Month: December 2016

The Monolith Myth

light

Light in the night. Source: Leonie

I’m going to tell you all a little story. So I work in a tutoring center in a library at a community college. I work on a relatively tightly knit staff. All ten of the writing tutors know each other, and the younger ones frequently socialize outside of work. I remember this was a conversation I overheard one day, between two of the tutors, one a multiracial Asian man (MM) and the other a middle-aged white woman (WW). It should be noted, the story being told is, if I remember correctly, the story of how the multiracial man’s parents met.

MM: …at that point, my mother was thrown out of the house by my grandmother. This wasn’t an unusual occurrence because my grandmother was a pretty abusive person.

WW: Oh…how horrible.

MM: She used to do things like beat my mother with a broom. So she [his mother] needed a place to stay after being kicked out of her house.

WW: I used to know a Korean girl whose mother would beat her, too.

This was the point at which I removed myself from hearing distance of the conversation because I knew exactly what was happening. It’s something that happens a lot to people who belong to racial minorities. I suspect that, as a person who is multiracial and who has been raised by and befriended a lot of white people, the Asian man telling this story is a little naive to the intrusive and often dangerous assumptions white people make about marginalized people. Thus, he did not edit out the details that people of color usually do around white people to protect the collective that is their community.

As for the white woman, it was as though I could see the little gears turning in her head. I could see her trying to connect dots which are not meant to be connected. She hears one story about an abusive Asian mother. Her memory is jogged to another time when she encountered an abusive Asian mother. Just like that, a stereotype is born! Now she believes all Asian woman are abusive to their children.

And this is not some new occurrence in my life. I went to a graduate degree program that was dominated by (bless their hearts) white queers. Because I am obliged to (and only because I liked my program adviser), I will say here that there are a small handful of white people in my program who genuinely try and are doing the work to recognize their role in a racist society. And then, there are all the rest.

Their judgment came every day like the morning news. Black men? Too aloof, militant, very sexist, not worthy of attention. Asian women? Scary, too opinionated, emotional, incapable of restraint. Black women? Think too highly of themselves, standoffish, stingy, secretive. Latinos? Clannish, always hungry, annoying, not prepared for the academy. The only way you won approval as a person of color was if you were queer and you outwardly showed more commitment to the queer community than to any other marginalized community.

In front of that group, where we were so frequently asked to talk about our social identities and our upbringing as part of classroom participation, I found myself hiding the truth about my family. I was not about to give these Northern white people any other reasons to look down upon me, my family, or the community of brown people that raised me in a Southern city. So I did not tell them about how hard it actually is for me to go home, to live with a mother who constantly comments on my weight and how I dress, who thinks that using a vibrator leads to becoming a prostitute (like a gateway drug), who always has to know where I am going and who I am with, even though she never gives my brother the same constraints. I did not tell them because I could not. How could I express the truth without throwing my family under the bus? How could I tell the truth without allowing white people to think my mother is an uneducated, backwards, primitive person who suffers greatly from internalized sexism? How could I give voice to my individual experience without having white people conjure the image of the Starving Brown Child in India, just waiting for their help? How could I say those truths without sounding as though I was inviting white people to save poor little brown me from the clutches of my medieval South Asian parents?  These are things I only ever talk about with woke people of color.

Instead, I only acknowledged the good things about my community in front of my colleagues–the parts about how, as children, we were basically raised gender-neutral until we reached puberty, and how radical that was. Or how arranged marriage was actually a financially and socially radical thing to do because it gave us kids the social capital we needed to survive in America. Or how the sex-negativity of Asians is also a radical concept because it precluded queer people from being ostracized from society. They only got to know the radical stuff. They were only allowed to see my community in a good light. I would not expose my community and my heart to the degrading nonsense of a bunch of people who think meals can be made out of oats and kale. Or worse, a bunch of people who think that because they understand Foucault’s theorizing, they are somehow the designated saviors of the Previously Colonized World.

You’ll notice, of course, this left (and perhaps, still leaves) me rather isolated. I present one truth to the world, and that is the only way I allow them to perceive me, and I know another, very different truth. This is not a strange or even rare practice. For people of color completing graduate degrees, compartmentalizing in this manner is a commonplace tactic.

If I’m being honest, I do not know that I have yet come across anything that feels like a solution to this problem, the problem of white people lumping people of color into monoliths, in which no one person of color is discernible from another. I also do not think I am obliged to find one. I think, before I even jump to solutions, it is worth proposing, to all communities, actually thinking about what this implies for our realities. What does it mean for people of color to constantly be protecting their communities? What kind of toll does it take on us to never tell anyone the whole truth? What are the implications when communities of color frequently don’t have access to things like mental health counselors because these are not critically conscious institutions and/or because counselors are too expensive? What does it say about the still-predominantly-white country we live in that we have to protect our communities when we are in the academy?

