-from Audre Lorde's "Call"


Thursday, May 9, 2013


Policy is essential, but it must be placed in the context of the broadest understanding of how the world works, how our life prospects are shaped, and how we create ad use our great capacity for wealth and community involvement. Introducing class into the national conversation can invigorate the political process and bring new energy and understanding to a broad range of questions, including the continued importance of race and gender as points of tension and needed progress.
Class talk allows us to recall the language of economic and social justice and to revive calls for economic democracy that have been the foundation of progressive social movements for over a hundred years. The corporate agenda has stripped all reference to morality from economic affairs. For the Right, unrestricted markets are all that is relevant in economic matters. This is a core question that progressives must address directly. Class understandings will help us to illuminate and ground the ethical dimensions of our politics and help us imagine and crate organizations, coalitions, and social forces capable of turning back the destructive power of capital and replacing it with values and policies that relieve human suffering and promote the social good.-Michael Zweig, “Six Points on Class”

                I use the last two paragraphs of this piece as an epigraph to this post because I will primarily be addressing this portion of the text. As it is the conclusion one could argue that the main argument of the essay is summarized here. Zweig takes the points he made earlier in the essay and formulates a concise and powerful way of bringing them all together for a strong conclusion. Throughout my reading of the text something didn’t feel right (well, a few things didn’t feel right but I
will primarily focus on one), and it was not until the end that it became glaringly obvious to me: Zweig is, or at least appears to be, a reformist. And, because of my own ideological framework, I cannot get behind Zweig’s general prescription. I do not see the value in “turning back” the destructive power of capital. The text reads as if it is calling for a more conscious and ethical capitalism which is not possible. Capitalism, at its core, is a destructive immoral force. We cannot reform capitalism. If we want to relieve human suffering we need to do away with it entirely.
                Now, one could argue that a destruction of capitalism, particularly in the USA, is idealistic and impossible. I can only say in response that I do not have all of the answers. I am not here to give a complete prescription for what we must do, but I can critique what I have before me. I can know something is wrong and not quite know exactly what to do to fix it/change it (even if I know what the end product should look like, I don’t necessarily have the map for the territory). To poach from Marco McWilliams who devoted this analogy in response to me stating exactly what I’m saying here: I can see that the sink is broken and know that a new sink should be put in, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I know, nor have all of the tools, to go about putting that new sink in. And, just because I may not be able to put the new sink in myself it does not override the fact that I can see that the sink is broken.
                There is no going back to a more ethical time when we are talking about capitalism. Capitalism was never ethical. Capitalism was always about the exploitation of labors. Factor in intersectionality and we have a complete disregard for human life at play. Capital is important, human life and the quality of that life, is not. Policy is like putting a bandaid on a wound that needs to be sutured. Or putting a cast on a leg that needs to be amputated and replaced. It will not give us a new life. It will not give us what we deserve. It will simply make our suffering a little bit less unpleasant. Policy does not speak to the structure enough. Policy works within the structure that’s in place.  

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Myths and Constructions--Build on Keith's "Capitalism/Self-Reliance/Drug-Hyperlinks"

                In Keith’s “Capitalism/Self-Reliance/Drug-Hyperlinks” post he states something brilliant while reflecting on the Coontz, Currie, and “Capitalism Hits the Fan” texts. Keith notes that “There are various myths within United States history that we [are] exposed to in our history classes. Depending on your education later in life you either buy into them or you learn that just as everything you are exposed to in life the reality is quite a bit different from what you are taught”. I note that this is brilliant because he is gesturing towards the constructed nature of our history. This is not something that everyone is willing to admit or even see. However, many texts in this course have shown us just that, particularly the Coontz article.
                We are constantly being fed particular myths that we are supposed to believe are fact. We are taught a history that we are supposed to believe is fixed. But history is not fixed. History is relative. People are generally willing to admit this to an extent; they’re inclined to scoff at some of the Southern text books that call the Civil War the “War of Northern Aggression”. But, more often than not, those some people don’t seem to be aware that much of what we read is constructed. So much of the past that we are led to believe is “reality” is not. What is reality, even? Are any one of us so sure? We are constantly reading texts that make it clear to us that our foundation (our history) is actually not what we once thought it was. If our foundation is put into question then shouldn’t our reality be as well?
                We are taught that people pulled themselves up by their bootstraps. That’s how the middle/upper class made it. That’s how the moguls of the past became who they are. But, as Coontz notes in “We Always Stood on Our Own Two Feet: Self-reliance and the American Family”, that is not the case. The middle class family with the picket fence, nice yard, 2.5 kids and a golden retriever didn’t just work hard to get there. There were many subsidies put into place to ensure their mobility, and the reverse is also true. There were many policies put into place to ensure that some people would not be able to experience upward mobility. That is our history. Those are the facts. We are not a country built by hard-working, self-reliant, folks with entrepreneurial spirit. We are a country that was built on community (even if that community had always been exclusionary). Somewhere along the way we lost even that exclusionary community and we are left with a country that believes solely in the individual, not the collective. They believe in the individual so much that they turn a blind eye to the ways in which aid has been received, and is still being received, to help people “better” themselves. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Waging a Living connection to Media Magic

