The Whiteness Mystique

Last week I went to a lecture called “White Privilege and the Politics of Identity” as part of the Conversations on Diversity, given by Dr. Jill Swiencicki. It was an overview of the study of Whiteness scholarship today, mostly an introduction designed for people who hadn’t heard of the topic before.

Whiteness studies focus on how white people benefit from racism, and the inherent privileges that come from being classified as white in our societies (and possibly others). Basically it “pays to be a member of a dominant racial group.” When part of a dominant racial group, it’s difficult to acknowledge. It emerged with slavery, and has become ingrained in society. Whiteness means that white people get more trust, money, and jobs than people who belong to other races.

It was actually less a lecture than a conversation series, more than usual, perhaps. Dr. Swiencicki gave us several topics and a little history and then prompted conversations with our neighbors. I went with a friend, and since I’m not very outgoing I ended up talking with her for all of the conversations. This wasn’t really a bad thing, I knew I could be more honest with her than I would dare with a stranger. And after each small conversation, then there would be a group discussion.

We heard some interesting thing. One man said that he didn’t realize until he went to New Zealand that he wasn’t being watched in stores all the time. Instead, he was The American. Another guy, I think a business major, said that he had to dress better for interviews than others. A woman mentioned that she got fewer call-backs for jobs. Several people mentioned their school experiences, where people would claim the cafeteria lunch tables based on race. And while one person said that when they came to CSU, Chico from a primarily white suburb they found the campus to be very diverse–another said they were surprised by how homogeneously white it was.

I confess I had that same impression when I first came to Chico. I remember coming on campus my first semester and thinking “it’s so white!” I don’t know if that would have been my though right out of high school, though perhaps it would have been. I’m about as white as one could be although there may be some fraction of Native American on my dad’s side. And both sides of my family have been in the US for generations, which means there may well be lots of different contributions from unknown donors. That sounds odd, but really, there’s no such thing as race under the best of circumstances, and things only get murky once people actually begin interacting. Anyway, I spent two years in Santa Clarita, CA going to community college. One person here in Chico called it the place with “all the pretty girls”–the model types. But apparently it counted as less white than Chico.

But there I met my favorite professor, and probably the smartest person I’ve ever actually met. Professor Varga had some sort of descendant tie to Alexander Hamilton and was mostly Hispanic–but he had blue eyes and light skin. I had him for the Modern History of Latin America class. Apparently, at one school, they didn’t want him teaching Chicano studies because he looked too white.

So I guess that brings me to the one thing I didn’t like about the lecture. It wasn’t anything in the real lecture itself, mostly the subject itself. Not even that, really. My point is that I don’t like separating racism, which is basically just prejudice with an obvious visual element. Makes it harder to avoid, yes, but it just seems divisive to start a subject called “Whiteness studies” when it’s just an aspect of racism. Of course, to me it seems obvious that the impetus behind racism [prejudice] is for a privilege. People spend a lot of time–no matter how educated or enlightened–looking for ways in which they are better than others.

So as far as I’m concerned the way to stop, at the very least, racism, would be to simply not divide people into races anymore. See–there you go.

No, it isn’t that simple. But honestly, I can be really naive, and I don’t see why not. People, just be smart already.

New LanguAge

I was reading the school paper, and perused a commentary on how students on campus use language in this age of information. As an English major, I approve.

The author, as I recall, blamed the breakdown of intelligent communication on the text messaging language as it creeps into the spoken.  Many people do. I’m not sure I don’t. In fact, I was surprised at myself when I first read the article, because at first I found myself rolling my eyes. I don’t appreciate the careless use of language. Using text speak in actual speech is always ridiculous–unless used satirically. Or maybe even just used humorously. But I must admit, sometimes I have at least thought “WTF” when watching/hearing something so utterly stupid that I can’t spare the mental time to think the whole phrase–and, hey, it’s not really cursing. And there are plenty of words invented by the internet* that I genuinely  appreciate. Sheeple. Kerfluffle. Angsting.

Perhaps it’s careless to use new words, when a careful enough revision of my own writing or thoughts might be able get the same feeling across using ‘traditional’ English. But then again, as the Facebook “Flair” button says “English: A language that lurks in dark alleys, beats up other languages, and rifles through their pockets for spare vocabulary,”** which I’m quite sure is stolen from someone who does not get nearly enough credit…but when you say something that awesome on the internet you tend to lose your fame for it very quickly.  Anyway, when English doesn’t have the perfect one, it tends to fill the vacuum with something new or borrowed (and sometimes blue, I’m sure). Thus I justify my internet speak.

