Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Month 2: The Usual Spot, The Pit Bull, and the TV Free

The 12 Months of Mac project was supposed to involve sofafrees, but this month it's a whole new ballgame.

photo.JPG

Monday, February 27, 2012

Year of the Bugs: Coordinated

The missing week.

Coordinated

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Year of the Bugs: On the Go

I missed posting last week's shot so these will be out of order, but this is the picture for this week of Year of the Bugs.

Year of the Bugs: it's go time

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Melissa Harris-Perry: Sister Citizen

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Melissa Harris-Perry is the kind of intellectual that a) everyone should read, b) the US needs more of, c) I only know about from twitter, d) makes twitter worth using, e) makes me want to use the word "problematize" even though I swore I would never do such a thing after graduating from college, or f) all of the above. The answer is, of course, all of the above. If you're not following her on twitter, right now, it's not too late: I'll help you. I'll even include a nice list of related folks to follow if you want to get started on using twitter in a useful, intellectual, thought provoking, activist kind of way.

"Sister Citizen" takes a look at "black women's politics" in a way that looks integrates the trite white feminist saying that the personal is political and oversimplified idea of politics as the relationship between a person, the ballot box, and her elected official.  Harris-Perry bases her discussion of black women's politics on the ideas of recognition and misrecognition: "Formal participation in the government," like voting, "is only one part of a more encompassing effort to be recognized within the nation. The struggle for recognition is the nexus of human identity and national identity, where much of the most important work of politics occurs." Black women, Harris-Perry argues, are consistently misrecognized, making it excruciatingly difficult for them to interact effectively with other women, black men, and the state.

Harris-Perry uses a metaphor taken from cognitive psychology of "field dependence," a type of learning style that looks at people's ability to separate themselves from their surroundings. She cites a study with a "crooked chair" in a "crooked room" some people (the field dependents) visualized themselves as straight in this crooked setting, even when the situation was as tilted as 35 degrees. But some people tried to stand upright (the field-independents) in this skewed situation. "Sister Citizen" works off of this theme: "black women are standing in a crooked room, and they have to figure out which way is up. Bombarded with warped images of their humanity, some black women tilt and bend themselves to fit the distortion... It is important to appreciate the structural constraints that influence their behavior. It can be hard to stand up straight in a crooked room." Using well-known examples from black womanist literature (to be slightly anachronistic), Harris-Perry walks readers through historical examples of the crooked room and attempts to right it.

Harris-Perry identifies three main stereotypes that have historically created these crooked rooms that black women continue to live in: the promiscuous Jezebel, the asexual Mammy, and the angry Sapphire. She walks us through how each of these stereotypes in turn has served to deny black women recognition from white society, black men, other black women, and the state both intentionally and as black women accede to the stereotypes as a way of coping with the crooked room.  She then brings into play a forth category, an alternative self-image often embraced by black women themselves, the "strong black woman," who "suppres[es her] emotional needs while anticipating those of others." This image, Harris-Perry writes, of a woman "as unassailable, tough, and independent is nurtured within black communities." Although the image is a positive role model when compared to the crooked rooms created for black women by racist white society, the strong black woman is not allowed to be "simply human": she must deny herself everything, including pain, weakness, and any reliance on men, which opens them up to further shaming, a topic I haven't covered here but which Harris-Perry explains in beautiful detail. In essence, the strong black woman is another crooked room that black women must fight.

"Sister Citizen" is a wonderful, thought provoking book. The book has a fascinating chapter on the black church and on the ways that the church and belief serves as a psychological comfort for black women why simultaneously undermining their very sense of self and political agency. Harris-Perry uses Hurricane Katrina to show how the nation's concerns with race are literally written on black women's bodies. She involves the stories of women from focus groups as well as statistics from larger studies, making the book both accessible and credible. The final chapter on Michelle Obama is a rare look at a celebrity in its complexity. My only (small) complaint with the book is its sole inclusion of black and white: every statistic that I recall and every discussion of black women in the US compares them only to white women. I want to be clear: Harris-Perry has no obligation to include anyone besides black women, but a short mention of methodology or reason for exclusion of discussion of other women of color would have been a good enough reason, especially after invoking authors of "This Bridge Called My Back," which explicitly raises the question of erasure of women of color.  The book is a fast read, and a must read for anyone interested in questions of race, gender OR class. One of the take-homes from "Sister Citizen" is that you can't separate one out of those three, and that you can't separate black women from the health of the nation. In the introduction, Harris-Perry quotes the women Combahee River Collective (contributors to "This Bridge Called My Back"): "If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression." We're not there yet, but Harris-Perry has provided a tool to help us get there.