Waging a Living is a film about the costs of survival. I choose to use the word “survival” because of the weight that such a word carries. Surely we are all “surviving” if we are living, but more often than not when we hear “survival” we think “struggle”. We envision someone who has made it through or is currently trying to make it through hardships that have been thrown their way. That is why I choose to use survival when discussing this film because that’s precisely what these folk are doing. They are trying to live and fight through. They are struggling but they are still with us.
Now, I point out that the film is about the costs of survival because so much of the film deals with the ways in which these folks, and others just like them, are being held between a rock and a hard place. As Barbara, a woman followed in the documentary, says she feels like she is “hustling backwards. The harder I work the harder it gets”. How would the proponents of the bootstrap philosophy argue with that? What would they say in response? Barbara, and the many others like her, are working very hard but because of their positionality things just get worse. Barbara, because of her raise, lost a great deal of aid she was receiving and her rent went up. The amount of money she lost in aid was more than she gained by getting a raise. This is a system that forces people to be “survivors”. They are born into struggle and must constantly fight with every ounce of them, not even necessarily to get a so-called “better life” but to simply exist in the life they have.
People, even those who don’t see themselves as hardcore “bootstrap” philosophers, appear to be blind to the fact that Barbara’s story is all around them. People like Barbara and the other folks in Waging a Living are not unique. In fact, it does us a disservice to think about them simply as individuals. We need to recognize that this is a structural problem. And yet, many people do not see the individuals nor the structure. Why is this? In “Media Magic” Mantsios offers a great explanation. He argues that the American Public “maintain(s) these illusions [about living in an egalitarian society], in large part because the media hides gross inequities from public view. In those instances when inequities are revealed, we are provided with messages that obscure the nature of class realities and blame the victims of class-dominated society for their own plight” (100). We cannot even use this documentary as an example of the media doing the opposite of what Mantsios has described. While Waging a Living is certainly not trying to hide inequities from view it is not enough to counter the countless messages people have taken in over their lifetime. This is why people can watch this documentary and fixate on Barbara’s acrylic nails and the fact that she must spend money to get her nails and hair done as a way of finding a way to feel less sympathy/empathy for Barbara. If people can find a way to feel like a marginalized person has created, or added to, their situation then this allows them to continue to not really see the person’s plight nor the structure behind it. Many people seem to only see those who are struggling long enough to blame them for their struggles before those attempting to survive are rendered invisible again. 

Monday, April 22, 2013


                In “Coming to Class Consciousness” bell hooks describes various aspects of class consciousness as well as classism. She opens with a description of her childhood desires and the ways in which her parents, particularly her mother, would dismiss those desires (especially when these desires would cause a monetary strain on the family). Opening with this allowed the reader to
immediately be clued in on particular family values of hooks’, and it helps the reader to better understand future events (such as her parents disinterest in hooks’ desire to attend Stanford).
                This chapter is not simply memoir style anecdotes upon anecdotes. Although this text is far less theoretical than much of the essays put forth by hooks, we are able to pick up on a lot of characteristics relating to Class (big C class as in the concept). When describing her first White friend at the women’s college she originally attended hooks notes that her fellow working-class friend had not just anger and bitterness towards the more privileged girls but also envy. Hooks notes that “envy was always something I pushed away from my psyche. Kept too close for comfort envy could lead to infatuation and on to desire. I desired nothing that they had” (26).  This passage, as well as a later one which describes her self-hating working-class roommate at Stanford, highlights internalized classism.
The envy that her White friend had was only possible because of an internalized belief that middle/upper class positionality was the superior position. This kind of internalized belief can manifest in a variety of ways. For this particular girl it manifested as envy. For the Stanford roommate it manifested as a passionate desire to “climb-the-ladder” even if that meant putting self-care and safety on the back burner.
                Another moment in which hooks’ addresses internalized classism is when she discusses “class shame”, using the example of her own mother’s refusal to discuss monetary difficulties (28). Much like the manifestation of envy, class shame can only occur when one views their class position as inferior in comparison to other class positions.
                An important aspect of the text is hooks’ discussion of the neo-colonial elite. She rightly points out that there are plenty of Black folk, particularly the “Black elite” who harness the same type of classism and feelings of class superiority that the White hegemonic group possesses. It’s unfortunate that this isn’t brought up until much later in the chapter, I have no doubt it’s meditated on more closely in later chapters but those later chapters are not the topic of discussion. There is so much complexity involved when discussing the neocolonial Black and brown elite, it’s something that deserves a great deal of attention. I appreciate the fact that hooks’ closes with a note on her own need to be self-reflective lest she become a colonized elite herself. 

