The biggest twitch factor was referring to Colin Powell as a fascist. To me, that is like calling someone a nazi; it means nothing and signals the end of any rational discussion. However, looking in the OED i found that contrary to what i had thought, unlike Nazism and communism and socialism and so on, fascism doesn’t really have much of a definition. So calling someone a fascist still isn’t really saying much, but you are legitimately not saying much (whereas for example calling someone a communist is problematic because communism is a specific set of beliefs). Anyway, according to the OED, fascism is right-wing authoritarianism (started by Benito Mussolini as an Italian nationalist body opposing communism in 1919). So basically you can call anyone not on the Left a fascist. She also said that he’s militarist. Um, hi, he’s Secretary of State, he’s a general, i never really thought of him as being non-militaristic.
Okay, i’ve decided (an attempt at) chronological order is the way to do this, so a brief interlude.
She wrote a children’s book. Be Boy Buzz She read it aloud to us, and i was thinking how children’s books that empower boys in non stereotypical ways are great and how the controversy over using non-standard (African-American) English in a children’s book (given that children develop so many of their language skills from being read to as well as regular conversation) could be really interesting and perhaps it would be a neat book to get for my cousin (though he’s 6 and therefore perhaps a bit old) since he’s a boy and multicultural literature is good and all that (though the book is really nothing astounding).
So then she says that the illustrator, Chris, is a friend of hers, and has a son, but she noticed that there are three pages where the black boy in the book is described as sitting still and there are no pictures. She wondered if it was some subconscious prejudice on Chris’s part, that black boys are always in motion. I wanted to ask, “Did you ask Chris why he didn’t illustrate those pages with pictures? What did he say?” And also, because i hadn’t really seen the book, i wondered if she was successful in getting pictures for those pages. But i thought perhaps that would be petty (people seem to frown upon nit-picky, even though i often focus on it) as well as sounding accusatory. The first audience question was regarding affirmative action, and i knew i couldn’t ask my question on the heels of that; the Q&A, expectedly, was all about big issues, mostly race-related, duh.
“Spike and his wife” wrote a bad children’s book, she said. She said yaknow, they’re already rich, why do they feel the need to write a bad children’s book? She talked about this idea that one is never rich enough, that one always needs to do more, make more money. She also talked about how the black people who played those degrading roles (Puff Daddy, Mos Def) in Monster’s Ball were already famous, were already rich so it’s not like it was “every whore doing it for the money.” In retrospect, this is one of the things that could be interesting to really interrogate and look at more deeply. Celebrities writing children’s books opens up an interesting issue of who we give the power of cultural production and such.
She talked about commodification and cultural appropriation and how it can be good when it drives people back to the original and i thought of this article. She talked a lot about Buddhism and doing small things and i feel like there were things that struck me but i can’t think of what they were.
She did say that she respects Colin Powell maintaining his integrity vis-a-vis affirmative action. At one point she said that at the beginning of this whole affirmative action furor over the Michigan case and all, people were asking what Colin Powell thought, and President Bush basically said something like it wasn’t really an area for him (Colin Powell) to be talking about, and yet now, as she said, he (Colin Powell) is “a mouthpiece for imperialism.” I thought, “Well, he is Secretary of State, so it’s absolutely his place to say what he thinks about the situation in Iraq. And obviously since he and President Bush disagree on affirmative action, Bush is going to discourage him from vocalizing his views on the issue--that’s what politicians do; they try to make it look like everyone agrees with them.”
She said that some people have criticized her for what she says about Colin Powell, and i thought she was gonna say about him being a fascist, but no, she meant about respecting his integrity. Apparently it’s a newsflash to a lot of people (and no, she was not this acerbic) that someone can have beliefs that you totally disagree with and still have integrity. Apparently it was a book by Stephen Carter that caused this realization to dawn on her. Now, i remember in high school (hi, public school in Democratic Massachusetts) thinking that Republican=evil, and we couldn’t understand how Mr. MacDonough, a very intelligent and thoughtful man (and a public school teacher to boot, as Mr. Quinn pointed out) could be a Republican, but in 2 years i’ve grown out of that. Setting aside whether it really took this particular book to make her realize that, i think it’s interesting (and sad) that it’s something she feels the need to address, that she sees people not acknowledging that people can have views you find morally reprehensible but still have integrity.
Someone asked if she ever felt like she needed to just get out of the U.S., and she said she went to Europe at one point and Lo! it was much the same. (Yeah, this is me being shocked.) She said something about the imperialism (or whatever) “invading” even there. Um, don’t you mean “inherent” or “ingrained”? The U.S. did not invent imperialism or oppression or anything like that. In fact, given that we started as a European colony, we probably *gasp* inherited it from Europe. (And yes, i know we’ve done so much given our enormous power and to whom much is given much is expected and all that.)
