Monday, April 12, 2010

Ethnic/Diversity Community Event

For my ethnic/diversity community event, I chose to attend the "Doing 'Diversity:' Making It or Faking It?" conference about diversity within the CCA community. (I had also attended the Tim Wise lecture but was so enthralled by his humor and presence that I failed to take many notes!)

I caught the opening remarks by Melinda de Jesus, the Diversity Studies Faculty Roundtable, and the "Integrating Diversity Studies at CCA" Roundtable that included administrators and faculty. Due to scheduling conflicts, I was unable to stay for the discussion that I thought would be most relevant: the thoughts and presentations of fellow students.

During the opening remarks, I learned that Diversity Studies started at CCA after the inclusion of a Black Studies program and Black Arts minor at the college in 1978. It was never fully explored and no one quite knew the answer as to why CCA no longer offers Black Studies programs or Black Arts studio classes anymore. Other faculty members expressed concern about this invisible history as well. I think it's a valid question and one that should be explored.

During the first two hours, ten Diversity Studies faculty members presented their work and education to the audience.

Tressa Berman explored diversity and artistic citizenship and defined diversity as "creating environments characterized by equal access, parity, and equity."

Claudia Bernardi presented her work with Central and South American communities affected by political strife and human rights violations. She discussed the role of art in these communities and how they contribute to the diplomatic process. I understood that she was very sensitive the needs of each community and later found out that this was due to her own history of subjugation in Argentina.

Lauren Elder collaborates with performance artists to make location-based work dealing with public housing and schools.

Guillermo Galindo uses music in time-based performances and teaches a postwar music class. He mentioned that he is also the only minority to teach of primarily technology-driven class. (Which is really interesting because when I think back to my studio classes dealing with technology, I had one white professor and one Asian professor, both men.)

Amana Harris was the only faculty member that is also a CCA alum. She shared her frustrations as being a minority as both a student and instructor. In her classes, she divulged that there was a lot of contention felt by primarily white students over being "forced" to meet required diversity studies courses. I could feel her anger and confusion and empathized. As a white student taking required diversity studies courses, I understand the frustrations of these fellow students that want to focus on their studio classes but I find their anger unwarranted. I think that diversity studies seminars and studios can help students explore these issues in their studio work. When I interviewed Claudia Bernardi she expressed surprise over the lack of knowledge that some of her students have about the world around them. I think that in order to be a successful artist (in any discipline), it's important to be aware of the world.

Taraneh Hemami presented her work with the Iranian community. She collected stories about Iranian immigrants after the revolution and mentioned that she started her project after 9/11 and was, thus, met with suspicion over her goals for the project. The work that she showed was incredibly beautiful and poignant. It made me long to be in the gallery with the work in order to devote more time to each individual story or collection of photographs.

Devorah Major is a poet that wants to explore forms of resistance in her work. I found her presentation inspiring due to her strong presence and constant raising of valid questions. She was also a major voice during the faculty roundtable.

Lydia Nakashima de Garrod is a visual artist interested in social justice. She spoke of several different projects with victims of violence.

Parisa Parnian spoke about the intersectionality in her life as an Iranian queer woman. During her education at Parsons in New York, she suggested asexual clothing and was shot down as being too "transgressive." She currently teaches a class at the San Francisco campus called "Alternative Bodies" for designers and architects. The projects currently in progress in the class include a house for little people and their "standard" size children and maternity wear for butch women.

Celia Rodriquez spoke of installation and performance pieces about the Chicano/a experience, especially regarding the migration of Chicanos and the indigenous people of Mexico.

At the end of the presentations, all the faculty members gathered for a short roundtable discussion about diversity studies in the CCA curriculum. One member mentioned the idea of "both/and" meaning that there should be both professors of color in each artistic discipline as well as in diversity studies. A peculiar challenge was the integration of diversity issues in the design programs such as: interior, graphic, and fashion.

After the break, faculty members and administration met for a Roundtable entitled "Integrating Diversity Studies at CCA: Challenges and Initiatives." Mark Breitenberg, the Provost of CCA mentioned the recent racially charged events at UC campuses in Merced and San Diego. He also dismissed the notions of a "colorblind" or post-racial society. He mentioned 4 important reasons to devote the school to diversity: 1. provide a reflection to the world we live in 2. pedagogical 3. pragmatic (especially in design) 4. ethical.

