Critical Race Theory

I find CRT interesting, relevant and absolutely valid. Delgado points out in Chapter 6 that there have been many opponents to the theory and how there was massive pushback in the 1990’s from conservatives as well as crits themselves. Much of the debate pointed to some of the main issues of CRT – specifically that the movement had strayed “from its materialist roots and dwelling overly on matters of concern to middle class minorities” (Kindle loc 1407).  One of these debates focused on affirmative action, specifically Hopwood v. Texas where students who were denied admission to the Univ. of TX law school challenged the university’s admission practices and eventually won their case. In Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi, state universities can no longer use race as an admissions factor. I can see all of the reasons as to why they would alter this admissions practice but, it impacts minorities in a huge way.

As Delgado points out, tests such as the SAT, GRE, LSAT, MCAT, etc. are “coachable”. And, if you have the money, such as many white middle class and affluent students, you can afford to purchase study guides and take classes to help your score on these tests. White privilege is a huge aspect in this regard.

One aspect of white privilege that I recently discovered was when I decided to hold my son back in first grade. Because his birthday is June 16, as early as pre-school, his teachers were asking me when I would have him start kindergarten. If he started the school year right after he’d turned 5, he would be one of the youngest kids in the class. A few months or even a year makes a huge difference in young children. Their maturity is a huge factor as is their ability to learn. I decided to go ahead and send him to kindergarten when he was 5 and he had a fairly difficult year due to a lack of maturity. However, his teacher felt like he was ready to move on to first grade. However, that year proved to be even harder so by the middle of that year, I had decided to have him repeat. It was a hard decision but, once I began talking to other moms, teachers and researching the issue, I discovered that “redshirting” has become a common practice among 5 and 6 year old children. Now, I held my son back because it was necessary. His teachers and the school counselor agreed with me that he needed to repeat first grade in order to succeed in school academically and that if we didn’t hold him back, he would continue to struggle as the years went by.

The TV magazine 60 Minutes ran a report about it last year because it has become so controversial. Basically, the issue is that by holding a child back from starting kindergarten and first grade for an extra year, you are giving that child a huge advantage. Because they are a year older than their classmates, they tend to have advantage over them academically. Further, as in the case for mostly boys, they will also have an athletic advantage throughout their years in school because they will most likely be bigger than their classmates. Socially, this helps them as well in middle school when they all hit puberty. This practice is just one aspect of white privilege that has white middle class families doing whatever it takes to give their child advantage.

White privilege does exist and it is an issue that we just need to be aware of. However, in terms of affirmative action being rolled back in three states, this is just one instance where gains that were created in the sixties by the Civil Rights Movement have been reversed. It has been ten years since Delgado wrote CRT and a lot and very little has changed over the past eleven years.

 

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Traces of a Stream

Jacqueline Jones Royster’s book on the history of literacy practices among African American women and the social change generated by such is a great overview of several strong women who were an important aspect of our nation’s history. As Royster points out early on in her book, many people have never heard of most of these women and this subject is one that has been greatly overlooked. This book is important for this fact alone – that so often our history is subject to a small handful of people who have the power to choose what is placed in our textbooks, archives and museums.

Royster has organized the book in three sections that deal with three views: rhetoric, history and ideology. I think the most powerful section of the book is the historical section where she takes an in-depth look at many important African American women and focuses on the contributions to their communities and African Americans as a collective. One of the concepts that Royster points out is the idea that African American women speak intuitively from an ancestral voice. She points out that from the precolonial period, these women experienced a sort of “cultural imprint” and that

“African American women have been subjected to a body of continuously resonant experiences, experiences that can be articulated in contemporary terms as the converging oppressions of race, class, gender and cultural domination. Over the course of these accumulated experiences, we have acquired an intuition, an ability to ‘know,’ to understand tacitly a sense of self, place and possibility. This consistent between conditions and response suggests that a sense of survival in being so consistently necessary might become automated and somehow coded into the bloodstream” (88).

She uses as an example Alice Walker who writes in her dedication page of The Color Purple

            “To the spirit:

            Without whose assistance

            Neither this book

            Nor I

            Would have been

            Written.”