And for white people, what does it mean that communities of color go to this length to make sure you don’t interfere with their affairs? What does it mean when people of color are not comfortable telling you the truth about their upbringing? What does it mean that people of color try to protect their communities from you? What does it mean when people of color do not trust white people whose gender analysis is stronger than their racial analysis? What does it mean that in Massachusetts, a place that claims to be pretty liberal, a person of color can feel unimaginably lonely?

 

I don’t really have answers. I’ll end on this note. A few days ago, I went to the wedding reception of an old friend. All the people there were brown, and they acted like it, with moms feeding kids with their bare hands and people shoving people out of the way with absolutely no manners. I was going to post a funny status on Facebook about how you know you’re at a brown party when you feel like you’re surrounded by barnyard animals. It was just people having a good time. If it was a wedding reception full of white people, I probably could’ve gotten away with it. But I thought about how a post like that might come off to people who only know one brown person, or none. I thought about the mile-long list of stereotypes that already exists for my community. Did I want to add “barnyard animal” to that list? No, I didn’t. So I decided not to.

Advertisements

On the Women’s March on Washington

What you’re about to see is an excerpt from several posts I made on Facebook in response to a status I posted. In the status, I posted a, more or less, rhetorical question. I asked “Did anybody march on Washington when Shirley Chisholm lost? When Patsy Mink lost?” (Leonie, personal communication, December 22, 2016). Someone responded to the post with a rather ahistorical argument about why a women’s march on Washington today is different from a march that would have happened in the 70’s (as opposed to a continuation and/or appropriation of historic events).

Anyway, they posted an article, to which I posted this response. The article link is listed below, followed by my response.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/women-march-on-washington-organizers_us_58407ee8e4b017f37fe388d1

My response:

Fair enough, let me back up for a minute. So I read the article you posted. The women of color who they are talking about are legit, have been doing community organizing for a long time, and the facts check out thus far. But I’m also noticing some inconsistencies. The article does a great job of articulating the exact concerns that I have mentioned, but has an interesting way of addressing them. It starts right off the bat by mentioning Mallory, Perez, and Sarsour. They go on to explain the perceived shortcomings of the march–the lack of inclusion, the appropriation of work done by women of color in the past. Mallory, Perez, and Sarsour are purportedly taking part to show that the march is inclusive of women of color, and they are fully committed. However, and here’s the first red flag for me, the writer never really specifies in what capacity. Are they included in planning? Are they speaking? Are they doing logistics? Are they planning the agenda? It doesn’t really say. In fact, the headline says the women are “leading”–not necessarily planning, and I don’t even really understand if they volunteered, or if they were asked to participate by others. The article repeats over and over again that they are great activists, but says nothing about what they are contributing to this march. Does that not seem a little suspect to you? Almost as if they were brought on board only to hide how white this group is?

I clicked on the link from the quotation “almost all white”. It takes me to a Facebook post from the March on Washington event page, written by one of the co-chairs (who is definitely white, btw) and she says their first step was “to engage” Perez, Mallory, and Sarsour. This was on 11/20. The article you posted is from 12/1. It’s just interesting to see how the semantics change in that period. They go from “engaging” the activists, you know, a friendly little inclusion thing, to having them “leading” the march. Maybe I’m reading into things, but this is what it sounds like to me: “yup, this was not started by 4 white women named Bob Bland, Evvie Harmon, Fontaine Pearson, and Breanne Butler at all. Not at all. We pinky promise. It’s all the women of color. All them.” Like, is that not kinda weird? Does it not smell to you like they are overcompensating for the overwhelming whiteness of the group planning this?

Furthermore, in the article, there is absolutely nothing about what these women hope to achieve, talk about, or envision for this march. Sure, it is a march for women. We get it. But what does that mean? Does it mean equal rights in the workforce? Does it mean economic equity? Does it mean protection from harassment? Does it mean communicating with law enforcement about protection for women? Does it mean reproductive justice? Does it mean building strong coalitions among women of all racial backgrounds? (Don’t give me that crap about “it’s about all of the above”. How many movements have we seen start like that? (I’m definitely thinking of the Occupy Wall Street movement) Every successful action has always stated clear and precise goals). And that’s the thing. Admittedly, my experience with community organizing is amateur at best. But from what little I know–and from what I know as a human adult, if this was an event that had a lot of intention behind it, it would have been planned a little more thoroughly. This does not seem like something that has been given careful planning and thought. In fact, later in this post, I’ve included a link to an article that says this march was started precisely because Hillary did not win the presidency, and is being held on Jan. 20 precisely because Trump is being sworn in that day [edit: It is being held on Jan. 21, to the same effect]. So I am going to have to disagree with you; this march is ALL about Hillary, and from what I’m seeing of an agenda, little else.