So when I first read the article, I thought: well, really, why not use text speak in casual conversation? I’d greatly appreciate if you do so out of my hearing, but if your group understands the language, you may as well. So long as your formal communications–to someone outside of your social circle, or in written communications other than texts or possibly tweets. And if you have any acquaintances (or especially coworkers/bosses) as Facebook friends, don’t use text speak in status updates.  Nonetheless, I do feel  it has a place.

Then again, pretty much as soon as I found myself making the argument above, I realized–the problem is people don’t seem to be able to distinguish when it might be appropriate and when it definitely isn’t.

I remember, in high school, I read two ‘paragraphs,’ each written by a one person attending detention. Okay, so I couldn’t have been expecting much, but still, these would have been written in an academic context, not to mention that it was displayed on the whiteboard. Each, though, were equally terrible. You’d think they’d never learned how to write…which I suspect they did, as they had that ‘valley-girl’ handwriting, one even adorned with hearts.

And, despite the fact that I am now in my third senior semester at college, each of my professors, after the first essay assignment, still have to go over the most basic tenets of writing. For instance: spelling. When I first started college and heard this lecture, I was horrified. It was like, really people? this is college. The fact that it was a community college makes now difference. Now at least I’ve gotten used to it, though I am still saddened. While I’d like to think that people ought to be able to adjust their language based on the situation….apparently, no.

I don’t know how to solve this. I refuse to submit to writing text speak in my essays or talk to my mom that way–she doesn’t even use the computer, much less would have any idea what I’m talking about (although she is rather proficient at reading my mind when I’m particularly incoherent.)  You know what I think? I think that we should just disallow those people who can’t tell the difference to participate in any meaningful communication, because they aren’t capable of doing so anyway. First amendment be damned.

*Okay, so the internet itself didn’t actually develop the language, but it’s such a facilitator, it seems to make the spread rather faster and more creative. I likes it.

**Possibly James Nicholl, actually: “The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don’t just borrow words; on occasion English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.”  Apparently he’s mostly an Internet personality, as opposed to being famous offline, which I find rather appropriate.

Internationally Known

I have a great roommate. She’s from Brazil–or at least her family is. She grew up primarily in Mozambique. Her parents are missionaries, and so she moved often growing up. So far we have found that we both once liked Nsync, and that she and her friends liked the Spice Girls.  Early on, she made a rice and (black?) bean dish that I don’t remember the name of, but it was really good. It apparently is what the poor college students live off of in Brazil. However, I don’t know if I’m culturally insensitive, but when I think of my roommate, I don’t immediately think of her as Brazilian or a missionary’s daughter. In fact, I just tend to be jealous that she can cook things like rice. From scratch.*

California State University, Chico offers a course called International Forum. Recently they hosted a panel of international students, and American students who had studied abroad. There were quite a range of countries represented: from France, the UK, and Italy to Costa Rica, New Zealand and Japan. As well as the Czech Republic, Australia, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. There were quite a few students on the panel; they had to keep adding chairs.

The discussion was organized around the stereotyped American around the world. Most of it wasn’t a surprise. The government isn’t popular (it isn’t here either), there tends to be an ignorance of geography and other cultures (not all that inaccurate) and we eat junk food (so unfortunately true). There were plenty of surprises though. For instance, places like McDonalds (sort of) and KFC apparently serve real food in other countries. Several students expressed surprise at what kinds of food we are willing to eat. Well, often they technically serve real food here, but it’s actually pretty good food abroad. Hmmm…

(I should mention the student who’d come from Czech was sympathetic to the cost of real food–as sodas tend to be cheaper than bottled water, etc. Although it usually isn’t necessary here to buy water, the parallel with food is true.)

Also, flip flops are frowned upon, except as something to wear around the house. The student who’d travelled to Italy mentioned that wearing flip flops outside tended to draw attention and whispers and children pointing. I completely agree. I don’t wear flip flops–although I will confess to owning a pair to wear at a pool or in a shower, should it prove necessary. So far, it hasn’t. I’m something, apparently, of a shoe elitist.

Finally, what took me mostly by surprise, although it shouldn’t have, is that the US has a reputation for having guns on every person. This is most likely because the NRA tends to get lots of media attention, but still, it’s far easier in the US than many other countries to get ahold of a gun-type weapon. Unless you’re me.

Anyway.

