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Saturday, March 17, 2001
!!! Jay Leno last night!! Backstreet Boys!!! Brian doing his Donald Duck impression!!! "Oh boy!!"
Oh wow. [This article] by a Harvard student about "Asian stereotypes" is maddening (link via [lyd]). Especially after just reading about [Critical Race Theory], it's painfully obvious that the author of this article is more than just a (self-described) self-hating Asian, but is someone who desperately needs to believe in the "color-blindness" of things as they are. For Justin Fong, race-consciousness -- thinking about race at all -- is racism. He, on the other hand (see photograph included with article, the obligatory "multicultural" group of friends, one of each color), does not think about race and therefore is enlightened. In his privileged state, he eschews groups of Asians because they are all foreign (speaking Asian languages) and wimpy/slutty.

In his call for Asians to "break out" of stereotypes, he is really calling for an embrace of a particular type of cultural presence -- some would call it "all-Americanness," others "whiteness." In essence, he wants to erase these markings of racialized difference by assimilating to an idealized "neutral" personhood. What he doesn't see is that such "neutral" persons are not by any means without race. They are in fact carefully race-d as the norm, what fits within a unified conception of what it means to be white and American. So, in his call for Asians to disperse, to assimilate, to become "normal," he is far from being "color-blind" -- he in fact endorses a specific conception of race, cloaked in terms of ideological neutrality.

Happy: "Nobody Wants to Be Lonely" cd single with Ricky Martin and Christina Aguilera finally arriving in the mail. Time is precious and it's slipping away / And I've been waiting for you all of my life / Nobody wants to be lonely / So why don't you let me love you.

Sad: J gone to Virginia until tomorrow afternoon. Nobody wants to be lonely.

Friday, March 16, 2001
(Note, added 4:41:23 pm. Just read ["Pedro Zamora's Real World of Counterpublicity"] in which Muñoz focuses much more on how a performance can make its way through institutional structures and channels. Wonderful reading of Zamora's work and its presentation through the lens of The Real World.)

The point here is not to moralize about how such an image might be harmful, for it is my belief that it is a futile project to deliberate on the negativity or positivity of images within representational fields.

-- [José Esteban Muñoz]

I wish I could disavow the importance of juggling negative or positive images. I think Muñoz's work is very thoughtful and generative, but I wish he would allow himself to deal with the messiness of representational force. Looking at artists like Richard Fung is important, and I agree with what Muñoz writes about Fung's re-articulation of self, but what about images and representations of people that are more pervasive? It would be interesting to think about why some artists' work is acceptable for "mainstream" circulation while others' aren't, despite obvious counter-hegemonic material in both. Muñoz's work is more concerned, however, with the position that the artist articulates in allowing for readings of self and identity outside those prescribed.

There is another aspect to the work of artists, though. I would suggest that there is something about the reading, the reader, that makes and defines the object of study, the text. So, it matters what the audience of a work is. I don't think I want to argue that therefore the only truly subversive work can only travel an underground existence, but it makes me wonder. I think Spike Lee's Bamboozled haphazardly addresses the problem of cooptation, of a larger institutional structure assimilating dissenting voices, etc. In a related vein, Karen Tei Yamashita's Through the Arc of the Rain Forest takes a look at how corporate capitalism subsumes "authentic" (i.e., not originally concerned with making money) projects in its constant search for growth and profit. Neither of these works, however, offers any sense of how to change those effects, to resist cooptation or to transform larger structures of power.

But back to the question of positive and negative representations. I think Muñoz's (and as he explains, Michele Wallace's) uneasiness with critiques of images as good or bad is in those critiques' uselessness in changing representational practices. After all, there must be "bad" characters in stories, to take a simplistic example. But I still think these critiques, or more precisely, these discussions, about how representations can be negative, are always important. I don't advocate censorship or "political correctness" in the pejorative sense that stymies the production of cultural texts, but unless we continue to talk and write about what various representations do, we will never be able to understand representations, gazes, etc. And by extension, we would not be able to change what we don't like about how we are viewed.

