Thursday, June 28, 2007

Why we are here

"Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won't either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself that you tatsed as many as you could."
Louise Erdrich, The Painted Drum

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Hollywood Mirror

Last week as I was de-toxing from my South Carolina sojourn, I took a break from the work schedule I put myself on and immersed myself in narrative. I read two novels in 4 days (The Painted Drum by Louise Erdrich and The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman--I recommend both, highly, for different reasons. Erdrich continues to weave the genealogy that she began in Love Medicine about American Indians in the Midwest--with haunting and beautiful effect--and Pullman's Dark Materials trilogy is a page turner and much more than a children's fantasy world: it is dark and rather treacherous and raises some philosophical/theological questions that are really more for adults) and more to the point of this entry, I saw 3 films: the latest and final installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, the indie film Waitress, and the latest caper flick in the Oceans' series, Oceans 13.

What do these films all have in common?

Nothing, other than the fact that I was entertained by all 3 and that all 3 lacked any real Asian American characters. In Waitress I don't think I recall seeing a single non-white person. It is set in some small, rural town in the midwest or the South (unclear the exact setting). Pirates did feature Chow Yun-Fat as the pirate king Sao Feng. The Angry Asian Man blog already discussed the stereotypes associated with his character--and the People's Republic of China is so incensed with the continuation of "yellow peril" stereotypes that his character perpetuates that they have apparently edited out certain scenes for release in mainland China.

Did the depiction bother me? Yes and no. Yes, because it's racist fantasy and no one likes racist fantasy. No, because I wasn't expecting more from this film series. I mean, if I don't want to be incensed by Hollywood depictions of Asians and Asian Americans, I shouldn't go to movie theaters and watch Hollywood films. It's almost a given, nowadays, that what you see projected on screen is going to be a stereotype or gross caricature. Nothing new has really changed in nearly a century of cinematic portrayals. So yes, it's important to point out all the ways that Sao Feng and the other Asian faces are in line with Hollywood stereotypes--and so are the other "ethnicized" characters--the Turk, the Spaniard, the Frenchman, the African--so I'm just not surprised and unlike with books, in film I can turn down the volume of the critical voice--or at least I was able to this week.

But the surprise film I want to talk about is Oceans 13. Because they have done something in all 3 films with the Chinese character that I think is intriguing and I can't figure out if it is done for pure laughs or could be a potentially subversive thing to do. They never have the Chinese character, Yen (played by real life acrobat, Shaobo Qin) speak English--he speaks Mandarin and the other characters respond in English. But what is important is that they all understand one another--the only need for an "interpreter" is when they are conning other people. It's a small thing--and I think it was originally done for laughs in the first film when Qin speaks Mandarin and Brad Pitt responds in English, signaling that Pitt can understand Mandarin, but continuing this conceit in the third film is interesting and potentially subversive because it creates a world in which a facility for language is assumed--where accents are not used for comic effect and where there is something natural about everyone understanding Mandarin and simply responding back in English. And there are never subtitles or explanations--if you don't speak Mandarin then you have to figure out through the context of the speech act what is being conveyed. So what is mirrored back is a reality in which you can speak Mandarin and look like a Chinese guy (and be a Chinese guy) and you don't get mocked or ridiculed--you are understood and accepted.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

North vs. South -- Part III

This is the last posting about why I prefer North Carolina to South Carolina, and I have to begin with a report I heard on NPR this afternoon that Raleigh, NC was listed as the third most desirable/livable city for African Americans, right behind Atlanta and Washington DC. And Charlotte was also in the Top Ten, with Greensboro, NC coming in at a close #11. Is this a reason for me to prefer North to South Carolina? Well, it certainly doesn't hurt.

