Author Archives: aconerlycoleman

About aconerlycoleman

I am an alumna of the University of California, and a graduate student at the University of Chicago

On Food (in)security and (Dis)ability

Hello!

It’s been a while since I wrote for a public audience, and that is in part due to this period of transition I am going through. The new year brought new opportunities, just as it brought me face-to-face with familiar anxieties and fears (particularly about being a person with a disability). In the midst of it all, my chosen family has been there to ground me and remind me that I am loved.

I am currently in the process of getting my “disability” recognized by the State (capital S), and it is 2 parts humiliating (“perform your disability according the the script aid out by regulations, please”), 1 part frightening (accepting “disability” as a factor that has shaped my life socially and personally) and 1 part depressing. I can’t be honest and paint this in rosy terms. It is depressing. I’ve lived with moderately severe hearing loss for as long as I can remember, but only recently has it become an “obstacle” in the truest sense. To avoid internalizing the ableism (specifically audism), I remind myself that disability is, in a larger contextual sense, social. The Social Model of Disability, is a necessary intervention against dominate discourses on disability as merely embodied- absent of social constructions of norms, and the medicalization and criminalization of “abnormality” in terms of mental processes, physical capabilities, and the other manners in which disabilities manifest.

Long story short- I am at a point where I know the vocabulary of my own “disability” well. I can anticipate the words from the Audiologist as they knit their brow over my audiograms, noting the progressive hearing loss. I can guess what the Opthalmoglogist will say about my degrading eyesight. I have a better sense that it’s all tied together- my poor balance, hearing loss, night blindness and loss of peripheral vision. All of the falls that didn’t make sense make sense now. All of my resistance to going outdoors after dusk makes perfect sense.

In other news, I’m also exploring the intersections between class, disability, and food access. It’s more of a personal, introspective study on the matter, but I am understanding more fully just how much these intersections matter, and what a disservice is done when “we” focus on just one aspect, and not all.

In gastronomic matters, I have been exploring winter crops more- particularly winter squash and leafy greens. On one level, it’s good fun and a break from the work-without-resolution. On another level, it is an exploration of my relationship with food. I’ve come to the realization that I am sparing when it comes to possessions, but when it comes to food, I have a tendency to hoard. It is, perhaps, a residual effect of living with the specter of hunger and food insecurity. In the back of my mind, I think “the more food I have, the more distance there is between me and hunger.”

I’m in a better place now. I have food. I have the means to meet my most basic needs AND plan for a future. Still, I look at my pantry and freezer- both overfull with carefully-packaged food, and think “I need more.” Alas, I am surrounded by abundance.

Just now, I looked around my kitchen saw this:

Bild

And when I open the cabinet, I see this:

Bild

Yet, I still dread hunger. My first feeling is a leaden anxiety in my stomach, not gratitude or appreciation of having “enough.”

I wrote all of that to point to the future direction(s) of this blog. I will write a lot more about food, just as I will write a lot more about what it means to be a person with a disability in a fundamentally ableist society.

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Links and News Round-Up: 15 January 2014

“There’s little doubt that “do what you love” (DWYL) is now the unofficial work mantra for our time. The problem is that it leads not to salvation, but to the devaluation of actual work, including the very work it pretends to elevate— and more importantly, the dehumanization of the vast majority of laborers.

Superficially, DWYL is an uplifting piece of advice, urging us to ponder what it is we most enjoy doing and then turn that activity into a wage-generating enterprise. But why should our pleasure be for profit? Who is the audience for this dictum? Who is not?

By keeping us focused on ourselves and our individual happiness, DWYL distracts us from the working conditions of others while validating our own choices and relieving us from obligations to all who labor, whether or not they love it. It is the secret handshake of the privileged and a worldview that disguises its elitism as noble self-betterment. According to this way of thinking, labor is not something one does for compensation, but an act of self-love. If profit doesn’t happen to follow, it is because the worker’s passion and determination were insufficient. Its real achievement is making workers believe their labor serves the self and not the marketplace.”

and

“If DWYL denigrates or makes dangerously invisible vast swaths of labor that allow many of us to live in comfort and to do what we love, it has also caused great damage to the professions it portends to celebrate, especially those jobs existing within institutional structures. Nowhere has the DWYL mantra been more devastating to its adherents than in academia. The average PhD student of the mid 2000s forwent the easy money of finance and law (now slightly less easy) to live on a meager stipend in order to pursue their passion for Norse mythology or the history of Afro-Cuban music.

The reward for answering this higher calling is an academic employment marketplace in which around 41 percent of American faculty are adjunct professors — contract instructors who usually receive low pay, no benefits, no office, no job security, and no long-term stake in the schools where they work.

There are many factors that keep PhDs providing such high-skilled labor for such extremely low wages, including path dependency and the sunk costs of earning a PhD, but one of the strongest is how pervasively the DWYL doctrine is embedded in academia. Few other professions fuse the personal identity of their workers so intimately with the work output. This intense identification partly explains why so many proudly left-leaning faculty remain oddly silent about the working conditions of their peers. Because academic research should be done out of pure love, the actual conditions of and compensation for this labor become afterthoughts, if they are considered at all.

In “Academic Labor, the Aesthetics of Management, and the Promise of Autonomous Work,” Sarah Brouillette writes of academic faculty,

“… our faith that our work offers non-material rewards, and is more integral to our identity than a “regular” job would be, makes us ideal employees when the goal of management is to extract our labor’s maximum value at minimum cost.”

Many academics like to think they have avoided a corporate work environment and its attendant values, but Marc Bousquet notes in his essay “We Work” that academia may actually provide a model for corporate management:

How to emulate the academic workplace and get people to work at a high level of intellectual and emotional intensity for fifty or sixty hours a week for bartenders’ wages or less? Is there any way we can get our employees to swoon over their desks, murmuring “I love what I do” in response to greater workloads and smaller paychecks? How can we get our workers to be like faculty and deny that they work at all? How can we adjust our corporate culture to resemble campus culture, so that our workforce will fall in love with their work too?

“[Teach for America] undermines the American public education system from the very foundation by urging the replacement of experienced career teachers with a neoliberal model of interchangeable educators and standardized testing…Cersonsky and blogger EduSchyster have meticulously documented TFA’s connections to dozens of charter schools as well as education reform advocacy organizations that focus on standardized testing and privatization instead of grassroots community involvement and student voices. In doing so, TFA is working directly against the interests of teachers, students, and communities alike. Neoliberal school reform is the true “educational injustice” here.”

I noticed a number of people on social media remarking that Cece was “free.” I thought of my friend Marcus who several years ago reprimanded me for applying this term to him. We were eating lunch about a month after he was released from serving five years in prison. I said, “So, how does it feel to be free?” He looked at me in his soul-searching way and replied: “I wasn’t free when I went in and I sure as shit ain’t free now.” I felt as though I had been punched in the gut because I of course knew this to be true. Since that conversation, I have tried to avoid using the term “free” when I talk about formerly incarcerated people.

Cece will suffer the collateral consequences of a criminal conviction and incarceration for years to come. This is what I call the ‘invisible shackles of the carceral state.’ Across the country, almost 6 million people are ineligible to vote in elections as a result of a criminal conviction. Cece who lives in Minnesota will bebarred from voting until her “felony conviction record [is] discharged, expired, or completed.” This means that she will be disenfranchised for several years. She is one of the “lucky” ones who won’t be permanently barred from participating in a critical aspect of civic life.

Thankfully Cece has a supportive community of friends around her and has already found a place to live. However, most returning citizens find themselves scrambling to afford and rent apartments upon their release from prison. In many states, formerly incarcerated people are banned from public housing. Some find a place in halfway houses. Many more are made homeless.

The path to becoming an “employee,” that elusive goal, is far from clear. Tracy Logan, 34, worked through Yates on Nissan’s assembly line for a year before winning a promotion to a position as a robot tender, overseeing the robots that spray paint on the car parts. To his surprise, he remained a temp. “When I first arrived at Nissan, that position was considered Class A—only Nissan personnel can hold that position,” he says. “I put in for it, thinking that would be a way of getting on with Nissan. Somewhere in there, they changed the classification of the job, but didn’t let us know.”

Such experiences are increasingly common, according to Leone José Bicchieri, executive director of the Chicago Workers Collaborative (CWC), a non-profit workers center that organizes low-wage and temp workers. Not only has temporary employment expanded into sectors that used to be sources of stable full-time employment, he says, but it’s often no longer really temporary. Some temps are brought on for only days or weeks, others work for years at the same plant through the same agency.