After Breitenberg spoke, the rest of the faculty and administration had a moment to speak about the ways they are each addressing diversity. It was strange that all the faculty and administrative members were white. Could that speak about the lack of diversity within the faculty and administration?

Ila Berman, the architecture chair, provided some great points for the discussion and how the issues of race, culture, and gender are explored in the architecture program. But, the more practical forms of architecture affect everyone. How a city is planned, how a public building functions, these have larger social implications. She focused part of the discussion on the lack of diversity within the student body and addressed the socioeconomic factors that factor into a student's decision to attend CCA. Another problem for the marginalization of diversity studies by students is the existence of these courses "outside" of major coursework.

Mel Corn, the Associate Provost provided statistics on the student body and faculty. The final tally? The faculty is 72% white. During a Q&A session with the roundtable, Devorah Major questioned this statistic even further. What would happen to this percentage if the professors in diversity studies were removed? Who would remain? What would happen if we added up all the professors with tenure? Would any people of color remain on that list? These are valid questions that need to be asked and during the conference, we all found that there are no easy answers for this question.

Unfortunately, I had to leave before witnessing presentations by my fellow students. The issue at CCA is a divisive one and I don't know of any simple answers. Through my course work with the History of US People of Color, I can understand the plight of the faculty and students trying to change the status quo at CCA. I have heard fellow students talking about some of the course requirements for diversity studies in a similar manner and it really surprised me. How can my intelligent friends at CCA not think that learning about these issues matter? That these issues have been magically resolved? It's frustrating and I find myself unable to change their minds. I really wish that there had been a bigger audience at the conference because the people that were not in the audience were the ones that needed to be there the most!

Week 13 Reading Response

The four readings for this week were (mostly) all about interracial L-O-V-E, from varying perspectives.

The first reading was "Discovering Racial Borders" by Heather M. Dalmage. In this essay, Dalmage talks about the way that color lines are "policed" in order to keep interracial relationships from happening and flourishing. And how interracial couples fight back against this policing by family and friends. Dalmage pointed out that the people watching the dissenters between the color line can be black or white but each person brings a "different historical and social perspective." Most white "border patrolling" (this metaphor is so apt!) want to keep white friends and family in line in order to protect the "purity" of the white race. I like that Dalmage doesn't gloss over the issues of gender that come into play when talking about interracial heterosexual marriage. She provides different scenarios (white-wife and black-husband, black-wife and white-husband) and perspectives from each gender. White women that marry black men, she mentions at one point, are seen as "bad or bizarre" or otherwise seduced by the stereotype of the sexually dominant black man.

Throughout all the readings, the issues of power and privilege played a tremendous role in the feelings of betrayal by family members and friends. Cultural closeness of people of the same race was also an important issue. Of the black men interviewed by Dalmage, they mentioned being seen as forsaking their race by the transgression of marrying a white woman.

Frank Wu tackles the issue of interracial marriage from a predominantly Asian perspective in "The Changing Face of America." In his essay, Wu explores the interracial marriage rates for Asian Americans and the tendency to overlook race when speaking of an interracial Asian-white couple due to the "passing" of Asian-Americans. Wu provides the historical struggle for legalized interracial marriage. During the Civil Rights era, Wu notes, interracial marriage struggle was relegated to white-black marriages. When speaking of interracial marriages between whites and Asians, Wu states, "Whites are much more likely to marry Asian Americans than African Americans. The Asian American intermarriage rate is triple the African American rate." Wu explains this discrepancy by theorizing that Asian Americans "marry up" and that a white spouse is seen as a form of moving up in the social and class structure of the United States. For an Asian American to marry an African American, by this logic, would be a step down. The gender mix of Asian American-white couples consists of a white husband and an Asian American wife.

Wu discusses the issue of "passing" and that there is only one race that other races wish to pass as: white. "People who are white rarely try to disguise themselves as people of color and would have few reasons to do so." He provides Keanu Reeves and Tiger Woods as examples of mixed race Asians that can either "pass" or not. Keanu can pass since he is half white, Tiger cannot since he is half black. Despite Woods' lineage, he is still seen as a black man. After Fuzzy Zoeller insulted him, Wu says, "When he looks at Woods he sees race; he sees blackness." The "blackness" overrides anything else and comes back to the antiquated "one drop" rule. Woods has to constantly talk about himself in terms of race, while Reeves doesn't because he "passes" as a white man. Wu calls Reeves a "closeted Asian American."