I wish the sky would clear up. It's been so gloomy here the last few days. Being solar-powered has its benefits, but can also be a pain.
Thursday, March 15, 2001
I'm fascinated by manifestos, the purposeful statements of what one is, what one faces, what one proposes to do.

I'm not quite sure what to make of [The Cyborg Manifesto], though. Simply regarding the "material" as obsolete seems too naive. Need to look at [Donna Haraway's Cyborg Manifesto] again because I think she does something much more interesting there, imagining what a cyborg reality would mean in terms of the material, the social, the political, etc. (rather than as a utopia outside these discourses).

. . .

From the dictionary:

manifesto n. (pl. -os) a public declaration of policy and aims, esp. as issued before an election by a political party, candidate, government, etc.

Hmmm . . . wonder why "platform" seems to be the preferred term for political parties, candidates, etc.

Wow. To think that the world is getting smaller and smaller is not so surprising, but to realize that the Internet is becoming more and more restricted is quite a trip. I suppose it's not entirely unexpected, though, given the effects of 1996's Communications Decency Act -- the restriction of many "indecent" sites (often commercialized through pay-for-membership structures) -- even as that Act was ultimately deemed [unconstitutional] by the US Supreme Court (how did I miss that ruling?).

But yes, this article, ["Welcome to the World Wide Web. Passport, Please?"], in the NY Times touches on the same trend to restrict access to (and by extension presentation of) material on the Internet. A quote:

Suddenly, the seemingly borderless Internet is ramming up against real borders. The imposition of jurisdictional laws could mean that online publishers decide either to keep some material off the Internet entirely, for fear of criminal and civil charges filed in different countries or even different states, or to install online gates and checkpoints around their sites, giving access to only certain viewers.

It's the clash of cultures again, that sticky conflict of morals, judgement, respect. But the newness of the Internet, its promise for changing the way we as people of the world communicate, seems to be lost to proponents of restriction and censorship. It seems that some people are incapable of imagining the possibilities of fruitful exchanges across jurisidictions. I risk sounding like an extremist in advocating the free exchange of ideas (a la Mill or even Milton -- ideas will battle themselves out in a free market and the best, most moral, will win), a position I have doubts about embracing outright because implicit in it is a certain, usually conservative, hierarchy of values and pronouncements on what is moral or righteous. After all, I still believe in the necessity of anti-discrimination laws, including injunctions against hate speech. But how can we reconcile the possibilities of the Internet, the structure of informational exchange it provides, with our values without chaining down the Internet to old rules and restrictions? How can we move past differences to a common ground?

. . .

Talked briefly with the cashier at [The Bull's Head Bookshop] on campus. I was picking up Barbara Smith's [The Truth That Never Hurts] and Kate Millett's Sexual Politics (both on sale in celebration of [Women's History Month]) and the cashier asked me what program I was in at UNC. I guess it seemed odd to him that someone during spring break would be on campus buying these particular books. So we chatted a bit about our academic interests -- turns out he's in the Comparative Literature department working on francophone and anglophone Caribbean literatures. I talked about my interests in anglophone Caribbean literatures and he mentioned a few people in the English department who would be good to approach about work in such an area. The parking meter was running so I couldn't stay to chat longer, but I do plan on looking him up to talk further about what he's writing about in his dissertation and how he's been finding graduate study here. I like friendly people.

Wednesday, March 14, 2001
What have you accomplished in your life?

I know it's incredibly self-destructive for me to think about how some people I know have done so much in their lives, made recordable, material changes. Their movements through institutions, their friends' lives, life in general, seem to be full of meaning, of progressive action. On the other hand, I seem to slip by quietly always silent unable to catch people's attention (not wanting their attention?) just another nameless face.