 

Here, Walker speaks to the notion that her book was sort of divine inspiration and that her characters were living “spirits” that communicated with her. Or, that “the ancestral spirits ‘talk’ to her” (89).

I find it fascinating that Royster points out that African American women speak from a collective ancestral voice that is not only spiritual in nature but, also part of their DNA. I think that we could say that this is true of all humans but, in this case, particularly powerful because of the extreme conditions that many African American women have experienced through the generations. Slavery and fairly horrific experiences have left their impressions upon these women. It is something that they carry with them regardless of the progress and education that many of them have now.

One modern African American woman who I find myself always inspired by is Melissa Harris-Perry. A professor of political science at Tulane University, Perry hosts a weekend show on MSNBC where she holds powerful and often academic discourse with a variety of men and women. During a recent show, she hosted a handful of undergraduate women from varying colleges and led a discussion on feminism and women’s issues. That these academic debates are occurring on a leading cable channel is, I think, a sign of even more exciting things to come from Ms. Perry. Perry has written two books, one which won an award. It’s rare to see smart, powerful educated African American women on TV, much less one with a PhD in political science and as accomplished as Perry. However, that she now hosts her own TV show and often subs in for Rachel Maddow, points to the progress that we have made as a nation.

Traces of a Stream is a strong work that will keep the conversation alive. Royster not only brings forward the history of many women who might have been forgotten but, she brings to the forefront feminism or, womanist, as Alice Walker’s term. I think that, as women, it is important for us to hold up these African American women as fellow sisters who have (are) fought and continue to fight for equality and a history told from our (their) own mouths.

Response to Earhart

The title of Earhart’s article, “Can Information be Unfettered?” is interesting because I find her article to be unfocused and scattered. She asks the question but she never really answers it. She begins discussing the history of the internet and the notion of free information only to segue into a complaint about the treatment of race in the digital canon. She seems to be all over the place in terms of her complaints when she also points out that there is not enough scholarly work and of the work that is out there (on the internet), that much of it has disappeared, has been abandoned or lost. However, her overall point seems to be that there needs to be more interest on cultural studies within the digital humanities.

I think that this article is in alignment with McPherson’s and Sample’s articles from last week. There seems to be a consensus that cultural studies are underrepresented within the digital humanities and that there needs to be more scholarly work put out there. But, the trouble is that the University (collectively) has not caught up with the twenty first century.

In order for me to be considered for tenure or, to be taken seriously within my profession as a film studies scholar and an English professor, I must be published by major peer reviewed journal. However, most of these journals are not open access as one must access them through the university library or purchase a subscription. The peer review process seems to be old fashioned and out dated as well. For example, if we look at the manner in which Matthew Gold conducted peer review for Debates in the Digital Humanities, where he created a blog so that peer review was open to everyone involved, we see that this process jumpstarted the project and generated it so powerfully that he was able to complete the book in record time.

It is obvious that there needs to me a major shift in attitudes, processes and procedures in terms of the way that we view scholarly activity on the internet. Can I not create a scholarly blog that might be considered seriously by my peers and my department head? Will this blog be considered in my tenure application?

Otherwise, we must keep moving forward with our own scholarly project that is funded and supported by the university. But, if this project was not funded by the NEH, would it still be considered? All of these questions are relevant and we must consider how we are going to generate a new conversation around scholarly work in the digital humanities.

Traces of a Stream

 Traces of a Stream: Literacy and Social Change Among African American Women

The first part of Jacqueline Jones Royster’s book focuses on the rhetorical aspects of African American female writers and the “renaissance” that they experienced during the 1980’s. She points out several writers including bell hooks, June Jordan and Angela Davis but, she focuses mainly on the essays of Alice Walker who is best known for her novel The Color Purple. Walker has a collection of previously published essays titled after its best known essay In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens: Womanist Prose. Here, Walker creates the term womanist “to feminist analysis, to characterize the proactivism of African American women” (19).  She defines womanist by relating it to feminism, “Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender” (19).