In closing, after an examination of the mixed race movement, it is said "Race may be fictional, but racism is real." And still difficult to talk about.

Maria Root offers the "Ten Truths of Interracial Marriage" and specifically talks about love in her final paragraphs of the essay. She explores the differences between families that embrace interracial marriages of other family members and those that don't. She, like, Dalmage explores the intersections of race and gender that come together in an interracial marriage. "The strongest objections still pertain to black-white marriage." This may be due to the ability for other races to "pass" whereas blacks can never be seen as white. Root maintains that authority and privilege play integral roles in the acceptance or dismissal of interracial marriage. She also argues that interracial marriages may help give an understanding of male or white privilege to each spouse and that this can lead to a flexibility in gender roles and redefinition of attractiveness (these all being good things). The "Ten Truths about Interracial Marriage" are then listed. These include, financial independence of women have led them to choose their mates without family approval, love and values compel an interracial couple to marry, interracial couples may replace estranged blood kin with a fictive family of friends, and conflicts within interracial marriages are more likely to arise from cultural, gender, class, social, and personal differences than from racial ones.

"Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" is a Pew Research Center report on mixed-race marriage. 22% of Americans have a relative in a mixed-race marriage according to their findings. The surprisings were pretty standard: younger people are more accepting of mixed-race relationships than older people, blacks and Hispanics are more supportive of mixed-race relationships than whites, and people in Western states are more supportive of mixed-race relationships since there are higher percentages of Asian-Americans, American Indians, and multi-race Americans living in western states.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Week 12 Reading Response

This week, we read Audre Lorde's comment that was made during "The Personal and the Political" Panel in 1979. The comment is titled "The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle The Master's House."

In her acknowledgment of being the only black lesbian on the panel, Lorde makes valid comments on feminist theory in 1979 and its ignorance of the differences in race, sexuality, class, and age between women that participated in the panel. She laments the lack of voices being heard from poor women, women of color, and lesbians. The article does not provide an account of the audience reaction so I don't know how the audience responded to Lorde's comments but I think that her observation was completely spot-on. The second-wave feminism's rallying call was "The Personal is Political," and Lorde acknowledged the lack of support for "differences" between the women participating on the panel. She states, "advocating the mere tolerance of difference between women is the grossest reformism. It is a total denial of the creative function of difference in our lives." Lorde then explains that the differences between feminists is what gives them strength. She insists that individual differences give each of them power.

I thought that this reading was really powerful and I could not help but compare it to my life and my involvement with different aspects of feminism. During high school, I was involved in the "Riot Grrrl" movement, a punk feminist movement directed at empowering young women. Within the small community, we attempted to address the diversity within our small group. Bands wrote songs about the lack of racial diversity in the punk scene, in general, as well as addressing the differences between class, sexuality, abilities, and size of those belonging in the community. I felt incredibly empowered during my involvement with this group, but I wonder if I would have felt that sense of belonging if I were not white. I had two Chicana friends that wrote a zine about their experiences within the mostly-white scene and their feelings of being "outsiders."

Another experience that I recall during this reading happened during my first semester of community college. I was attending a large college in Orange County and it was one of the first weeks into the semester. During a conversation in my Women's Studies class (consisting of mostly white women and a token dude), there was some contention over the material that covered the lesbian experience. One particularly vocal and immature woman actually questioned the validity of learning about the experiences of these women. Calmly, my professor replied, "We cover the experiences of lesbian women because they are women and we are in a Women's Studies class. We want to gain knowledge about the lives of all women." To this day, I recount that story because it seems so incredible that there would be any question regarding the lesbian or queer experience in a Women's Studies course!

Back to Lourde's comments...
She makes a compelling argument acknowledging the weaknesses of assimilation techniques for gaining acceptance within the larger society. Lourde encourages women that are "different," whether they be poor, black, older, or lesbian, to turn these "disadvantages" into strengths. Warning that the feminist movement of the late '70s was racist, Lourde insisted on a "define and empower" strategy rather than the "divide and conquer" one of the patriarchy.

Lourde compared women having to educate men on the patriarchal oppression to having women of color having to education white feminists on their ignorance. It is time that the "personal" in the slogan encompasses the personal experience of all women. And only then, will the personal become political and an impetus for lasting change.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Week 11 Reading Response

This week we read three short readings from the reader: "What Happened to Post-racial America" by Simon, "Color-blind Privilege" by Gallagher, and "Refugees of Diversity" by Benjamin. All in all, I found these essays to be enlightening in various different ways about certain ideologies foreign to myself.