Yesterday I was thinking about some students I admired in college, mostly younger than me and yet already leading discussion groups, organizations, rallies as first-years, forging ahead in their roles as leaders of social change. As I was searching the web to see if I could find traces of their lives, what they are doing now, what they have accomplished, I came across a bio of one acquaintance. I saw her around last year in NYC (she was a friend of my roommate). She was a paralegal, doing grunt work long hours each week. But in this bio, I discovered that she has enrolled at Columbia's School of Journalism while deferring enrollment at Boalt School of Law (UC Berkeley). That drive in and of itself makes me feel small; I barely know what I am doing in grad school, often feeling as if I am spinning my wheels in an attempt to create something worth calling a life. But more than that, I read in her bio of all the things in which she was involved while in college, organization after organization, visible campaign after campaign to make the institution more diverse, more equitable, more aware of its failings in providing its students, faculty, other employers with compelling educations and work environments. All these things I remember watching vaguely, filtering information through the papers and the occasional organizational meetings into which I wandered.

From where do these people get their energy, their conviction, the knowledge to deal with complicated issues? How do they keep from that paralysis of uncertainty? How do they make those steps to act even in the fact of seeming-futility or outright resistance?

And here I sit, trying just to keep my thoughts in line, struggling to follow arguments, others' words.

. . .

Watched Edge of Seventeen last night. It was difficult movie to watch, I suppose partly because it was well-done. But I was playing up the drama of the narrative, telling J that I was scared or sad at all the moments when you just knew what was going to happen, and it wasn't going to be good. I remember when it came out a year or two ago in theaters, Edge was reviewed in all the papers along with Get Real. J and I saw Get Real in NYC together, but never managed to catch Edge of Seventeen for some reason. I think Edge of Seventeen was a more moving movie because it didn't have an easy or happy resolution. The protagonist's coming-to-terms with his sexuality and the beginnings of his coming-out process are incredibly painful (for me perhaps because I can identify with the situations, reactions, etc.). The writers of the movie shy away from making the protagonist "good"; they depict him in all the confusion, self-centeredness, and messiness of a teenager's decisions and actions in an imperfect world. The other characters, too, are complicated in the same respect, not simply accepting what happens or believing what they say or do in certain moments; that delicate negotiation between being in a moment and what you would do if you had more time to think about your actions . . .

Tuesday, March 13, 2001
Sigh. It's another one of those days. Little things keep going wrong. And I keep kicking myself for not responding to other things. One example, at the grocery store, the checkout person scanned the bottle of cooking wine twice. Why didn't I just say, uh, you already scanned that item? Kick myself and my sorry butt.
A Race, Gender, and Sexuality Post

The concepts of race, gender, and sexuality and how we various groups of people talk about them are incredibly complicated. I don't think I will ever be able to come to an "understanding" of how differing perspectives imagine race, gender, and sexuality, how they impact each other and the people they are meant to describe. But this difficulty doesn't mean that I can just give up thinking about them, that I can be un-problematically "color-blind" or "gender-neutral" or "private" (don't ask/don't tell). Attempts to claim neutrality only ignore the very real effects of racism, sexism, and heterosexism. I hope this acknowledgement of the conservatism (i.e. capitulating to status quo) of "neutrality" doesn't mean that we are stuck in constant warfare over racial and sexual self-determination. I do think, however, that such acknowledgement means a constant negotiation between different meanings of race, gender, and sexuality -- with a move towards greater cross-categorical understanding and respect. After all, most people realize that these categories are to some extent (at least) "socially-constructed" -- that there is not a clear definition of what makes a person black, for example (is the child of a black woman and a Chinese man black?).

I come to these thoughts on a periodic basis, never with any definitive conclusion because such rigidity cannot possibly deal with all the myriad situations in which conceptions of race, gender, and sexuality play out to the detriment of certain members of our community. That there are classes of people -- blacks, latinos, women, gays -- that bear the brunt of the violence, face the most limited possibilities for self-fulfillment, etc. because of how others think of them is the reason why we must continue to work against these negative associations.