If you still don’t believe me, here’s the last point I’ll make. The Huffington Post article says the organizers STILL–as in, on 12/1, 7 weeks before this historic march thing is supposed to happen–don’t even have the permit that says “yes, these women are allowed to march at the National Mall”. Sure, this seems like a minor detail. They can march somewhere else. They might have gotten the permit by now. But doesn’t it seem a little strange to you that these women are putting together a serious action, calling women of color to their side to defend their actions, telling hundreds of thousands of women on Facebook–but they still don’t even know whether or not they can hold it in the place where they want it to be? Isn’t that a little careless? Doesn’t it seem as though they are using the labor of an awful lot of women of color for what seem to be rather flimsy ends?

And like, that’s not even to mention this group that supposedly was part of the planning for this march but has apparently degenerated into a joke: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/panstuit-nation-is-a-sham_us_585991dce4b04d7df167cb4d

Sorry, can’t resist, there’s just one last point I wanna make. Does it not speak volumes about the depth of white privilege that this white woman in Hawaii apparently called for a march, and then magically, one is happening? http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-women-idUSKBN13U0GW

So yes, Travis is probably right in saying the two situations are very different. But look, if you want to go to this march, and you think it will help women in America, and you think it is the right thing to do in this moment, then I absolutely support you. I hope it achieves everything you hope it will. I really do. I hope it is a great march. But if something goes wrong, and I cannot understate this next part, do you understand how awful–AWFUL–it will be? Do these women understand that they will be accountable for EVERYTHING and ANYTHING that happens during this march? That it will absolutely be on them? I just don’t think they do. That’s why I’m not supporting this thing. I’m not trying to scare you, but I hope you are thoroughly informed about the possibilities of what could happen. But if you honestly think the march will make a difference, then I absolutely support you, and I hope you are right. I hope you are right.

My Impressions of Female Masculinity by Judith Halberstam

femalemascI was a little dubious when I borrowed this book from a friend I made at work. My first exposure to gender theory was literally only two years ago when I started my master’s in education, from the perspectives of women of color, specifically Audre Lorde’s Sister Outsider and bell hooks’s Teaching to Transgress. These women take a rather unorthodox approach to gender theory in the first place, discussing not only both gender and race, but also dedicating significant space to eroticism and emotion, subjects that are to gender theory as mysticism is to religion. I had never read anything from the white queer canon, let alone anything on masculinity. As a feminine woman, I find it a little difficult to warm up to conversations about masculinity at all, since it seems to me that the written word in nearly every field is dominated by men.

(Admittedly, these recent posts have digressed from my comfort zone of Asian American feminism and critical race theory. I think this is actually for my own good, as I’ll explain as this post progresses. I notice I seem to parenthesize a lot in my posts as well. Clearly, I have not yet mastered this Western concept of linear thinking.)

To give you an idea of the potential of Halberstam’s work, I’ll start with a personal experience. While I was a student at UMass Amherst, I remember there was a department known as the Men and Masculinities Center. A lot of people from my program were involved with the programming in that center, so I never felt entirely comfortable critiquing it while I was at UMass. From my understanding, the center was created for men to have a space to deconstruct their masculinity away from the prying eyes of…gee, I don’t know, women? And that’s what annoyed me so much about it. Why the fuck do women’s community centers on college campuses always have to act as though men are allowed, no, invited even, into those spaces, but men are supposed to have their own “private spaces” away from the mean, nasty gaze of feminists? In fact, theirs are justified in not allowing folks of other genders in? Especially when men dominate literally every public space available? How was that fair? How were we paying tuition for that space to exist?

It should be noted, queer masculine people are rarely comfortable entering the Men and Masculinities center even now. Across the board, people I knew at UMass who identified as gay, transgender, butch, or just not as cisgender, heterosexual-passing men, did not ever go to events at the Men and Masculinities Center. I know a part of that is perhaps marketing and misunderstanding, but doesn’t it say a lot when queers actively avoid a space?

In contrast, Halberstam introduces this concept that, far from causing me disgust, actually wins my admiration. She talks about masculinity without men (1998, p. 1), a possibility that is radically simple, yet I had never conceived of it before I read this book. I still can’t say I can define masculinity, but I can commit to this much–the crusading feminine queers who go around demonizing everything that is masculine are, uh, kinda wrong. Yea, I said it. I think we have to consider the likelihood that there are many kinds of masculinity, that as a matter of fact, there are people who firmly identify as women but also identify as masculine, and that not everyone who identifies as masculine has access to the institutional benefits afforded to masculine people.