It has been at least twenty years since I read The Color Purple and after reading the first chapter of Royster’s book, I am wondering why that is so. This makes me think that I must get myself a new copy of the book and enjoy that beautiful novel once more. However, I think that first, I might read In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens because Royster speaks so powerfully about Walker’s essays. One of the things that strikes me about the manner in which Royster describes Walker’s work is how passionate and deeply connected she is to her community.  Further, on page 28, as Royster points out Walker’s use of language to spur her fellow women (and men) to action, what I notice is that Walker seems to be speaking more as a philosopher than a writer/activist.

Walker writes in her collection of essays Living by the Word, “I learn that the writer’s pen is a microphone held up to the mouths of ancestors and even stones of long ago…The magic of this is not so much in the power of the microphone as in the ability of the nonhuman object or animal to be and the human animal to perceive its being’ (1988:170).” Here, she wraps herself in the blanket of compassion which, in itself, is a deeply spiritual notion. But, she also sounds a lot like Martin Heidegger, the German philosopher who is known for his phenomenological writings on the notion of “Being”.

In this one statement, Walker points out the notion of the writer as someone who speaks not just for herself or through herself but, as speaking from and through her ancestors. That her words are so powerful because she speaks for all black women and that the act of writing causes her to Be. That, writing is Being and that this is her cause for existence.

Further, Walker acknowledges that her work as a writer is spiritual in nature. It is often said that the greatest artists are those who are deeply connected to their spirituality. We can look back to artists such as Michelangelo, William Blake or even modern artists such as Anselm Kiefer as an example of spirituality in art. For Walker, her rhetorical practices reflect her spirituality but, at the same time, are a call to activism and awareness.

Walker’s ability to merge oral practices with her rhetorical moves in order to create beautifully written essays that are reflective of her unique narrative style is unique and creates her as a powerful writer who is able to move her reader emotionally, spiritually and even politically. Her work is powerful because she reminds us of our humanity with compassion and wit.

June 11, 2012 Monday

Critical Race Theory 

Critical Race Theory seems to be gaining ground as it comes to the forefront of race studies. What I have found most interesting, at the beginning of the course (having only just begun my readings) is the aspect of CRT that is referred to as “interest convergence” (7) or, “material determinism”. Richard Delgado points out that this aspect of racism persists because “it advances the interests of both white elites (materially)  and working class people (psychically), large segments of society have little incentive to eradicate it” (7).  Citing as an example, Derrick Bell’s proposal that Brown v. Board of Education came about as a result of the U.S.’s desires to promote its image in the face of the cold war. Further, that as many blacks and Latinos had been fighting in both the Korean War and WWII, that these soldiers would not likely come home to be treated poorly by their fellow Americans and that this could result in mass unrest.

Bell’s theory was proven true by Mary Dudziak, a researcher who mined the archives for documentation that included foreign press reports and letters that showed evidence that U.S. officials were very concerned about its image to the world (19, 20).

I see this theory as proving true today as there are a few movements where I see this occurring. The Occupy Movement, which began last year as a stance against Wall Street greed, is a movement that stands for the so-called “99 Percent” or, basically, the average person in opposition to the “1 percent” or, the billionaires and giant corporations who are in power today. Noted today are systems where there seems to be more and more power is given to the elite as more rights are removed from the average person.

One example is air travel. Note the many strict regulations that are being enforced as we fly across the country. Another example would be the tax system. The rich are given tax breaks while the average working person pays more taxes than billionaires such as Warren Buffet. These are examples that have been written about and published on the internet but the mainstream media rarely discusses.

Are we experiencing a Class War? And, if so, then according to the “interest convergence” theory, these changes that the middle class is calling for will most likely never happen so long as those in power (the “elite”, Congress, etc.) do not have an effective selfish purpose to pass these laws that favor the average person. As Delgado points out on page 23, “Our system applauds affording everyone equality of opportunity, but, resists programs that assure equality of results. Moreover, rights are almost always cut back when they conflict with the interests of the powerful.” Delgado’s book is 11 years old but, these ideas relate powerfully to the Class Movements today that are acted out by groups such as the Occupy Movement.

