Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The confession of a well-intentioned, closet racist

In my virtual class tonight, one of my fellow students posted a link to a story on CNN that discussed colleges that study "whiteness," and how since Obama was elected, some characterize this as a "post-racist" period in our history, which makes the study of white supremacy less relevant. Our professor asked us, "do a few people of color achieving high positions of recognition within a predominantly and historically-long lived structure of white privilege deconstruct a structure of racism?"

This was my reply:

In my opinion, Elise, the answer is no. And those that say racism is over now that we have a black president are ignoring the statistics or rationalizing them via a racist prospective.

For instance, the overwhelming difference between "minority" incarsarations versus white can only be rationalized in a post-racist world by saying people of color are just more susceptible to antisocial behavior. Obviously, if opportunity is the same across the spectrum, there is no other factor that could account for the disparity. This argument, of course is totally racist. I think there should be a line about it in Alanis Morrisette's song (isn't ironic?).

A few years ago, before Obama was elected, I taught a course called "deconstructing the documentary" in Rochester. In it, we watched a different documentary each Tuesday and discussed it on Thursday. We were watching one called (I think) "Persons of Interest." It was about how the Middle Eastern community in Manhattan was treated just after 9/11. The stories were nightmarish.

One of my suburban students was very skeptical. She said, "I'm sure if the FBI knocked down their door, they had good reason. That sort of thing just doesn't happen in America."

I watched as my African American students glanced at each other, and I asked them to react to the comment. To a person, each said they needed to plan to leave home early in order to make it to class on time, since the college was in a fairly affluent neighborhood, and they were often pulled over on their way to class. My white student who originally spoke up,and a few others were shocked and appalled. It was one of those "ah ha" moments that a teacher lives for, and it was the start of a really productive conversation on race relations.

I would like to think it made a difference in how those white students viewed the subject from then on. I wonder if they think everything is OK now that Obama is in the White House. I wonder too if any of them believe that he is a Muslim, and more important, if they think it matters.

Addendum: as I reread this after posting (which seems to be the only time the typos stand out) I discovered some racism in my own writing. I charactized my skeptical white student as "suburban" as though an African American student couldn't live in the suburbs. Is racism dead? If this good-intentioned, white liberal is still susceptible, I think the answer is clear. My apologies to my "colleagues of color."

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Ain't it the Pits!

During the lead up to the 2008 presidential election, I was teaching at Ithaca College. I had a 2-hour commute through some of the poorest rural areas in Upstate New York. I was shocked at the number of McCain/Palin signs planted on the front lawns of run down shacks and weather-stained mobile homes with rusted-out cars in weed-infested driveways and patched and ragged t shirts and jeans waving in the breeze from sagging clothes lines. Here lived the very people who for the past thirty years have suffered under the false hope of trickle-down economics.  And yet here they were supporting the party that originated and promoted the myth that says if you take care of the rich, their consumption will drive the economy and provide opportunity for the rest of us.

There has been a great deal written about why the middle and lower classes are so easily convinced to vote against their own interests, but I think Plato may have nailed it when he wrote the Allegory of the Cave. In it, he describes a group of people who have lived their lives in the bottom of a dark cave in restraints so that they cannot move and can only look straight ahead. The lack of stimuli would be maddening, except for the good fortune of having a multimedia production crew working behind them to project shadow puppets on the wall in front of them. According to Plato's description, these were more than shadow bunnies and birds. This was big-time entertainment. The only problem is, shadows have no substance. There is no texture or depth. Yet this was all that these poor people had that passed for reality.

Just as Plato imagined what it would have been like for one of those individuals if they were suddenly released from their bondage and brought to the surface, I wonder how those people living in abject poverty in the back hills of Upstate New York would react if they could see past the elaborate shadow play created by the free market propaganda machine and the ruling oligarchy.

Would their eyes sting as the sun illuminated for them the fact that when their government calls their sons and daughters to take up arms against a foreign enemy, the only freedom being defended is that of the multinational corporations' right to safely access, extract, and transport the world's natural resources? And as their eyes adjusted to the light and they began to navigate their newly perceived reality, how would they react to the knowledge that they are supporting an economic system that socialized all the risk while privatizing profit?

