a bit of humor

Hey everyone, I know it’s finals week and everyone is busy and working on their papers.

I found this little tidbit that might make your day a tad bit funnier.

Screen Shot 2015-03-15 at 7.52.38 PM

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a bit of humor

READING SUMMARY: SEIF’S “LAYERS OF HUMANITY”

In her article “Layers of Humanity”, Hinda Seif decides to interview with the “undocuqueer” artivist Julio Salgado. A brief biography is probably important to understand the rest of the article:

Julio Salgado is the co-founder of DreamersAdrift.com. His activist artwork has become a staple of the DREAM Act movement. His status as an undocumented, queer artivist has fueled the contents of his illustrations, which depict key individuals and moments of the DREAM Act movement. Undocumented students and allies across the country have used Salgado’s artwork to call attention to the youth-led movement.

His work has been praised by OC Weekly‘s Gustavo Arellano, KPCC-FM 89.3’s Multi-American blog and the influential journal ColorLines. In July 2012, Salgado and other undocumented activists joined Jose A. Vargas on the cover of Time Magazine. Salgado graduated from California State Universitiy, Long Beach with a degree in journalism. To see more of his artwork and other collaborations, you can go to juliosalgado.com.

Perhaps the most important thing that Julio Salgado has worked on as part of the Dreamers Adrift collective is the production of many “Undocumented and Awkward” clips. These clips showcase the lives of undocumented immigrant youth with a great deal of angst and an even greater deal of humor. The comedy inherent in these clips mask the logical concerns and problems in their in their everyday lives, privileges like dating a US citizen or driving a car or getting financial aid from the state that we take for granted.

A few key points from his interview (and discussion questions) are as follows:

  • First and foremost, Salgado doesn’t consider himself an organizer. He believes that by being an “artivist” and producing plays, videos and zines, he does not experience of physically putting his body on the line. This leads to an important question; that there are many different types of activism is not denied, but can one type be considered effective than the other?
  • Salgado came to his activism by observing the lack of true representation of his people in media. The focus on lack of representation is important because it clearly delegitimizes the vast diversity we see in everyday life. Though Salgado has fixed this issues by championing “undocuqueer” activism, what efforts should be undertaken to promote diversity in mainstream media, if any?
  • The portmanteau of undocumented + queer is important because it emphasis the matrix of oppression and intersectional identities that all people have. I was especially happy that Salgado mentioned that undocumented doesn’t necessarily mean Latino, although Latinos are a great part of it. Undocumented is not an ethnicity but an experience. Salgado’s life as an undocumented, queer person from Long Beach is different from the gay Filipinos that Manalasan covers in his articles
  • Salgado emphasizes the use of social media in his activism. To what extant has social media aided movements and to what extent, if any, has it hindered it?
  • The last part of his interview is crucial because it illustrates how people/corporations are profiting off the detention of “illegal” immigrants. This definitely ties in with the intertwined nation of capitalism + oppression, but ironically, Salgado spreads his message through mediums that have been directly possible through capitalism and the need for profit.
READING SUMMARY: SEIF’S “LAYERS OF HUMANITY”

America is the greatest country on the world…

and every school course that teaches otherwise ought to be stopped immediately!

This might seem to be a slight exaggeration, but this is exactly what is happening to the school system in Oklahoma. Essentially, the Oklahoma state legislature has unanimously passed a bill “declaring the new AP curriculum an “emergency” threatening the “public peace, health and safety,” to be defunded in the coming school year.”

According to Inside Higher Education,

Criticism of the new curriculum, known as APUSH, and its publisher, the College Board, got going last year, with some conservatives saying that the test ignored important aspects of American history and cast it in too negative a light. In August, the Republican National Committee approved a resolution summarizing their concerns and asking state legislators to investigate the test and for Congress to “withhold any federal funding to the College Board (a private nongovernmental organization) until the APUSH course and examination have been rewritten in a transparent manner to accurately reflect U.S. history without a political bias and to respect the sovereignty of state standards, and until sample examinations are made available to educators, state and local officials[.]”