Especially because of a comment that was made during a boat tour of the Sea Islands. The tour group was arranged as part of the post-conference ASLE trip to the Penn Center. I have to say that overall the trip was not what was I was expecting. There was a lack of leadership, for one, although I give credit to our guide, Steve, a Furman University professor, for trying to provide some cohesion and organization to our trip. However, the trip was really about the ecology of the area rather than the culture--and yet, it had been billed as a trip that would explore both the ecological and cultural aspects of the region, with an emphasis on educating us about the local Gullah people (made famous by Julie Dash's film Daughters of the Dust). Despite this billing, however, the Gullah portion was only about 2 hours worth of the whole trip.

But I digress.

We're on this 3 hour boat ride around the sea island wetlands/marshlands, and our tour guide and person driving the boat is giving us a local history of the area, the various plantations that were once a part of the landscape, and he mentions, casually, that they were occupied up until the time of the war of northern aggression. Wait, let me repeat that for you. In tones completely unironic and matter-of-fact he referred to the Civil War as THE WAR OF NORTHERN AGGRESSION. And, for anyone who understands the meaning of making this comment in the 21st century to a boat load of liberal, environmentally minded literature professors, 5 of whom are African American, well, lets just say that at that point, if I could have jumped ship, I would. The guide continued on with the history as if he had said nothing out of the ordinary, and I whispered to my friend Sofia that I felt like singing the Battle Hymn of the Republic, but she cautioned me to stay quiet--this was not an educational moment and this comment was made in the first half hour of the trip. With over 2 hours left, we wanted to return to shore, in tact, and so I remained silent (although largely because I couldn't quite remember the lyrics--only the chorus, and even then I was spotty about whether the line was "The Truth Keeps Marching On"--can't quite remember).

This comment came a day after I was at a bar, on my way to the post-conference trip, trying to catch up on my Tiger Watch--Day 3 of the US Open. I was drinking an Arnold Palmer (half lemonade, half ice tea) and a white couple in their 60s was also watching golf at the bar. The wife was chatty and friendly and struck up a conversation with me, asking what I was doing. When I explained that I was in town for a conference on literature and the environment, her husband snorted derisively and said, "I'm a logger!" to which I said "Oh" and then the bartender, a friendly guy, Darryl, said, "Did you cut down a lot of those big trees?" And Mr. Logger said, "Well, I'm retired now, but I didn't cut down the trees. I carried a gun." "Why a gun?" asked Darryl. "To use against all those people hugging those damn trees!" said Mr. Retired Logger.

All of this was said without irony. Without laughter. To goad.

To which I kept my eye on the TV screen and rooted for Tiger (at this point he was tied for the lead at 3+).

So that's that. I mean, in the scheme of things, these comments could have happened anywhere, and probably do. I know that racism is not confined to single regions of the U.S. and that even the most liberal among us can still have biases and prejudices. And I know that rudeness (which the ex-logger's comments certainly were--rude and uncourteous) could also happen anywhere. But I have been lulled into believing the stereotypes about Southern hospitality and gentility. Guess I'll have to rethink them.

But, I'll say this: it may not be representative of North Carolina, but I like my liberal slice of heaven, and I'd rather take my stand here than anyplace else in "The South." And I don't plan to return to South Carolina anytime soon.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

North vs. South -- Part II

I'm feeling very "Southern" right now, as I sit on my covered porch, my dog at my side. Of course, I'm sitting in an Adirondack chair and my dog, a half-collie, half-corgi mix is far from the typical coon dog that you see around here. And there's no kudzu in sight, but there are plenty of mosquitoes.

Part II of my reasons for why I prefer North to South Carolina should begin with politics. As I alluded to in my last post, many people had told me that South Carolina was more conservative than North Carolina, and I don't know if it's really true, but I do live in a liberal blue triangle in the midst of a fairly red state--and my particular slice of the triangle is so liberal that I've never seen a "W" sticker on a car in the 10 mile radius around my home, and in the last presidential election, Kerry-Edwards' signs dotted the surrounding landscape, and the prevailing atmosphere at the local co-op, the crunchy-granola-uber-liberal largely organic and pro-local produce Co-Op that is at the heart of town is one of progressive politics and anti-Bush/anti-Republican/anti-war sentiments. Which means I'm right at home.

