Category Archives: Ever-Changing Empire at the Crossroads

Income Inequality and Education in the US

The United States is ranked 44th out of 86 countries on income inequality. This is well below the ranks of other major countries in Europe such as Germany and France (Fisher, 2013). Income inequality in the United States has direct effects on areas such as education and public health, causing it to lag behind other major industrialized nations in these areas as well.

Math and Science scores of the US on the international stage fall well below leaders in Hong Kong and Singapore. However, this statistic is rooted in deep regional, racial, and most importantly socioeconomic issues (Zakaria, 2011). There is de facto segregation in the United States by neighborhood due to the disparity in income between social classes. Middle and upper class families often live in suburban neighborhoods quite separately from the poor and ethnically diverse families in urban areas. School and community resources differ by social class, and therefor differ also by race and ethnicity (Berliner, 2005). There is a major gap in resources provided to students in low socioeconomic neighborhoods compared to those with well-funded education systems. These resources range from textbooks to availability and modernity of science labs. In analyzing a 2003 PISA study on subject scores internationally, Berliner notes that if educational opportunities available to white students in our public schools were made available to all our students, the US would have been the 7th high scoring nation in mathematics, 2nd highest scoring nation in reading, and the 4th highest scoring nation in science (Berliner, 2005). Income inequality then creates a cycle where students, often people of color, receive sub par education and are unable to attain high paying jobs and fail to move up the socioeconomic ladder.

The affect of income inequality in education has major ties to health and the lack of affordable health care in the United States. Vision is a simple example. Two different vision screening tests, one among the urban poor in Boston and one among the urban poor in New York have found that 50% of the children tested had some easily correctable vision deficiency. Most of these cases were not followed up on or corrected and the lack of corrected vision has a major effect on educational performance. Another health issue affecting education in low socioeconomic neighborhoods is that of asthma. Families cannot afford to provide regular doctor visits for preventative care of asthma attacks. Since low-income families are more likely to live in urban areas with high air pollution, asthma is more present and students are forced to miss school. Hospital rates for asthma attacks are high in these areas and it puts a strain on the health care system (Berliner, 2005). Missing days of school would have a direct effect on the academic performance of these students. Not to mention, the strain on the health care system takes money away from communities that could be allotted to improving the education of that area.

Zakaria talks a lot about America’s competition with nations increasing in economic power. How would it be possible for the United States to compete for technologic advancements against nations far exceeding our student’s performance in math and science? Education has an enormous capability of maintaining our standings on the world stage by producing efficient and educated workers to succeed and participate in a globalized economy. It will be crucial for the future success of the United States to decrease the soaring rates of income inequality in order to positively impact education and health in the future.


(Edit: The Berliner article if anybody is interested. Some really interesting statistics.)

Education as our saving grace?

In The Post-American World, I felt that Zakaria tried to talk about everything and in so doing, ended up talking about nothing. Obviously, trying to tackle a topic as wide as the current state of America and the world would not be handled well by anyone, but most people would not attempt to. I found myself skimming over frivolous facts that seemed to fill every paragraph most of the time, and I believe Zakaria could have made similar points in a much more succinct fashion.

That being said, Zakaria did raise many interesting issues, despite a complete lack of citation for most of the information he presented. I found his section on the influence of American education on the world, and vice-versa, to be intriguing. As someone interested in the American education system, it was interesting to view our system in a more international lens. Most of my studies focus on the American system and its influence within our country, without thinking much on its influence on the outside world.

Zakaria claims that “higher education is America’s best industry” (209) which is a big claim to make. He cites(or really references without citation) research which says that the United States has 7 or 8 of the world’s top ten universities. This data does not specify whether or not colleges as well, or just universities in a stricter sense. Since Zakaria provides no citations, I remain blissfully unaware, but I’m not sure if it would influence the outcomes at all. Regardless, the statistics are impressive. The United States has realized exactly how to make higher education work, in which case I agree with Zakaria that it remains the one field which we still hold complete dominance of, for now.

However, it is absolutely hilarious that we boast about having the best higher education system in the world, and yet our lower schools are some of the worst. Somehow, we managed to harness the ideals of teaching adults, but forgot those same ideals when creating the lower schools. Since lower schools have been around for much longer, the newer higher education institutions were able to learn from example and implement the methods which truly work: teaching to think, not to memorize. You would think this principle would have been applied to all our schools at this point though, but you would be completely wrong. For some reason, our lower schools are moving completely backwards, and a teaching-to-the-test approach becomes increasingly more dominant. This is terrifying.

