Friday, June 13, 2008

when good (white) people do bad (dumb) things

this little scandal has such a high irony content that i felt it merited the writing of my *second* post in 2008...

a latin-american artist living in NYC, yazmany arboleda, was arrested the other day and his exhibit shut down due to what appears to be a strongly adverse public reaction. in fact, not only did local and federal police board up the show, but even the secret service were called in. (thank god there is The Law to prevent art from offending people.) what was it that so enraged the masses that the thought-police had to come rushing to the scene?

why this: an exhibit called 'the assassination of barack obama' (its counterpart, 'the assassination of hillary clinton,' was shown in february of this year will barely a feather ruffled).

i first heard about this incident through feministing, a blog i usually admire for its swift and well-delivered kicks to the crotches of douchebags. so, i was surprised by how hard they missed the point this time. i then followed their link to this blog, truthfighter (had never heard of it before), where the writer displayed an even more thorough dimness.

as they put it: "The artist thought his racist views were protected under the Constitution because he was expressing himself through his art. Wrong." (ps/ i really love one of the comments below the post observing that "latinos are the most racist people i have ever encountered.")

and from feministing: "These bluntly racist images are not 'philosophical and metaphorical.' I don't see this 'art' as critiquing how the Obamas' race has been dealt with in the media. This is just adding to that media portrayal, amplifying the racist filth that's already being spewed."

fortunately most of the commentators on either blog seem hipper to the situation than the bloggers themselves.

i wonder how ann at feministing was able to type that sentence without immediately realizing her own bad logic. she seems not to realize that amplification and critique aren't mutually-exclusive elements of good political art; or rather, that the amplification is itself the method of incisive critique. that by scraping through the veneer to the quietly bigoted subtext in a given situation viewers may be provoked to confront and analyze it (in this case, the media coverage of a presidential race that has finally unearthed and laid bare all the dark, uncomfortable, and historic racism that most americans would rather avoid talking about in polite society).

one installation that drew particular ire was a large photo of barack obama's two young daughters with the caption "nappy headed hos" (a phrase don imus made immortal). before they could catch their collective breath, the faint of heart denounced the piece as sexist, racist filth (as, indeed, imus's remarks were). it was deemed heartless and disgusting to apply such an epitaph to those two sweet girls (as, indeed, it would be, if that were the point and nothing else).

but even as the viewer is shocked and disgusted, they are betraying themself, perhaps because somewhere deep down they harbour views, if not equally repugnant, at least somewhere not far removed on the scale of things-you-secretly-think-about-black-women. they, as privileged white people (with at least some peripheral knowledge of the NY art scene), are not so distanced from the systems of oppression that still give them incredible access to power. with that power perceivably threatened (the audacity of [black] hope), everyone shifts a little uneasy in their seats. imus's "nappy headed hos" line was often attributed to a 'slip of tongue' -- for imus, it was probably more of a minor trip. but how many such slips have been made by the white men whose faces still dominate the news-hour? like the time, for instance, when an MSNBC pundit described taking hillary clinton "out behind the barn," or when lou dobbs referred to "those damned, cotton-picking (black) politicians." more recently, a fox-news journalist called michelle obama "barack obama's baby mama." as with the rest of the exhibit, this piece screams people's prejudices in their faces, rather than whispering them under its breath.

and what's really splendid about this whole situation is the fact that by prompting the liberal white masses to shield their eyes and demand that the exhibit be removed, the art has been rendered more successful than perhaps even the artist himself could have imagined. they were forced to confront their guilt about histories of violence, and about stereotypes many still cling to, and that truth stung. so much that instead of pausing to self-examine they simply censored it into oblivion. people who would normally give up an organ before seeing freedom of speech (especially artistic expression) compromised, willfully read the exhibit literally and shallowly -- some even questioning the very right of art to display offensive content -- thereby taking the posture of the unsophisticated, conservative, 'anti-intellectual' crowd they usually hate on.

yet another example of the blindly stupid things well-meaning white people are always doing to assuage their guilt and show their 'solidarity'... in this case, just demonstrating how much they're still not helping.


in other news:

- just got back from egypt where i survived five weeks with family despite being 25 and with no plans to get married. my grandmother seems to think that if i don't reproduce soon, my womb will atrophy, and our line will perish. this was the chorus. for five weeks. add to that cairo heat and perv-tastic egyptian men and you have a summary of my trip. (thank god i got a job at a magazine and was able to escape the house to a place that wasn't the streets, and vice versa).