Would they feel compelled to return to the depths of the cave to tell their fellow dwellers that for every Bill Gates-style success story there are millions of other men and women with equally great ideas that never get a break? Could anyone convince those left behind who were being served a steady diet of the American Illusion that they are being duped into thinking they have a chance of some day benefiting from the Bush tax cuts for the rich?

As I read the Allegory of the Cave, I realized we are all living in the cave. So move over Plato. It's a little crowded down here. Ain't it the pits!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

SOA Watch delegations to Mexico, Chile and Venezuela

And now a word from a very important organization...

SOA Watch delegations to Mexico, Chile and Venezuela
2012: Uniting Our Struggles

Saludos calurosos desde Santiago, Chile! Warm greetings from Santiago, Chile, where the the summer of the southern hemisphere has just begun.

As this new year unfolds, we often take the time to think about our hopes for our family, our country, our planet.

My own hopes for my country and for Latin America and the Caribbean are overflowing. Just as the Arab Spring brought a spark of hope to many parts of our planet, so the Chilean Spring brought a burst of light to our region. The source of that light: the youth of my country.

A full generation after General Pinochet forced a rapacious economic system of privatization on my country (costing the lives of 3,000 Chileans), the students of my nation have begun to push back, effectively. The daughters of those who were disappeared by SOA graduates, along with the sons of those who were imprisoned and tortured (as was I), have joined their fellow students in taking the streets to say BASTA! As they demand the right to a free public education they have been so eloquent, so brave, and so effective that all have taken notice: even the mass media)

Delegation to Chile, March 15-23

I would like to take this opportunity to invite you to join me in experiencing this new and youthful hope arising in Chile. From March 15-23 I will be leading an SOA Watch delegation to Chile, organized by our local Chilean SOA Watch group. In addition to meeting with student leaders, we will be meeting with leaders of the original Mapuche people who are struggling to reclaim their native lands. We will also visit the homes of poet Pablo Neruda and singer-songwriter Victor Jara, another victim of the SOA. Today, their poetic voices of hope mix with the new voices of the youth and the original peoples of my land. Download a PDF of the delegation flyer here.

Delegation to the Mexico-US border, February 12-19

I also invite you to consider joining SOA staff on two other delegations to Latin America. Fr. Roy Bourgeois and SOA Watch Field Organizer Nico Udu-gama will be bringing an SOA Watch delegation to the US/Mexico border from February 12-19. Just as the SOA has become a concrete expression of unjust US policy towards Latin America, so has the border become the symbol of injustice, violence and tragedy unleashed on Latin America under the guise of the "War on Drugs". In the midst of tragedy, however, local groups have been coming together to bring peace and dignity to their communities. I invite you to take a stand and experience both this heartbreak and this inspiration by coming to the border of Ciudad Juarez and El Paso.

Delegation to Venezuela, April 5-14

SOA Watch Latin America Liaison Lisa Sullivan will be leading another delegation to Venezuela, where she has lived for 26 years. The delegation (click here to download the PDF), co-sponsored by the Marin Task Force on the Americas will take place from April 5-14, in conjunction with the tenth anniversary of the people's overturn of the 2002 coup. This historic victory for Latin American sovereignty unleashed a decade of similar struggles that has culminated in last month's inauguration in Caracas of CELAC, a new organization that brings together all the nations of Latin America and the Caribbean. Another focus of the delegation will be on initiatives of food sovereignty. Immediately following this delegation,the Summit of the Americas will be taking place in neighboring Cartagena, Colombia, and participants may elect to add this trip to their itinerary. Or, consider taking your knowledge, returning to DC, and lobbying your representative during the April Days of Action!

Please contact Lisa Sullivan (LSullivan@soaw.org) for information and applications on any of these delegations.

Hope is rising in 2012 from every direction. I invite you to experience the hope that is rising from the South, a flicker of light that refuses to extinguish, even in the midst of challenge and turmoil.


Pablo Ruiz,
SOAW Latin America Coordinator