In the book, the three chapters after the introduction are admittedly rather boring for me (though I understand Halberstam is probably required to lay down this very thorough foundation in order to gain credence in the academy). I did appreciate the history, since I’m still quite new to queer studies. I’m guessing the literary subjectivities were also a necessity for Halberstam’s academic legitimacy, though if I’m being honest, I really wish the academy would do away with this requirement. With the exception of analyses based on journals, most literary analyses literally just seem to me like the author’s way of saying they read a book about this subject at some point in the past. I’m sure you’ll remember this opinion of mine reflected in my reflections on Ingratitude by erin Khue Ninh.

But shit hits the proverbial fan in chapter 5, when Halberstam talks about butch/FTM border wars (p. 139). I especially liked her caustic commentary on Amy Bloom’s interviews of transsexual men. This sentence kind of sums up Halberstam’s opinion of this super-misinformed journalist, “What a relief for Bloom that she was spared interaction with those self-hating masculine women and graced instead by…men!” (1998, p. 158). Bloom didn’t seem aware of her own internalized sexism. As though people who are masculine are not worthy human beings unless they convincingly pass for men. Here, I would insert the eye-roll emoji.

But I also genuinely appreciate Halberstam’s introduction of intersectional politics in this chapter. One comment of note is when she draws attention to the one black FTM transsexual man, who admits he does not expect to be accepted just because he is convincing as a man. Halberstam states, “as in so many other identity-based activist projects, one axis of identification is a luxury most people cannot afford” (p. 159). In my experience, oppression can never be distilled to just one identity. I love that Halberstam is more complicated and experienced than many white queers who scream about pronouns all the time (or whatever the 1998 version of “pronouns” was), but rarely show support for communities of color or the poor. Halberstam has a comprehensive understanding of race and class politics. Maybe I just hung out with the wrong queers (let’s be real, New England is pretty white), but until now, I hadn’t read a whole lot of queer white theorists who were this legit.

She keeps it up, too. She calls out (hard!) people’s ability to afford transitioning, to move homes, to have no home, and even to use metaphors (p. 173). Halberstam points out that there is a reality that exists for white men–one that is highly coveted, and that anyone who can will try to access–where doors magically open to the academy, to jobs, to housing, to health care, and to a great many institutions. Other people cannot even pretend they can gain access to these things because they have to deal with the realities of survival.

The other two chapters talk about butches in film, and drag kings. While neither quite compares to chapter 5 for me, I do think the sheer amount of research Halberstam did is worth mentioning. She cites enough film and literature in her book for me to receive a whole damn education. I can’t imagine how many years it took to watch/interview/read/compile all of these sources, but it’s an incredible repertoire, and one that I definitely plan to tap into.

(Is it rude of me to state here that erin Khue Ninh should take note?)

In spite of some shortcomings, I’m genuinely impressed. While Female Masculinity does suffer at times from the density of analysis (a critique I have of all books on gender theory), I did actually learn something, which tells you there’s enough in there to keep a broad interested.

Spring 2017 Preview

For those of you who have been faithfully following, I figured I would give you something to look forward to in the New Year.

So this is the first time in 19 years that I have not been in school for fall semester, and I will not be for spring semester either. In the past, I’ve had opportunities to attend certain conferences with scholarship money from school, but I rarely took the chance because going to conferences meant I would have a shitload of work to catch up on when I got back to school.

This year, however, I have the ability to take time off from work to go to all the conferences I couldn’t attend in past years. Granted, the price I pay (no pun intended) is that I won’t get paid for the weeks that I’m gone, but it’s something I’m willing to forego for the experience.

Thus, in the coming months, I plan to do a minimum of one pre-conference post to talk about why I’m going to that particular conference and what I expect, and one post-conference post to talk about whether or not the experience met my expectations and was worth the cost. This timeline is tentative at the moment, but I hope to be attending Creating Change, The Placement Exchange, NASPA, and CLPP.

  1. Creating Change

    Philadelphia, PA

    January 18-22, 2017

    Likelihood that I will go: 100%, as the ticket is paid for and God is willing

    According to the website, the Creating Change Conference is the “pre-eminent political, leadership and skills-building conference for the LGBTQ social justice movement.” From what I can gather, there are supposed to be 3 or 4 day-long “institutes”, 8 workshop sessions, and 2 caucuses/network sessions. The website hasn’t put up the definitive workshop schedule yet, so I’m not sure what exactly I have to look forward to, but mostly, I’m just curious. I’ve never really been around queers in the professional world, so I’m interested to see what the national conversation around queer issues is about.