Organizers in the field, Bicchieri says, now talk about “staffing agencies” rather than “temp agencies,” and “direct-hire” workers rather than “permanent” employees. “It’s not a ‘temp’ job,” Logan says,“but it’s temp status.”

So is permatemping the new model in manufacturing? Nissan spokesperson Justin Saia maintains that temporary jobs can provide a route to direct employment. “Having contract workers enables us to further develop the skill sets of these employees to position them for direct employment opportunities with Nissan through our Pathways program,” he writes in an email. But on the other hand, he notes, “The contract jobs in our business model are designed to be long-term, stable jobs with competitive pay and benefits.”

Or, as Logan puts it: “They want us to be permanent temps.”

Stubbornly high unemployment among millennials costs the U.S. billions in lowered tax revenue and higher safety net costs, according to one study.

Millennials — defined as those 18 to 34 years old — have suffered from double-digit jobless rates for almost six years, according to a study by youth advocacy group Young Invincibles. The youngest, aged 16 to 24, suffer from 15% unemployment, the highest rates among youth.

The long-term consequences of high unemployment in an entire generation of young people has been well researched, with echoes throughout their careers in the form of lower earnings and fewer job opportunities.

But the short-term costs stack up high as well, adding up to almost $8.9 billion a year, the report concluded.

On average, a single 18- to -24-year-old without a job will cost the government over $4,100 a year in uncollected taxes and extra safety net benefits. That amount climbs to $9,900 annually among unemployed 25- to 34-year-olds.

Notification that her son is being detained at Correctional Centre 3 in Kampong Cham came as a relief to Touch Sart yesterday, after spending nearly a week wondering whether he was even alive.

Since her son, Theng Saroeun, was arrested along with 22 others at demonstrations last Thursday and Friday, police, court and prison officials have refused to confirm the identities or whereabouts of those detained. After six days of silence, prison officials yesterday finally allowed family members, lawyers and a doctor to visit them.

“My son is badly hurt, he was beaten seriously and could not eat,” Sart said. “He received seven stitches.”

The fact that they have spent nearly a week of detention without access to their families or lawyers – a violation of defendants’ rights in Cambodia – and held in an isolated prison far from their Phnom Penh homes indicates the government’s strong desire to keep them cut off from supporters, Naly Pilorge, director of rights group Licadho, said.

The defendants – one of them a 17-year-old – were arrested on Thursday and Friday amid protests in Por Sen Chey district. Ten were arrested during a rally in front of Yakjin (Cambodia) Inc on Thursday, after, witnesses said, military officials guarding the factory initiated clashes with demonstrators.

Cambodian garment workers organized to protest for higher wages, and the police came and businesses, arrested 23 people, and killed 4 people.

These are the same garment factories that the celebrity ‘anti-trafficking’ activist Somaly Mam funnels “rescued” trafficking victims into.

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Recipe: A Traditional New Year’s Eve Meal

Happy New Year! I hope that 2014 is kind to you.

Yesterday, I prepared for the New Year by preparing a traditional meal of:

  • Buttermilk fried chicken
  • Collard greens with rutabaga
  • Black-eyed peas (“Hoppin’ John’s)
  • Cornbread
  • Salted, sliced tomatoes

I am a Californian girl with Southern roots, and this reflects in my cooking. I like the flavors of Southern cuisine, but I also like a certain… crispness (denoting intact nutritional value) in my food. That, and I am painfully conscious of the ecological issues that arise when I dispose of frying oil. So, what I do is cook my vegetables “just so” until they have the flavor I want without being a mushy mess, and I fry my chicken until the outside is crispy and put it in the oven to cook even more.

This particular meal is laden with significance. Hoppin’ John and greens represent abundance and sustenance. The peas represent coins, whereas the greens represent paper currency. Supposedly, all who partake in the meal will be blessed in the New Year. If nothing else, however, they entered the New Year with full bellies and nourished bodies- health and happiness indeed.

So, the process of making this meal begins about 2 days before the actual meal. The first thing I do is get the ingredients:

Buttermilk Fried Chicken:

NYE 2013 - Frying chicken NYE 2013 - Fried Chicken NYE 2013 - Double-dredging the chicken NYE 2013 - Buttermilk brine

Prep time: 2 days (to tenderize the chicken in the buttermilk brine) + 2 hours (to dredge the chicken and allow it to rest before frying)

Cooking time: About 6-7 minutes per batch + 45 minutes in an oven set at 300 degrees

  • 12 chicken drumsticks
  • 1 quart (about 0.95 liters) of buttermilk
  • Half a yellow onion, chopped
  • 1/4 Teaspoon round black pepper
  • Salt, to taste (I used about 1 tablespoon- double this if you are using Kosher Salt)
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 Teaspoon celery seed
  • 1 Liter of frying oil
  • 4 Cups flour (for dredging)
  1. To make the buttermilk brine: measure out 1 quart of buttermilk into a container or gallon freezer bag (suitable for brining meat). Add the spices (ancho prpper, paprika, celery seeds, salt, pepper), chopped onion, and garlic cloves. Add the chicken drumsticks, ensuring that they are covered by the brine.
  2. After the chicken has brined, take it out of the buttermilk brine and dredge it in flour. It should be coated. Now dredge it again, dipping it in the buttermilk brine and rolling it in flour.
  3. Let it sit for an hour. This allows the outside coat to dry and ensures that the meat is closer to room temperature, so that it fries more evenly.
  4. Pour the frying oil into a pan (preferably a taller pot that allows for 1.5″ of hot oil). Once the oil reaches about 320 degrees, add the drumsticks.
  5. Each batch should take about 6-7 minutes to brown up.
  6. As I said earlier, I prefer to fry it enough to get a crisp exterior and place them in the oven at 300 to ensure that they are thoroughly cooked.

Collard Greens with Rutabaga:

NYE 2013 - Collard greens in the pot NYE 2013 - Rutabaga to be added to the collard greens

Prep time: 1 hour (to wash and cut the collards, chop the veggies and prepare the rutabage + broth for the greens)

Cook time: 1 hour

  • 1-2 bunches, collard greens (1 will feed about 4 people)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, crushed to release the oils
  • Salt pork or smoked turkey neck
  • Rutabaga, peeled and cut into cubes
  • Salt and pepper, to taste (the broth will be salty from the smoked meat)
  • 6 Cups water
  1. Peel and cue the rutabaga.
  2. Sautee the chopped onion, garlic cloves and salted meat in a pot
  3. Add the rutabaga, stirring until it has a light coating of oil
  4. Add water until the rutabaga and the meat are covered with water. Let them simmer for an hour, until the rutabaga can be easily punctured with a fork.
  5. Wash and cut the collards
  6. In another pot, sautee chopped onion, adding collard greens by the handful until they cook down.
  7. Pour the broth from the rutabaga and the salted meat over the greens and cover. As the greens cook, they should turn a nice bright green. Add the rutabaga then.

Black-eyed Peas

NYE 2013 - Black-eyed peas in the pot

Prep time: 24 hours (to allow the beans to soak) + 1 hour to chop the vegetables and make the broth for the beans

Cook time: 2 hours

  • 1 lb dried Black-eyed peas
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 stalks of celery
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • Salt pork or smoked turkey neck
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • A pinch, crushed ancho pepper
  • A pinch, paprika
  • 1.5 Cup of rice (brown rice will absorb more liquid and take longer to cook)
  1. Soak the black-eyed peas for 8-24 hours
  2. Make a broth with the salted/smoked meat of your choice- about 4-6 cups.
  3. Sautee chopped onions, celery and bell pepper, adding the beans.
  4. Pour the broth and salted meat atop the beans. The liquid should cover the beans.
  5. Season to taste with paprika, ancho pepper, salt, and ground Black pepper.
  6. When the broth becomes starchier and the beans cook, add 1.5 cups of rice (ensure that there is enough liquid, of course).
  7. Stir occasionally, making sure that the beans don’t stick or become too thick.

Cornbread (use any recipe, but you’ll need the following ingredients:

Prep time: 10 minutes

Bake time: ~35 minutes

  • Cornmeal
  • Flour
  • Sugar, honey or molasses
  • Salt
  • Baking soda
  • Butter or lard
  • Eggs
  • Milk or buttermilk (you could use the leftover buttermilk from the fried chicken)

The final meal looked like:

NYE 2013 - Agua Fresca, cornbread, black-eyed peas and greens

My partner praised me and complimented me as he reached for a second drumstick. Needless to say, I’m very proud of how the meal turned out.