The first essay by Roger Simon is called "What Happened to Post-racial America?" and was written nearly a year after the election of Barack Obama. Simon states that the "warm fuzzy" feelings evoked by the presidential election have faded due to the realities of the election and the sentiment in the current United States. The success of Obama has led to an increase in claims that he is "foreign" and "not one of us." These claims appear to me as racially motivated by veiled by questions regarding his citizenship and priorities. Simon breaks down the voting statistics of the last election and find that a majority of white Americans did not vote for Obama. He states that although Obama won the overall vote, "he lost among white voters by 55 percent to 43 percent." Although this figure does not necessarily indicate that these voters are all racist, it does imply that a majority of white voters feel threatened by Obama, as both a biracial man and a Democrat (another interesting statistic that Simon provided pointed out that the last three Democratic presidents did not have a majority of white votes). The suspicion about Obama's nationality is really infuriating to me. And I've heard the suspicion legitimized because Obama, supposedly, "does not look like us." This points not to a "post-racial America" but one in which racist notions and concerns are not implicit but underneath the concerns of the new "tea party" and Fox News.

I really enjoyed the next essay by Charles A. Gallagher titled: "Color-blind Privilege: The Social and Political Functions of Erasing the Color Line in Post-Race America." I enjoyed this article precisely because it was able to outline everything wrong with whites who state that they are "color-blind" and that there are no longer disparities due to race in the U.S. Hearing that someone is "color-blind" when considering the races of others has always been a pet peeve of mine but I have never been able to completely articulate just why it bothers me so much. Yes, it is a discounting of experiences of someone of a different race but I couldn't ever put this in context. Thank you Charles Gallagher for giving me some fuel to use in my next debate with someone that thinks a "color-blind" society is a better society. Some particular ideas that resonated with me from the article: that "color blindness maintains white privilege by negating racial inequality," that color blindness hides white privilege, and that color blindness "erases America's racial hierarchy by implying that social, economic, and political power" are shared by everyone in the U.S. no matter what their background is. Some of the statements that Gallagher quoted shocked me with their ignorance. I highlighted the entire quote attributed to James. Even though he says that he lives in a big house and is able to go to school debt-free, he believes it was solely due to "hard work" by his parents and that anyone can reach his parents' level of success if they work hard enough. This completely discounts other people's experiences and starting points. I assume that he probably didn't have to work throughout high school and was able to maintain high grades because he had more time to devote to his studies. What about those minorities that do not share this starting point? What if they have to "work hard" both in school and in the outside world in order to have a place to live and food to eat? What if there was a determined kid just like James but he had to hold down a part time job in order to help his family out? Would he be able to maintain the same grade point average with less time to study? I think not.

The third reading was by Rich Benjamin and called "Refugees of Diversity" and describes what Benjamin calls "whitopias," new communities made up of primarily white people fleeing the cities and suburbs in search of places that uphold "traditional" values. He is careful to mention that most of the people fleeing the suburbs and cities do so in order to provide a stable place to raise families but that due to these places "perceived whiteness" they imply other down-home family-type values such as cleanliness, friendliness, and low crime. Benjamin also talks about the idea of a "post-racial America" and uses these whitopias as a counter-point to the place of race in the U.S. It's interesting that many Americans, as Benjamin points out, associate community-based small towns as primarily white without even really thinking about it. What is it about whiteness that presumes "order, cleanliness, friendliness, and safety"? Why do we have these prejudices?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Week 10 Reading Response

This week we finished up Robert Self's "American Babylon" and also read a short piece by Bob Wing in the reader, "Educate to Liberate!: Multiculturism and the Struggle for Ethnic Studies."

In Wing's essay, he traces the history of the institutionalization of Ethnic Studies academic programs in universities and colleges across the U.S. As of 1999, he says "Ethnic Studies today probably occupies a more prominent place in U.S. academic and intellectual life than at any time in history." He then writes about the initial goals of Ethnic Studies and how they have been watered down for corporate sponsorship in the late 1990s, at the time of Wing's essay.

I found the initial goals of Ethnic Studies programs valid. A few that Wing lists include transforming the racist educational system, demanding relevant education for racial struggles, and support for community organizing. This curriculum seems to support educating students in past racial struggles, the continued work towards a unified student body, and valuable lessons in affecting real change through political and community organization. Perhaps I have a skewed view due to my place in the 21st century and my liberal political leanings, but how could these goals be considered "radical"?