  2. The Placement Exchange

    San Antonio, TX

    March 8-12, 2017

    Likelihood that I will go: 50%, depends on how my wallet is doing then

    From what I have heard, this is basically a gargantuan, 4-day interview for student affairs professionals. It is literally interviews for 4 days to give new graduates or aspiring student affairs professionals a chance at placement (hence, The Placement Exchange). Honestly, this conference looks like a pain in my ass, but I figure I’ll give it a shot because why not? There’s a possibility that someone out there will like me.

  3. NASPA (National Association of Student Personnel Administrators)

    San Antonio, TX

    March 11-15

     Likelihood that I will go: 50%, looks interesting, but it’s really expensive

    You’ll notice that the dates for this conference overlap with the dates for The Placement Exchange. If TPE gets boring for me, I’ll most likely switch to this one. The first round of speakers has been announced, and they are Anderson Cooper, Bree Newsome, and Chris Mosier. So clearly, this conference is a big deal. I’m curious about the dialogue going on here, too. What are student affairs professionals doing/talking about on the national front? Currently, I have no idea. Maybe I’ll find out.

  4. CLPP (Civil Liberties and Public Policy)

    Amherst, MA

    April 7-9

    Likelihood that I will go: 30% at the moment, depends on cost and logistics

    This conference focuses on reproductive freedom. I have some personal stakes in this conference, so I’m really hoping things pan out. There is absolutely nothing up on the website yet, but I expect some radical shit to go down.

 

Right, so that’s my tentative plan for spring semester. I’m sure you all will continue to hear from me about books and movies, the regular stuff. I will keep you posted if plans change. Hope you are having a good December!

Thoughts on Rogue One

Many thanks to Maritere Gomez for making this post possible.

Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t watched Rogue One yet and you care about spoilers, you might want to save this post for later.

rogue-one

Source: IMDb

As far as I am concerned, none of the Star Wars movies had ever been noteworthy from a critical perspective, (which did nothing to deter me from avid fanhood). Sure, they were either lovably campy or laughably trying too hard, but I think the closest we ever got to critical was the comparison some could make between the Galactic Republic and the Roman Empire in the prequel trilogy (if I’m remembering things correctly).

That all changes with the release of Rogue One.

It should be noted, the timing of this movie’s release is miraculous. I’ll admit, I wasn’t expecting much, and this movie far exceeded even the expectations I could have had. I don’t know how Gareth Edwards knew that radicals of the world would need a message like this after the election we just went through, but if you need an antidote for your cynicism (like I always do), then this movie is for you.

Rogue One was so different from any of the Star Wars storylines we have seen so far. For one, it is not concerned with the Big People at the top. The film shows us the nitty-gritty ugliness of war among middle management and the poor. In fact, the images evoked in this movie bear a remarkable resemblance to wars throughout the twentieth century, especially World War II. From the very start, we are taken to Jyn Erso’s (Felicity Jones) home in Lah’mu, a mountainous, evocative, green place that vaguely resembles Switzerland or Germany (with the exception of the planet’s rings in the background). This scene, where Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) puts up a futile last stand against Director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) even hearkens to The Sound of Music, when German soldiers attempt to coerce Captain Von Trapp into joining the army because they “need” his military prowess. I have mixed feelings about this scene. On one hand, I think it was practical of the screenplay folks to portray the mother’s death at the hands of empire. Lyra (Valene Kane) pleads with Krennic to leave her family alone, and he kills her. The Empire gives no fucks about families (kind of like empires in real life). On the other hand, it bothers me on some deeper level that this is still a scene that is only possible with white people. Let’s be real, even smart people of color are not spared by empires. They become labor forces or casualties of war.

lahmu

Lah’mu. Source: Star Wars/Lucas Films

The casting of Felicity Jones was curious to me at first, but made sense after watching the caliber of acting this film calls for. I notice that with the trilogy movies, the actors being recruited are rather new to Hollywood–which I’m guessing is strategic because it adds to the campiness of the film, since there is no “image” attached to the actors yet. (This is not to say that Daisy Ridley and John Boyega don’t have talent or do the roles justice). But Felicity Jones is relatively established–we are familiar with her in The Theory of Everything and Inferno, two films that seem somewhat dramatic compared to the Star Wars films. I wondered what the significance of that could be.

jyn_erso_fathead

Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso. Source: Wookiepedia

The answer came to me after I saw the movie. Even before Jyn was born, the Ersos lived with the threat of war. Jyn’s family is eventually torn apart as a direct result of the empire’s actions when she is very young. Nonetheless, she retains some semblance of innocence, in spite of being handy with a gun and throwing very effective punches. Though she is bold, she is not vengeful, nor is she originally aligned with the Rebellion. Cassian (Diego Luna) reminds her again and again that she is different from members of the Rebellion because she “chose” not to do anything about the forces that have displaced her and cause her pain. Jones does a great job of portraying a person who has seen a lot of violence and also spends a lot of time running from violence. Jyn is a person who has lived in fear all her life, as have many other people under the Empire’s reign. Rogue One aptly portrays the effects of a despot’s control over people’s daily lives.