But as I drove into South Carolina to visit with my cousin I saw HUGE placards supporting Mitt Romney's presidential candidacy, and LOTS of "W" stickers and, in general, a prevailing atmosphere of conservative politics and culture, most notably in the form of HUGE churches and billboards that had pro-Christian advertising. I also did not notice many Asian Americans. In fact, as I was walking around downtown Spartanburg the day of the ASLE conference, I had the distinct feeling that I was being watched--looked at--glanced over. Perhaps I was being paranoid, but you known when people are watching you and you know when people are staring at you. And all I can say is that I definitely had the distinct feeling that I was different and was being regarded as different. And that it was not entirely friendly. Or rather, I was uncomfortable with the attention. But beyond my racial features, I certainly didn't dress or comport myself like a typical Southern woman, so perhaps others at the conference who were white felt the same type of glances thrown their way due to their attire (which, at this conference, was very REI/Lands End). All I can really say is that I felt out of place and not entirely welcome/comfortable while I was in South Carolina, and whether it was racial dynamics or gender dynamics or a combination of the two, who can say? But I'll save the specific uncomfortable interactions for the last posting in this series.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

North vs. South -- Part I

I returned from my long weekend in South Carolina, most of it spent at ASLE or at a post-ASLE trip (for acronym, scroll down to 2 blog posts ago). And I have to say that many of my misconceptions about the South have been both challenged and upheld during the 3+ years that I've lived in my Southern State. And one of the things that people have said to me is that there is a difference between North Carolina and South Carolina--that the two are quite different, with an emphasis on North Carolina being "better" (and by this it is generally or literally stated as less conservative/more liberal/less backwards/more tolerant/less redneck/more cosmopolitan). Of course most of the people telling me that NC is better, more tolerant than SC are either native North Carolinians or South Carolinians who now live in NC.

But I have to say, I think it's true. At least in my brief experience in the Southern of the Carolinas, it is true. I'll save the details for later, when I have more time, but for now, I'll just say that among other things that were said either directly to me or directly to the group I was with, were a reference to "the war of Northern Aggression" and shooting "tree huggers" and someone who "loved watching Fox News in the morning."

Welcome to Dixie! Thank goodness I'm now home in the comfort and safety of my liberal college town.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Katrina, Debs, and Environmental Justice

Hurricane Katrina. Spartanburg Debutantes. Environmental Justice. One of these things is not like the other. Perhaps none of them is like the other. Or perhaps they all share something in common: they are all being housed at the Marriott Hotel in Spartanburg, SC. OK, well obviously Katrina and EJ are things that can't really be "housed" per se, since hurricanes and movements aren't things we think of as needing lodging. But I'm here in the Spartanburg Marriott, having presented my paper as part of a panel on Environmental Justice literature (mine was on the links between social justice and environmental justice in Ruth Ozeki's My Year of Meats, an excellent novel in case anyone is interested in some summer reading). The panel went well--the conference was great, in particular the morning plenary on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the ways in which we, as a nation, have failed to provide substantial relief to people still suffering from the aftermath of the levees breaking and the lack of governmental support. And, of course, the way that environmental racism also impacts people living in New Orleans and the surrounding region, with respect to issues of environmental justice. Robert Bullard, a pioneer, a founding father, if you will, of the Environmental Justice movement, delivered a power point presentation with devastating images of the area. But there is also hope and faith and the passion of committed activists to want to DO more--to want to CHANGE the world--and to use literature and eco-criticism as a means to enact this change--to activate others in the world we want rather than the world we have.

