Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Five years later...what have we learned?

Unless you are living off the grid, by now everyone is aware that various news and media outlets have been reflecting on the state of the Gulf region, in general, and New Orleans, in particular, five years after Hurricane Katrina and the failure of the levees.

And if there was ever a topic for a blog called "Mixed Race America," it's thinking about how race impacted the rescue and reconstruction and rebuilding efforts in this region. While there was much discussion five years ago at the images of white hurricane "victims salvaging" items versus images of "black looters" with similar items (and we're talking about groceries and diapers and other necessities being taken), we should not forget to keep scrutinizing the way that racial difference and institutional racism continue to play out in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, five years later. For an example of the not-so-subtle, read this New York Times article about African Americans who were terrorized and subject to violence by whites in the aftermath of Katrina.

For an example of subtle racism, this photo journalism piece in the New York Times (see below) made me think about the role of race in this white family when I saw the Confederate flag on the truck and in the living room of the first family.

Spike Lee's latest documentary on life in post-Katrina New Orleans, If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don't Rise (a follow-up from his first series, When The Levees Broke, has received a lot of positive reviews (see this one from George Alexander on The Huffington Post). For more, see this interview of Lee below:

Finally, a group that has not received wide media coverage during and in the aftermath of Katrina are the SouthEast Asian Americans living in the gulf region. Specifically, prior to Katrina, the voices of the Vietnamese Americans living in East New Orleans, a neighborhood that was literally off the map of New Orleans, found a political voice and learned to exercise their civil rights to contest a toxic waste dump that would have been built five miles from their neighborhood. The struggle of this community to fight for the rights of their community has been documented in the wonderful film A Village Called Versailles by director Leo Chiang, and you can see a brief clip below:

A Village Called Versailles is available through Amazon, either to rent or to purchase, and you can also read more about the making of the film here.

Clearly, the aftermath of Katrina and the breaking of the levees is one that will continue to impact not only those who live in the gulf region, but hopefully all of us, especially as we work to prevent the debacle of the BP Oil disaster from happening again. I suppose I should say that we should be learning the lessons from these disasters, natural and man-made--the jury is still out on whether we really WILL learn these lessons...

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Martin Luther King Jr. is rolling in his grave

Back in May, Southern Man and I were playing a game with another couple, very close friends of ours. We were playing a game that is hard to describe, but there is a "mad libs" element to it and we had to fill in the blank with this sentence:

________ is the most obnoxious person in the world.

All 4 of us wrote in the same name: Glenn Beck

And as proof positive, the rally that Beck organized today, at the Lincoln Memorial, the site where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. held a rally for black civil rights 47 years ago, should solidify that he IS the most obnoxious person in the world.

If you have been trying to ignore the doings of Glenn Beck, the Tea Party, and the aggressively conservative religious Republican right, I don't blame you--it's horrifying and frustrating and the feeling I have is of wanting to throw things at my t.v. or radio or computer because I can't BELIEVE the stupidity of what I am watching/hearing/reading. But it is always better to be informed of the doings of those you oppose on ideological/political/ethical/moral grounds.

So here's the New York Times article about the rally that Beck organized. Please note that this rally, ostensibly for all Americans and ostensibly in the spirit of Dr. King is a virtual sea of white people--not a hotbed of diversity. But of course, the Tea Party is NOT a hotbed of diversity. Which begs the question, how can a group of people be so deluded as to think that their attitudes towards race aren't part of their moral/ideological/political imperative? What kind of machinations do these folks have to do NOT to recognize the travesty of having a rally on the 47th anniversary at the site of Dr. King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech--that they have ANYTHING in common with the struggle for black enfranchisement and larger civil rights of the 1960s???!!!


For more reactions to the Glenn Beck travesty, see these two New York Times opinions pieces by Charles Blow, "I Had a Nightmare" and Bob Herbert, "America is Better Than This."

Also, a friend's brother has started a website tracking the Tea Party--so if you have the stomach and the will to be informed about what those who I would categorize are NOT the readers or supporters of a blog called "Mixed Race America," I encourage you to check out the link to TeaPartyTracker.org, which is important as Timothy Egan notes, we are quickly becoming a nation of "Know Nothings."