- glancing at my last post (from feb 2008): boy, was i drugged. i'm happy to report that we've since won. that's right, friends: the ministry saw things our way after a couple of media stunts and some old-fashioned kissy, and come sept 2009 ontario students will have the WGS course they deserve (and we plan on monitoring how often/well it's being taught). i am also happy to report that with that unpleasantness behind us, i plan on never writing so poorly again.

Friday, February 1, 2008

for your consideration: drug-hazed, flu-addled, sleep-deprived blogrant

i am neither awake nor asleep, just floating. and beginning to suspect that i am now one a bonified insomniac... or at least person-with-unusual-sleep-habits, which i am considering patenting as a disorder, called PWUSH, and subsequently marketing an appropriate cure/palliative/placebo.

convinced of at least one thing: there really is no rest for the wicked.

was up late battling bureaucrats and patriarchy, as well as what i am coming to suspect is a 24 to 48 hour flu (which i'm not ruling out as unconnected w/ said bureaucrats and patriarchs). am now up early (6 am) for similar reasons. after many hours of lying exhausted-but-unsleeping in bed, buzzing with a few extra doses of cough syrup whose drowsiness warnings are beginning to sound like idle threats, one has to get up and choose one of several options:

- reading old susan sontag essays (like bed-time stories for the aspiring bien-pensant)
- watching youtube videos of other people who are likely to empathize, themselves bearing the same computer-screen-frosted look and dishevelled appearance, and ranting about whatever it is that keeps them up at night... see davis fleetwood, a fave example of someone who clearly doesn't sleep and may or may not subsist on newspapers he devours after reading the day's headlines).
- or return after many weeks of neglecting your blog, and post something.

i have chosen option three: (prescription) drug-hazed, flu-addled, sleep-deprived blogrant.

today's topic: activism (surprise)

in case you don't know, i have been an activist for the past several years, wreaking havoc with a fine organization called the miss g project for equity in education. it's a grassroots collective that a few friends and i started when we realized that all the sexist, homophobic, racist, classist, etc. shit that goes on in high schools doesn't have to be that way. in fact, it should really be the *object* of education to see that the opposite happens: that schools are safe, inclusive, and equitable learning environments so that all students can access their right to public education.

from our experience, it was clear that this was not the case. quite the contrary: schools are generally scary, horrible dens of violence rooted in historical oppressions that most students have neither the space nor the language by which to discuss or challenge them. if education isn't providing students with these things... what is it doing?

our solution: lobby the ministry of education to include a women's and gender studies course in the ontario secondary school curriculum. revolutionary? yes. unprecedented? no. why: why not? outcome: giving students access to important feminist knowledges that have otherwise been left out of the current provincial curriculum (aside from locally-developed courses, which are awesome, but which few teachers have the time or energy to design, even if they have the will and know-how). other important benefits: justice, prevention of sexual and gender-based violence, a richer understanding of the human experience, critical analytical skills and knowledges that students take with them throughout their academic and non-academic lives. oh, and quite possibly, the end of patriarchy. (and for people still in feminism 101: that means everybody wins - yes, even you, rich, white men. giving up some of your privilege won't kill you, i promise.)

i am up tonight because over the course of three years working towards this goal with these outcomes in mind; after having proven that a wide-spread demand exists throughout the province through the hundreds of emails, postcards, and letters the ministry has received supporting our cause; after having busted our asses to raise awareness, host events, call and email and call and email everyone we know again and again... the ministry of education has still not met our demand.

this, even though we have been told by the minister of education, herself, that this project is "the most effective lobby effort the ministry has seen in recent years."

i am up tonight dissillusioned w/ our supposedly 'democratic' processes. wondering why it is that the government can so blithely, so calmly dismiss this on-going public outcry. call, email, write, scream, rant though they might, the citizens of ontario are not being heard.