Happy New Year!

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Thoughts on Margaret Atwood’s “A Handmaid’s Tale”: Part 2

Writing is world-making, and speculative fiction and science fiction are genres of literature that are most telling of the writer’s biases. Too often, the worlds that speculative fiction and science fiction writers create are reflective of their unexamined or unchecked investment in oppressive systems. For this reason, dystopian novels often (but not always) take place in worlds where the social and literal deaths of Black subjects is foundational. This is the case with Margaret Atwood’s “A Handmaid’s Tale.”

In yesterday’s blogpost, I wrote:

So I’m (re)reading Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” and wondering what the story would be like if Of-fred had been a Black woman. Of course, Black people are only referenced once in the book- in an off-hand manner about “Children of Ham” being relegated to “National Homelands” (reminiscent of Bantustans in Apartheid South Africa).

This could be read as a convenient way of avoiding addressing the afterlife of slavery- because the reader is expected to understand that the valued, fecund bodies are those of cisgender white women (not Jews, termed “Children of Jacob” or Blacks termed “Children of Ham”, etc). Offred is allowed to be the ‘neutral’ narrator with whom the reader identifies because whiteness is presumed to be a universal and ubiquitous solvent- a solvent that dissolves, assimilates and destroys. 

If this text were to center a Black subject, the reader would have to confront the afterlife of slavery- a reality in which Black bodies which were previously valued for their fecundity and (re)productive value are now devalued, deemed ‘queer’ (or ‘deviant’) and ‘excess’ in the face of nationalisms that prize whiteness/heteronormativity/etc above all. Another interesting angle to look at the surreptitious use of contraceptives and methods to induce miscarriage among enslaved Africans, and the ways that the regime’s staunchly anti-abortion stance would doubly criminalize Black subjects on this basis.

I still agree with this assessment, but after finishing the book, I feel that I need to round it out.

For instance, I did not take into account the category of “Unwomen.” As Offred is the (presumed) white narrator of the text situated within the Republic of Gilead, a theocratic regime borne of conservative anxieties about the state (and future- hence the emphasis on the (re)productive capabilities of the Handmaids) of a white nation (or “race”), she takes whiteness to be the assumed norm, even when she talks about Jews (“Sons of Jacob”) and Blacks (“Sons of Ham”) being forcibly moved to the margins or simply killed.  So, when Offred uses the term “Unwoman” she refers to a category reserved for people with uteruses who did not have sufficient socio-economic (or marital) status within the regime to be afforded protection in the event that they are “sterile” or “infertile.” More pertinently, the category of “Unwomen” in Atwood’s text is implicitly white. And this implicit understanding is premised on the erasure of Black women from the story.

Indeed, the “Children of Ham” are said to be relegated to National Homelands, not unlike those of the South African Apartheid regime, but nowhere in the book are Black women named or mentioned. This omission is particularly glaring in light of Atwood’s decision to analogize The Underground Railroad with the “Underground Femaleroad.” In The Handmaid’s Tale, the “Underground Femaleroad” is an illegal (extralegal?) network of resisters who acted as a safe haven for runaway Handmaids. On page 246, Moira (a former inmate who shared quarters with Offred) recalls being brought from Quaker household to Quaker household to a short-lived freedom. Now, as a reader who is also a Black woman and a descendant of enslaved Africans within the instutition of chattel/racial slavery, I am curious whether there could be a Harriet Tubman in the “Underground Femaleroad,” but I know the answer, because Black women are neither named nor seen in the text.

This omission is doubly egregious when one takes the forcible removal and adoption of babies under the Republic of Gilead into consideration. In the contemporary (and historical) United States that presumably precedes the Republic of Gilead, there is a strong pattern of state interventions which led to the forcible sterilization of women of color (notably Black, Native and Latin@ women, as well as poor women and people with disabilities- legal in 27 states), in addition to the forcible removal of children in Black, Native, low-income, etc households. Dorothy Roberts’ “Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare” covers this in a very thorough manner. For Black women in particular, the forcible removal of children from their homes is part of a long history- one rooted in the institution of chattel/racial slavery, where Black children were regularly wrested from the breasts of their mothers and sold for a profit. In short, it is an appropriation (I do not use this word lightly) of the pain of Black women

At this moment, I am reminded of Jared Sexton’s article entitled, “People of Color Blindness: Notes on the Afterlife of Slavery” and his book,  Amalgamation Schemes: Antiblackness and the Critique of Multiracialism  in which he notes:

Multiracialism suffers from this conundrum: wanting to condemn identification with racial blackness as the source of social crisis, seeking to locate a politicized blackness as the barrier to a postracial future, while affirming ‘mixed-ness’ in ways that reinforce and expand notions of racial purity and the concomitant hierarchies of value that underwrite white supremacy and antiblackness. This is why the reclamation of whiteness, or more precisely, nonblackness, is elevated to the status of a virtue, a sign not only of mental and emotional well-being (openness to diversity, within and without) but also of moral rectitude (tolerance for difference and commitment to reconciliation). (page 65)

If we are to imagine a dystopian future that illustrates misogyny, sexism and ableism, how can we do so without Black bodies and persons as subjects and agents? Or is the erasure and/or relegation of Black (and female) bodies to the margins a way of side-stepping the fundamental reality that oppressive regimes are predicated upon a world borne of colonialism and chattel/racial slavery, which instrumentalized, in particular, Black bodies?
Recommended Reading:

Works by the following:

  • Hortense Spillers
  • Jared Sexton
  • Saidiya Hartman
  • Frank Wilderson III
  • Stuart Hall
  • Achille Mbembe
  • Dorothy Roberts

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Thoughts on Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”

So I’m (re)reading Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” and wondering what the story would be like if Of-fred had been a Black woman. Of course, Black people are only referenced once in the book- in an off-hand manner about “Children of Ham” being relegated to “National Homelands” (reminiscent of Bantustans in Apartheid South Africa).

This could be read as a convenient way of avoiding addressing the afterlife of slavery- because the reader is expected to understand that the valued, fecund bodies are those of cisgender white women (not Jews, termed “Children of Jacob” or Blacks termed “Children of Ham”, etc). Offred is allowed to be the ‘neutral’ narrator with whom the reader identifies because whiteness is presumed to be a universal and ubiquitous solvent- a solvent that dissolves, assimilates and destroys. 

If this text were to center a Black subject, the reader would have to confront the afterlife of slavery- a reality in which Black bodies which were previously valued for their fecundity and (re)productive value are now devalued, deemed ‘queer’ (or ‘deviant’) and ‘excess’ in the face of nationalisms that prize whiteness/heteronormativity/etc above all. Another interesting angle to look at the surreptitious use of contraceptives and methods to induce miscarriage among enslaved Africans, and the ways that the regime’s staunchly anti-abortion stance would doubly criminalize Black subjects on this basis.

I’ll come back with more thoughts.

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Links and News Round-Up: 22 December 2013

“Since the 2008 recession, companies have increasingly turned to temporary employees to work in factories and warehouses and on construction sites. The temp industry now employs a record 2.8 million workers.

The trend carries a human cost.

A ProPublica analysis of millions of workers’ compensation claims shows that in five states, representing more than a fifth of the U.S. population, temps face a significantly greater risk of getting injured on the job than permanent employees.

In California and Florida, two of the largest states, temps had about 50 percent greater risk of being injured on the job than non-temps. That risk was 36 percent higher in Massachusetts, 66 percent in Oregon and 72 percent in Minnesota.”

and 

“The lightly regulated blue-collar temp world is one where workers are often sent to do dangerous jobs with little or no training. Where the company overseeing the work isn’t required to pay the medical bills if temps get hurt. And where, when temp workers do get injured on the job, the temp firm and the company fight with each other over who is responsible, sometimes even delaying emergency medical care while they sort it out.

The growing reliance on temps subverts one of the strongest incentives for companies to protect workers. The workers’ comp system was designed to encourage safety through economic pressure; companies with higher injury rates pay higher insurance premiums. Hiring temp workers shields companies from those costs. If a temp worker gets hurt, the temp agency pays the workers’ comp, even though it has little or no control over job sites.”

 

 

I’ll be the first person and the last person to say that anger is valid. Mistakes are mistakes; they deepen the wounds we carry. I know that for me when these mistakes are committed by people who I am in community with, it hurts even more. But these are people I care deeply about and want to see on the other side of the hurt, pain, and trauma: I am willing to offer compassion and patience as a way to build the road we are taking but have never seen before.