Most of the international students pointed out that in their countries guns are either not allowed at all, except in cases of hunting, or even then have very strict standards for keeping a weapon. Now this really didn’t occur to me because I don’t have any contact with guns. I have only once seen a gun in person (that I can actually recall) and that was my uncle’s rifle (?–I don’t know what it was, actually, just that it was long). My dad technically has a gun apparently…I’ve never actually seen it, and keep forgetting to ask. But hunting was a major pastime where I grew up, even if not so much in my family. People tended not to use them on each other, but they were there. So guns just aren’t a part of my consciousness, so I never even thought about how other countries might allow/disallow them.

I always wanted to do some kind of foreign exchange program, but could never afford it and was always too shy. My best friend in high school did go to Germany for a year, and I still have all her letters to me, though unfortunately the message she left me where she sang “Happy Birthday” in German was lost.  I have been to Canada though. Technically. It was Sunday and nearly everything was closed and it was rainy so we stopped at an A&W and a gas station for souvenirs. Well, it does make for an amusing anecdote.

*I can make big dumplings though. And mash potatoes with a fork.

To Sleep…Seriously, No More

So, I don’t like to sleep.  Sometimes.  This varies: often I do like to sleep.  Particularly to sleep in. However, when I am stressed about the future I cannot help remembering that any particular person will spend about one-third of their life asleep.  A whole third.  That’s, like, a lot.

I apologize.

Anyway I don’t think there has been one day this week that I actually went to bed before midnight…and that does not include the time spent in actually falling asleep.  Then I have, or had, my alarm set for six-thirty in the morning.  Admittedly, I didn’t actually get up until only half-an-hour before class several days, but it still overall completely ruined my sleep schedule.  I’ve been drinking a lot of coffee.

I need my sleep. That’s all.  Of course now that I really do: i.e. school is in full swing and I need a job and I’m a procrastinator at the best of times, I’ve installed the StumbleUpon toolbar.  Will I ever sleep again?

Doubtful.

But I found one site there that does relate to this post (eventually).  It’s called LikeBetter (I think) and you just choose out of two pictures which one you prefer until the brain says it has something to say about you.  And then you tell it whether it was right or wrong. Generally it worked well for me…at least until it thought I was a guy.  I don’t know if I want to analyze that particular answer. Anyway, after one sequence of picture-choosing, the brain said I was a night person.  My brother’s first thought was, yeah that’s right. (He was visiting–or rather needed a place to sleep last night, so I got to see him. Yay!  And I’ll see him on Tues, twice, I think, and he’ll bring me Apartment Life.  Yay!)

Re-railing this post.  Yes, lately I’ve been a night-owl type.  This usually happens once school starts, and I actually have to do homework.  I can’t do all my online stuff, not to mention my games, writing, knitting and other free time stuff until I get back home.  And that’s especially hard now that I actually hang out with friends.  Seriously, this has been totally screwing with my academic life.  (Well not really, actually it’s really helpful when I’m writing an essay specifically and can brainstorm with a bunch of other people who have some idea of what I’m talking about.) But it does mean that I don’t have nearly as much time to screw around in. Though I do anyway.

And I stay up too late and don’t get up until pretty much just before I have to leave for class.

Why don’t I consider myself a true night person then?  Because I really like to get up early.  Preferably before, say, 6:30 am.  When I do manage to get up that early, I tend to accomplish much more.  There’s more daylight to work with, and while I have just as many hours when I stay up late, I don’t have the motivation.  I love the early morning light, and the way the sun slants through the window just after eight.  And I can appreciate that so much more when I’ve already had coffee and breakfast.

I can get kind of obsessive about not wasting time–though I continue to do so–especially when I’m stressed.  When I was really depressed my junior year in high school I didn’t want to sleep at all.  Seriously.  Mostly I just got stuck on the idea that as human beings we spend approximately a full third of our lives asleep.

What a waste of time, right?

This was before I’d come to the realization that sleep, is, in fact, the only the best, most useful part of the day.  So lets just say it probably didn’t help that I was depressed.  They (they being scientists, somewhere, apparently doing research, probably with federal grants) have found that the clinically depressed, are often also often chronically sleep-deprived.  And I have discovered since then that I need between eight and nine hours of sleep at night.  No matter what time of night, or what time my alarm goes off, if I go back to sleep, I will get back up almost exactly nine hours lately.  Or sometimes eight, if I did intend on getting up for something.  For example, when my brother came by he didn’t get here until after midnight, and we ended up talking until nearly two.  I woke up this morning enough to turn off the alarm and actually got up at almost exactly 10 am because I was going to help my youngest brother with his essay.

I know I’m an English major because I wanted to take the thesis (which was very good) from his one-and-a-half page draft and turn it into an eight page paper just for kicks.  He was very grateful that I didn’t try to make him do that.

