28 January 2010

A&M ruins yet another one of my days

As some of you know, my partner writes for the Maroon Weekly, the "alternative" counterpart to the Battalion, if by alternative you mean it's filled with more fluff. I picked up this morning's copy, read Ryan's article (awesome, by the way, but I can't find it on the website), and moved on to the predictably insensitive Pro and Con section. Maroon Weekly has a resident nutty conservative, Tony Listi, who, to put it lightly, is a goddamned moron. The Maroon Weekly's website just got a face-lift and it seems like their archives are pretty much gone. The only crazy there is that he thinks we should privatize education and that violence is a-okay. Those are fairly mild. But don't worry, he came through this week. He wrote an article titled "Racism is Not an Obstacle to Success." Sadly, it's not on the website. Also, it's labeled "Pro." I can only guess that means pro-racism
Racism doesn't hold anyone back in America, and President Obama is proof of this truth.
A promising first line, no? Because an upper-middle class black man, who grew up with money, got a first-class education, and is particularly intelligent, succeeded, so can all those other black people! If you're black and not Oprah or Obama, well that's your own damn fault.

We've heard this before. Obama has ushered in a "post-racial" society, right? Never mind that ignorant whites continue to link him to terrorism, burn his effigy in a noose, say on national television that his articulate speeches make them forget he's black, and write in the Washington Times that miscegenation explains why Obama doesn't have the "blood impulse" necessary to understand and govern the United States. We don't live in a post-racial anything; that is bullshit, and the reaction to Obama is frankly proof enough of that. But don't worry, Amanda has "a buttload of statistics" to prove that "post-racial" is a conservative fantasy/tactic and Jesse reminds us that living in those statistics is beyond frustrating. I find it difficult to believe that Tony is actually ignorant of all of these things. Racism smacks you in the face, even when you're white and an asshole, pretty regularly in Texas. It sounds more likely to me that he's just being disingenuous, and thinks that the racism he witnesses is just "little things" and not important.
I'm not saying that racism doesn't exist, and I'm not saying that blacks and hispanics [strange that he doesn't mention Asians or Middle Easterners] are prospering as much as whites. But the fact that inequalities exist and that racism hasn't been completely extinguished doesn't mean that racism is the cause of these inequalities or that it's a major problem requiring government action.
Tony is not following his conclusions through. If inequalities exist, systemic ones, and POC are not prospering as well as whites, and it's not the fault of racism, who's fault is it? The only possible answer to that is that it's the POC's own fault. But Tony doesn't say that, because he seems to be under the impression that he doesn't already sound like a racist, so he's trying to avoid doing that. But it gets better.
If anything, we've come full circle now where white skin is often a disadvantage when it comes to certain opportunities. Unfortunately, American society, especially at universities, is very race-conscious. People everywhere bend over backward to "help" minorities with handouts. [...] By making the people believe that the mere interaction of people of different ethnicities is beneficial to everyone, "diversity" has become the new leftist fad and buzz word to rationalize the destruction of merit and moral values. [Emphasis mine]
Oh, poor white people! Their own "handouts"--more financial and social stability, being the default human, going to better schools, not worrying as much about health insurance, etc.--are being undermined by those uppity minorities, thinking they should get a leg up after being beat down by systemic racism. Ugh, and the university is race conscious. Gross.

If I'm being too sarcastic, it's because Tony's arguments are infuriating and also barely arguments. It's a negative quality to be race-conscious? Even after you admit that racism still exists? And could he be more transparent in calling affirmative action in universities "handouts," that old racist buzzword which really means welfare, which really means lazy blacks and Mexicans taking my hard-earned tax dollars and doing drugs with it? And what "moral values" does increasing diversity destroy? Is segregation a moral value now?

And this is still the beginning of the article. Tony next decides that he is a position to diagnose the entire black community:
The problem in the black community and beyond is that many of these Americans are just unwilling or unable to take advantage of all the opportunities available to them. Those who are unwilling are victims of cultural pathologies of poor parenting, poor work ethic, poor study habits, poor self-control, poor social habits, poor sexual mores, etc. Material poverty is always the result of a more intangible, spiritual poverty that government cannot remedy. [Emphasis mine.]
Christ. So black people are bad parents, lazy, incapable of self discipline, and sexually impure. I'm sure he just forgot violent and drug users, because besides those two he's hit almost every racist stereotype about black people circulating today. And it's not the result of material poverty, or systemic racism, but "spiritual poverty." Whatever the fuck that means. Whether Tony is suggesting that blacks aren't religious enough or human enough, he is absolutely taking all the blame off the cultural, legal, and social structures that shape our society. If POC's are too poor to be home with their children, they're bad parents. If they don't buy into the purity myth, they're whores and morally corrupt. If they don't want to try super-duper hard to succeed in an education system that shafts them from the very beginning and assumes they'll fail, they're lazy and have poor study habits. None of this is anyone else's fault, because god forbid Tony actually feels any guilt about the success he's achieved on the backs of minorities and the poor.
Only families, churches, charities, and local communities can address these kinds of problems that require a personal, intimate touch.
Tony is bending over backwards to try and offer a solution that isn't shorthand for "get off your asses and succeed, black people!" but he's ignoring material reality to do so. Families, churches, charities, and communities are simply not big enough to combat systemic racism and classism. They are already strained under the burden of treating social ills. A single parent who is the overworked and underpaid caretaker of one or more children does not have the luxury of being what Tony considers a "good parent." But federal laws instituting a minimum wage that is actually a living wage, forcing companies to offer childcare and longer paid maternity and paternity leave, and giving that family healthcare options that are realistic and functional would go a long way to improving the material conditions of that family. With those and other government reforms, that single parent might actually have time to read her children a story before bedtime, help them with their homework, and attend parent/teacher conferences. Expecting churches and communities to improve conditions as much as those few examples alone is ridiculous and whimsical, at best.