And then, there's the debutantes. As I was walking back to the hotel after the morning plenary, I noticed a florists' truck and then these photos of largely blonde haired, blue eyed women and then the announcement that there would be a debutante ball going on that night. And the contrast between the ASLE (Association for Literature and the Environment) conference and this ball is so stark. Made especially so after this powerful talk about Hurricane Katrina. And I suppose I shouldn't begrudge others their pleasures--the rituals that they partake in. But I've never been comfortable with debutante balls. They smack of a kind of privilege and power and an infantilization, a "virgin at the sacrificial altar" kind of ritual that makes me feel that these young girls are being conditioned into a way of life that I can't fathom.

And yet, who am I to judge? Because that's what I'm doing--judging people based on their money and their conspicuous consumption. But it's just so hard NOT to have a knee jerk reaction--not to realize that the inequities we face are so great--and to see that inequity as starkly as the juxtaposition of a talk about a hurricane and a bunch of white southern belles setting up for this one extravagant night of consumption. With nary a person of color in sight.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Golf and the Environment

I'm headed out to South Carolina tomorrow for the biennial Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment conference. I'm also headed out to visit old family friends who live in Greenville, SC to play a round of golf at Furman University. I'll be teeing off on Thursday afternoon and then delivering my conference paper Friday afternoon, with a 2 day post-conference trip (sponsored by ASLE) at the Penn Center in Beaufort, SC, an institute dedicated to the preservation and study of the culture of the Gullah people and the Sea Islands.

And, of course, this is also Father's day weekend, but perhaps more importantly for all the rabid golf fans in the world, it's the U.S. Open (opening round on Thursday). And I will be at a conference for the majority of the trip, unable to excuse myself to catch the final pairs walk the fairways because this is a literature and the environment conference--and I have a feeling that there will not be many rabid golf fans among the eco-critical group I'll be joining. Because, lets face it, golf is a problematic sport.

Why is golf problematic? Aside from the people who just don't get it, ie: those who feel that watching golf on tv is like watching paint dry or those who just don't see the appeal of hitting a little white ball with a big metal stick, there are the politics of golf which are problematic.

In fact, it's the associations I had with golf that kept me from playing it for quite a while:
*classist (sort've goes with elitist, but I mean this in the economic rather than simply status sense)
*homophobic (some would argue that this isn't so much the case on the women's tour, but I wouldn't be so sure and it sure is a problem on the mens)
*environmentally unfriendly (water, pesticides, land use--not a good combo for an eco friendly game)
*too much equipment
*too long (a full round of 18 holes generally takes about 4 hours)

Why have I converted? Why do I profess to loving golf--to saying I would play every day if I had the time and the money?

To be honest, I'm not exactly sure. Except that there is something about me and the ball--me and the greens, walking the course (I prefer to walk whenever I can), me just challenging me--the meditative quality--that euphoria when you have hit the ball in just the right way, a combination of skill and luck, but I think mostly luck. It's just magic. It's one of the best feelings to hear the "thwack" of a ball off the tee and to see it go straight and true down the fairway. Even if (and when) I tank the next fairway shot. Or muff the chip. Or 3 (or even 4) putt on the green, that tee shot still lingers, and a good round of golf, for me, is having 1 good shot per round: a good driver, a good fairway wood or iron, a good chip, and a good putt. If I have 4 good hits, I feel it was a good day. And I don't keep score. I move balls from a bad lie. I take extra shots if no one is behind me and it's a slow day. I take drops at will. I just don't worry about the score. I just play. Thus, I have fun.

Do I wish things would change about golf? Absolutely. There is much that I wish were different about golf, the culture of golf. That it was less sexist, lets just start there. That it wasn't so privileged--perhaps that should be #1 on the list. That it was more affordable, took up less resources, was more egalitarian, absolutely. But I have to say that I have been surprised by how friendly I have found people to be on golf courses. And I have been surprised at how diverse the golfers are at my very favorite local course, a semi-public one in which you can play for $12 after 3pm at the twilight rate, making it the best golf deal in town.

