularity of the music produced by these marginalized groups is, in a way, giving them a space in society in which to flourish. By make something so creative and different than anything else in society, something that it is condemned and celebrated at the same time, requires a fair amount of self-confidence and promotion. As with Jazz, this form of black expression began to expand and gain acceptance in the dominant narrative, and allowed an amount of social agency through the influences of their culture.  

Just as a baby bird flexes it’s wings for the first time, the impulse to explore the possibilities of this freedom is unstoppable.  This is especially apparent when we look at their choices of accessories. Bling is, in a very materialistic way, showing this re- appropriation of imperial representation. Every artist in the movie said they wore bling to show their success; their separation from the expected narrative of being poor young minorities growing up in hard conditions. Now that the sphere of the “have’s” is being infiltrated by the “have not’s”, black hip-hop culture is almost obsessed with appropriation of material wealth which was off limits to them before.

But, as we saw all too clearly in the movie, the progression of one groups comes at the expense of another.

White Empire

When I was initially looking to the titles of the pieces assigned for today’s class, I was leery of the title “Constituting the U.S. Empire State and White Supremacy”, and was equally confused how it fit in with the Keyword themes for that day. However, the Jung piece is relatable to me as a reader and a “person of color” in this majority White nation. In comparison to the Kaplan piece, Jung looks more at the construction of the nation as a society, where “Violent Beginnings and the question of Empire” takes a more global, militaristic model that defines the US to the global community. The examination of the social and racial construct of the nation by Jung is applicable to many of the other pieces we have read, in trying to, culturally, understand the US.

To the Nation being an Empire of Whiteness or acceptance, this is entirely relevant and true. The construction of the nation itself, of territories being “accepted” into the nation, very much illustrates the cultural inclusion that has defined the social construct of the United States. Especially in our current political climate, the social climate has called for a return to our founding virtues, of “real America”, in other words, a land “discovered” and inhabited by White men, for it is often overlooked that, at the time “the abiding colonial logic was to wrest land away from indigenous sovereignty and control” (Jung 4). What fringe groups like the 9-12 movement and the Alliance for Catholic Tradition are really calling for is a return to the “America” they know; White America.

Identification with the nation solely through the limitations of social acceptance, instead of national boarders and identities is something that can only stem from the belief that the nation was built, and is run for their benefit really emphasizes Jung’s argument as the nation being constructed as an empire of whiteness. As a non-accepted member of the US majority, knew and have witnessed the injustices levied against me. Though the majority of the essay was related to the history of oppression in this nation against people of color, I found it very interesting and important when Jung brings up the example of how many Europeans had to gain their social acceptance. Thought they were of the same complexion of “real Americans”, they still somehow had to show their assimilation and supremacy over the other minorities to be accepted. This was really interesting because it shows that to be accepted into the majority is not just a matter of skin tone, but of assumed supremacy over the other peoples in this new nation.

 

Also, just a side note about today’s announcement that the “Students of Color” should stay behind after class. Though this was unintentional, I feel something needs to be said about this; I did feel a little uncomfortable and embarrassed not from the request, but the language used to present it. Instead of asking for some students to stay back, it was asked of all of “us” at that same time, almost as if we act in one mind and one collective action. Normally when looking for volunteers, you say who you’re looking for and ask of they wouldn’t mind staying around. You may want all the women in the room to stay and talk to you, but you don’t ask all of them to stay. Additionally, it was a bit unnecessary to look around the room and notice aloud that there aren’t very many of us. We know that, and the request for all the students of color was enough of a reminder to that.

Why Has it Taken so Long

A point from last class, about the lack of a native voice to make their own narrative is emphasized in the text. Coming from Texas, the 5th grade was Texas history month. We studied the Alamo, we looked at all the battles, I even knew the manes of the Mexican generals. But what was never explained was our actual right to claim that land. They said that the people living in Texas didn’t want to be a part of Mexico, but those were only the voices of the Anglo-Saxon men who decided to cross the border and live there illegally. Even as a 5th grader, I questioned the Alamo; why was there a battle in the first place? Who started it? And why were the Mexicans brutal because they won. Even in the school system, the tejanos who had their land taken from them seemed somehow brutal and threatening. It’s a little shocking that I have come so far in my educational journey, and am only now beginning to learn the truth of what caused this, from the rhetoric that was preached to us at school.

The evidence of an unnatural boarder is everywhere in the US Southwest. As Anzaldúa puts it “a borderland is a vague and undetermined place created by the emotional residue of an unnatural boundary”. The bleeding through of native people to land that is culturally and historically theirs, and the white insistence of keeping these created boundaries has been headlining in media and politics for generations.

This seems to be the history of America; restricting people who have lived in a place harmoniously for generations and imposing our will on them, then being forced to come to terms with their actions generations later. Segregation was once upon a time acceptable until someone decided to question and fight for equality; same story is playing out for women.  La Frontera is another account of the injustices we have committed as a nation. Even as I write this, my computer says that Frontera is wrong and wants to change it to Frontier, not even accepting an intentional deviation from the standard