Strategic Ideologies

(1882)_MAP_OF_THE_TRIBES_OF_INDIAPrompted by the discussion surrounding Rachel Dolezal’s NAACP resignation, this series of posts is about how and when we take performativity seriously…, and when it bows to interests in historical or experiential specificity.

Race, as many have pointed out for years, is not biological. This point raises questions about the basis on which it is determined. Is it ancestry, appearance, cultural practice, or something else? That complicated question has come to greater prominence in light of the media circus around Rachel Dolezal and her assertion of an African-American identification. While discussions of Dolezal often focus on the process of self-identification and strategic choices made in relation to that self-identification, I want to focus, instead, on the strategic nature of the act of ascribing identification to someone else. Continue reading

They’re Just Old Buildings, Right?

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Prompted by the discussion surrounding Rachel Dolezal’s NAACP resignation, this series of posts is about how and when we take performativity seriously…, and when it bows to interests in historical or experiential specificity.

My brother, Elliot, who died in 1996, was mentally disabled. That’s him above, with my two sisters. And that’s me on the far right; he was 12 years older than me and, as a baby, had taken a particularly bad fall from his highchair; presumably, that’s what caused what, just a couple years later, became painfully apparent to my parents: he had no speech development and began suffering from repeated grand mal seizures. I won’t belabor the tragedy of his life and death, but suffice it to say that in the 1950s there was little choice but to institutionalize him, when he was a young boy, in a government-run institution. So his profound cognitive problems were quickly compounded by a number of physical problems — who knows what all abuse he was subjected to over the course of his life, but from the “cauliflower ears” and missing teeth that soon resulted, well…, it was apparent that life in the institution was horrendous. Continue reading

The Moves We Make

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Prompted by the discussion surrounding Rachel Dolezal’s NAACP resignation, this series of posts is about how and when we take performativity seriously… and when it bows to interests in historical or experiential specificity.

If I’m counting, I’ve read exactly one smart thing about Rachel Dolezal on the internet—Adolph Reed Jr.’s “From Jenner to Dolezal: One Trans Good, the Other Not So Much” (thanks, Craig Martin, for directing my attention to it). In the piece, Reed says, among other things, that the distinction between trans people’s “involuntary” decision and Dolezal’s “active choice” where self-identification is concerned “is mind-bogglingly wrong-headed, but it is at the same time thus deeply revealing of the contradictoriness and irrationality that undergird so much self-righteous identitarian twaddle.” But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. I need to explain why I think we should still even be talking about Rachel Dolezal, right? Continue reading

Look How Tall You Are!

Picture1The ease with which identity is presumed to be an inner trait projected outward is pretty easy to document, which makes critiquing it something less than a challenge. For example, I thought about writing a post on the new film “Inside Out” and the popular folk understanding of identity as being an internal quality only subsequently expressed outwardly, such that the social interaction is the effect of a prior and private sentiments.

But that just seemed too easy.

And, besides, the film seems kind’a fun. Continue reading

Symbols and the Confederate Flag

2751691807_dbcebbaa69_bI am not a fan of the Confederate Flag. While I have spent all but two of the past 28 years in states that joined the Confederacy, I grew up in a Border State with parents from another Border State, making me an outsider to many who see the flag as an important symbol of their Southern heritage. Despite all of this, I found myself bothered by the argument in last week’s Atlantic article by Ta-Nehisi Coates calling for the immediate removal of the Confederate Flag from the grounds of the South Carolina Capitol. Coates asserts that, since the shooter had apparent links to white supremacist ideology and the Confederate flag, these murders become the occasion finally to remove the flag from the Capitol grounds. Continue reading

Is it Terrorism or Not?

Picture 35I find that a very interesting tweet. (Click it to go to the author‘s Twitter account.) For ever since the inauguration of the War on Terror people on the left have critiqued this notion of terrorism, seeing it as an empty rhetorical term that does significant political work by heightening anxiety among a population (like increasing the terror level warning, as we used to see periodically in the US); for it creates the impression that there’s some acts of violence that are somehow worse than others, more nefarious, their perpetrators are not being good sports and playing by the rules of war (but, really, who does?).

In fact, rather ironically, use of the very word terrorism to name just some violence could constitute but one instance of what we commonly take terrorism to be, for choices of what to call terrorism could be read as having the effect of intimidating a population in service of the interests that motivate (and benefit from) that very choice. Continue reading

Finding the Frames

Picture 15As we have repeatedly argued at this site, how we classify acts tells us much about the world we are trying to create. And among those telling acts of identification are choices to see something as evidence of a widespread structural issue in which many of us are all implicated or, instead, as the unpredictable result of a lone actor with impenetrable motives. We’ve seen debates on this before, of course, and, in light of the mass murder of nine black parishioners at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC, just two evenings ago, by a white suspect who is now in custody, well…, we’re seeing this debate take place again. Continue reading

This Job Would Be Great If It Weren’t For The Students

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As a person who works at a small, Catholic liberal arts university that has a mission to serve underprivileged students, I am often intrigued by the manner in which discussions about the educational rights of the underprivileged weave their way through the academy.  I’m interested precisely because it seems that almost every scholar I know can talk about how enraged they are about the barriers that exist for underprivileged students, but few seem to openly connect this to the fact that the ways we are groomed to think about our own jobs simply reproduce these very same inequities. Continue reading

How Old is That?

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The following is a brief excerpt from my own Introduction to the soon-to-be published collection of essays, Fabricating Origins, from the Working With Culture on the Edge book series.

Among the assorted knick-knacks that line my office’s shelves — ranging from such relics as photos of friends and family or gifts I’ve accumulated over the years to a selection of tattered romance novels shelved long ago among my books by mischievous students — is a nicely matted and framed “fossil” of Knightia, a long extinct genus of small boney North American freshwater fish, dating to more than 35 million years ago (or what scientists know as the Eocene epoch), and which was recovered from the well-known (to fossil hunters, at least) Green River Formation in southwestern Wyoming. I bought it one summer, heavy wooden frame and all, about ten years ago in a gift shop in downtown Iowa City, Iowa, at the same time that I purchased for my Department’s library a number of other artifacts, such as the stereotypical dancing Shiva statue and the Thai-styled bust of Buddha, complete with its intricately carved curls. I never anticipated writing about my framed piece of sedimentary rock, though I have often used it in classes to illustrate a point or two about discourses on origins; I now realize that this rock might have some uses outside of the classroom. Continue reading

The Brilliance of Containing Whiteness

Recently I’ve been enjoying reruns of 3rd Rock from the Sun on Hulu. For readers unfamiliar, this NBC sitcom ran from 1996 to 2001 and focuses on four aliens that came to earth in the 1990s to do anthropological research on our species. The humor of the show is of course based on cultural misunderstandings as the aliens — residing in Ohio, USA — attempt to “fit in” and understand the locals. As in such shows, of course the audience learns more about being “human” by watching these aliens become humans themselves.” Continue reading