I agree with [Shyaku] that what Tim Wise does in his commentary is not quite "right" in saying that school shootings are a white matter (see [previous post]). But Wise's comments do not really argue that these shootings are a white crime so much as point out that there is a disturbing public conception of crime as a black phenomenon. The question, "How could such crime happen in a white neighborhood?" implies that such crime only happens in non-white neighborhoods. Why is it that crime writ large is a black problem, but crime in "all-American" towns suddenly becomes a psychological investigation of the mental state of white shooters? Blacks commit crimes, are criminals. White teenagers are troubled, teased to the point of violence. Why is there such a push to absolve white teenagers of their crimes, but very little effort to think of blacks as something other than criminal, broken, corrupt? When is there a justification for a crime rather than just an excuse? Where does the responsibility lie? These questions are all important to the elucidation of institutionalized racism, the criminalization of color, and understandings of economic and situational factors that keep many blacks below the poverty line. They are in fact the questions that concern criminal law, defining the various degrees of murder, for example (murder, man slaughter, negligent homicide, etc.). When is murder really murder? When are there extenuating circumstances? And I think Shyaku is right that you basically have to yell at people sometimes to get them out of racist modes of thinking, to get people to understand that there are inequalities between how blacks are treated as criminals vs. whites in similar circumstances.

The issue of gender tends to foreground ideas of essential characteristics, biological differences between men and women. And while it may seem that women can get away with sexist words against men while men can't say sexist things about women, I think the situations really are more complicated. And again, what is of greatest importance are actions and words that challenge hierarchized thinking about gender on a large scale. While in some cases, this may seem like allowing for men to be bashed by women, for example, it really is about moving away from this either/or, a man-thing or a woman-thing thinking. I readily call myself a feminist because I believe in what the women's liberation movement strived for a couple of decades ago -- the eradication of gender bias in personal and political interactions. And where does the struggle between men and women put gay men and lesbians? The struggle for gender equality is not the same as the struggle against heterosexism, but it is very much linked. As Shyaku points out, just because one is gay (and male) does not make one not a guy. But that such thinking even crosses our minds shows us how much sex and sexuality are not completely distinct phenomenon. For example, common emasculating taunts draw on the concept of labelling the taunted faggots.

And then there is the whole issue of sexual harrassment, talking about someone's homosexuality, and discrimination suits. I don't know what's really going on with [psionic's] situation, but it does seem like a complicated mess. As he points out, his company considers "outing" (defamation of character?) a sexual harrassment case. I like to think that I'm living in a much more gay-friendly world/country than it seems is out there, so I often forget about the difficulties of being out at work. More than the fear of being fired, I have to remind myself that a major issue with being out at work is also negotiating personal relationships, working and non-, and relating to others professionally. I know that thinking that being out at work as necessary is a very privileged way of thinking. I can insist on being out at work (or school) because I don't have to hold down that job in order to survive, to make a living. And there are always more things to consider than "being true to oneself."

Hmm.... I guess this post kind of loses its steam rapidly after the first few paragraphs. Oh well. It's spring break. Can't hold a thought in my head very long. Picked up Siobhan B. Somerville's [Queering the Color Line] yesterday. Looks like a fascinating thesis -- "Siobhan B. Somerville argues that the emerging understanding of homosexuality depended on the context of the black/white 'color line,' the dominant system of racial distinction."

Monday, March 12, 2001
J sent me this interesting commentary by Tim Wise titled "School Shootings and White Denial." Wise points out that news reports of these school shootings (at Santee, Columbine, etc.) always seem shocked by the idea that crimes of this nature could happen in an "All-American" town (i.e., a white suburb). The implication of this shock is that crime is a colored and foreign thing, something perpetrated by blacks, Mexicans, Asian gangs, etc. And it's really amazing how much denial about white-perpetrated crime there is in these reports. An excerpt:

A few years ago, U.S. News ran a story entitled: "A Shocking look at blacks and crime." Yet never have they or any other news outlet discussed the "shocking" whiteness of these shoot-em-ups. Indeed, every time media commentators discuss the similarities in these crimes they mention that the shooters were boys, they were loners, they got picked on, but never do they seem to notice a certain highly visible melanin deficiency. Color-blind, I guess.