But to return to Beck, I want to address the purported "purpose" of his rally--to bring us closer to God. Now, in the New York Times article, it does not specify which God Beck wants all Americans to get closer to, but we can all probably assume it is a very particular Christian God--and not the one embraced by Unitarians or the United Church of Christ or the Quakers (Christian organizations with very explicit social justice and/or liberal-progressive politics). I'm thinking of this because I've been disturbed at the anti-Muslim rhetoric/sentiment and especially anti-Muslim violence. Earlier this week a NYC cabdriver brutally stabbed by a passenger after learning that the man is Muslim (click here for the Huffington Post article). And the backlash against the mosque that has received a green light near the site of the former twin towers is just downright disturbing.

And I think there is a link--that this overly aggressive demand for Americans to be Christianized and that somehow citizenship and religion (and implicitly race) are all conflated so that to be a "real" American, a "good" American, one must be a Christian and to mirror the values (and the complexion) of the crowd at the Lincoln Memorial of Beck's rally--somehow all of this rhetoric is linked to the demonization of Muslims Americans, specifically, Muslims, more broadly, and anyone non-Christian (and non-white) more generally. And the rhetoric is dangerous. And although Egan, in his New York Times editorial, is right to point out the danger of people believing that Barack Obama is Muslim when he has said, time and again, that he is Christian, the other issue is, if Barack Obama WAS Muslim (as his father and his father's family was and is), what is wrong with that? Why can't we have an American president who is Muslim? What is the incomensurability or incompatability of someone's religion (or even LACK of religion) and someone's citizenship or their patriotism and loyalty to the United States?

[Update: August 31, 2010: Just read this Op-Ed piece in the New York Times by Stanley Fish and I have to say that I think it is SPOT ON, which is a rarity for me because I'm usually vehemently disagreeing with Fish on other issues. But this one really speaks to the hypocrisy of conservative right-wing rhetoric, especially related to its attacks on Islam and its particular form of hatred spewed at the proposed Islamic center in lower Manhattan]

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Happy Birthday 19th Amendment!

90 years ago today the 19th Amendment--the one that allowed women the right to vote--was formally ratified as part of the constitution. And so today, August 26, is officially EQUALITY DAY.

Now, I must confess that were it not from an email I received from "Women's Voices, Women Vote" I would not have realized the significance of this date--here's the text of their email:

"Ninety years ago, one mother's plea to her son helped pass the 19th Amendment by one vote and gave American women the vote. After thirty-five of the necessary thirty-six states had ratified the amendment, the battle came to Nashville, Tennessee. One young legislator, 24 year-old Harry Burns, had previously voted with the anti-suffrage forces. But a telegram from his mother urging him to vote for the amendment and for suffrage made the difference. Burns broke a 48 to 48 tie making Tennessee the 36th and deciding state to ratify. One vote does matter. Your vote matters. Today, even though women turnout at equal or great numbers than men on election day, more than one in four American women is still not registered to vote. If you're one of them, celebrate Equality Day today by visiting Women's Voices. Women's Vote website and registering to vote. If you are already registered, use your voice to talk to five women you know about the importance of voting."

Page Gardner, president of "Women's Voices, Women's Vote" also has a piece on their website that talks about the significance of Equality Day, and the debt we owe to Alice Paul, one of the leading suffragist who literally put her body on the line to fight for the right of women to vote.

There is a lot I take for granted--voting is one of them. So I appreciate WVWV reminding me that this right was won by the struggles and labor and, in some cases, blood of other women.

As for the phrase "Equality Day," well, my own thought is: shouldn't every day be Equality Day? Not just in terms of gender, but really shouldn't we recognize the rights of all need to be central and thus we should really work to make everyday EQUALITY DAY for everyone.

Friday, August 20, 2010

"If Liza Minelli can marry 2 gay men, can't I marry 1?"

Saw this and thought it is a good reminder that we can use humor to protest what is surely the absurd--and one of the most absurd things I can think of is in the 21st century not allowing consenting adults to marry the consenting adult of their choice--in other words, WE NEED TO HAVE GAY AND LESBIAN COUPLES BE ABLE TO MARRY NOW!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Who, exactly, is a "minority"?