P.S. You’re also supposed to sleep better in a dark room as well.  I’ve always preferred pitch black.  Unfortunately someone made the incredibly odd decision to install indoor office fluorescent strip lights on the walkway (where the only windows are).  They are rusting.  Then again,  the cover came loose on the light nearest the stairway, and it has killed lots of bugs.  It must be their supa-secret plan.  And so long as I don’t get electrocuted.  But at any rate, it means my room is darkest (currently) at about 6:30pm just before those lights come on.  Blackout curtains, maybe, if I ever think of them and can afford them at the same time.

Fandom

Pssst…I stole this from my myspace…just to have something here.

This is not a review of the book named below…for one thing, I didn’t read it.  This is not a critique of so-called “fandoms”…for another thing, I don’t belong to all that many. This is…random thoughts that have been percolating in my mind for awhile.

Disclaimer: The author is not responsible for any mental confusion that may result from the reading of this “web log”, or the attempted comprehension thereof.

I recently picked up a book at the library: The Ivory Tower and Harry Potter, I think.  I stopped reading Harry Potter years ago now, and really can’t bear to go back. Whatever lingering interest I had was killed by the over-commercialization of the series–not to mention the movie trailers.  So I don’t know why I picked it up, and even checked it out, before realizing I seriously had no interest in reading anything along those subject lines, much less that long.

At any rate, I did end up carrying it around with me for about an hour, and in the meantime, the section about the “fandom” of the series caught my eye. And I read it of course.  I also flipped through some of the rest.  One of the first things I noticed overall was how overwhelmingly skewed it seemed to be to the positive of the series.  I don’t have anything against Harry Potter other than my lack of interest, but it seemed that The Ivory Tower had no other purpose but to defend it against all comers.  Seemed odd to me, for an academic perspective.  Then again, I didn’t read all of it, or even much of it, so I might be wrong.

But in the chapter on the Harry Potter community, the author discussed going online to read the websites and forums devoted to the series.  Apparently at the time (2002 or before) the series was (mock quote) “mature and intellectual for the age of the participatants” who were usually young and female.  Which is true, online fan groups do seem to be made up of younger female fans.  Or at least many of them are…others are composed of much older people, etc etc.

One thing that really caught my eye, though, was that the author thought this characteristic (maturity) was unique among Harry Potter fans.  Well, it’s fortunate that he/she got the chance to write their article so early because, while I never (fortunately) got too involved in the HP fandom (one word: twincest.  two more words: middle school), I can say that that peace did not last long.  Awhile ago…at least several months…I found a 5 page livejournal post just about how someone in the fanfic hp community had several identies and had real-life death threats…and that does it no justice at all.  It was awesome…and apparently is gone now.  Although I’m still looking for it, naturally.

In the looking though, I found this quote that sums up how badly the author misjudged the fandom:  “In terms of sheer quantity, this fandom outwanks them all. For batshit insanity, perhaps only the LOTR fandom surpasses it. So often is it featured on Fandom Wank that some FW readers’ idea of heaven would be a world without Harry Potter.” link Also, look up wank, it’s not as bad as it sounds.  But the point is, many Harry Potter “participating” fans…I specify participating, because I can’t comment on those who don’t…come across as completely crazy.  I’m sure they’re not. But many many sound like it.

This brings me to remember at least one thing I had intended to mention though:  this article, and most discussion of fan communities in general discuss it as though its some strange feature of crazy people, and bears no relation to “us” as normal people.  It’s what the weird people do.  Except, and I’m stealing this idea from somewhere I can’t remember, it makes a lot more sense and is a lot more rational than middle aged men taking of their shirts, painting their chests green and yellow, and standing with thousands of others to yell at much younger men sweating and fighting over a ball.  So there.  Liking sports is fine, and there’s nothing wrong with liking them, but there’s really nothing different about the impulse to talk to others about the books/games/movies you really liked, except for the most part, if you tried to strike up conversation in an elevator, people are either less likely to know what you’re talking about, or less willing to talk about it.  Stigma, you know.  Messes with people’s heads, it does.

Anyway, I think to wrap up, because my fingers are tired and it’s late, online forums devoted to books/games/tv, etc, are really just everyday conversations written down.  And those not involved think it’s stupid, because most things you say in person are stupid when written down.  Like this.

I’m not ashamed!  (Sorry)

Dang, there was a lot more I wanted to say…but that would mean writing it ahead of time, and actually working on it.  So this is all.

MsScribe hilariousness here.