I suppose I could list Tiger Woods and Michelle Wie and the host of Asian American and Asian golfers who are changing the scenery of golf, racially speaking. But we're still talking about very small numbers and we're still talking about a very elite, very privileged set. The inequity surrounding this game (or sport, depending on your bent) is not compensated by these few faces (and isn't it appalling that after a decade, Tiger is still the only professional black-Asian golfer on the PGA circuit? Where are the young black and Asian, or blackasian golfers he was meant to inspire?).

But I'd be lying if I said I wasn't really looking forward to the golf tomorrow. Who would have thought a progressive-liberal professor of Asian American literature would be looking forward to playing golf at Furman University in South Carolina. Go figure.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Walk for Barack

This weekend I walked for Barack. Well, more specifically, I volunteered to go canvassing, door-to-door, on behalf of the Obama '08 presidential campaign. Obama's HQ called June 9 a national "Walk for Change" day--one in which thousands of Obama supporters would talk to their neighbors about the changes they wanted to see in the U.S. and how Obama's plans, most specifically related to healthcare and the war in Iraq, could be part of this national movement of changing the way politics are currently being done.

I have to admit that when I realized exactly what I would be doing--knocking on doors and actually distributing leaflets -- I balked. I HATE when people come to my door and suspect that most people feel the same way. On the other hand, I had already committed to this event (it was being sponsored, locally, by a woman who asked people to do an hour's committment, and how can you say no to an hour of your life for a good cause?), and more importantly, I had decided that Obama was the candidate I wanted to support, both for this presidential election but overall, I just believe that he's someone who has a vision and a plan, and whether it's this election or another, he's someone I feel is committed to changing the way we do politics in the U.S. (and he has a vision I share, I suppose I should say more directly).

Anyway, I did it. I figured it would be a good learning experience for me to do this--I had never canvassed for any cause, political or otherwise, and I also thought it would give me empathy for those who do go door to door (in my neighborhood it's generally people with environmental causes and sometimes breast cancer advocacy). I paired up with another volunteer, a young woman who was a Southern U. graduate, married, and mother of 2 children. We hit it off and found a good stride in our approach to people--namely, we didn't follow the "script" of the campaign, although we didn't go into people's homes either (a safety precaution on everyone's part and a wise one), and we were friendly and brief--but we also lingered if people wanted to talk.

What I discovered about this particular neighborhood (and everything is local so I don't want to make larger generalizations about all of America or "the South") is that people were exceedingly friendly. I mean sure, there were some people who were clearly annoyed. But at least two homes offered us water, everyone took our literature (everyone who answered their doors that is), no one was rude, and one guy even signed up and took another pamphlet to sign up his friend. I also have to say that doing this canvassing was another reminder about labels and stereotypes. I mean, the guy we signed up did not look like someone I would have thought would be as enthusiastic as he was for Obama. He answered the door half-clothed and without shoes--he had on a pair of camoflauge shorts, pulled low over a pair of white BVDs, an inch of which was clearly visible. His bare chest revealed a large tattoo on a shoulder and arm, and his race (white) and age (early 20s) suggested college student. Yet it turned out that he was older than he looked (something I get because people often mistake me for being a good 8 years younger than I am), he was a business owner, married with children, and believed in progressive politics.

And right after we signed up this guy, the next home we went to, a middle-aged African American man with his wife and father, expressed skepticism that America was ready to elect a black president. When my partner and I introduced ourselves as canvassing on behalf of Obama, the man gave a cynical snort but also smiled and invited us into his open garage (by the way, it was SOOOO HOT--about 92 degrees in the shade) and we talked to him, and his family, for a bit about why we were supporting Obama and listened to his doubts about the country's racial openness.