First, for my long time readers/followers, I know I don't need to apologize for nearly a month's blogging silence--as I noted in a June post, because of my cancer diagnosis and chemo treatments, I knew that I wouldn't be blogging on a regular basis. However, I had hoped to be blogging more, because it would be a sign that I was feeling OK. But the truth is, the first round of chemo I was on (a particularly hard drug combo known as "AC") really had me laid out, mostly due to nausea and fatigue, but it also left my brain feeling mushy and my concentration levels hit an all time low--I wasn't able to read fiction most days and resorted to watching movies and t.v. series streamed on Netflix (thank GOODNESS for Netflix!).

This second round of chemo, Taxol, is mercifully easier on my system--no nausea and less brain fog (I finally got to finish a novel I started a month ago, Edgar Sawtelle--and just to let you know, normally it would take me a week to read a 400 page novel while teaching full time--it would take 2 days to read a 400 page novel if I was on vacation). The Taxol hasn't been wonderful--there is some pretty severe joint and muscle pain I've had to weather, and the cumulative effects of the chemo means I'm pretty tired all the time and my brain, while better, is still somewhat foggy. Plus, I'm bald.

I'm sharing these personal details with you because I've been thinking a lot about what it means for me to have cancer and for me to be going through chemo (and I know I've written about some of that already). And I've been thinking a lot about how I've been marked by my cancer diagnosis--how others have reacted to me--and how I think about myself, now.

Because I'm different now. I'm part of a new minority of people (largely women) who have received a breast cancer diagnosis. And in a few months I will be part of a subset minority of women who will no longer have breasts (I'll be having a bi-lateral/double mastectomy sometime in October). And like other parts of my identity, this new category of breast cancer "survivor" (I put this in quotes because lets be honest, it remains to be seen whether I'll be in the 86% of people with stage 2 cancer who "survive" or part of the 14% who don't), is one that I will carry around with me, but unlike my race and gender, it won't always be so visibly marked on my body, unless someone sees me without my hair or, in the future, without my breasts.

When I've written about being a "minority" before (and for the record, I hate that term as it is often used as a synonym for people of color/non-white people) it has largely been in the context of race, since that's often how it is deployed in popular discourse--those who are "minorities" in the U.S. are non-white people. It suggests a statistical status (whites comprise a majority over non-whites) as well as a power status (whites are in positions of power, institutionally, over non-whites). It also suggests that there is a norm--to be a white American is to be "normal" (and we can add the rest of the hegemonic imperative here: straight, male, middle-class, Protestant/Christian). And I've periodically written about the ways in which it is problematic to establish whiteness and maleness as the "norm" in our society.

But now that I'm inhabiting a body that has cancer, I've been thinking about something more basic to my identity, to all of our identities: health. And I admit, I took my health for granted. I also admit that it isn't until I am no longer occupying a healthy body that I've started to think about the new minority group I belong to--those of us who occupy bodies that aren't healthy, that are somehow marred or scarred or impaired or non-normative.

And it strikes me that at some point, we will all become "minorities" in terms of our health--that occupying a body that is or will become non-normative is actually a majority situation not a minority situation. And yet, what we largely see in our culture is an emphasis on the healthy body--a narrative that ignores or overshadows or downplays those of us who occupy bodies that are not healthy.

And when we do get narratives of the non-healthy body, it usually emphasizes a kind of romanticism or stoicism or sentimentality that I really cannot identify with. I guess I'm thinking of movies like Love Story or Dying Young or My Sister's Keeper, where you have these characters who have a fatal illness (and cancer is a very popular potentially fatal and lingering illness to portray in sensational form) help other characters (and hence the audience) learn valuable life lessons through the wisdom that they've gleaned from their illness.

[Aside: Now, this wouldn't be a blog called Mixed Race America if I didn't point out that the above 3 films all feature white protagonists who are stoically dying--and that I honestly cannot recall a character in film or television who is a person of color who has cancer--so if anyone can help me out here, please chime in--and I mean a SIGNIFICANT character of color, not just "patient #2" or a patient of the week on House.]

So maybe this is a sign that I still have chemo brain because I'm not sure, exactly, where I'm going with this post, other than to suggest that I've been recently re-thinking what it means to be a "minority," for me personally but also for our culture more generally. I think it's less about statistics than about power--after all, we need only look to South Africa to realize this. But I also wonder if this can also be a chance for those of us who occupy more "minoritized" identities to reappropriate the word or at least the discussion around being a minority--being non-normative. Because really, how many of us are part of the "norm" nowadays?