 

I don’t propose practicing “calling in” in opposition to calling out. I don’t think that our work has room for binary thinking and action. However, I do think that it’s possible to have multiple tools, strategies, and methods existing simultaneously. It’s about being strategic, weighing the stakes and figuring out what we’re trying to build and how we are going do it together.

So, what exactly is “calling in”? I’ve spent over a year of trying to figure this out for myself, and this practice is still coming to me daily. The first part of calling each other in is allowing mistakes to happen. Mistakes in communities seeking justice and freedom may not hurt any less but they also have possibility for transforming the ways we build with each other for a new, better world. We have got to believe that we can transform.

 

When confronted with another person’s mistake, I often think about what makes my relationship with this person important. Is it that we’ve done work together before? Is it that I know their politics? Is it that I trust their politics? Are they a family member? Oh shit, my mom? Is it that I’ve heard them talk about patience or accountability or justice before? Where is our common ground? And is our common ground strong enough to carry us through how we have enacted violence on each other?

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Black Bodies, Black Holes: Regarding Eve Ensler’s Colonialist and Messianic Fantasies

Notes: (1) I define “woman” to mean anyone who self-identifies with the term- regardless of assigned sex at birth or (presumed) anatomy. (2) This blog post requires a massive Trigger Warning re: rape, incest, and violences wrought against bodies.

Imperialist, Carceral Feminisms, For Whom?

Eve Ensler is situated in a long (Western) patriarchal tradition that fixates its gaze (and touch) on the bodies of Black and brown women for the sake of knowledge, and experimental explorations of the Other. In her latest piece entitled, “The Congo Stigmata,” casts a voyeuristic gaze upon a Black Other- this time, the body of a Congolese woman and rape survivor undergoing surgery for conditions resulting from sexual assault. She shows no interest in the woman, but fixates on what she terms, “the black hole.” The unnamed, deliberately faceless Congolese woman’s vitality is reduced to orifices and excretions- because she is not a “real” woman by the logics of Western, imperialist humanisms that begin with whiteness and manhood. A white woman like Eve Ensler is adjacent to the default “man” of this humanism, in part, because her Self and her social position is defined in terms of opposition and generative negations (e.g. to be not-Black is to be closer to whiteness- illustrating the way that the Black/White binary is leveraged to facilitate anti-Blackness that defines the being and worth of non-Black POC relative to whites).

Having said all of this, Eve Ensler and her ilk have made it clear that their “feminism” is not for the Black Other. It’s also most certainly not for Trans people either- as revealed by their cissexist and transphobic language that conflates anatomy with gender. Ensler and her ilk’s feminism is, at best, performative and self-serving. She refuses to acknowledge the systemic nature of violence, proposing flash mobs as “awareness-raising,” and leverages this attention for her own aims. Her work is part and parcel of what has been termed the “White Savior Complex” (which I amend to call the “Western Savior Complex”, because not all West-identified people with Messianic fantasies of “saving” Black and brown people ‘over there’ are white). This “White Savior Complex” values, above all, the “big emotional experience that validates privilege.

Black Bodies, Black Holes

Eve Ensler, writer of the “Vagina Monologues” and ‘genius’ behind “1 Billion Rising” again reduces women and their being to “holes.” In an excerpt of Ensler’s work published in Talk Magazine, she writes of a Congolese woman and survivor of rape who is sedated and immobilized on a table:

I have always been drawn to holes. Black holes. Infinite holes. Impossible holes. Absences. Gaps, tears in membranes. Fistulas [sic]. Obstetric fistulas occur because of extended difficult labor. Neccesary [sic] blood is unable to flow to the tissues of the vagina and the bladder. As a result, the tissues die and a hole forms through which urine or feces flow uncontrollably.

She conjures Delphine LaLaurie, the torturous Plantation Mistress** (and serial killer) who fixated on Black bodies and Black pain when she describes the “discovery” and probing of a raped Congolese woman’s bodily orifices as “spiritual.” She finds life, meaning and a future in the dying (necrotic) tissue of a Black body whose being she refuses to acknowledge or affirm.

Eliding the disparities in healthcare services provided to Congolese patients, Ensler writes:

After three trips to the Congo, I needed to see a fistula. I asked to sit in on a reparative operation. I need to know the shape of this hole, the size of this hole. I needed to know what a woman’s insides looked like when her most essential cellular tissue had been punctured by a stick or penis or penises. Wearing a mask and gown, I peered into this woman’s vagina, as she lay on her back, legs spread, her feet tied to steel stirrups with strips of bluegreen rags made from old hospital uniforms. As always, I was awed by the vagina, so intricate, so simple, so delicate. There in the lining was an undeniable hole, a rip, a tear in the essential story. It was almost a perfect circle, the size of a quarter may be, too big to prevent things from getting in or from falling out.

Is it “spiritual” (a sacrament?) because she derives a Self from her voyeuristic gaze upon a Black Other? For whom is this spiritual “moment?” Is she positioning herself as a “messiah” to the nameless, faceless Congolese survivors of sexual violence in a war borne of colonialists’ inexorable greed? She looks upon a “black hole” (hinting at the dehumanization of Black/African women, and the ways in which Black women’s humanity is defined in terms of negation) and sees absences, seeking to fill them with her self. Considered in light of colonialist constructions of Black/African women as hyperfecund bodies and bodies as sites of power, this is not unlike the ‘Terra Nullius’ justification for settler colonialism (so reminiscent of phallogocentric logic)- “there is nothing there, so I must fill it.” “I must give this body- whose utterances I ignore, whose orifices I explore- meaning.” For these Congolese women’s bodies are not legible to a Western, imperialist audience- which necessitates (according to her) divorcing them from their social and historical contexts (the colonial roots of conflict in the Congo region) and reducing them to their orifices (“black holes.”)

The unasked question is “why was she so fixated on the ‘holes’?” Is Black womanhood and being a “lack” to her? Why does she reproduce the voyeuristic fascination with orifices and excretions of Black bodies? And why does this reproduction always entail apathy regarding the felt pain of the Black body gazed upon? I addressed the inability to see (or tendency to dismiss) Black pain in a blogpost entitled, “Black Bodies, Black Pain: (In)difference, Disparities in Medical Care, and the Legacy of Dysaesthesia Aethiopis,” in which I wrote:

Another study, conducted by Anthropology student, Jason Silverstein found that white-identified subjects, when shown pictures of white subjects in pain versus Black subjects in pain, perceived Blacks as feeling less pain. This is hardly surprising in light of a history of the medicalization of Black bodies. For example, J. Marion Sims, a white man experimented on the enslaved African woman we know as “Anarcha” 30 times between the years 1845 and 1849 (in addition to experimenting on the bodies of enslaved African women by the names of Betsy and Lucy and 8 unnamed others), making advances in the study of gynecology.

Bild

Two years later, U.S. physician Samuel Cartwright (who also proposed that “drapetomania” was a mental illness afflicting enslaved Blacks, which caused them to desire to run away) used the term ”Dysaesthesia Aethiopis” to refer to the supposed insensitivity of Black bodies to pain. The cure, according to Cartwright was the cleansing of Black skin, the beating of still-wet Black skin, and (forcible) hard labor under the sun.

At the end of the excerpt, Ensler’s gaze turns inward, even as she never takes her eyes off of the body of the (again, unnamed, faceless, dehumanized) Congolese woman on the barebones operating table. She compares her own rape (at the hands of her father) with the systemic violence Congolese women face, consuming and subsuming the Other to re-center herself.

As I stood there in mask and gown, I realised I had stopped breathing. This woman’s vagina was a map of the future, and I could feel myself falling, falling through the hole in the world, the hole in myself, the hole that was made when my father invaded me and I lost my way. The hole that was made when the social membrane was torn by incest. Falling through the hole in this woman. I was falling. I have always been falling. But this time was different.

What future? Whose future did she see (or rather, imagine and impose)?

Related Reading:

 

** This is not a far-fetched comparison, as the system of chattel slavery (alternatively, racial slavery) depended heavily upon the colonization of Africa, and Europe’s tacit “ownership” of the continent and its inhabitants. This intersection is clearly seen in the Dred Scott descision, which Prof. Andrea Smith explains succinctly in a series of tweets.