i am up, also, amazed at how little society acknowledges the work of activists. amazed as i remember my high school lessons on 'government' represented by two bodies: the electorate and the elected. never mentioned was that vital, tireless, sleepless body in between: the people who make sure that the elected do what it is they were elected to do. without these people, without activists, democracy would not function. and yet, if they are not rendered invisible, they are caricatured as "hippies" (cue image of stereotypical white boy w/ dreadlocks and placard), reviled and dismissed as "idealists," "dreamers," and (remarkably) "lazy."

if this doesn't prove how intellectually-impoverished and conservative mainstream society has become, i don't know what does. most activists hover perilously between idealism and extreem pessimism, are not dreadlocked whiteboys... and as for this 'hippie,' i only dream when i sleep, which i can assure you is not very often.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

i : mathematic :: bill maher : funny

a tirade in the key of B (for bitter).
~ dedicated to ma soeur, femmeradicale ~

standing between me and berkeley is a quadratic equation. though kaplan promises that their GRE guidebook is going to "exceed your expectations; and so are you!" i continue to find my math quiz marks hovering around 40%. and i am bitter.

i : bitter :: paris hilton : famous.

it's as though here we were: blithely earning our humanities degrees, some of us having dropped math after grade 10, when it was no longer mandatory. some of us, like myself, having actually worked to excise all math knowledge so as to allow the sweet, fresh English knowledge to saturate our left-brains until our right-brains shriveled into atrophy. four, five, even six years we went on like this, chuckling as we thought "see, i didn't need math at all. i'm getting along just fine with out it. who's laughing now, huh? who's laughing now?!" well, they are. that is, the people who created the GRE to screw us. just when we thought our ticket into a top american phd program was as good as bought (or, if you prefer, earned), we are suddenly confronted with our old nemesis: Numbers. and worse still, his dark partner, Letters-That-Mean-Numbers. i am overwhelmed with bitterness.

and then there is my math tutor, who happens to be a fellow i once slept with. over the phone, he gladly offers his expertise, though not without reminding me that tutelage is a traditional pretext to sex. ya, sex, great, but that's not the service i require right now. i need math help, please – just math, sex later... maybe. not that i'm opposed. i even consider the proposal favourably when i remember that a story about how i pimped myself out to get into berkeley would be priceless at dinner parties.

the bitterness balloons after a call from my dad – an engineer, of course. he wants me to accompany him to an engineer's banquet tonight. If it weren't for the fact that this banquet is in his honour, and the high odds of free booze, i'd have said no. i spent much of my early life surrounded by engineers and i hate it. i will hate being around engineers even more tonight when they ask what i am "doing right now" and the awful truth of my mathematical incapacity is revealed. "what happened?" they will ask my dad. "how did the daughter of an egyptian engineer become a history major? and a socialist? and a feminist??" women faint. a baby cries. dinner will then be served, saving me momentarily before it comes out that i'm also a vegetarian – at which point my dad will have to pretend he doesn't know me and that i followed him here.

the rest of this process, on the other hand, is going smoothly. not realizing i would be ambushed by the math component of the GRE, i actually spent a great deal of time and effort on the part of phd applications i thought would matter: the application. all information is in order, writing sample pristine, proposed dissertation topic fitting neatly within two pages. all thanks to single space.

i am a big fan of single space these days. wrestling with quadratic equations would seem less daunting if not for my room-mate and his girlfriend, who insist on cramming themselves with me into a first-floor not handily separated into distinct rooms. this is the common area of our house, though apparently i missed the "couples only" sign by the stairs. i am sitting in the nucleus of a controlled explosion of papers, applications, draft proposals, GRE guidelines, and math exercises, and by this time i must look like my wrists are fused with my laptop keyboard. meanwhile, beyond the grad-student sphere of influence, the room-mate-girl-friend seem to be everywhere around me like a couple fog: having loud and inane conversations about college football and camilla scott bowles, baking cookies, watching movies, sucking face, and generally spending just about every waking moment with each other, most of which are also with me. it is a full-out space-war between my ever-expanding grad student zone and their hegemonic face-sucking/cookie-baking. the sound of their sloppy, spitty kissing is supposed to signal my quiet self-segregation to some other part of the house: they are The Couple here and i am the spinster space-invader. defiantly, i stand my ground. i go into the kitchen and make loud kitchen noises. i play slater-kinney real loud and watch loud episodes of project runway canada on youtube. i am taking a stand for single space.