I think the casting of a young-looking person for the role of Jyn was done intentionally. Jones is a small woman at 5’3″, and at 33 years old, she could still pass for someone in her early twenties.To me, Jyn is a symbol of the many children and youth, past and current, who live with the legacy of war. Even the settings in which she travels throughout the movie and the situations she finds herself in–hiding in small spaces, lashing out at people who claim to be helping her–are reminiscent of children in places like Syria, Palestine, Venezuela, Cambodia, Vietnam, Germany, and the streets of Chicago, who behave this way to survive.

saw_gerrera_rogue_one

Forest Whitaker as Saw Gerrera. Source: Wookiepedia

On Jedha and Scarif, the film comments on how war affects people of color. The settings of both planets seemed very intentional to me. The city on Jedha closely resembles cities in the Middle East (or at least, the American interpretation of them). Jedha is dry and sandy, and in the crowded streets, vendors and residents wear long, flowing clothes. It is here that the main characters find Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), and also where the Death Star is first tested.

It speaks volumes that the Death Star is tested in a place where it seems like a lot of black and brown people must live (Saw dies in this first test). The Death Star acutely conjures images of nuclear warfare. This first “test” alludes to the days of testing nuclear bombs in Indigenous territory. It also appeals to more recent drone strikes in various Middle Eastern and African countries. The Empire’s excuse for using Jedha as the test site is that they know that a rebel base exists there. Yet, the force used by the Empire to demolish the base is analogous to being annoyed by a fly and throwing a brick at it. Were they really getting rid of the rebels, or did they need an excuse to get rid of a whole city of aliens/people of color/people the Empire didn’t approve of? Dare I say Rogue One seems to be commenting on the US’s interest in military force at the expense of people of color?

jedha-main-image_4e3dd512

Jedha. Source: Star Wars/Lucas Films

cassian_andor_fathead

Diego Luna as Cassian Andor. Source: Wookiepedia

The symbolic cast of people of color in this film was fascinating. I’m not sure whether or not that was done on purpose, but if it was, I find this technique to be both admirable and a little concerning (admirable because people of color are playing roles where people of color should be, and concerning because I’m still not sure how I feel about one person representing a vast and diverse group). It pleases me greatly that Diego Luna, who plays Cassian, has an accent as thick as a tectonic plate and was born in Mexico City. I don’t know nearly enough about the wars of Latinoamerica to tell you how it is fitting of Luna to play Cassian, a character who is known for being kind of ruthless and fiercely loyal to the Rebellion, but I know enough to say that it is fitting.

 

bodhi_rook_fathead

Riz Ahmed as Bodhi Rook. Source: Wookiepedia

I’m not sure I am as sold on Riz Ahmed as Bodhi Rook. I do feel as though they made Ahmed play up the sleazy look a little bit (not to mention the temper and the big mouth), which is a bit of a stereotype considering the guy is Pakistani. I can’t lie, though; I’m still happy there is one brown dude reppin’ the Subcontinent in this movie.

 

chirrut_imwe

Donnie Yen as Chirrut Imwe. Source: Wookiepedia

But the pair that absolutely warms and breaks my heart are Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang). The deaths of these two characters seemed symbolic as well, as they took place on the planet Scarif, which was intended to resemble the Pacific Front of World War II. The last battle takes place on a beach covered with palm trees that looks as humid as Vietnam. The use of the Death Star on Scarif seems to implicate the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Thus, the last few scenes are a kaleidoscope of events on the Asian front of World War II.

baze_malbus_ew

Wen Jiang as Baze Malbus. Source: Wookiepedia

Chirrut and Baze give radically queer vibes in the scene where they both die. Chirrut, a blind warrior-monk who staunchly reveres the Force, dies after successfully opening the portal in order for the Death Star plans to be sent. He dies in Baze’s arms, and Baze finally says the words Chirrut repeated all his life to ward off danger: “I am one with the Force, and the Force is with me.” There was something moving about this burly Asian guy holding a delicate, more effeminate Asian guy and crying over his demise. I swear, I cried too.