It's a skepticism I share. I don't know if the average American voter wants to elect a black president. But what I told this gentleman and what I believe, and what got me out on a 92 degree afternoon, knocking on people's doors, volunteering for the first time in my life to canvass for a cause or a person--what I believe in my heart of hearts is that I want to and need to believe that we, as a nation, are ready to move ahead in terms of racial politics. That we want to learn from the past and we want to learn from each other. And while I know that racism will not be erased so easily by a few ethnic studies classes or multicultural fairs, I also know that I am supporting Obama because I have to have faith. I have to believe and to envision the country I want rather than the country I suspect I have. I have to actually practice what I preach rather than bemoaning the state of race and politics that we currently live in. I'm not trying to sound either overly optimistic nor naive; rather, what other choice do I have? I think the time of talking is done and there needs to be a time for action, and I don't propose that an hour of walking and knocking on people's doors meant that I changed the next election or convinced anyone beyond what they were already thinking. But it was important for me. And maybe, just maybe, the example of someone going door to door on one of the hottest days of the summer, maybe that will make one of these 25 households we actually spoke to pause and think that change can happen.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Paris Redux

Well apparently I'm not the only one appalled by the turn-of-events surrounding Paris Hilton's release from jail. She's been ordered back to court this morning because Judge Sauer feels the Sheriff's department was too hasty in letting her spend the remaining time under house arrest instead of incarcerated in the LA County Jail. The Sheriff's department also received over 400 email messages and more than 400 phone calls from people around the country protesting her preferred treatment status as a celebrity incarceree.

And I am wondering about justice. I mean, if Paris Hilton actually does serve jail time, does this mean that justice was served, that the penal system works? It's probably not so cut and dry, but I also wonder to what degree both the judge and the sheriff's office was influenced by public opinion, which is definitely against Hiton at this point, or at least against her release and her serving her sentence under house arrest (which, again, I have to think, how punitive is that for her? Sure she can't go out and about, but she certainly could have her picture taken by the ton of papparazzi surrounding her house if she still wants to be in the public eye and she certainly can have her handlers bring her food, news, various sundries--I mean, it's not like people can't see her, she just can't go out. And she lives in a 4 bedroom home in a very tony part of LA--really, how bad can her house arrest be? I suppose there's the potential shame factor, but considering there have been numerous photos and videos of her in various states of undress and in various sexual positions, how ashamed can she be feeling? And am I being too harsh in saying this--in not feeling much if any sympathy for this particular American heiress?)

Again, I wonder to what degree popular opinion plays into this. That my sentiments are shared by several people around the country seems fairly accurate to say at this point, given the outcry against her release to house arrest.

And race may not be playing an overt factor in all of this, but I don't think it hurts that she's white and blonde and privileged. And yet, I wonder if that's part of what is being judged in the court of public opinion too. The fact that she's so much the poster child for the overindulgent, overprivileged person. In the AP story they interviewed a man who was also at the LA County Courthouse fighting a traffic ticket, Moses Baltazar, who had once parked Hilton's car when he was a valet. Apparently she only tipped a dollar, which miffed him considering (a) she's rich (b) he helped fend off the papparazzi for her. And he's miffed that she is receiving special treatment given her celebrity status.

Special treatment. This seems to be at the heart of white privilege--the fact that there is a special treatment that white Americans often receive, whether consciously acknowledged or not, that people of color don't. I really think Peggy McIntosh articulates this so clearly in the list of privileges that she has in her invisible knapsack. And it's also the thing that ruffles us, in the court of public opinion--the idea that certain people do have special privilege because of who they know, how much money they have, and where they were born.

I also know that special treatment is what anti-affirmative action people shout about--and then they quote from MLK Jr.'s "I Had a Dream Speech" where he talks about wanting to be judged by the content of his character rather than the color of his skin. But this is going to bring me into a different type of rant, so I'm just going to say that I really hate it when the neo-conservative anti-affirmative action camp does this, because I'm sure MLK Jr. would roll over in his grave if he knew that his words were being parroted back in this way and for these purposes.