my bitterness subsides when i remember that the math section of the GRE is mercifully short compared with the verbal section – a good enough excuse to drop the equations and turn to grammar. according to kaplan, 'couple' is singular [1], and must agree with the object as such. i look up from my guidebook. yes, the couple certainly is watching a movie. it is now playing with the cats. now it turns in upon itself in sticky, salivating convulsions. thanks, kaplan. my expectations are exceeded.

[1] thouth i did indeed find this mentioned in my kaplan guidebook, i was first alerted to the brilliance of 'couple is singular' by my friend kat.

Friday, October 12, 2007

return of the killer vagina

well, goodness, it is nice to be back. for anyone still checking this site, i've been on blog vacay over the last month while scrambling to finish this little master's degree thing i've been working on. i realized it was time for a break when i noticed that blogranting was keeping me up at night and my m.a. thesis felt like a side-project.

but i'm back, and this time with a shiny and expensive "m.a." behind my name to go with the equally hard-won "h.b.a." a piece of paper awaits me somewhere in the grimy back-rooms of queen's university that eventually, like its counterpart from UWO, will be hung in some outlandish gold frame my parents will give me as a graduation gift. hint though i might at an i-pod, my parents remain convinced that i'd like nothing better than more overpriced golden-gleaming home decor.

i'm not sure how i managed to move from kingston to ottawa, work full-time for an NGO (which is like working triple-time on part-time pay), then move the two halves of my life (shared sloppily between ottawa and kingston) down to toronto, then write a 60-pg MA research project before the end of september, and then actually find myself a graduate when the dust had settled... but i did. granted, i collected some grey hairs and an ulcer along the way, but those are the battle-scars of underpaid workaholics and grad students. since i don't have the the dollars to go on an actual vacay to relax away the trauma, i've been on intellectual vacay, which is almost as rewarding. you too can go on intellectual vacay, if you follow these simple guidelines:

1. if you find yourself reading something, whether it's a book, newspaper, billboard, or the nutritional information on your cereal box, stop, put the literary item down and/or look away. resume activities that do not involve reading (i highly recommend watching 'dr. phil' - it will numb your brains like novocaine).

2. do not at any time engage in any discussion that might require the use of words exceeding two syllables.

3. nap heavily, even and especially when you're not tired.

4. every time you catch yourself pondering, puzzling, questioning, critiquing, or analyzing something, stop and IMMEDIATELY divert your thoughts to bunny rabbits, ponies, cotton candy, or video-games. failing that, smoke some pot.

now that i've gotten back on the blog horse, i almost don't know where to start, there's so much to catch up on and whine about. i guess i'll begin with the obvious: the book of revelations. i've been meaning to start a book club lately, as i slowly return from intellectual vacay and venture hesitantly back into fiction. my new room-mate is reading lolita and highly recommends it. (an aside: my last few random room-mates have been awesome beyond all prediction. since moving to TO, i've shacked up with a video artist/yoga-instructor who has also influenced me to take up bikram [aka 'hot'] yoga. i sweat like a hog but she's commented on how great my energy looks after classes.) so, i'm currently switching between robertson davies's deptford trilogy, a sordid account of paedophilic romance, and some pretty gloomy predictions of the apocalypse brought on by sin and iniquity... so, um, does anyone want to join my book club?

i suppose that's a decent enough return to the blogosphere. stay tuned for some thoughts/betching about the outcome of the recent provincial elections. a preview: did anyone else notice the part when a liberal lesbian feminist beat the conservative party leader in his own riding? that was pretty kick ass.

in the meantime, here's a purdy picture i took of my summer home-town, ottawa. or as i like to call it 'the big o.'