There is a hint of a connection existing between Jedi and Indigenous peoples, too. I think I was awakened (no pun intended) to that possibility when we learn about Kyber crystals, which are used by Jedi to make light sabers, and which are also used by the Empire to power the Death Star. Insofar as the crystals are a natural resource, there are probably factions in the Star Wars world who fight to preserve them, and factions that fight to harvest them. It would be interesting to see if this is a point upon which future saga directors elaborate.

In short, Rogue One shows us the possibilities of what a robust, organized force of radicals can achieve. It seems to argue something beyond just arming ourselves or debating identity politics–it shows the potential of a radical collective. It is not as though Jyn, Cassian, and their band of rebels arrive on Scarif with any sort of plan. However, it takes all of them together to send the Death Star plans back to the Rebel Alliance. Perhaps our strategy to combat empire, in this modern era, should literally just be numbers. One person’s stamina only lasts for so long, but a group can get a lot done if the work is staggered or if people just have each other’s backs. Perhaps it is not the answer to all our problems, but in the information age, where the number of twitter followers you have determines your level of outreach, it’s a start.

 

Thoughts on The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

tcvContent warning: Self harm

Last week, I finally finished The Casual Vacancy, a recommendation that my mother made. For all the critique I’m about to throw at it, it was not bad overall. As always, Rowling’s strengths as a writer are most clearly illustrated in the characterization and dialogue throughout the novel. Some of the exchanges are quite entertaining, and admittedly, she kept my attention until the very end.

The damn thing started quite slowly, though. I’m beginning to realize that Rowling tends to follow a formula, granted it is a formula that I can forgive. (At least it is not the White Women’s Dystopic Future Novel formula. I’ve had my fill of Hunger Games, Divergent, nuclear bombs, zombies, and apocalypto-love stories. If I had my way, I would ban that particular formula for at least the next ten years). Rowling seems to be a Dickens acolyte; like him, she gives you minimal action until the last 5 pages, where she proceeds to stun the reader stupid with all the action she withheld for the last 495 pages. I may exaggerate slightly.

Another point that makes the book drag at first, at least to me, is that there is a grand total of one (out of some 12 main characters) who is a person of color. Okay, perhaps there are two, and a third plays a minor role, but we definitely see the nine or so white women feature much more prominently. It got somewhat tiring for me after a while to keep track of which Becky was mad at who, especially when all white girl names sound the same. After the introduction of the fifth one, I wondered how many Beckys’ lives I would have to keep track of in this damn book. The answer is too many.

And it’s not like the portrayal of the people of color is much better. Inevitably, since this is England, they’re an Indian family (as opposed to, I don’t know, a Nigerian one or an Egyptian one, or some other descendants of a country previously colonized by the British). So they’re a Punjabi Sikh family with the surname, Jawanda. The character that is given most prominence is Parminder Jawanda, a wife and mother of three. She is described as skinny, cranky, and with inevitably “almond-shaped” eyes (that particular cliche I could not forgive as easily. Rowling ought to be ashamed, relying on such a lazy trope for a main character). Her husband, Vikram, is described as far more easygoing and, in the words of Samantha Mollison, looks like “sex on legs”. Does anyone smell the casual racism here? The brown man is sweet and friendly and everyone approves. The woman is always grumpy and disliked by everyone. What’s that word that Moya Bailey came up with? Misogynoir? Does that apply to brown women, too?

What’s worse is the portrayal of Sukhvinder Jawanda, third child to Parminder. This poor girl clearly experiences her fair share of racism as well. Her hairiness and the shape of her body cause a particularly mean-spirited character to refer to her as a hermaphrodite. As a result, Sukhvinder cuts herself when she is alone.

Sure, sure, all this is allowed because this is a fictional novel, and besides, the good Tessa Wall and Gaia Bawden see the racism for what it really is. Get a grip, y’all. This is an example of trauma porn, the same kind you find on Orange is the New Black (so if I’m being honest, I didn’t get past the second episode of season two with that show. But the horror stories I have heard about episode twelve in mystery season hasn’t got me too excited to start again). White people can’t be bothered to portray people of color in a position in which they actually have institutional or radical power (or really any kind, for that matter). Thus, they stay in their roles as fuming examples of Things That Need Trigger Warnings (if you believe in that sort of thing).

At this point I must add a spoiler alert, for those of you who give a fuck.

