Friday, December 14, 2012

A Whole Heap of Wrong

So much courses through my mind as I sit in the unseasonable sunshine thinking about the 26 people (maybe more) who lost their lives in Connecticut today.

Those of you who know me know that I am a critic of colonialism and all of the atrocities committed in the interest of fiscal gain. I know some of you friends are thinking "why be so upset about Connecticut? Atrocities happen everywhere everyday." That's true, but I want to think about this particular atrocity. I want to contextualize it a little.

Maybe it's because just a few days ago my best friend who works at an after-school program found herself face down on a stage with a group of weeping children as they hid in the dark from a man who was trying to kidnap someone. Or maybe it is because I teach at a large public university. Whatever the reason, this shooting is really making me think.

I feel like we need to ask ourselves some serious questions about what we value in this country.

Do we want to keep promoting violence in our media, our behavior, our way of thinking?

Do we want to keep defunding mental health care and schools?

Do we want to keep showing the world that we prioritize gadgets and goods over life and health?

Do we want to keep feeding our children chemical laced foods and toxic water?

Do we want to keep warehousing people in larger and larger institutions?

I don't have any answers really. But I feel like our world is sick and getting sicker.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

School Notes: Week 9- The Souls of Black Folk

It's been a long term. But here's some recent thinking:

            As an undergrad, I majored in History and English. In both departments, I focused on issues of colonization and struggles to decolonize. As a result, I have encountered this text numerous times in excerpt form, but have never read the entire work (my own fault really). While masking and the concept of the veil were familiar to me, I had never read the chapter “Of the Passing of the First-Born[1]” and in reading it for the first time, I was deeply moved, and cannot help but wonder why it has taken so long for this chapter to become part of my life.
            Perhaps it has been delayed because of the very same features which rendered it so remarkable to me. Especially striking, is the writing. Here Du Bois’ prose is, perhaps even more so than in other sections of this book, highly poetic and intensely beautiful. His language conveys with intensity the pain of the child’s death and how it is so deeply commingled with the father’s pain of knowing the social evils which the child never grew old enough to cognitively experience even though they cost him his life.[2]
The world loved him; the women kissed his curls, the men looked gravely into his wonderful eyes, and the children hovered and fluttered about him. I can see him now, changing like the sky from sparkling laughter to darkening frowns, and then to wondering thoughtfulness as he watched the world. He knew no color-line, poor dear,—and the Veil, though it shadowed him, had not yet darkened half his sun (156).

All that day and all that night there sat an awful gladness in my heart,—nay, blame me not if I see the world thus darkly through the Veil,—and my soul whispers ever to me, saying, “Not dead, not dead, but escaped; not bond, but free.” No bitter meanness now shall sicken his baby heart till it die a living death, no taunt shall madden his happy boyhood. Fool that I was to think or wish that this little soul should grow choked and deformed within the Veil! I might have known that yonder deep unworldly look that ever and anon floated past his eyes was peering far beyond this narrow Now. In the poise of his little curl-crowned head did there not sit all that wild pride of being which his father had hardly crushed in his own heart? For what, forsooth, shall a Negro want with pride amid the studied humiliations of fifty million fellows? Well sped, my boy, before the world had dubbed your ambition insolence, had held your ideals unattainable, and taught you to cringe and bow. Better far this nameless void that stops my life than a sea of sorrow for you (157).

Work of this kind, work that is artistically rendered, deeply personal and emotionally rich rarely appears in academic coursework (outside of particular disciplines designed to deal with such material: poetry, literature, film studies etc…).  Perhaps this is part of the reason why some people have difficulty reading this text as a work of sociology. But why should that be so?
         The academic standards, created and enforced by white men, prioritize (as Weber so aptly points out in his introduction to the Protestant Work Ethic) cold rationality. To be rational, to be a scientist, is to be disconnected from the personal, the emotional, and the artistic. Clearly, Du Bois is too powerful a thinker to be ignored completely, and so excerpts found their way into my course work from time to time, but only those excerpts which might seem to fall closest in line with standard academic (objective? abstract?) ways of analyzing the world.[3] Now, in my fifth year of graduate study I am offered this chapter, (as part of the entire book of course, perhaps to retain context) and offered it in a Sociological Theory class to boot. What does one make of so much emotion being presented as theory at this point in the process of “intellectual development”? Is there even a place for this type of work in contemporary sociology? Was there ever a place for it, or did Du Bois’ position at the social margins allow him the flexibility to produce a work that was both a piece of literature and a contribution to sociology? 