Critical Race Theory is important not only because it focuses on race but, also because of the ideas that it sets forth about our nation as  a whole and the manner in which our laws operate. Delgado points out that our system of law and enforcement works at a pace that is moderate enough to keep civil rights attorneys and activists satisfied but slow enough to really enact any major change. As noted before, I see this occurring today in Class movements exemplified by Occupy. Just enough changes are made to give the appearance of interest but, overall, very little changes will occur so long as those in power oppose it.

 

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot

There are many issues that Rebecca Skloot  brings to the forefront of American history in her book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Poverty is the major force here and flowing from it, like the long thin strings of a spider’s web are child abuse, incest, rape, alcoholism, drug addiction and rampant violence. That this family was born of two slave masters who fathered dozens of children from their slave women is key here. Born from racism and abuse, this family suffered under the heavy hand of white men for generations before a few of them raised themselves from the chains of poverty and its web.

The history of Henrietta and the cancer that devoured her body is as heartbreaking as it is tragic. That her cells helped medicine in a myriad of ways is a miracle. However, that her immortal cells proved to be a great success for researchers across the globe does not discount the reality of this story and the African American history told through the story of her and her family. Through their tales, Skloot uncovers a mythology that lives deep within the confines of Black America. Stories and tales that are told among blacks that whites such as myself have never heard of.

We have all heard of the horrific stories of the “medical research” that the Nazi’s performed on Jews during WWII. We have also heard of the Tuskegee Experiment. However, few whites have heard of or understand the stories of what happened to poor black children who were institutionalized for cerebral palsey, downs syndrome and other medical problems and disabilities. In her research for the book, Skloot uncovers the story of what happened to Elsie, Henrietta’s daughter who was born with a mental disability. Elsie was sent to a home for black children with disabilities and likely died because of the experiments that doctors performed on her. Further, there were stories throughout the black community of what Johns Hopkins was doing to its black patients.

Many blacks believed that they were being poised when doctors took their blood. They believed that once you went into the hospital, you died there. The idea that going to a doctor or entering the hospital for help did not exist. Henrietta’s daughter, Deborah, was so confused about what was happening to her mother’s cells that she actually wondered if her mother was in pain when researchers were performing various experiments on her.

The abuse of poor, uneducated and disabled blacks who were institutionalized was just one aspect of the result of the racism and abuse of the black community. The death of Henrietta Lacks and the resulting research of Rebecca Skloot opens up an new discourse on racism in America. Poverty and racism are a part of American history that many people choose to ignore and work desperately to Not Discuss.

The Civil Rights movement is only sixty years old. We have come along a little but, we have a long road ahead.

We may live in an era where our president is the first black president of the United States but, one does not have to search far for signs of rampant racism flooding through our communities and our nation. As the GOP cries (on Fox News) to “Take our country back!” and Rush Limbaugh accuses young female attorneys of being “sluts” for speaking out against the backlash women are experiencing from the old white guys in Congress, now is the time, more so than ever, for all of us to use our voices to point out the injustices and call for change.

June 6, 2012

June 6, 2012

We live in volatile times. In the midst of one of the most heated political battles of our generation, as the behemoth corporate giants and billionaires rule politics under the guise of Super PACs and the working man struggles to keep his head above water, there is a battle for equality happening across the globe. In the twenty first century, the fight for equality is quite different than it was fifty years ago during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s. Today, the battle rages between the working man and the corporations. And the corporations are winning. (Note: Governor Scott Walker won the re-call election yesterday with the help of $45 million while labor unions lost a huge battle.)

I do not know of any other time in our history when politics were as polarized as they are today. I grew up during the seventies and the eighties in a small town in Texas, just north of Houston. By the time I was born, the “dream” had died, Disco was mainstream and a new era of Punk and New Wave had been born. As a member of Generation X, we didn’t have any causes to fight for or movements to join.

In the 1960’s, the nation was in turmoil as Blacks, Women and Gays fought for civil rights and equality. They were up against a strong resistance as Whites across the South resisted integration and change of any sort. People wanted to keep things the way that they were. Many feared change and the impact that equal rights might bring to their communities. Fortunately, the constitution won and we have come a long way in granting people equality.

Or have we?