  • “The rel between colonization & anti-Black racism is clear in Dred Scott decision. Rationale for slavery is that Africa is property of Europe”, 3 December 2013 (link)
  • “Because Africa is seen as eternally the property of Europe, Black peoples can never lose their fundamental essence of being property.” 3 December 2013 (link)
  • “For Africa to be property, Africa must appear as always already colonized. Colonization must disappear for Africa to have status of property.” 3 December 2013 (link)
  • “Dred Scott: Africa “has been by all the nations of Europe regarded as subjects of capture..as property in the strictest sense of the term.”” 3 December 2013 (link)
  • “In Dred Scott, Only through the disavowed colonization of Africa can Black peoples be ontologically relegated to the status of property.” 3 December 2013 (link)

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Anti-Blackness in the Anti-Trafficking Movement: “Modern-Day Slavery” and the Erasure of Racial Slavery

I read this passage in Tryon P. Woods’ 2013 article entitled, “Surrogate Selves: Notes on Anti-Trafficking and Anti-Blackness”:

“…the anti-trafficking movement is mired in an ahistoricism symptomatic of our anti-black world. In this case, slavery is evoked to cloak the movement with political saliency and emotional urgency, while obscuring the ongoing calculus of racial slavery’s afterlife, the sexual terror of enslavement and coloniality, and the conspicuous absence of both from the discourse on human trafficking.” (Woods, Tryon. (2013) “Surrogate Selves: Notes on Anti-Trafficking and Anti-Blackness.” Social Identities, Volume 19, Number 1, 1 January 2013 , pp. 122)

He goes on to analyse the rhetorical/discursive role of the presumably-trafficked Nigerian sex worker in Europe, and the ways in which anti-trafficking discourse (especially through journalistic representations [journalist-as-humanitarian-savior]) obscures the criminalization and incarceration of Black/brown/mobile/fecund bodies in the EU.

The argument that ‘modern day slavery’ emanates from African cultural backwardness raises a raw moment of historical reckoning and lays bare the essential anti-blackness subtending the journalistic outrage and strident advocacy against human trafficking. The anti-trafficking movement is historically and politically connected to the long-standing, and recently reinvigorated, position that Africans were as culpable for the transatlantic slave trade (and, consequently, for its aftermath as well) as were Europeans and Americans (compare Gates, 2010). This position aims to diffuse the reparations movement and conjoins the colorblind logic of the post-civil rights era: like simultaneous penalties against both sides in a sporting match, the fouls off-set one another, and therefore the only recourse is rhetorical reconciliation and the resumption of business as usual. The deadly effects of the structures of control and accumulation under the regime of colorblindness, or in the case of post-colonial Africa, the re-colonization of the continent by neoliberal global capital, are thereby disavowed (Bonilla-Silva, 2003). (Woods, 2013, pp. 124)

It’s a thought-provoking article, for sure. I’ve worked with anti-trafficking organizations since 2011, and I’ve constantly had to navigate spaces where trafficked and enslaved Black bodies/lives were used as mere rhetorical devices. The idea is that “chattel slavery is over” so we can “move on to address ‘modern-day slavery.’ The term ‘modern-day slavery’ itself is imprecise. The legal definitions of slavery and trafficking differ. Slavery is defined in the 1926 Slavery Convention (Article 1.1) as:

“…the status or condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised….”

The 1926 Convention’s definition of slavery was broadened to include forced or compulsory labor in 1930 in the ILO Convention (No. 29) concerning Forced or Compulsory Labour (Article 2.1):

“…all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily.”

Note that Trafficking in Persons,

in Article 3, paragraph (a) of the U.N. Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons as:

 “The recruitment, transport, transfer, harbouring or receipt of a person by such means as threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud or deception for the purpose of exploitation.”

-fits this definition, given that it entails the use of threat, force and other means of subjection (Action) for the purpose of exploitation. Victims of trafficking are most certainly “under the menace of penalty” as they are exploited by their traffickers. In fact, “exploitation” (within the context of Trafficking in Persons) is defined by the United Nations to include “slavery and slavery-like practices.”

Why do I point this out? Well, it’s imprecise to use the terms “slavery” and “human trafficking” interchangeably, because, while they overlap, the former refers specifically to the condition of being deprived of one’s autonomy and the fruit of one’s labors, while the latter refers more broadly to the entire chain of transactions and actions that constitute the act trafficking in persons. Legally, all persons involved in the recruitment, transfer, harboring and receipt of a person by means of threat, coercion, abduction, fraud or deception (for the purpose of exploitation) are considered culpable in the act (traffickers.)

The last point is key to Woods’ argument that the current anti-trafficking movement pivots on assertions of Africans’ culpability in the Trans-Atlantic (TAST) and Indian Ocean slave trades, and the “afterlife of slavery.” All parties involved in the transactions and actions of trafficking in persons are considered culpable, but when it comes to the overplayed significance of African intermediaries in the Slave Trade, this culpability eases the burden on European and American slave traders who trafficked in “human chattel.” This point is where Woods’ argument bridges “libidinal economies” (Lyotard, 1974, further developed by Hortense Spillers, Frank Wilderson, Saidya Hartman, Joy James, Jared Sexton to account for anti-Blackness, Social Death, and “the afterlife of slavery”) with monetary/capital economies. Sexton defines the “libidinal economy” as:

“the economy, or distribution and arrangement, of desire and identification (their condensation and displacement), and the complex relationship between sexuality and the unconscious.” (Wilderson, Frank B. 2010. Red, White & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, pp. 49)

This relates specifically to fantasies, fears, aversions, desires and pleasures that drive representations of and relations with Black bodies- as formerly-enslaved and now free bodies, and as post/colonial subjects. The revulsions that fuel the Gaze upon Black bodies are part and parcel of this “libidinal economy.” How does this relate to the anti-trafficking movement’s rhetoric?  The (a)historical revisionism is what enables the white/Western Savior to “speak for” the trafficked and enslaved Other without acknowledging the ways in which they’ve benefited from racialized, classed and gendered disparities borne of racial slavery. It is also a salve- a cleansing ritual of sorts that absolves the white-identified subject of any wrongdoing or vestigial culpability. It is a way of asserting one’s “anti-racist” status, while distancing the white Self from the Black subject. In keeping with many white abolitionists in the 19th century, the modern “anti-trafficking movement” relies heavily upon rhetorical tactics that belie the “goodness” of the Western advocate who speaks about and for the Other (“giving voice to the voiceless”), while distancing them- the white Self- from the Other.

This revisionism also effaces the lived experiences of enslaved Blacks, as well as the valid bases for descendants of enslaved Blacks’ calls for reparations (in keeping with the overarching intrumental logic of neoliberalism). If Africans were “culpable” in the trafficking and enslavement of their fellow man, then the West owed nothing to the descendants of trafficked and enslaved Africans. Quite literally, mainstream anti-trafficking rhetoric traffics in the Black-body-rendered-invisible. Furthermore, these rhetorical tactics also suggest, in the vein of liberal ‘colorblindness’, that structural racism is due, in part, to the participation of African slavers, and thus, white subjects are no longer beholden to the demands of the Civil Rights Movement, which indicted whiteness.

In this sense, “Africans enslaved Africans!” is a precursor to “Black-on-Black crime”- yet another assertion that ignores the historical and social realities. To acknowledge “Africans enslaved Africans” as true, one must also recognize that “Europeans enslaved Europeans” and “Asians enslaved Asians” and so on. (What does one mean by “African” “Asian” or “European”? These terms are imprecise, but they are the terms at hand.)

Orlando Patterson’s “Slavery and Social Death” addresses this, noting that historically, most forms of slavery are “intrusive”- occurring within- wherein the enslaved are brought into the borders of a dominant society.

“When a people was conquered, it was by definition the conquerors who were the outsiders to the local community and the conquered who were the natives. In this situation one of the fundamental elements of slavery- natal alienation- was almost impossible to achieve either intrusively or extrusively. But the nature of the case, the conquered native population could not be natally alienated in intrusive terms, for it was the master class who would be the intruders.” (Patterson, Orlando. (1982). Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. pp. 111)

One need only to look to the history of the Roman Empire in what would become Europe- as the Romans waged war and expanded and maintained the Empire’s borders, they conscripted the colonized into military service, sexual slavery, debt slavery, and so on. These enslaved included peoples who would later constitute the Germans, the French, the British and so on.  If one looks at Asia- particularly, pre-modern Korea, one finds a country that was once a slave society wherein up to a third of Koreans were enslaved (debt slavery). Historically, slavery on the continent of Africa was also primarily inter-group, relating to warfare and/or assertions of socio-economic status.