[1] This chapter, details the birth and death of his son Burghardt, to whom the book is partly dedicated.
[2] This passage called to mind the small portion of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” when he speaks of the pain involved in explaining the color line to children. He writes: “ you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: "Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?"
[3]  “Of Our Spiritual Strivings” – For it outlines his basic understanding of the color-line, the veil, the “negro problem”, “Of  Mr. Booker T. Washington and Others” – because it is too historically rich and significant to be ignored in any class on the Reconstruction, “Of the Faith of the Fathers” – for the ethnographic type analysis of spiritual development within a particular social environment. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Too Comfortable: Notes from the Nail that Sticks Up

 Me 8/21/12...
For the past five years I have been fortunate enough to call the Willamette Valley my home. During that time  I've mostly been engaged in graduate studies, though I've also worked part time at a barn (shoveling horse poop is very cathartic).

I've lived in college towns (Eugene and Corvallis) and I've lived in working class towns (Springfield and Albany). But overall, my experiences here have been overwhelmingly positive. So positive in fact that maybe I've forgotten how brutal the world typically is for a person like me.

Now, when I say "person like me" I guess what I mean is visibly queer, though I'm starting to think there's more to it than just that. In my particular case, the list could be pretty long honestly: Visibly queer, outspokenly race conscious, rooted in the working-class, non-Christian...

Me @ about age 8
Here though,  along the Willamette, I almost blend in and now after 5 years of not being actively attacked I find it disconcerting to remember how life has been and likely will be again all too soon. Upsetting as it may be, it seems like a good idea to remind myself that in most parts of the world I will be "the nail that sticks up". And although many have unsuccessfully tried to pound me down, I'm not very enthusiastic about returning to that milieu.

Looking back over some old writings of mine I realize that a lifetime of not fitting in (i've been upsetting people's gender expectations since about 7 yrs old) had shaped a person with a very dismal perception of society and my space in it.

For example, here's a journal entry from September 2002. I think this was right after the security guards at my community college fabricated a sexual harrasment report against me. When confronted it came out that they were offended by my friend Rochelle and I "hanging all over each other" and taking nude photos for art class. The entry reads: 

There I am, the Big Bad Wolf, with Rochelle and Prana
How do people come to be perceived in a way that is not at all in keeping with the reality of their nature? How is it that the same misconception can follow a person through time and space? Does it mean that it's not a misconception at all? Or does it signify a massive failure of communication? It's just become tiresome to be seen as a predator.

And while my dismal perception of western society in general has not drastically changed, the past five years have allowed me to walk through the streets with relative ease, speak to strangers with a level of comfort, and exercise an appropriate level of authority in public spaces.

Prior to moving here, I had always been on guard (not shocking since I received death threats in high-school, had a kid try to hit me with his car, had a skinhead point a gun at me, had a redneck throw a glass bottle at me from a moving truck etc...). And though no amount of harassment has been able to shut me down, the recent feeling of not always needing to fight is quite pleasant.

I suppose I'll be cushioned somewhat no matter where I end up, by the simple fact that I have a good education, but a Ph.D. doesn't mean much on the street, in fact it could just as easily count against me. The thing is, I have no illusions of economic security and I think for most of my adult life I've been betting on my own un-employability due to my visible queerness (this might be totally false but I've been operating under these assumptions).

Anyway, I guess this is just another quasi-academic ramble with no real purpose.

Instead of fearing for the future or hashing through the past I might as well be thankful for all the ways the Willamette Valley folk don't attack me even when I push against their comfort zones.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Summer Ending

So the summer really lingers on for a while longer now, but it seems safe to say that as this second session of summer classes closes up I feel the impending weight of autumn's approach.

 For the past four weeks I've been heading up the ENVS 201 summer intensive... four weeks, five days per week, two hours per day. It was a real blessing to have a high concentration of upper division students and only 15 of us altogether in the room. We all knew each other's names and everyday was like a conversation between engaged intellectuals. They kept a blog too, so... read if you like.

 Given my tendencies, the majority of our work focused on structural violence and the relationships between environmental degradation and systems of power. I think many people began to think about environmentalism in a whole new light and this is powerful.

 I'm reading through so many journal entries and blog posts and papers, but the grading should be wrapped up by next Tuesday. Then it's a few weeks of summer before all of the new GTFs arrive and training starts. Though I have no decided role in all of that, I did present the problem of POC retention in our program and promoted the idea of some racial consciousness / intersectionality/ cultural competency training for our incoming folks... I suppose I should take the reins? Who can say?

Then there's the matter of my wildly overbooked Fall term. Three 600 level sociology classes and a position GTFing Women and Gender Studies (not to mention all of the other assorted struggles for justice). I'm worried, but excited.

So, for those who don't know, my PhD program is pretty crazy. We fulfill the requirements of a particular PhD (sociology in my case) and then take a minimum of 16 credits each in two other areas of study. For me, those two other areas are Indigenous Studies and Representations of Nature.