Zakaria discusses his views as a student from a non-American school, which were interesting because he praised the American universities so highly, then immediately made fun of Americans for being so bad at math and science in the lower schools. The countries that he then praises for being competent in math and science are mostly the asian countries which fully harness the idea of teaching to a test and only to a test. To them, students doing well on every test is the only thing that matters in their life-long journey of becoming something. Therefore, these countries do incredibly well in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study which is used to decide which countries have the best educational systems.

I had a huge problem with the idea of something called the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study being used as an indicator of which schools were best. I might be wrong, but I don’t see any way that this study could even begin to actually understand how “good” a country’s schools are. However, I am not surprised that this study is used for the purposes of worldwide comparison. If you look anywhere in this day and age, everyone is obsessed with math and science, while the humanities and social sciences are being pushed from the public eye. Even looking at Vassar, which would probably be considered an example of America’s top universities by Zakaria, moves towards a more heavily dominated math and science campus, as we are all constantly reminded of with the construction everywhere.

Zakaria claims that America’s educational system is perhaps our saving grace in this day and age because we teach our students to think and not to memorize, but if you actually pay attention to our schools, we are moving closer to the systems which only teach to the test. Zakaria problematizes these systems greatly in comparison with the way American students are able to think freely and voice their own opinions, but the world’s structure as a whole forces even the most liberal of us to engage more with the maths and sciences and less with humanities. The idea that all the world’s schools are compared based off of their TEST SCORES in MATH and SCIENCE blows my mind. If people recognize the power in teaching students to think, which they clearly do when stating America has the top universities, then why why why why why does the world push everyone to outperform each other on tests? I feel that at this point enough people have problematized standardized tests that we should be moving away from them, but every day we seem increasingly more caught up in their ties.


Zakaria and Huntington

Like some of my classmates, I found The Post-American World to be rife with oversimplifications and hollow reasoning, especially for a book with such grand ambition. Fareed Zakaria’s populist stylistic and writing choices were definitely a lot more detectable, almost distracting, after having spent the semester reading mostly academic texts. Despite these deficiencies I actually think that Zakaria presents his argument effectively, and that the general audience that his book is targeting will probably be in agreement with his claims—that any threats to U.S. global hegemony are overstated, American power remains strong, but we must be able to cooperate with rising powers like China and India, and so on.

Above all, I’m most interested in exploring the relationship between Zakaria and his supposed mentor, Samuel Huntington. Notably, The Post-American World adopts the same “West versus the Rest” framework that Huntington had used for dissecting world power, and there are plenty of other echoes of “Uncle Sam” (my new moniker) in Zakaria’s work. Considering that Zakaria was a student of Huntington’s at Harvard, I found this quote from Chapter 5 particularly telling:

“When I went to college in the United States, I encountered a different world. While the American system is too lax on rigor and memorization—whether in math or poetry—it is much better at developing the critical faculties of the mind, which is what you need to succeed in life. Other educational systems teach you to take tests; the American system teaches you to think.” (2008:193)

This quote became even more fascinating upon my discovery of Zakaria’s sentimental eulogy in Foreign Policy magazine after Huntington’s death. In this piece, Zakaria pays homage to one of the American educators who helped him develop these critical faculties and “teach him to think.” Some nuggets of wisdom from Uncle Sam include:

“If you tell people the world is complicated, you’re not doing your job as a social scientist. They already know it’s complicated. Your job is to distill it, simplify it, and give them a sense of what is the single, or what are the couple, of powerful causes that explain this powerful phenomenon.

“…Well you know, Fareed, my view has always been that you put your best work out, you let people attack you, and then you move on. You can spend your whole life getting caught up in letters to the editor, and ‘I didn’t say this and I didn’t say that,’ but it’s pointless. The best thing you can do is write the next book which will cause disagreements among people.”

Additionally, Zakaria notes in his tribute how Huntington was a man of principle; he evidently demonstrated this in one case when he was asked, as the chair of the Olin Institute, to encourage more minority students to apply to the group’s fellowships. Huntington’s response? “You know, I really can’t go along with that. I feel very awkward sending special invitations to people based on their descriptive qualities, so you’ll have to tell the dean I won’t do it.”