White-blind is more like it, as I figure these folks would spot color mighty damn quick were some of it to stroll into their community. Santee's whiteness is so taken for granted by its residents that the Mayor, in that CNN interview, thought nothing of saying on the one hand that the town was 82 percent white, but on the other hand that "this is America." Well that isn't America, and it especially isn't California, where whites are only half of the population. This is a town that is removed from America, and yet its Mayor thinks they are the normal ones - - so much so that when asked about racial diversity, he replied that there weren't many of different "ethni-tis-tities." Not a word. Not even close.

Feel free to [e-mail] me for the full commentary if you're interested.
So I finished reading [Karen Tei Yamashita's] Through the Arc of the Rain Forest and watched [Hal Hartley's] Flirt yesterday.

I was definitely pulled in by Yamashita's novel (read most of it in one day). As she explains in an author's note at the beginning, the novel is like a Brazilian soap opera, a novela. The events funnel together, are in total concordance. It's definitely an example of a story that is connected and causal. What I liked best about the story, though, was its dealings with this idea of necessary constant growth, especially in corporations. And ultimately, this desire always to expand finds itself without grounding, without stable foundations, and collapses. It's not that Yamashita advocates a return to the land, an agrarian way of life, the good ol' days, but there's a definite need to understand the bases of our desires to grow, to make more money, etc.

I liked Hartley's Flirt more than I liked his Henry Fool or Book of Life (though I must confess I did not like those so much at all). The concept of Flirt is very interesting -- a story plays itself out in three different locations, each instance about a year apart, in different countries. As the construction workers/philosophers in the second segment explain, the film probably fails in its explorations of the impact of the situation on a story. But it's a worthwhile experiment and instructive failure nonetheless. How much does a story's progression have to do with the surroundings, with character personalities, etc.? And what does it mean to conclude a story? The first two instances of the story in Flirt were very open-ended for me. The last was oddly truncated, brought to an unsatisfying but apparently significant closure when the woman returns to her boyfriend who was to have departed. In this case, the story diverges from the other two in which we assume that the significant others have departed as planned. Will have to talk about this movie with R who lent it to me (and is a huge Hartley fan).

Oh yeah, and saw The Simpsons last night. Very strange episode. Over-the-top. There's defintitely a detachment from "realistic" events sometimes. Maggie shooting nails at Homer. Homer nailed to a wall, oddly without bloody wounds. Lisa and the bully. Lisa's discovery of an olfactory trigger to bully behavior. Was there another plot line? That was the other thing, seemed as if the plots were entirely unrelated. As if the writers felt no need really to make a coherent episode?

Also took at short fifteen-minute jog yesterday. That was about as long as my knees and my lungs would allow me to go. Sigh. So far from the days when I would jog for an hour each morning . . . And I'm sore today, too. Ugh.

Sunday, March 11, 2001
Lately I've been having quite vivid "realistic" dreams. I have conversations with people around here, in situations that could very well happen outside my dreams. And we talk about many things. This might get confusing. So if at some point I start referring to things we talked about, but we never did, just let me know, okay?

Forgot to mention that I finally got a pair of black shoes. I went to Crabtree Valley Mall yesterday (the main reason for the jaunt out to Raleigh). And let me tell you, it was one frightening experience. To see the mass of cars going in and out of the complex, to see the full parking lots. And all the people! My claustrophobia (once inside) and people-phobia were definitely creeping up on me. Luckily Joe was with me to keep me sane. And now I know where many Triangle residents go on a Saturday afternoon -- apparently, this mega-mall. While it's wonderful that there is a centralized location to find needed things, it's also sad to think that public space is very much structured around shopping. Children, teenagers, adults, mid-aged people, older people -- they were all ambling around inside with a bag or two of loot, chatting and browsing, bonding and buying. When we went downtown a little later, the streets and city parks were deserted. There really are very few places just to hang out. Not even coffee houses (which are a business after all).

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