Also, note that the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, coupled with settler colonialism distinguishes “intrusive” forms of slavery from “extrusive” forms of slavery. The enslavers were non-native settlers (settler colonists are never native) even as they engaged in the trafficking and enslavement of Africans. This reality is elided in modern anti-trafficking rhetoric, which tends to assert the fixity and sanctity of national borders by treating trafficking victims and migrant laborers as embodiments of the border which must be managed or controlled in liberal biopolitical regimes (which include, but are not limited to immigration detention facilities, prisons, foster homes for unaccompanied youth, and so on).

In a previous blogpost, entitled, “Heroes, Villains, and Victims: Why the Anti-Trafficking Discourse is Problematic,” I addressed the racialized villainization of “pimps” in anti-(sex)-trafficking, writing:

By representing traffickers as ‘exceptional’ figures- notably in the classist, racialized trope of the “pimp,” anti-trafficking discourse occludes the truth that traffickers are often those closest to the victim. In many cases, traffickers are parents, family members, intimate partners, neighbors, teachers, religious leaders, police officers, and other ‘trusted’ authority figures. The trafficker is not simply the shadowy figure in the alley who ‘snatches’ runaways or migrants.

This passage relates to Woods’ passage on page 123:

The contemporary discourse on ‘trafficked persons’ and ‘modern-day slavery’ severely contorts the historical context of racial slavery, as well as the contradictory history of abolitionism that actually sought to contain the immiserated body by extending the apparatus of control, surveillance, and punishment over the formerly enslaved. News articles describing ‘Nigeria’s ‘‘respectable’’ slave trade’ reveal a projection of Western nationhood’s racial make-up and erotic paranoia by securing the discursive connections between Nigerian women selling sex in Europe and the ‘new slavery’ (Little, 2004). In these articles, published on the BBC website between 2000 and 2010, reporting on thousands of Nigerian young women ‘forced to work as prostitutes in Mali ‘‘slave camps,’’’ on the rescue of ‘about 200 ‘‘child slaves’’ from forests in the southwest,’ or the ‘hundreds of girls from Nigeria sold into sexual slavery in Europe each year [and] trafficked through England,’ modern-day slavery is constructed as a mundane feature of contemporary Africa (BBC, 2010; Olukoya,
2003; Pannell, 2001). In this narrative, African agents foist slavery upon an unwilling West and Africa is construed, again, as the locus of criminality and barbarism. For example, the articles assert, ‘human trafficking is not something that happens on the
criminal fringes of Nigerian society. It is woven into the fabric of national life’ (Little, 2004, p. 2). The articles portray the parents as willing participants in the victimization of their children. One of the articles quotes the president of UNICEF UK, David Puttnam, who states that what ‘frustrates him here, in Nigeria, more than the poverty that is its root cause, is the attitude that accompanies it.’

Bibliography:

  1. Woods, Tryon. (2013) “Surrogate Selves: Notes on Anti-Trafficking and Anti-Blackness.” Social Identities, Volume 19, Number 1, 1 January 2013 , pp. 120-134(15)
  2. Wilderson, Frank B. 2010. Red, White & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. (Chapter 2, entitled “The Narcissistic Slave” is here)
  3. Lyotard, Jean-Francois. (1993) Libidinal Economy. Trans. Iaian Hamilton Grant. Bloomington and Indianapolis, IN: Indiana University Press
  4. Anderson, Benedict. (1983) Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso). Pp. 184
  5. Arendt, Hannah. (1976) “The Decline of the Nation State and the End of the Rights of Man,” Chap. 9, The Origins of Totalitarianism, Harcourt, Inc.
  6. Benhabib, Seyla, “’The Right to Have Rights:’ Hannah Arendt on the Contradictions of the Nation-State,” Chap. 2, in The Rights of Others: Aliens, Residents, and Citizens. (2004) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 49-70
  7. Brown, Wendy. (2010) Walled States, Waning Sovereignty, London: The MIT Press
  8. Deleuze, Gilles. (1992) Postscript on the Societies of Control. October, Vol. 59. (Winter, 1992), pp. 3-7
  9. Fassin Didier. (2001). The Biopolitics of Otherness. Undocumented Foreigners and Racial Discrimination in French Public debate. Anthropology Today 17(1):3–7
  10. Foucault, Michel. (1995) Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. 2nd ed. New York: Vintage Books. Pp. 187
  11. Foucault, Michel. (2003) “Society Must Be Defended“: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1975-1976. Eds. Mauro Bertani and Alessandro Fontana. New York: Picador, pp 252
  12. Foucault, Michel. (2004) The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the College de France, 1978-79. Eds. Michel Senellart, Francois Ewald, and Alessandro Fonta. New York: Palgrave Macmillan
  13. Foucault, Michel. (2007). Security, Territory, Population: Lectures at the College de France, 1977-78. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Pp. 61
  14. Foucault, Michel. “The Political Technology of Individuals,” in Technologies of the Self, ed. Luther H. Martin, Huck Gutmand, and Patrick H. Hutton. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1988
  15. Lemke, Thomas. (2011). Biopolitics: An Advanced Introduction. New York: New York University Press. Pp. 15
  16. Luibheid, Eithne. (2002) Entry Denied: Controlling Sexuality at the Border. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press
  17. Mbembe, Achille. (2001) On the Postcolony. Berkeley: University of California Press
  18. Mbembé, Achille. (2003). “Necropolitics.” Public Culture 15:11-40.
  19. Patterson, Orlando. (1982). Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press

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Currently Reading: 2 December 2013

  • Tryon P. Woods – “Surrogate Selves: Notes on Anti-Trafficking and Anti-Blackness” (2013)

Abstract: This essay explores the discursive production of black captivity across the African diaspora in the afterlife of slavery. I take as my objects of analysis the contemporary anti-trafficking and anti-slavery movements, features of the increasing hegemony of human rights discourse for formulating problems of social justice and their remedies. I argue that configuring black captivity-  in this case, the experiences of Nigerian women migrants to Western Europe- through these hegemonic discourses extend, rather than ameliorate, the global structural antagonism of anti-blackness.

Keywords: slavery; anti-blackness; anti-trafficking; modern-day slavery; Nigeria;globalization; racial/sexual violence; black migration

What are you reading?

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Links and News Roundup: 26 November 2013

American chefs like to talk fancy talk about “elevating” or “refining” third-world cuisines, a rhetoric that brings to mind the mission civilisatrice that Europe took on to justify violent takeovers of those same cuisines’ countries of origin. In their publicity materials, Spice Market uses explicitly objectifying language to describe the culture they’re appropriating: “A timeless paean to Southeast Asian sensuality, Spice Market titillates Manhattan’s Meatpacking District with Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s piquant elevations of the region’s street cuisine.” The positioning of Western aesthetics as superior, or higher, than all the rest is, at its bottom line, an expression of the idea that no culture has value unless it has been “improved” by the Western Midas touch. If a dish hasn’t been eaten or reimagined by a white person, does it really exist?”

“Right this minute, there is someone going through chemotherapy shopping at your grocery store, buying popsicles and ice cream to help their sore mouth, and worrying what the cashier is going to think.

There is someone on hemodialysis buying white bread instead of whole wheat, trying to keep their phosphorus levels reasonable between appointments and hoping for the best.

There is a person attending intensive outpatient treatment for their eating disorder who has been challenged by their therapist to buy a Frappuccino.

There are dietitians picking up a dozen different candy bars to eat with their clients, who feel ashamed and guilty about enjoying them.

There is someone who just doesn’t have it in them to cook right now, and this frozen pizza and canned soup will keep them going.

There are people recovering from chronic dieting and semi-starvation who are buying chocolate and chips at their deprived body’s insistence.

All around us are people listening to what their bodies need and attempting to make the best possible choice within a context of overwhelming food pressure. All of their choices are valid, and every single one of these foods is “real.””

“TOMS is not alone in its willingness to link progressive social action with consumer spending. In fact, it exemplifies a broader corporate embrace of “conscious capitalism.” Coined by Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, this business model assumes that “the best way to maximize profits over the long-term” is to orient business toward a “higher purpose.” So Starbucks sells coffee to “Put America Back to Work,” the (RED) campaign raises money to fight AIDS, and—in the best example yet—Sir Richard’s Condom Company sends a condom to Haiti for each one it sells (“doing good never felt better”). Meanwhile, Bank of America logos decorate PRIDE banners and Lockheed Martin brags that it is a “champion of diversity.”

The globalization of neoliberal capitalism, and particularly the popularity of “conscious capitalism” as a practice and a discourse, signals a change in the landscape of U.S. religion and politics. “Neoliberalism” most often refers to a loosely cohering set of economic, social, and political policies that (1) seek to secure human flourishing through the imposition of free markets and (2) locate “freedom” in individual autonomy, expressed through consumer choice. But it is also a mode of belonging, where ritual acts of consumption initiate individuals into a global community of consumer agents. Within neoliberal logics of religious and political action, consumer transactions and corporate expansion are recast as forms of spiritual purification and missionary practice.”