Indeed, the same man who carved out a world order based on certain civilizations’ ascribed capabilities and limits—and then “invited” those inferior cultures to either join the West or fail—apparently feels uncomfortable making decisions based on individual’s “descriptive qualities.”

Oh, Uncle Sam. It’s seems as though the education that Zakaria attained was less “learning how to think,” and more of an exercise in conforming to the ideology of American exceptionalism. And as an immigrant from India, Zakaria’s ascent to the elite circles of American life have likely been contingent upon his embrace of these hegemonic principles–which in fact do more damage to the Global South and concentrate American power. Is this what “human rights imperialism” looks like?

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.

The Performativity of Otherness

In Darkening Mirrors: Imperial Representation in Depression-Era African American Performance, Stephanie Leigh Batiste “focuses on black American cultural and ideological struggles against racism and oppression during the 1930s, as these were embedded within an attempt to define and articulate an inherent Americanness that was also black and to develop a diasporic sensibility that reached beyond national boundaries” (Batiste, 2).  Batiste’s quote speaks to the cultural representations of Americanness and how black performance and black performers fit or don’t fit into those representations of America.  Therefore, Batiste examines how “race itself is performative, taking on race as a structure of power, and thereby assuming a hand in producing race and blackness” (Batiste, 7).  This idea supports the concept that race is a social construct and is constructed in order to create a structure of power and therefore, a hierarchical structure.  Batiste discusses how the concept of race performativity has allowed for the constructions of blackness and black otherness performed by African Americans, but the effect of that element of performativity is something that performers have no control over (Batiste, 9).  As a result, “Such performance of an othered, markedly different, and fully constructed culture and identity permitted performers both to embody rejected cultural characteristics and to distance themselves from an identity they demarcated as ‘not me’” (Batiste, 15).  However, in a film or a play, while someone may reject the assigned cultural characteristics, as a performer, they must still act that cultural characteristic out for the viewing of the audience and ensure that their own personal distancing from the assigned identity is invisible.

The elements of construction and performance were extremely reminiscent of Marcus Rediker’s passage, The Slave Ship, in the sense that Rediker also emphasizes the construction of race aboard the slave ships, with the intention of categorizing people for trade.  This categorization was also something that could not be controlled by those being categorized, and was something that was done in order to create a certain “presentation” or performance of slaves.  Rediker discusses how those in the slave market were segregated based on skin color, size, and general appearance, which automatically separates people based on a certain sense of “otherness” or a characteristic that could be considered “markedly different” (Batiste, 15).  Therefore, the experience on the slave ship was central to the capitalist facet of modernity in the sense that the ship was used as a factory to produce and distribute, while also producing categories of race.  And as Batiste says, “Given the radical exclusion of African Americans from mainstream society and its dreams of freedom and expansion, it seemed overly hopeful, if not radical, for blacks to participate in imaginative appropriations of open lands, a material process from which they had been excluded in American history except, for the most part, as bound labor” (Batiste, 27).  This quote emphasizes Batiste’s point of how the element of performativity can create a system of exclusion, while at the same time can support modernity and redeploy those dreams of freedom and expansion in order to engage “with this major symbolic discourse of American identity” (Batiste, 28).

However, with respect to performing within the limitations of a “fully constructed culture and identity,” does performing that cultural identity perpetuate the constructions of race by continuing to create cultural characteristics that people may in fact reject?  Because “Artists struggled to communicate black stories that would ring true to black American experiences and not offend federal or white sensibilities or violate tricky antimiscegenation laws,” how effective was their communication in the end (Batiste, 22)?  As a result, does that message then reinforce the symbolic discourse of American identity or challenge it?

Sexy Citizens?