Among the Republican committee’s more specific concerns were that the framework “includes little or no discussion of the Founding Fathers, the principles of the Declaration of Independence, the religious influences on our nation’s history and many other critical topics that have always been part of the APUSH course” and that it “excludes discussion of the U.S. military (no battles, commanders or heroes) and omits many other individuals and events that greatly shaped our nation’s history (for example, Albert Einstein, Jonas Salk, George Washington Carver, Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King, Tuskegee Airmen, the Holocaust).”

Another critique of the College Board curriculum states that

But the move did little to alleviate tensions about the new test. Stanley Kurtz wrote in the National Review later that month that the framework was “closely tied to a movement of left-leaning historians that aims to ‘internationalize’ the teaching of American history. The goal is to ‘end American history as we have known it’ by substituting a more ‘transnational’ narrative for the traditional account.” His commentary is light on specific examples of problematic questions or concepts, but he wrote that the older, relatively short framework allowed “liberals, conservatives and anyone in between [to] teach U.S. history their way, and still see their students do well on the AP test.” By contrast, he said, the “new and vastly more detailed guidelines can only be interpreted as an attempt to hijack the teaching of U.S. history on behalf of a leftist political and ideological perspective. The College Board has drastically eroded the freedom of states, school districts, teachers and parents to choose the history they teach their children.”

In September, the curriculum was a hot topic at the Values Voter Summit in Washington. Ben Carson, a pediatric neurosurgeon and professor emeritus of medicine at Johns Hopkins University who has considered running for president, told audience members, “I think most people, when they finish that course, they’d be ready to sign up for ISIS,” or the so-called Islamic State, The Washington Post reported.

Yes, you heard that right, apparently taking APUSH would make you sympathetic to what ISIS advocates. At the risk of hyperbole, I believe that state mandates of what courses should or should not teach is a very terrible thing to do. I bring this up within the context of the class discussion about American exceptionalism and “love” for the nation-state. Airbrushing out the ugly side of American history will not and instead focusing on the “America is the best country in the world” rhetoric actually does a great deal of more harm than help. In order to progress as a nation, we must analyze how the state has treated women, people of color, people of diverging sexuality and gender and how we can move past that so we don’t reproduce the mistakes of the past in the future.

America is the greatest country on the world…

MIDTERM BLOG: THE DELEGITMIZATION OF ASEXUALITY IN HOUSE M.D

For the majority of (western) history, the cultural consensus towards asexuality can be aptly defined by co-host Star Jones’ quote on popular daytime talk show The View, where she states “If you’re not having sex, what’s there to talk about?” And for the majority of the world, that seems like an extremely valid question. Our culture is saturated with sex. Columnist Amanda Eifert writes that “television industry statistics state that sex scenes have nearly doubled since 1998 and 70% of programming includes some type of sexual content. On average, these programs have 5 sexual images or scenes per hour” and that the “the objectification and exploitation of women is increasingly prevalent in online games and video games” (FLURT magazine). These observations are important because it reveals the extent of which those who have no interest in sex or do not experience sexual attraction (i.e. asexuals) are sidetracked in popular media. Even when they are represented, however, these representations often do more harm than good and essentially show that asexuals are more often than not left out of the heteronormative discourse that shape our expectations regarding gender and sexuality.The portrayals of asexual bodies as “deviant” and the dismissal of asexuality as a valid orientation essentially serves to medicalize asexuals and ultimately bolster the divide between “normal” and “deviant” sexuality.

One such portrayal of asexuality occurs in an episode of House MD titled “Better Half.” House MD tells the tale of Dr. Gregory House and his best friend Dr. James Wilson. Played by Hugh Laurie, House is known for a snarky and skeptic attitude towards just about everything. This, of course, no way excuses his behavior towards an asexual couple that has come to him for advice. features a husband and wife who both identify as asexual at the start of the show. The wife initially consults House’s colleague, Wilson, for a minor medical complaint; she suspects her bladder has an infection. She refuses a routine pregnancy test, however, because she is self identifies as asexual and as such, never has or has any interest in sex with her husband. House compares her to “a large pool of algae” and instead bets $100 to prove that her asexuality is not a “real orientation” and caused by some sort of medical condition. In order to do this, House bribes her husband to come into the hospital under the pretense of offering a free flu shot; he actually runs a series of medical tests on him, eventually diagnosing him with a brain tumor that affects his sexual libido. House tells the couple about his findings and the fact that removing the tumor will make him “normal like the rest of us.” The wife agrees because it turns out she has only been pretending to be asexual so she can stay with her husband. House soon wins $100 from Wilson on the basis that asexuality is not a valid condition but is rather a “screwed up worldview” based on his belief that that “sex is healthy … lots of people don’t have sex. The only people who don’t want it are either sick, dead, or lying.