Indigenous Studies is pretty straight forward. I've taken:

  • Am. Indian Education
  • Am. Indian Environmentalisms
  • Indigenous People and the Environment
  • Indigenous Cultural Survivals
Representation however is a bit murkier. In that realm, many of my old English credits could probably count, but I've also taken:
  • Critical Animal Studies: Animals and Performance
  • Indigenous Theater/ Salmon is Everything
  • Environmental Theater 
  • Art History of the Natural/Manmade 
Now, my theater classes were taught by a woman who has a decidedly radical praxis around issues of race, class, gender. She's interested in intersectionality, and is genuinely concerned about how academic work interfaces with power and oppression. (AWESOME)

My Art History class on the other hands was being operated by a man who seems to know very little about nature (living ecological nature) and has no real understanding of/ interest in power distributions and how they shape perception, access, history etc...

Sometimes, things got crazy.

But all that is done now, and "all i have left" is the sociology degree... a Master's paper and then on to the Dissertation... Thus the three 600-level SOC classes... (jitter jitter)

I suppose all one can do is try. I hope the next few weeks can just be crammed with beautiful oregon-ness. Bring on the sea, the birds, the beer, the mountains!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Continuing Struggles

It's been a while since I've updated.

All around struggles continue.

On April, 14th the Second Annual Salmon Run took place in Alton Baker Park. Lots of folks came out to show their support and to run for the salmon. It was a truly beautiful event.

A few days later, the Winnemem Wintu met with Regional FS director Randy Moore and spoke with him about the need for a complete mandatory river closure for their coming of age ceremony. The tribe requested that people contact Randy Moore on that day, and judging by the sound of Mr. Moore's receptionist, many many people must have called.

There's a great video of the meeting and hopefully on May 1st Mr. Moore will ensure the closure.

In the mean time, it'd be great for people to call 7075628737 or email to let Randy Moore know you support the Winnemem's right to a mandatory river closure. 

In other news, last night was the Eugene Oregon Take Back the Night event. I was delighted to stand in solidarity and support with all survivors of sexual violence. The march was well attended and powerful. 

So many good people were there making strong connections between sexual violence, violations of the earth, and the terrible effects of the prison industrial complex.

The struggle continues all over this earth for peace and dignity.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

When Ignorance Reigns: The Pointless Attacks Against Kari Norgaard

Recently, Dr. Kari Norgaard has come under attack for her research on the sociological under-pinnings of climate denialism and the lackluster response to climate concerns even by those who do think climate change is happening.

This smear campaign is (perhaps unsurprisingly) both ruthless and pointless.

The people commenting have clearly never met with Dr. Norgaard, nor have they had either the will (or perhaps the capacity) to understand what she's saying. In nearly every attack against Kari I see almost nothing of her work quoted. The authors seem to jump on their interpretation of what she's said, rather than engage with her ideas directly. Instead, they make some inflammatory comments to rile up their readership who also seem all to happy to shout some hideous remark without considering the work of the person they denigrate.

Her work is rich and complex. Even if one doesn't agree that climate change is anthropogenic, or perhaps that it is even happening, there are still aspects of her research which would be of interest to anyone concerned with how societies confront what they consider to be impending catastrophe.

Furthermore, the personal attacks against Kari sicken me. Dr. Norgaard is one of the kindest and most unpretentious people I've met during my time in University-world. To suggest that she is an elitist simply because she is educated blows my mind.

She works at a public university, she has worked closely with some of the most marginalized people in our nation, and she has always treated her students with a genuine kindness and respect.

I suppose I always knew that the right-wing media was generated largely out of baseless personal attacks, but witnessing it first hand makes me sad for our country. I like disagreement, debate and variety of ideas, these things are healthy for a democracy. But when all people have to stand on is insults for their opponents and self-congratulatory rhetoric for those they agree with... well, we have a problem.

If anyone is interested in reading something Kari actually said, here's a fine interview.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Spring Break: Rain Jackets and Bread Machine

Oregon and spring break... it's effing wet and cold. There's no shortage of waterfowl though, so the jackets go on and the birders get mostly (but not totally) soaked.

Yesterday at Winchester Bay was sick. The wind was brutal and i woke up with sand oozing from my eyes, but it was worth it for the five Red-Breasted Mergansers we spied.

Today, a few hours around Alton Baker Park in the middle of Eugene yielded an array of beautiful birdy regulars. Also exciting, the Ross's Goose and what looked like a Greater White-Fronted Goose x Canada.

Now there's bread in the machine and soup on the stove. Happy Birding all!

Species of 2012 - 147