In “Sex and Citizenship,” Laura Briggs explores the relationship between the Keywords Colonial and Body. She states, “Between 1917 and 1918, then, gender and women’s bodies became a significant idiom in which colonial relations were negotiated (70).” Briggs poses the question: who controlled the sexuality of Puerto Rico’s poor women? The terminology created and utilized by the U.S. reflected that of an empire in its naming of Puerto Rico as a “incorporated territory.” Briggs argues that the relationship between island and mainland was rapidly changing during this period, and that the inaction of a prostitution policy provided a concrete and safe platform to debate these new relationships. As the U.S. began to seize control over its newly “incorporated territory” it started with those bodies at the bottom of its racialized and gendered social hierarchy. The representation of these “citizens” through the production of stories on who prostitutes were, focused specifically on the status of their health. These women were portrayed as sickly and diseased by those supporting the prostitution policy; either dangerously infectious or sympathetically in need of health care. Ironically, the U.S. presence most likely made the health circumstances of the population worse in Puerto Rico as a small number of Americans accumulated the concentration of wealth. Although there was much push back against the prostitution policy in Puerto Rico, the production of these stories functioned to emphasize and moralize rhetoric of American Exceptionalism in the United States.

I’m specifically interested in what led some Puerto Rican women to support the prostitution policies put in place. In other words, what are the ideologies and discursive structures that led these women to support “sanitization” efforts?

Whiteness as Normal

In State of White Supremacy: Racism, Governance, and the United States, Moon-Kie Jung discusses the idea of the “American empire” and argues that, “the United States has never been a nation-state; the United States has always been an empire-state; [and] the United States has always been a racial state, a state of white supremacy” (Jung, 1).  Jung breaks down the origins and development of the United States and analyzes how this deconstruction of the United States has led to racial constructions and racial formations, and in particular, the formation of white supremacy.

I especially liked Jung’s analysis of the reconceptualization of the U.S. state, and how he proves how the United States has never been a nation-state, but rather, has always been an empire-state, because of the societal hierarchy in place, and the resulting conversation of whiteness as dominant.  For instance, Jung sates how, “the United States has not been a nation-state in a fundamental, square-peg-in-a-round-hole sense…By virtue of the assumed internal horizontality of nations, nation-states imply politically uniform populations of citizens, of state members,” and that, “The United States has never come close to achieving these political ‘ideals’ and, in all probability, is constitutionally, both literally and figuratively, incapable of doing so” (Jung, 3).

As a result, our nation embraces the empire-state because our system is hierarchically differentiated and “In terms of belonging or membership, the peoples of an empire-state effectively, through de jure and de facto practices, have differential access to rights and privileges” (Jung, 3).  Consequently, this “access to rights and privileges,” speaks to the underwritten nature of white supremacy and “the taken-for-granted certainty of white dominance” in our society (Jung, 3 & 7).  And unfortunately, the fact that white dominance so often goes unrecognized or unacknowledged also makes that access to rights and privileges also go unacknowledged, which leads the continuation of oppressive structures in our society that perpetuate racial inequality.

Jung’s conversation ties extremely well with Pamela Perry’s definition of “‘white’ as a socially and historically constructed identity, a cluster of racialized norms and performances, and a set of privileges” (Perry, 243).  Just as Jung discusses, Perry argues that whiteness allows for certain privileges and therefore, sets up an automatic hierarchy based on race.  In addition, because “‘white power secures its dominance by seeming not to be anything in particular,’” and is often defined by what it is not instead of defined by what it actually is, whiteness is extremely exclusionary because it has no concrete definition and it has no set standard, despite the fact that whiteness is considered the “norm” or “normal” (Perry 243-245).  Therefore, because there is never a set definition for whiteness and is therefore always exclusionary by principle, whiteness continues to remain a construct in our society that racially excludes and is perpetually an oppressive force in our social hierarchies.

Therefore, in Perry’s words, what further can we do to continue to “destabilize white cultural and political hegemonies in the United States and abroad” (Perry, 246)?  How far back do these hegemonies go, with respect to the history of the United States, and how long will it take for these hegemonic beliefs to be completely dismantled?

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

Borders and Power

In Borderlands La Frontera: The New Mestiza, Gloria Anzaldúa’s portrayal of the borderlands is extremely powerful.  Not only does she expand on what our perception of a physical borderland is, but she also questions the implications of a borderland dealing with race and race relations with those across borders.  Anzaldúa addresses the intersectionality of the borderlands by discussing the psychological borderlands, the sexual borderlands, and the spiritual borderlands, while also examining how they operate, “wherever two or more cultures edge each other, where people of different races occupy the same territory, where under, lower, middle and upper classes touch, [and] where the space between two individuals shrinks with intimacy” (Anzaldúa).  Therefore, she recognizes the transient community within the borderlands and examines how the differences within these borders affect our perceptions and understandings of borders in the first place and affects who is able to be mobile across those borders, and who is not.