An issue that Wing discussed that was new to me was the shift to "multiculturism." He argues that this was an umbrella term used to "obscure racism and promote tokenism." This idea of tame and safe "multiculturism" was an easy sell to corporations looking to underwrite university programs. This is problematic because academics can take a backseat to the agenda of the corporation providing the funding. It is also difficult because it ignores the original aim of Ethnic Studies which is to change the structure of the university system. Due to the corporate take-over of the Harvard program by the Ford Foundation, "blacks had to succeed in the context of white institutions and Euro-American standards" instead of creating their own standards.

Despite the problems mentioned by Wing, I think that an Ethnic Studies program should be integral to universities and colleges across the U.S. As we have previously discussed in class, many students have not been exposed to a different form of U.S. History besides the Euro-slanted version regarding the formation of the United States as a country and political entity. Little regard is given to the people that inhabited the United States before the arrival of the pilgrims or how the dominant power structure left out those not belonging to the Euro ancestry.

This week we also finished up Robert Self's "American Babylon," reading chapters 6 and 8.

Chapter 6 outlines the formation and evolution of the Black Panther party in relation to their birthplace of Oakland. I had a very cursory education regarding the Black Panther party and tended to lump them together with other revolutionary groups of the counter-culture movement of the late 1960s. During the mid-1960s, the two ideas of "black power" and civil rights were seen as separate ideologies. The Black Panthers wanted to meld these two ideas into one group that would seek power for all the people. Instead of proclaiming separatist ideals, the party would seek alliances with anticolonial whites and Chicanos.

I was surprised at the expanse of the Panthers' community outreach efforts. These included the idea of "self-determination" within subjugated communities and the formation of social programs to help others. These programs were described as "Survival Programs" since humans have essential needs that need to be addressed before they can engage in political action. The Panthers set up free breakfast for poor school children, free groceries for families, and child care. The care for the social welfare of their community, however, has historically been overshadowed by the call to vigilante street violence in the wake of constant police threats and brutality.

Chapter 8 brings us into the late 1970s and the evolution of the Black Panther party into a viable political party, complete with candidates for local office and enviable grassroots organization.

I found Elaine Brown to be a particular inspiring figure. She became chairperson of the Black Panther party in 1974 and addressed the gender divisions within her party. For her two campaigns for City Council (she would, unfortunately, lose), she appointed women in strategic positions of her campaigns. Although she never became a part of Oakland's political system, she continued to push for the BP agenda in her speeches and calls to action.

The second half of Chapter 8 details the political climate that gave way to the implementation of Proposition 13 in 1978. Coming from a family based in the suburbs, I understand the hardship that rising property taxes have on a family, but I find this proposition incredibly short-sighted. A short term solution to middle class families and homeowners once again reeks havoc on those disenfranchised. We are now fully seeing the devastating effects that Prop 13 is having on the public school system. As a student interested in pursuing post-grad education, I am now forced to look for an education outside of California due to rising tuition and uncertainty in the university and college system. The UC system was once thought to be one of the premier educational systems in the United States and the Cal State system was one of the most affordable for struggling students. I'm frustrated that something that was enacted before I was born is now able to shape where I am able to receive my education. Students in the current situation are now looking at higher costs and lower returns in their education. What kind of future is this going to bring for future generations?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Week 8 Reading Response

We started Robert Self's book "American Babylon: Race and the Struggle for Postwar Oakland" to bring the history of race, particularly from post-WWII to the mid-1970s, local to the San Francisco Bay Area. This week, we read chapters 1 and 4.

Chapter 1 titled "Industrial Garden," discusses city planning by the Metropolitan Oakland Area Program or MOAP. This chapter also touches on the segregation of housing and jobs after the war. The MOAP began to push what will later been seen as the 1950s suburban "American Dream": home ownership. Oakland aspired to become the "industrial garden" after the war. A combination of city, suburban, and country life could co-exist in the city of Oakland. Of course, the realization of the dream was limited to those would could qualify for loans at the bank and secure a decent job with benefits. In short, the dream was left only a dream for the new migration of black residents. Many trade unions still acknowledged the "color line" in extending membership benefits to black workers. Some trade unions set up separate unions for their black workers but extended little power within their membership.