Tony seems to think that "socialist policies" and community action are mutually exclusive:
Socialist policies and the economic downturns that they cause also hurt those at the bottom the most. The minimum wage causes greater unemployment for the least skilled workers, many of whom are minorities [Not surprisingly, Tony does not address why this might be]. Heavy taxes and regulation hamper entrepreneurship and undercut small businesses [...] Funding for local churches and other charities that show real compassion and provide real assistance to those in need dries up under these collectivist economic policies.
This last claim is mystifying to me. In what universe does increasing the minimum wage mean less funding for charities? (Federal funding for churches is fucking unconstitutional; I don't care what charitable work they're doing.) In what universe do the Democrats, the supporters of these "socialist" policies, block increased funding to charities more than Republicans, those lovers of the capitalist free market? Tony is living in a fantasy world, one in which conservatives love charities and the federal funding of them, and one in which "socialist" and charity are somehow oppositional terms.

The cherry on the fucking cake of this article is the inset:
Authors: Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston, Ralph Ellison, Novel Prize winner Toni Morrison, and Maya Angelou. and [sic] hundreds of current and past professional athletes.
There's also a picture of Oprah above this inset. The terrible editing of this makes it a little difficult to decipher, but the message is pretty clear: I googled black authors and found a bunch, so racism doesn't hinder anyone! Also, we let blacks play professional football! So there!

Not only have you failed at logic, Tony, you've failed at humanity. You can harp about how you really just want to solve the problem of racism (which you don't think is that big of a deal in the first place) with "love" and "charitable giving," but you've already called the whole black community a string of not-loving descriptors and blamed their inequality on their own characteristics and spiritual failings, so you're not fooling anybody. You're a racist asshole. Also, you made me super cranky today, so fuck you.

22 January 2010

Presidential search over. Regents pick some white guy.

Well, color me shocked. A&M replaced their first female and Latina president (whom, you'll recall, they rather shamefully and sketchily ran off) with an old white guy who wears bow ties every day. Way to show the world and your student body how committed you are to diversity, A&M. We got the message loud and clear.

20 January 2010

School starts!

Yesterday was the first day of my second semester. I had my science fiction class, which promises to be fun, but was surprised by how reticent I felt in there. It's an undergraduate course that I'm taking while doing extra reading and work with the professor, and so the students in there were predictably quiet. So Amy (the professor) asked us for examples of invasion (one of the themse of the class) in history, and I thought I'd pipe up. The first example I thought of was the Iraq War and the occupation of Afghanistan. And then I reconsidered, eyeing the two men dressed in Corps uniforms in the front row.

It was the first time in over a year that I have felt like I couldn't say something in a course because I'd receive a negative reaction from other students. I was talking with Sarah (my friend at A&M who also went to Southwestern) and she told me that, best case scenario, I would have gotten a mixed reaction. And we lamented a little, because at Southwestern, I would have been in a strange class indeed to have had ONE person react negatively. Frankly, I would have been surprised if the same question in a Southwestern classroom had generated ANY responses that weren't the U.S. invading other countries. Both Iraq wars, Afghanistan, Vietnam, U.S. political coups, all of these things would have been given, but the example given by the students in my sci fi class--the Cold War (by which they meant the threat of communism), the only conflict in which the U.S. has ever felt even the threat of invasion (frankly, I'm surprised no one said "immigrants")--would have been the last thing for an SU student to shout out. The U.S. does the invading in real life, not the other way around, and it shows a rather skewed view of reality to call out only the Cold War as an example of invasion. Which is not to say that it isn't a valid answer--it is, and the threat of the Cold War inspired plenty of SF--but it was the only answer given by a class of twenty or thirty students.

Let's just say that I think this class is going to give me more insight into A&M than I really ever wanted.

However, the first day also brought me a little happy. And from the Battalion, no less. A senior English major, James Cavin, wrote an article called "Showing a little less leg," which I clicked on thinking that it would be some screed about how women should stop dressing so slutty on campus or something. But no! It was about how he thinks that forcing women to shave and wax their legs (and other places) is crazy and barbaric, ending with this:
Ladies, we need to stop putting up with this macho bull crap. If we all just womanned up and told society to screw it's sexist objectifying hairless concepts of beauty, we would have a world without waxing kits and Nair. A world without razors.
Isn't that great? And it's from a man. At A&M. There is hope for this place after all.

This caught my eye because it's from Freakonomics, a book that A&M forced its TAs to teach to ENGL 104 classes: Apparently the author of Freakonomics is completely unable to account for why women are more likely to sit in the passenger seat of a vehicle and men are more likely to drive. It's a goddamn mystery. Maybe it's because women are weak weaklings whose arms could break at the very sight of a steering wheel.

And the Economist is debating whether women in the industrial world have "never had it so good." Yes, seriously. And right now, 67% of their voters agree that yes, Western women should shut up because their husbands aren't allowed to beat them anymore. Or something. I'm being hyperbolic, but as Jill over at Feministe points out, pointing out how far we've come is often shorthand for "so be grateful and shut the hell up."