“Nationwide, the number of homeless people dropped by 4 percent from 2012, to 610,042 from 633,782. according to the data, which were released on Thursday by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. Homelessness among veterans and some other groups registered notable reductions.

The numbers come from HUD’s annual survey of more than 3,000 cities and counties. On one night in January per locality, field workers tally the number of people living in emergency shelters, transitional housing and locations such as cars and abandoned buildings.

In a conference call with reporters, the department’s secretary, Shaun Donovan, said the one-night snapshot showed a “remarkable” drop in national homeless numbers in recent years given the economic downturn. He credited the collaboration among 19 federal agencies in tackling the problem.

But the story is different in New York and Los Angeles, which showed large increases in homelessness.

In New York, where the shelter population has reached levels not seen since the Depression era, the count in January estimated 64,060 homeless people in shelters and on the street in January 2013, or 13 percent more than in January 2012. Among large cities, only Los Angeles had a larger percentage increase. Its homeless population rose by 27 percent, although its total of 53,798 was lower than New York’s.

Federal officials said the increases were driven by a rise in families who could no longer pay their rent, a problem that is more acute in areas where affordable housing is scarce and rents are especially high. The group of very poor renters who pay more than half their income in rent and are struggling to hold onto their homes has grown by 43 percent nationwide since 2007, housing officials said.

Across the country, nearly a quarter of all homeless people, 23 percent, are under 18.”

This article needlessly (and possibly, harmfully) pits the incarceration of aboriginal Canadians against the incarceration of Black Canadians as though they are oppositional, not linked. In a settler colony, the prison system functions to “absorb” those rendered “excess”- and that includes indigenous peoples and those formerly enslaved. It is a surveilling, re-appropriation and disciplining of bodies deemed “outside” of settler colonial nationalisms.

“Canada’s Correctional Investigator Howard Sapers released a report last week that showed the number of aboriginals incarcerated in federal prison has jumped 37% over the past 10 years.

While aboriginals make up only 4% of Canada’s population, they represent 21.5% of those serving time in federal prisons, the report said.

Black people make up about 2.5% of Canada’s population. Yet they now represent just over 9% of the federal inmate population, the report says. The majority of black inmates are incarcerated in Ontario — 60% — followed by Quebec at 18%.”

 I remembered our old stories of what the land used to look like and I wondered if my Great, Great Grandmother would even recognize her homeland with the nuclear plant, the condos, and the six lanes of traffic that never stop day or night. I wondered if she were here with me, in the car, driving as the sun came up if she’d feel home. It struck me at that moment that our nationhood, my nationhood by its very nature calls into question this system of settler colonialism; a system that is such an overwhelming, violent, normalized and dishonest reality in Canada and so many other places. It is the force that has removed me from my land, it has erased me from my history and from contemporary life and it is the reason we currently have over 600 plus Missing and Murdered Indigenous women in Canada. I wondered if my Great, Great Grandmother would be proud of me for figuring that out. I decided she wouldn’t, because figuring out doesn’t count for much if you’re not willing to do something about it.

“Before almost anyone else was talking about the “knockout game,” Colin Flaherty was reporting on it and other incidences of what he calls “black mob violence” for WorldNetDaily, the notoriously deceptive, far-right news and opinions site. His schtick is simple: every time he finds a report of black “mob” violence or black on white violence, he writes about it. “

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Thoughts Regarding Conversations Around “Anti-Blackness” On Social Media

I would like to see Black/Afro-Descendant scholars outside of the US theorize on anti-Blackness in their localized/culturally-specific contexts, because I’m really tired of circular conversations about how US-centric current work on anti-Blackness is. Of course it’s US-centric. The major scholars (Hortense Spillers/Jared Sexton/Saidiya Hartman) (rightfully) make it clear that their domain is antagonistic attitudes toward Blackness, Black bodies and Black (non)life in the US. (H/T to @so_treu)

It is possible to critique the role of a Black US president in furthering neoliberal/neocolonial agendas without presuming that the hypervisibility of Black Americans in mainstream media translates to actual political influence and affluence. Representations of Black Americans as “thugs” “pimps” “whores” + a few token Black elected officials and CEOs in historically-white institutions do not match the lived reality of Black Americans. It is illogical and incorrect to presume that b/c of our situated-ness in the “West” and/or the US that we are “privileged”- as though our children aren’t imprisoned or slaughtered, our votes aren’t suppressed, our community leaders aren’t killed, and our businesses and homes aren’t razed in the name of “development” and “economic growth.”

In his 1996 text entitled Class Notes: Posing As Politics and Other Thoughts on the American Scene, Adolphus Reed Jr. wrote:

“In Chicago, for instance, we’ve gotten a foretaste of the new breed of foundation-hatched black communitarian voices; one of them, a smooth Harvard lawyer with impeccable do-good credentials and vacuous-to-repressive neoliberal politics, has won a state senate seat on a base mainly in the liberal foundation and development worlds. His fundamentally bootstrap line was softened by a patina of the rhetoric of authentic community, talk about meeting in kitchens, small-scale solutions to social problems, and the predictable elevation of process over program — the point where identity politics converges with old-fashioned middle-class reform in favoring form over substance. I suspect that his ilk is the wave of the future in U.S. black politics.”

This speaks (presciently?) to a general trend in politics, where Black officials and representatives nominally serve the “Black community” even as they further agendas that destroy them. Here he referred to the young, up-and-coming junior Senator who would become the President of the United States. Yes, POTUS Obama has been strategically placed, Continue reading

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How it Feels to be Colored (and Hearing Impaired) Me

I borrowed my title from Zora Neale Hurston’s “How It Feels to be Colored Me.” These days I have been reflecting on what it means to be a Black woman with a “disability.” I feel strange using that terminology, though, because I tend to agree more with the Social Model of Disability which treats disability as a set of socially constructed and enforced norms that posit bodies as “normative” and “Other.” In practical terms, this is when I do not feel “disabled” unless I am in social situations where people are assume that everyone else is “like them”- that is, able perceive, inhabit and move about spaces in the same manner as they are able.

I was just reading an article entitled, “The Impact of Concentration Fatigue on Deaf Children Should be Factored In,” and it made me think of how, even as an adult, I fight a persistent fatigue in social situations. I’ve written about this fatigue in blogposts entitled, “Hearing Loss, Hearing-Loss” and “Hearing Loss, Hearing-Loss, Part II.”

In the first article I linked above, the author writes:

But I do also think the fact that the impact of deafness doesn’t just manifest itself in communication is ever really that well understood. It’s about the energy involved in lipreading and being attentive all day long.

Processing and constructing meaning out of half-heard words and sentences. Making guesses and figuring out context. And then thinking of something intelligent to say in response to an invariably random question.

It’s like doing jigsaws, Suduku and Scrabble all at the same time.

For deaf children and young people, especially, I don’t think this impact is as widely recognised as it should be. Advice to teachers on working with deaf children tends to talk far more about language and communication, rather than concentration fatigue.

That’s exactly what it is- piecing together contextual clues by reading lips, approximating whatever sounds my ears can make out, and constantly being vigilant for questions directed at me. In spite of all of this, I just answer, “Ok,” to questions that require a yes or no answer, or questions that demand a fleshed-out answer. In response, people tend to speak louder or exaggerate their enunciation, neither of which brings clarity (or worse, perceive me as “dismissive” or “aloof”). Higher volume does not mean that I can understand you (this is why “turn up your hearing aid” doesn’t work!). It just doesn’t. And, too often, exaggerated enunciation distorts your lips, so I can’t effectively lip-read.

It’s a tiresome burden to inhabit social spaces in which it is perfectly “acceptable” for people to make off-hand remarks like “are you slow?” “are you deaf?” when asked to repeat themselves or clarify a statement. Sometimes I want to answer, “Yes, I am Deaf/HoH.” Sometimes. Other times, I patiently explain that I need for them to communicate in a clear manner without the exaggerated gesticulation and unnecessary loudness. And yes, it takes a bit longer for me to process auditory stimuli because it takes longer for me to piece together sounds with words with complete sentences with context. “Hearing” is a cognitive process- it is not mere “hearing.” For me, it’s about working with congenital and progressive auditory nerve damage. “Hearing” does not mean comprehension.