I have to admit that the talk of unions was a bit confusing for me. I have a small frame of reference for how unions work since I have never belonged to one and neither of my parents currently belong to one (my mother was once a member of the grocery store union when she worked in a supermarket deli during my childhood). Self describes how incredibly important the unions were at the beginning of the 1950s and how they began to shape local and national politics. There appeared to be a lot of struggle between unions and employers at the end of the 1940s, with good reason. Self outlines many of the benefits that unions were fighting for on behalf of the workers: 8-hour work days, higher wages, and better working conditions. Since unions looked out for the interests of the workers, of course black workers also wanted to belong to them. But they found themselves shut out for a variety of reasons. Black workers often found work in menial or service labor and these industries rarely had unions. So, black workers are finding themselves disenfranchised in a variety of ways: they are unable to work in higher-paying union jobs in the transportation industry because of discrimination, they are then forced to find low-paying service or manual labor jobs, and they are shut out of unions and negotiations because they don't work in jobs that are supported by the union. Yikes. And how does this not affect African-Americans now?

This chapter also shed light on the development of West Oakland as a community for African-Americans. The dream for most workers in Oakland was to own a home and move to the more "desirable" neighborhoods in North Oakland, Berkeley or Albany. Migrating African-Americans, unable to afford homes, lived in the only apartment or tenement buildings available, in West Oakland. Other parts of Oakland lacked apartment or multi-family housing, so the only logical place for struggling migrants to live was in the affordable West Oakland district. Self explores the importance of West Oakland to the black community in more depth in Chapter 4.

Chapter 4 titled "Redistribution" details the redeveloping of West Oakland. From 1955-60, land values in downtown's retail area decreased by 50%. The disrepair and sagging economy of downtown was attributed to "blight." I can't help but cringe when I hear the words "blight" or "urban renewal" or "redevelopment." I think I've been conditioned by all the tell-tale signs of gentrification. As a witness to gentrification both in the San Francisco Bay Area and the Los Angeles area, I know that "urban renewal" means kicking all the people of color out and making way for boutiques and condos. It happened in Silver Lake, Echo Park, the San Francisco Mission District, and the Oakland Temescal district. I've been interested in the trajectory of gentrification but lacked specific historical examples. West Oakland strikes me as a bit different than these other examples because it was never completely restored due to the development of the BART and freeway system. Due to the development of these transportation models, West Oakland was split into fractions and according to Self, the thriving Seventh Street area of black-owned businesses was razed.

This was my favorite quote about blight on page 139:
"Most local officials and business leaders understood decline as a physical and economic problem, what they termed 'blight,' rather than as a symptom of social inequality. In this view, blight did not originate in the racial segregation of housing and labor markets or in the unequal distribution of political and economic power, but in the deterioration of aging housing stock, overcrowding, and declining property values."

This quote stated exactly the issues that most city officials and business owners failed to grasp. Because this structure of inequality was set in place, the center of black community and life declined due to the lack of money coming in from the residents. Since black home owners couldn't secure loans for home repair, their homes began to age. Since black residents struggled in menial jobs, they failed to spend money in downtown businesses. But the nail in the coffin for West Oakland was definitely the literal dividing of the community by the building of 3 different freeway interchanges. West Oakland became 3 separate neighborhoods and the residents were cut off from downtown. And it totally continues today. I can even tell the difference in Oakland neighborhoods from the window of the (I'm not trying to be ironic) BART train. Once the train exits the bay tunnel and arrives above-ground in West Oakland, I can see homes in disrepair and a lack of a cohesive downtown. This infrastructure still exists! That's the crazy thing about all the decisions made 50 years ago, the divides set up back then still affect people's lives today. That's one reason why I get so frustrated with politics, there seems to be a lack of foresight about how decisions made today will affect the next generation. The search for the "quick fix" has a tendency to affect lives in the future.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Week 7 Reading Response

This week, we read Chapters 13 and 14 in Takaki’s A Different Mirror.

Chapter 13 outlined the migration of Southern blacks to the “Promised Land” of Northern Urban cities such as Chicago, Detroit, and New York. One of the funniest moments that I can recall reading about in Takaki’s book takes place in the beginning on Chapter 13. I decided to include the entire excerpt because merely summarizing it would not do the gentle humor justice.

“On one Georgia plantation, a landlord was surprised to find all of his tenants gone, except two old men. Uncle Ben and Uncle Joe were too poor to purchase train tickets. They sorrowfully told their landlord that everyone else had abandoned him, but that they had loyally remained behind on the plantation. The landlord gave the two men some money because they promised to stay and work the crops. Immediately after he left, the old-timers took the money and boarded the train to join their companions in the North.”