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Sunday, February 12, 2012

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Jorge Castaneda: Ex Mex

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"Ex Mex" is a book about policy by the former Secretary of Foreign Affairs of Mexico under Vicente Fox, the first democratically elected president of Mexico. He gives insight into how it really goes down between the Mexican and American governments, and policy suggestions for making the nations' immigration policies functional and humane.  He tells it like it is, or at least, how it was- the book was published in 2007 and Jorge Castaneda fails to predict two major things: the economic crash and the 2006 passage of the "Secure Fence Act" discussed previously. In fact, Castaneda seems almost certain that the passage of the Secure Fence Act is such a preposterous idea that it doesn't stand a chance. He has great faith in George Bush's devotion to immigration reform, sometimes to the point of straining his own credibility. The same goes for his failure to forsee the economic changes of 2008: maybe this is just hindsight, but it does seem like the writing should have been on the wall for a politician by 2006.

Castaneda has a lot to offer, though, and is worth quoting at length.
At the end of the day, Mexicans emigrate for reasons similar to those of others thorughout history. They are looking for better-paying jobs than the ones they can find and keep at home; they are not necessarily unemployed, and, in fact generally are employed in the case of those who come from the cities- a growing segment. Most emigrants hold jobs- without some income they could not pay for the voyage- but low-paing ones. As long as the wage differential (up to ten to one) between the two countries remains as large as it is, and compensates in the mind of teh migrants for the danger, fear, and misery of the exodus, they will continue to travel. This is why there is a basic contradiction in the viewpoint many people in the United States- liberals and conservatives- have of the process. If they want free trade between Mexico and the United States to work, capital must flow to Mexico to take advantage of lower wages to make American firms more competitive; but if wages are low enough to attract capital, they are also low enough to drive emigration.
Previously, there was what Castaneda calls "circularity": Mexicans were migrants as the subtitle suggests. This ended in 1996, according to Castaneda, and Clinton's crackdown on immigration via walls and difficult entry processes. This made crossing and extremely difficult and risky process not worthy of repeating. Rather than going north for seasonal or temporary work, Mexicans cross and don't go back, becoming immigrants.  Previously, there were also traditional Mexican "gateway" states- California and Texas, New York, Florida, etc.  But more recently, there are second- and third-tier states with fast growing and large Mexican settlements: North Carolina, Georgia and Washington in the first group, South Dakota, Missouri, New Hampshire in the second group.  Meanwhile, the "sending states" from Mexico are changing as well: previously almost all of the migrants came from the rural and conservative states of Jalisco, Guanajuato and Michoacan or Zacatecas, a mining state in the center of Mexico. But since the 80s, areas all over the country, including Mexico City are becoming sending states. Previously Mexicans looked down on emigrants to the US, but now, Castaneda shows, the tides have turned, for a variety of reasons, many practical and financial.

This book is short, but complicated and full of lots of information not really sum-up-able. It's not really for the casual reader, or even the casual readers of all things Mexico/America related. And I'm not sure that it has stood the test of time, although it would in an updated edition. I was particularly concerned with Castanedas repeated assertion that the birth rate/average age in Mexico is expected to decline soon, and the policy and financial implications that will have. However, for the non-casual reader of all things Mexico/America related like themacinator, it's a necessary piece of the puzzle, one that includes lots of information from top level discussions that I've never heard before and probably couldn't get without reading serious academic books or policy papers only available in Washington DC. Castaneda, unlike the social scientist types that I normally read, has real suggestions for policy rather than just depressing eye-opening looks at the ground, and this abstraction is refreshing and important, even though gruesome images of dead bodies make for better reads. Bottom line: Castaneda is worth listening to if you see him around, but don't bother with this book.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Pink Bites Back

Way back in baseball season I wrote about the dangers of the Pink campaign to end breast cancer and followed up with a review of Barbara Eherenreich's "Bright Sided." I discussed how the Komen Foundation dispersed its money, much of which raised on the truly sad stories of friends and families of donors.  The Pink campaign "pinkwashed" cancer, focusing on the need to keep positive and dream of a cure, commercializing the disease, and avoiding very real big-picture causes like environmental toxins.  Meanwhile, behind the scenes they actually did donate some money to Planned Parenthood, which, while small scale to Komen, was huge for Planned Parenthood and even more huge for the individual women who benefited from the money.

Yesterday, the Komen Foundation pulled that money, either because of a brand new and very important policy about Congressional investigations, or more likely because they have some seriously conservative values. According to the Nation, "Planned Parenthood says Komen grants totaled around $680,000 in 2011 and $580,000 the year before, accounting for around 170,000 of the 4 million breast exams it has given in the last five years." That's 170,000 breast exams, primarily to low-income women.  That's a lot of breast exams, which, not surprisingly, predominately save the lives the poor and women of color.  The Pink campaign wants to find a cure, supposedly. Planned Parenthood wants women to know if they have cancer.  The Komen Foundation wants to play politics. Many action items at the bottom of this article.