I’m keeping it short today. Thanks for reading.

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Links and News Roundup: 12 November 2013

On the continent, despite improvements in national economies, technology, and certain human development indicators, almost 2 Africans out of 3 remain affected by poverty. The number of poor people has doubled since 1980s and among the world’s 10 most unequal countries, six are in Africa. In a recent survey of more than 50,000 people in 34 African countries about current economic conditions, half say they struggle to meet daily needs like food, clear water, and medicine. The problem with the “rising Africa” narrative is that it isn’t creating a space for their voices and struggles to come to the surface. In centering the discourse on those who are doing well, the resource-poor are written out of mainstream narratives.

Beyond narratives, I am concerned about the dismissive tenor towards the structures capable of expanding the benefits of growth and of addressing inequality — government and the social sector. The state is often presented as a barrier, a liability ripe with corruption and inefficiency that can be leapfrogged by technology and enterprise. At most, the state’s value is to facilitate an investment-friendly environment for business. Where there is a problem, business can resolve it.

The World Bank and IMF have waged a sustained assault on African public services over several decades, and have never been called to account for the profound and lasting damage they have done.

“The police realized fairly quickly that Shingles was not the shooter and knew nothing about it. But they decided to humiliate him a bit before letting him go. They said that if he wanted uncuffed, he would have to perform rap songs for them. If he refused, he would be placed under arrest.”

Can we talk about this? Here are State-sanctioned “law enforcement officers” treating a Black man as a criminal, even after determining that he was not the perpetrator of a crime, and demanding that he perform for them. They demanded his docility, servility in the form of a performance- a highly racialized performance. If he refused, then, they would find a pretext to arrest him, because, after all, Blackness is always already criminal and suspect.

The concept of growth was put forward as a measure to mobilise resources during the second world war. GDP is based on creating an artificial and fictitious boundary, assuming that if you produce what you consume, you do not produce. In effect , “growth” measures the conversion of nature into cash, and commons into commodities.

Thus nature’s amazing cycles of renewal of water and nutrients are defined into nonproduction. The peasants of the world,who provide 72% of the food, do not produce; women who farm or do most of the housework do not fit this paradigm of growth either. A living forest does not contribute to growth, but when trees are cut down and sold as timber, we have growth. Healthy societies and communities do not contribute to growth, but disease creates growth through, for example, the sale of patented medicine.

“People who don’t finish college are more likely to receive food stamps than are those who go to graduate school. The rolls of people on public assistance are dominated by people with less education. Nevertheless, the percentage of graduate-degree holders who receive food stamps or some other aid more than doubled between 2007 and 2010.

During that three-year period, the number of people with master’s degrees who received food stamps and other aid climbed from 101,682 to 293,029, and the number of people with Ph.D.’s who received assistance rose from 9,776 to 33,655, according to tabulations of microdata done by Austin Nichols, a senior researcher with the Urban Institute. He drew on figures from the 2008 and 2011 Current Population Surveys done by the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Labor.”

Reading this article, I got a whiff of “I have an advanced degree! I’m not one of those poor people!” It’s true, academia and the much-vaunted “life of the mind” tends to eschew association with people who work with their hands (“blue collar”) or people who grapple with poverty. Apparently, academic pursuits are too “high-minded” (see: academic detachment or “objectivity”) for that. Anyway, I saw it most particularly in this passage:

“I tend to look at my experience as a humanist, as someone who is fascinated by human culture,” he says. “Maybe it was a way of hiding from the reality in which I found myself. I never thought I’d be among the poor.”

“If someone had designed a work regime perfectly suited to maintaining the power of finance capital, it’s hard to see how they could have done a better job. Real, productive workers are relentlessly squeezed and exploited. The remainder are divided between a terrorised stratum of the, universally reviled, unemployed and a larger stratum who are basically paid to do nothing, in positions designed to make them identify with the perspectives and sensibilities of the ruling class (managers, administrators, etc) – and particularly its financial avatars – but, at the same time, foster a simmering resentment against anyone whose work has clear and undeniable social value.”\

“Fronting a constructed group identity such as the ‘Afropolitan’ backs-up a reductive narrative of Africa and the African, which in turn continues to be an important part of neocolonial power structures. “

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Anti-Blackness as a Form of BioPolitics: Remembering Renisha McBride and Jonathan Ferrell

Renisha McBride. Jonathan Ferrell. Remember these names.

To be Black in America is to inhabit a body that is always already criminalized/suspect.

  • We cannot be still or “idle”, lest we violate laws designed to police the movement of bodies previously (and currently, in the form of prison labor*) valued for their coercive and re/productive labor.
  • We cannot ask for help from law enforcement, because our bodies themselves are a violation of the spaces they are sworn to protect. Regardless, every 28 hours in the U.S., another Black person is slain by law enforcement officers.
  • We cannot wear the “right” clothing, have the “right” degrees or speak the “right” way to save ourselves from the fear that kills.
  • We cannot even discipline our children to be “good enough” to avoid the punitive acts of state institutions that would funnel them from school classrooms to prison cells.
  • Even being born into this country costs us dearly- with higher rates of maternal and infant mortality rates among Black patients- rates comparable to the “developing world.”

*The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads:

SECTION 1.

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

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News and Links Roundup: 5 November 2013

“In the United States, nine percent of computer science majors are unemployed, and 14.7 percent of those who hold degrees in information systems have no job. Graduates with degrees in STEM – science, technology, engineering and medicine – are facing record joblessness, with unemployment at more than twice pre-recession levels. The job market for law degree holders continues to erode, with only 55 percent of 2011 law graduates in full-time jobs. Even in the military, that behemoth of the national budget, positions are being eliminated or becoming contingent due to the sequester.

It is not skills or majors that are being devalued. It is people.”

Recently released US Dept. of Education on homeless students in the US public school system estimates that ~1 million K-12 students are homeless.

Note that this is in the context of cuts to SNAP, unemployment, cuts to after-school programs, free lunch programs and general cuts to public education budgets. Low-income and homeless students have tremendous odds against them if they are to “excel” in school. Without stable housing or access to food, how can we expect students to do well- let alone graduate? Combined with the increased presence of police on public school campuses, this contributes to school push-out.

Lisa Otis, a single mother, asked “what’s going to happen?”

“Do I have to tell my 13-year-old ‘hold off on making that peanut butter and jelly sandwich, we’ve got to make that loaf of bread last.’ You don’t want to tell these kids that,” she said.

Paul Morello, spokesman for the Greater Chicago Food Depository, said the cuts to food stamps will mean more people needing to rely on food pantries and soup kitchens.

“The face of hunger is changing. We’re seeing people who have jobs, who maybe own their home, who maybe own a car, but who simply have lost their job, who’ve seen their hours cut back,” he said. “I’ve talked to a number of people who have said, ‘You know, I have two jobs.’ I’ve talked to some people who say they have three jobs, and they still can’t make ends meet.”

Morello said, even with the increased food stamp benefits since 2009, visits to Cook County food pantries had been up 70 percent over the past five years.

“Gender is not just a social construct, but it is an epistemology. What’s an epistemology? Simply put, it’s propositional knowledge. It means that, while in mathematics it is known that 2 + 2 = 4, the fact that:

  • we know how to add the numbers
  • we know what numbers are
  • we know what these figures represent
  • we have a process by which we’ve come to know how to add these numbers
  • we have created signs to represent them, and
  • we have created a process to represent everything

All of this is an epistemology. It is a process of knowing. Gender is no different.”

and

“In this situation, not only are we pushing a white epistemological concept of “gender” onto other cultures, but if we go forth with abolishing it, how can we expect people for whom their gender interacts so closely with their race, their religion, their cultural background, to divorce or even to recognise the bits and pieces of gender that are independent of their culture to destroy? Or, if gender is an epistemology, is race and other intersectional factors part and parcel of gender in such a way that one cannot simply abolish it alone? And if we attempt to do that, it leads to the next big problem I have: that the abolition of gender may be, especially stemming from a white feminist bases, a colonising force.”

“I have worked factory jobs, telemarketing, farm labor, and behind the counter at a convenience store. These jobs are not abstractions for me. (They also pay more per hour than what most adjuncts make.) As a child of the rising lower-middle class, there is nothing that tells people like me to shut up and do as your told than saying the equivalent of “you’re unhappy? Well, you could be digging a ditch or shoveling shit.”

Prestige without pay in academia means that non-tenure-track positions, contingent labor privilege those with wealth and access to institutions, while pricing out (or starving out) those without.

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5. November 2013 · 08:43