I did find the end to be quite surprising, though. For all that seemed predictable about the first four fifths of the novel, the last was shocking. I don’t think it is any mistake that three characters who embodied the Fields are dead by the end of this novel. Before presenting my analysis, I must confess it may be somewhat patronizing. For all I know, there is some other message Rowling was trying to convey, and I am missing it. My class analysis is not as strong as it could be. However, from my point of view, it seems like the (slightly ham-fisted) message here might be that people of the working class are most affected by the decisions made by wealthier people (and if this was a message, I felt it could definitely have been strengthened if the working class characters had been people of color. That would challenge white readers to complicate their narratives a little more than they do currently, and it also would reflect the truth more accurately).

Another theme I could tease out was that Real Change does not take place unless violence occurs. Pessimistic as that may seem, it’s an outlook I can agree with more. I do appreciate Rowling for not coddling the reader with the ending. In my experience, people do not do anything to change the status quo until they see someone with whom they identify harmed as a result of current proceedings. Perhaps Krystal Weedon truly was a part of the community of Pagford. It is only after her death that people began to take action against the established members of the town.

~

Those of you who like my book reviews–feel free to suggest another book. Winter break is coming up and I’ll have time to do more writing soon! Leave your suggestions in the comments below. Thanks for reading!

Works Cited

Rowling, J.K. (2012). The Casual Vacancy. Little, Brown, and Company.

 

On the #NoDAPL Victory

Photo credit: Lakota People’s Law Project, Facebook

Let’s pretend for a second that the word “worship” has nothing to do with God or religion. In fact, if I tell you the origin of the word, perhaps that will help you pretend.

The word “worship” actually comes from the Old English word “weorthscipe,” a collusion of the word “worth” and the suffix “-ship,” somewhat like the word “relationship”. So worship is, quite simply, giving worth to something.

Lately, I’ve been watching Planet Earth (Attenborough, Fothergill, Werlowitz, & Parker, 2006). It’s a remarkable series. The cinematography is stunning, and it’s narrated in a way that is both poignant and witty. Each episode takes you to these specific geographies all over the world and tells you a bit about the plant and animal life of the region.

These two things are related, I promise.

While I was watching the episodes (So far, I’ve only seen the ones on the poles, mountains, and fresh water), I was suddenly reminded of Native peoples of America (and all over the world, for that matter) who, according to English speakers, worship nature. English speakers usually use a rather condescending tone when referring to these people’s tendencies, implying that they are somewhat primitive and animistic, that they do not worship the “correct”, colonizer-approved things, and to which I take great objection because for all I know, the blood of tribal people of Assam runs in my veins.

To preface this rant, I unfortunately don’t have much to cite, besides what I’ve read from Thomas King’s The Inconvenient Indian (2013) and this particular video about a man working to preserve forests of Assam. It cannot be only a product of conjecture, but I know that the preservation of nature depends intimately on the preservation of Indigenous peoples everywhere. I know this because many Indigenous people do, in some way or another, worship nature.

I think English speakers do not understand the implications of this argument, so I will explain in more detail. Indigenous people worship nature; they literally deem nature worthy. They deem mountains, rivers, and forests worthy; they are intimately concerned with the well-being of their environment; it is dictated in (to use another English word that falls far short) their religion. It is their duty and obligation to protect these places and creatures of the earth, a radical implication that descendants of colonizers will never fully understand.

Earth-preservers do not consider the preservation of the Earth to be a mindset. It is also not merely an ideology or a set of habits. Modern white “environmentalists” preach the importance of recycling, composting, reducing packaging, and using renewable materials because they just barely realize that this rock they live on gives them life.

Earth-preservers have known this throughout the ages, not just as some afterthought that accompanies earth-ravaging as colonizers do, but intuitively, as though it is religion. Earth-preserving is a part of their lifestyle, and a part of who they are. These are people who are so intimately connected to their land that they know how it “breathes”; they know the seasons of a land, they know the migration patterns of creatures, they know what grows when and how and why. They know these things so intimately that the patterns are passed down from one generation to the next (or at least, it used to be, before displacement and migrations began to be commonplace), the knowledge of when to hunt, when to plant, when to take shelter, and what is home.

In doing so, they have preserved vast ecosystems for hundreds of years, not only for their benefit, but for the benefit of the entire planet. They might not have known it, but modern science has proven this to be true.

I know I don’t usually wax this cheesy, but I don’t think y’all understand how relieved I am that Earth-preservers have won in Standing Rock, North Dakota. I worried for days about what would happen on December 5, and I prayed it would not be another Jallianwala Bagh or another Selma. Americans, and people in general, don’t have great hindsight and tend to forget all the violence of American protests. Clearly, someone was listening because the pipeline has been declined, and for that I am grateful. I now, and always, affirm my support of Earth-preserving people. #NoDAPL