This episode is crucial to analyze because it shows the extent to which asexuality is stigmatized in popular culture. House MD showcases asexuality not as a valid orientation but as a medical “illness” and a product of sheer deception and thus contributes to viewing all pronouncements of asexuality as something to be doubted and verified rather than simply accepted as part of a spectrum of broad sexual diversity. Note that despite his medical education, House initially compares her to asexually-reproducing algae and later references to her “condition” as something “abnormal” and “unhealthy”.

House’s refusal to situate asexuality in a spectrum of sexual diversity harkens back to Gretchen Rubin’s notion of hierarchies of sexual value. In her essay Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of The Politics of Sexuality, Gretchen Rubin essentially asserts that that hierarchies of sexual value were strengthened and formed through societal discourse and that those people who had appropriate sexual behavior (heterosexual, married, monogamous procreative etc.) were “rewarded with certified mental health, respectability, legality, social and physical mobility, institutional support, and material benefits” while those who were “othered” (in this case, homosexual, unmarried promiscuous, fetishists, cross-generational etc.) were “subjected to a presumption of mental illness, disreputability, criminality, restricted social and physical mobility, loss of institutional support, and economic sanctions” (Rubin 12). The foremost of these sanctions came from the medical industry, whose power to define “healthy” and “unhealthy” behavior was paramount in society. Medical censures of such behavior not only led to moral panics of the late 1900s but also contributed a great deal towards associating homosexuality and other forms of sexual expression with “mental and emotional inferiority” (Rubin 12).

Asexuals were not even situated within this dichotomy of what is “normal and accepted” versus “what is deviant and Othered” but if they were, they would probably be categorized as a state of “frigidness” and be subject to the same pathologicalization and medicalization that homosexuals and those with other forms of sexual expression experienced during this time period. Sexual relations were, of course, part and parcel of a happy marriage and those who were sex-averse or sex-indifferent were at risk of being considered deviants. Yet, although sexuality is relatively accepted today and although it is that the DSM-V (the universal authority of diagnosing psychological disorders) asserts that “if a lifelong lack of sexual desire is better explained by one’s self-identification as “asexual,” then no detrimental diagnosis could be made, acceptance of asexuality as normal seems otherwise. As lately as 2014, a prominant Australian therapist warned her readers that “sexuality is as normal as breathing. Do some exploring, take your time, there is no need to give yourself a label, embrace an identity or feel the necessity to join [the asexual] community.”

Ultimately, furthered on by popular media such as House MD, asexual bodies are seen as deviant and abnormal, bodies on which stereotypes and assumptions are projected which have vastly detrimental effects on how asexuals are treated throughout society. To go back to Star Jones’ question, what do you talk about when you are not having sex? The answer: a lot and not all of it is particularly sexy.

Sources:

MIDTERM BLOG: THE DELEGITMIZATION OF ASEXUALITY IN HOUSE M.D

Has Queer Theory failed? Maybe intersectionally.

(tw: rape, murder)

Hey everyone, friendly neighborhood asexual here. Lately, I’ve been thinking about a topic we discussed in class: namely, has queer theory failed? This, of course, leads to other questions:

  • How do we know if queer theory has succeeded and how do we know it has failed?
  • Who defines failure? Who defines success? This is important b/c I feel that it is crucial not to have any one person to be a spokesperson for queer theory. They may feel that it has succeeded but others may not.

We got a taste of this in the Bulldaggers, Welfare Queens & Punks article that we discussed in class today. Cohen talks about a member of the Gay Men Health Crisis group that left because of racism within the group and ultimately a failure to be “truly inclusive and welcoming of diversity.” A failure to do this leads to failing on an intersectional level and alienating those whose experiences might be much more different than ours.

I’ve got a few quotes that understate the importance of queer theory and how it performs intersectionally.