Anzaldúa defines borders as, “the places that are safe and unsafe, to distinguish us from them…a dividing line, a narrow strip along a steep edge…a vague and undetermined place created by the emotional residue of an unnatural boundary, [it] is in a constant state of transition” (Anzaldúa, 25).  Anzaldúa’s definition establishes a standard of “otherness” where borders can be used as something that physically and metaphorically separates someone from entering a space, but then does just that, and doesn’t allow for mobility or movement over and across borders.  It is evident that Anzaldúa’s definition of the borderlands sets up a binary because the borderlands can take on two meanings, however never both at the same time.  For instance, the Southwest, Aztlan could never be considered the “land of the herons, land of whiteness, [and] the Edenic place of origin of the Azteca,” all at the same time, but rather, one identity for the land has to be claimed, and the others disposed of, pushed to the other side of the border, or moving the border completely, ultimately establishing the “them” (Anzaldúa, 26).  As a result, one is either on one side of the border or the other, but it would be difficult to be on both, simply because the borderland establishes a system of extremely juxtaposed positions.

This creation of an “other,” establishes a mentality that borders create a rule for some, where they are told, “Do not enter, trespassers will be raped, maimed, strangled, gassed, shot” (Anzaldúa, 25).  Consequently, “The only ‘legitimate’ inhabitants are those in power, the whites and those who align themselves with whites,” which brings into question who is responsible for establishing these borders and enforcing them (Anzaldúa, 26)?  And then this question of power and how it relates to race raises the question of who is allowed to change these borders and what can be done in order to do so effectively?

This ability to question the establishment of borders related extremely well to Mary Pat Brady’s analysis of borders and how the hybridizing effects of borders in relation to the “conceptual possibilities contained in metaphors of borders, border-crossings, and borderlands,” can lead to power and innovative possibilities to challenge the “epistemological structure” that enables systematic oppression (Brady, 31).  And as a last note, I think Anzaldúa does that wonderfully in her chapter through her use of language.  The fact that she combines English and Spanish fluidly together throughout the entirety of the chapter shows her effort to truly create a sense of hybridity and really force borders to come together, literally and figuratively, without switching or altering the framework that she is coming from.

What is a Border?

For as long as I can remember, I have always had some sort of weird fascination with borders.  Partially because I have always been amazed that you can literally be laying down in 4 states at once.  I suppose this fascination stems from the reality that I, or anyone for that matter, do not really have a clear and concise understanding and definition of what a border really is and means.  Is it a wall, a line, a natural boundary, a sign? All of the above?

Obviously, the Gloria Anzaldúa piece, “Borderlands: La Frontera” discusses borders and issues with the Texas-Mexico border.  However, I first want to relate two individual lines from the “Our America” and bring them into the border discussion.  “Governor, in a new country, means creator.” And then, “Create is this generation’s password.”  Both of these caught my attention because when relating this to current times, you need a password for everything. A password is like a border, something that is supposed to impede your entrance.  When discussing what a border is supposed to be, is it a “New York State Welcomes You” sign that you see upon entering the state, or the wall that surrounds parts of the beautiful Vassar College campus, or is having military right at a certain “divider” point in which other people are not allowed to cross into?  In modern times, borders are quite literally lines, signs or dividers.  In previous times, before technology (password) was around in the fashion that it is, borders were likely natural landmarks.

What happens when someone crosses over a line they are not supposed to be in or not allowed to enter? Who determines this line and who is allowed to enter?  In Anzaldúa’s, “The Homeland, Aztlán,” she argues that race is a central issue regarding boundaries.  I think boundaries do perpetuate racism.  The idea that someone is better than another person or race because of rules and regulations that are in one side of the boundary and not the other are very true and real.  However, any notion of racism not existing if boundaries did not exist is ludicrous! As long as there are differences in humans, racism will exist to an extent.  It pains me to say it, but a different type of person will always believe the absurd concept that they are superior to others or feel the need to belittle or degrade others in order to benefit themselves.

A border is a fascinating concept.  And that notion to me became even more fascinating after these readings.  Borders are dividers.  Borders come in many different shapes and sizes.  Borders are different.  People are different.


Apparently I was already beaten to this fascinating picture that I recently saw, but couldn’t help but post it anyways.