Monday, April 15, 2013

War on Sex Work

Reading about the ways in which women in the sex work industry are unfairly targeted and harassed by law enforcement agencies came as no surprise to me. Those involved with sex work are often demonized and criminalized, particularly the women involved. I recall reading, about 4-5 years ago, the drastic difference in arrest rates between female sex workers compared to pimps and their johns. Now, in a culture that claims to be anti-sex trafficking you would think that when pimps are involved they would be the number one target. I suppose that the misogynist ideologies of our society tends to trump a supposed desire to be “anti-sex trafficking”.

While sex work can be a choice there are many instances in which it is not, or at least the “choice” isn’t all that clear cut. When addiction* and abject poverty are involved it seems a bit disingenuous to call it a “choice”, as it would appear that particular circumstances limits the amount of options one has. This is a large reason why a “war on sex-trafficking” will never be effectual if there is no genuine “war on poverty”. But, effectiveness is more than likely not actually the goal. It seems that the goal is most likely the continued harassment and marginalization of women. That’s not to say that there hasn’t been great strides when it comes to under-age sex trafficking, but the way in which adult women are treated w(and even under-age women for that matter) when they’re seen as “prostitutes” is deplorable.
The article “The War on Sex Workers” that Deirdre requested we read touches upon something that I find very rarely spoken about, and that is the liberal fetishization of the law. It was hard to hold back from snapping my fingers when I reading the following:
“It’s fascinating that women who claim to be feminists” are so willing to use the law in this way, says Ann Jordan. Supporting anti-prostitution enforcement requires them to call in the muscle of “all these institutions that have oppressed women forever,” she notes. “But they are willing to use the law to coerce a particular kind of behavior from women.
  It is rare to see an acknowledgment of the inherent problems when activists turn to the law to right certain wrongs. If the structure exists as it is now, we should not expect any legislation to be effectual when it comes to particularly communities. If the structure is  built on certain foundational beliefs (such as patriarchy, misogyny, anti-blackness & white supremacy), then we can never hope to see the “law” act justly when it comes to those communities. This is something that many liberals fail to understand because they have spent so long believing that the law can bring justice when in reality it cannot, for exactly the reasons Ann Jordan stated in the quote above and then some. The only thing we should expect from a broken system that is built upon the marginalization of certain folk is for that system to continue to marginalize and oppress. 

*Please take a look at the "Faces of Addiction" photostream I posted earlier in the semester, as well as the related photostreams. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Annette Lareau's "Watching, Waiting, and Deciding"--Reflection

                At first the discussion of Mrs. Marshall in the Annette Lareau piece “Watching, Waiting, and Deciding when to Intervene: Race, Class, and the Transmission of Advantage” was a bit irritating. The first couple of examples of her intervening just seems a bit much, and appeared to showcase a sense of entitlement that she had and that she was potentially instilling in to her daughters. However, as the article went on I began to question whether that was truly a sense of entitlement at all. A middle-class Black mother may feel as if she can speak up when she feels her children are possibly being discriminated against, her feeling as if she has a voice that can be listened to may be something that’s been socialized thanks to her class standing. But, the act of speaking up in this case does not highlight a sense of entitlement at all. If anything, it speaks to a situation of dispossession. Her children are potentially being discriminated against simply for existing in Black bodies  and the middle-class Black mother probably only sees a few choices. Either allow this potential discrimination to continue and potentially case trauma to the child (or expose the child to a racist world that the mother does not want to child to see quite yet), or speak up and run the risk of being deemed the “Angry Black Woman” or overbearing mother. The mother in this case is more than likely just trying to protect her child for as long as possible from the cruelty that exists in society.
                I only wish that the article was able to explore gender a bit more deeply. There was a brief discussion of the fact that for the families studied the mothers always had their hands in their children’s education far more than the father. It was interesting that this existed across race lines. I could have missed when this was discussed, but is it also the same over class lines? When we find something so prevalent that crosses several lines of “classes” (in the ‘group’ sense) does that make it easier for us to pinpoint the root of the issue? In this case the argument could easily be made that it’s clearly an issue with roots in gender difference/gender roles, because of the way in which the phenomena exists across race lines and potentially across class lines. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

I read chapter four, conclusion and 7
(writing here so I remember!!!!)