As for Hilton, I don't think it's the color of her skin that she's necessarily on trial for so much as the flaunting of her privilege that really rankles a lot of people--and that if we do judge the content of her character, well, I don't think that someone who tries to have her family buy her out of her misdemeanors is someone who is showing a whole lot of character.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Justice, Paris style

Today I had some consultants from Best Buy come in to give me the low down on where I should be placing the new LCD flat screen tv I plan to be purchasing in the next few months (the Samsung 13" that I bought 12 years ago is finally on the fritz and since I paid $350 originally, and since it would cost at least that much to fix it, I figured a new tv was on my horizon). For those of you who will derisively tell me that getting consultants in was a waste of money, I actually think for someone as technologically challenged, both in terms of know-how and in terms of current trends, having them here was very helpful, although they pretty much regarded me like a crazy person when I told them I was not investing in HDTV, and no, I don't have TIVO or On Demand or anything else (I pay $20 for cable and adding HDTV would be $50--why do it? I don't want that much tv, but I want to sink a tv on my wall and watch movies).

Why am I bringing all of this up? Partly to show how ignorant I am of technology trends, or maybe trends in general, which is a bit myopic for one who claims to be interested in race and popular culture.

But I just feel like I can't be bothered and it's now how I want to choose to spend my money. I mean, sure, I could spend a ton of money on a home theater system. But since I watch about 2 hours of tv a day, at most, this doesn't seem to be a good investment. And since I don't care all that much about the quality of my picture or sound, again, doesn't seem like the best way to spend my money--I even turned off the text messaging function on my cell phone because I can't be bothered with receiving, let alone sending messages.

And thus, I also don't follow certain celebrity trends and stories. Like the Paris Hilton jail thing. I mean, one can't help but hear rumblings about all of this, and yet, I never bothered to click on the link in the NY Times...until today. Because today's headline announced that after 5 days, Paris would be moved from her prison cell to her home--that she would spend her remaining jail time under house arrest.


That's what it feels like. A gross injustice of the American penal and justice system. A gross injustice in terms of class and celebrity status. And since I pretty much feel Paris Hilton is gross herself (I just don't get why she's all that--blond, thin, and willing to wear skimpy clothing and act stupid, is that her appeal?), gross seems to be the right word to describe how I feel about this whole situation. It's gross that she was able to buy her way out of jail because of her family's power and her current celebrity status.

And really, is anyone surprised that a rich, blond white girl would be able to cry her way out of jail? I'm sure all the incarcerated prisoners, of color or not, who are poor, working class, and particularly those who are black and Latino who have been targeted, racially, I'm sure they can all empathize with poor little Paris.

Monday, June 4, 2007

No Diploma for You!

There is a high school in Galesburg, IL (Galesburg High School--go figure) which denied five of their graduates their diplomas on graduate day because their friends and families "cheered" for them as they walked across stage. Apparently Galesburg has been having a problem with rowdy graduations--or more specifically, with people applauding, whistling, yelling, and blowing air horns so loudly that other friends and family can't hear the name of their beloved graduate as they walk across the stage. And so the administrators implemented a "no cheering" policy--and to enforce it, they threatened (and carried out) the punishment that the graduates would not receive their diplomas.

So let me break it down. Five students had their family members reported as cheering too loudly, too racously, too vociferously, during graduation--they upset the sense of dignity and decorum that the Galesburg High School administrators were seeking. They made these students sign contracts that their family members would hold applause until all graduates walked across the stage.

Now. Does it surprise anyone that the five graduates were all students of color? And I don't mean this as in, of course they have rowdy families but rather, of course they were the ones who got nailed--of course they were targeted. According to the article in the NY Times, the families (4 African American, 1 Latino) said that there were white families who cheered, but only they were singled out--only their students were denied their diplomas.

I'm not trying to say that it was a necessarily intentional act of racism. But I do think that people of color often stand out, especially when they are in the minority (not sure if that's the case, but it does seem like it may be). And therefore, these families stood out. And therefore they were singled out. Unintentional racism. Yet racism none-the-less.