She mentioned her most recent book (Rock My Soul: Black People and Self-Esteem) at least 3 times in like 5 minutes, which amused me, and i certainly understand given that she’s just come off a book tour. At one point she talked about a student at the college who was feeling deprived of role models or something, i don’t even remember what, and bell hooks said, “But you have bell hooks” and talked about how she would have loved to have had a bell hooks when she was in college. Now, i understand pointing out how much better your students had it than you did when you were a student, but however well i think of myself i think i would feel uncomfortable using myself as an example. I find this particularly interesting given that in the introduction, the student mentioned the decapitalization of her name because she wanted her work not her person to be the focus.
Yeah, i know, i’m really nitpicking here. I think this is both a good thing and a bad thing. Theoretically i think one should focus on the major issues/themes of a person’s talk, but i also think there’s value in picking things apart. I mean, people prepare speeches in advance. People who have been asked the same types of questions frequently have a good idea as to what they’re gonna say in their answer. In my environmental ethics interterm class, Merrill said she was really interested in the nuances of the World Summit declaration, because those were what people lobbied for.
When Lauren and i were talking tonight, Lauren said she thought of some of what bell hooks said was sort of too narrowly focused and she said that you can often tell a lot about a person by what that person chooses to criticize, and i was thinking of that in terms of my criticism of stuff (i heartily admit that my criticisms say A LOT about me and what’s important to me and all that) but she was thinking of it in terms of what bell hooks chose to focus on, which i thought was interesting (thoughb i admit one of the problems i had with the talk was that i couldn’t pull out any major themes or issues -- maybe i’m spoiled on church sermons where they spell it out for you ;) Bill and his “perfect... 3-point... sermon,” mom?).
She said she’s working on a new book called Building Community: A Pedagogy of Hope. I really like that title. I should read more of her work (if for no other reason than to familiarize myself with it) and i’m definitely interested in reading that book when it comes out.
The title of her talk was “Eliminating Racism, Celebrating Race.” The fact that her talk didn’t really fit that at all is of course not problematic at all. /sarcasm
She said that white people often come to her and say “I don’t know what to do.” “Here we go again,” i thought. She said that often if people just took the time to really think about it, they often do know what they can do, and part of it is just being more aware in your daily life so you see opportunities to do things. I thought that was a good point (though being given only the advice to educate myself and be more aware still rankles). I got to thinking, though, connecting it to gay rights stuff (because as someone brought up in one of those house discussions we had, thinking about the ways in which you are a member of an underprivileged group and using that to help you connect with the experiences of members of other underprivileged groups). I think of gay rights as something where it’s very easy to make changes, to do things as allies (largely because it’s not as far along as say the anti-racism movement, so there’s a lot more big picture stuff to get done) but i was realizing that i would hesitate to tell someone who asked “What can i do?” to just “go do thusandsuch,” because the movement is so diverse that it wouldn’t be fair for me to hand off my agenda to someone and claim to represent the agenda of the whole movement. Whereas if people educated themselves, they would see what things they wanted to change, and mere awareness is so important (not using “gay” as an insult, noticing how everything is based on the nuclear family, etc.) as well. So yeah, i get this “go out and educate yourself thing” more now -- though really i’m still a big fan of being given concrete suggestions.
At dinner we somehow didn’t talk about it at all, but Crystal asked Marnie about it (she hadn’t gone, for whatever reason) and Marnie said, “To talk about any one part of it, would do a disservice to the whole... it was so good.” I thought of saying to her, “We are never going to talk about politics ever, are we?” but that would have precipitated a discussion of what exactly i found problematic and why when really i just wanted to jet up to my room and get everything down on “paper.”
But really, Marnie and i eventually will have some mad long discussion of politics (and as i said to her tonight, “and we’ll promise not to hate each other”). And Lauren and i talked for a long time tonight and while we disagree on a lot of stuff, we can still totally talk. And it’s kind of interesting hearing the liberal side and realizing that i’ve been so immersed in reading conservative stuff that i’ve sort of forgotten what the liberal arguments sound like. And discussing issues with her made me feel like i wasn’t any further along than i was when i started a few months ago in synthesizing the arguments and all that. This is so frustrating -- and makes me so wary of people who seem to have all the answers, even about one single issue. How the heck do people manage to have coherent beliefs about a wide variety of issues?
And to think, here i had been, so content with writing entries about whatall was nice about my day. We know that now that i’m back in the groove more entries will follow, in that nonexistent free time i have what with all my reams of reading for my various classes.
Yeesh, UberEntryOfDoom much? I started this after dinner and took a break to watch Buffy (way good episode, btw) and then hung out with various people and got back to my room at nearly eleven. Good thing i didn’t have to do any homework tonight. Bedtime, yo.