Those two old men certainly pulled the wool over their landlord’s eyes! Chapter 13 is especially ripe with inspiring quotes and passages despite the place in history that Takaki writes about. The early 20th century seemed like a time ripe for inspiration and hope. Southern blacks were fed up with living in poverty as sharecroppers and tenant farmers and many fled their farms and plantations without so much as a warning. The North promised a new life for these men and women, a life outside of poverty and within mainstream America. Their wanderlust was aided by geographical bonuses: the Illinois Central Railroad ended in Chicago, “The Black Metropolis” and connected to rural cities in Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana. Autonomous travel was within the grasp of adventurous Southern blacks longing to escape increasing violence from Southern whites.

Of course, all was not as it seemed in the North. Many blacks faced discrimination trying to find jobs and housing. The explosion of the black population in Chicago was met with resistance from white landowners and realtors. In order to keep their property values, realtors and landlords joined forces to bar blacks from moving into predominantly white neighborhoods. This changed with The Depression when many landlords were desperate for tenants and reluctantly allowed blacks to apply for apartments.

The “divide and conquer” strategy of pitting two races against one another remained a valuable asset to labor managers. Two divided unions based on race were doomed to fail due to a lack of unity. I found it particularly heartbreaking that the Stockyards Labor Council attempted to recruit black workers and failed, particularly because black workers didn’t understand the need for unions. They didn’t fail because of their race, but because they didn’t convey the importance of unions for all workers. Who knows what could have happened if they were able to bridge the communication gap and educate the black workers for the need of a union to represent the needs and interests of the workers?

I loved reading about the New Harlem Renaissance and the rise of the black artist and writer. What has been sorely lacking in Takaki’s assessment of black history were the crucial development of black artists, writers, and poets. This, of course, can be due to the lack of education available for blacks prior to the early 20th century. I think education is essential in the rise of the arts in any community. If you were struggling to eat, you wouldn’t give much credence to the thoughts of the arts. In survival mode, the arts fall to the wayside and I’m sure can be seen as a “bourgeoisie” hobby, something available only to the leisure class. Of course, this is a valid argument and not one that I am interested in participating in, especially since I think that the sorrowful songs of slaves and of their African ancestors already proves a strong artistic history and tradition. W.E.B. Du Bois touches upon this point briefly in The Souls of Black Folk. I am interested in the tradition of black writers, especially those of Jean Toomer and Zora Neale Hurston. These two writers were both biracial and struggled to define themselves outside of their “black” designation. Toomer wanted to be recognized as “American” and Hurston navigated the similarities and disparities between race and gender.

Particularly resonant in Chapter 13 was a quote from Langston Hughes regarding a black poet ashamed of his race: “No great poet has ever been afraid of being himself.” This quote can be applied to any aspect of self-hatred to due race, gender, ability, or sexual orientation.

Chapter 14 compared the disparate experience of different races during WWII. Obviously the Japanese, the Native Americans, and the European and German Jews were hit the worst. For all the liberal acclaim that FDR receives due to the New Deal (if you count liberal acclaim by the covers of The Nation that the former president has landed on. Seriously. That magazine loves FDR.), Takaki weaves an interesting tale of the balancing act the president conducted with the different races. Although I cannot fault the man for living in times of escalating racial conflict, I can still find it unconceivable that the fight for freedom was fought on the backs of subjugated races. This point was mentioned by many different historical accounts throughout the chapter. Japanese-Americans, African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, and Native-Americans, all willing to join their fellow Americans in the war, continually lamented unfavorable treatment in both the civilian and the military world.

Segregation within the army, fighting against a dictator in the throes of exerting racial superiority is so bitterly ironic. The hypocrisy was not only blinding for those Americans that felt the consistent sting of segregation and mistreatment, but also to the rest of the world looking to America as a beacon of liberty for ALL its citizens.

I’m at a loss for what else to comment on in Chapter 14 besides the necessity of the Navajo “code talkers.” How cool is that? For one shining moment, these Navajo men (I think they were all men?) played the hero to the American people and lead their troops to victory in the battle of Iwo Jima. Of course, these men were forced to go back to the reservation with extreme post-traumatic stress disorder and subsist below the poverty line. But, for one moment the white man hailed the Native-Americans as heroes. (This kind of makes me empathize with the Native-American men that chose not to fight the “white man’s war.”).