Thursday, August 2, 2007

i ride like a gentleman, but i fall like a lady

i fell off my bike today, which was neither pleasant nor dignified. however, since the options were fall of my bike OR DIE, i guess i can't complain.

for all its pretensions to being flower-powered, tree-loving, flourescent-green progressive, ottawa is a city full of shitty drivers who can't share the road. and i can only imagine what battles for a sliver of road-space will bring me to within an inch of my life when i move to toronto in the fall.

as if i needed one, i now have yet another reason to move to paris, where recently the city officially sanctioned a 20,000-strong army of bikes which, one can only hope, will commandeer the road and muscle all them peugots into suburban submission. only paris, where critical mass is an order of municipal business not to be policed but endorsed.

and now, to tend to my war-wounds... the things i do for you, earth.

Monday, July 23, 2007

taking a breather

hey anyone who's reading, i've just decided that i'm going to take a little break from this blog and/or add posts less frequently (maybe once or twice a week or something) b/c picking daily fights w/ the world is actually more mentally exhausting than you'd think (don't let the confrontational tone of the blog description fool you - i cry inside). that and i still have an MA to finish.

but i couldn't leave w/o sharing this bit of hollywood magic from sean connery's younger days. i don't know where i got this, but i imagine it was from my roomie, a connoisseur of things no-one should know about (or, conversely, things everyone should know about, but don't). you're welcome to get your jollies from this photo until i return...


bring me your men-folk!

earlier today, a friend of yours and mine, and a frequent visitor to this blog, commented on the alleged 'harshness' of the ultimate frisbee post. b/c i was born w/ no capacity for patience and thus can not wait to hear what specifically he thinks is harsh, and because we lived together for a year so i can practically read his mind, i'm going to just assume that he felt the post contained a needlessly severe attack on straight men. i'll just address this right now in three easy pieces:

1. i like lots of hetero men. i have had lots of wonderful and well-loved straight male friends (like you, roomie!) and more-than-friends. nothing that will ever be written on this blog should be considered an attack on the straight male kind. in fact, there are no 'attacks' period - only calls to think for a few minutes in your day about how you are affected, for better or worse, by gender.

2. nonetheless, for reasons that exceed the time/space given to explain here, most of the people who benefit from and propagate patriarchy (now and historically) are straight men. that doesn't mean all straight men are patriarchs. and not all patriarchs are straight men either; there are plenty-o lady patriarchs, gay male patriarchs, even lesbian patriarchs. for the most part though, again, it's straight men who make patriarchy happen. a lot of women have known this for a long time and have been working to end it - and, i should add, are succeeding (you know, that little feminism thing). but i really, truly believe that there's lots of potential in straight men realizing how they've historically benefited from patriarchy, and coming to the movement, standing by friends in the movement, and just calling themselves feminists in their daily lives (or wearing "this is what a feminist looks like" t-shirts, because any man wearing one of those is damn sexy).

3. (this one's more general, not related to the 'harshness' comment) it irritates me to no end that i can't critique misogyny/sexism in the world w/o being accused of hating on straight men. there may be anger sometimes, or a piqued sense of "WTF?", but there's no hate here (see point 1). some things just have to be said, that's all.
i know it's problematic to 'compare oppressions', but this is an educational example, not a 'what's worse' comparison: people of racial minorities who critique racism (or islamophobia, or anti-semetism, etc.) are sometimes accused of racism themselves - often wrongly, because that's the exact system they're opposing. similarly, it's irritating (as well as a sign that so much has yet to be done) that the people who critique gender should be accused of a sort of 'gender-based hatred' because they call out certain heterosexual penis-bearing members of society for maintaining a system that's disproportionately good to heterosexual penis-bearing members of society. little do they know (though we are trying to get the word out) that the end of said system will be good for all members of society, of all genders and sexualities. for serious.

so, all you fellows out there, be you jock, nerd, stud, queer, straight, or all/none of the above: consider this your siren call. come to feminism... cooome to usss...


ps/ these were three easy - and short - pieces on this subject, and there's room for so much good discussion on this, here or elsewhere.