From http://www.disabilityhistory.org/dwa/queer/paper_clare.html :

We haven’t asked enough questions about class, about the experiences of being poor and disabled, of struggling with hunger, homelessness, and a lack of the most basic healthcare. I want to hear from working class folks who learned about disability from bone-breaking work in the factory or mine or sweatshop.

We need more exploration of gender identity and disability. How do the two inform each other? I can feel the sparks fly as disabled trans people are just beginning to find each other. We need to listen more to Deaf culture, to people with psych disabilities, cognitive disability, to young people and old people. We need not to re-create here in this space, in this budding community, the hierarchies that exist in other disability communities, other queer communities.

From Kimberle Crenshaw:

Intersectionality draws attention to invisibilities that exist in feminism, in anti-racism, in class politics, so obviously it takes a lot of work to consistently challenge ourselves to be attentive to aspects of power that we don’t ourselves experience.” But, she stresses, this has been the project of black feminism since its very inception: drawing attention to the erasures, to the ways that “women of colour are invisible in plain sight”.

“Within any power system,” she continues, “there is always a moment – and sometimes it lasts a century – of resistance to the implications of that. So we shouldn’t really be surprised about it.”

and this post from tumblr user thingsthatmakeyouacey

Here’s the thing: perhaps be glad you don’t understand how “asexuality” as a concept has been a part of white supremacy. To a lot of us, it’s not just some abstract concept. It’s a brutal reality.

In my family history, for example, marriage was a form of survival and sex was an act of violence. British colonialism in the Caribbean ensured that female indentured servants – and before them, slaves – were useless property:

labelled as “the harlots of empire” by the british, this is an epithet that came to haunt their existence throughout indenture & long after to the extent that in the west indies, amongst indians, the word randi/रण्डी became a commonly used synonym in bhojpuri for ‘woman.’ there is a hell of a lot to say about what kind of jobs women were expected to perform and the specific dangers that came with them…

indentured labourers were housed throughout the indenture period in the same shacks that black slaves had had to live in, not long before these being long sheds made of corrugated metal, partitioned into small cubicles, in which a person or family was expected to live. when the sun shone on them, you can imagine how gruellingly hot they would’ve become, and most importantly for women, the partitions between the cubicles did not reach the roof. it was possible to stand on a stool etc. and look over the top of the partition at your neighbours. this was deadly for women, particularly single women, whose only option was to marry themselves at the earliest opportunity in order to protect themselves from harassment and r*pe. this was the theory, at least, and the one indian women were coerced into following.

in practice, with the partitions not meeting the ceiling, once a woman’s husband had gone to work, she was left to defend herself to the point where it was difficult to bathe or change clothes or any action without being watched by a stranger whose intentions were clear. what it meant for indian women was that marriage didn’t offer the security it was supposed to provide, and many women were forced to take up multiple partners just to protect themselves from harassment and threats, leading to generalised accusations of infidelity and sex work which turned out to be deadly. so many women were murdered by their boyfriends/husbands that it has its own name, “coolie wife murders”…

…a woman who fled to the colonial authorities was unflinchingly dragged back to her partner, with the implicit knowledge she would be killed. a woman who begged for help from one of her partners against the other could just as easily be murdered by him tomorrow. “i kill my wife, why not? i kill no other man’s wife” being said by a young indian man, and have seen quotes by white visitors to the colony who, on the subject of the murders said “we can hardly help admiring this trait in his character.”

“such murders occurred at a rate ninety times greater in Guiana than in India in the previous decade [this report from 1871]…”In the heartland district where most migrants were from, the picture was even darker: Indian men killed their romantic partners at a rate 142 times greater in Guiana than in India’s Northwestern Provinces and Oudh.”

laws over time became more and more lenient towards wife murdering. where initially it was met with the death penalty, the plantocracy & indian men appealed to the judiciary, in light of the expenses paid to bring them to the caribbean & the value of their labour to remit the sentences given, to the point where murdering a woman eventually, at best, caused you to be relocated to another plantation as sufficient punishment. and it is worth noting also that the numbers of women recorded dead reflect only those cases where prosecution was successfully brought against a man. undoubtedly there were many murders where there was no prosecution. the rate was higher than recorded.

marriage was not a safe-haven for women either. the scanty rights protecting women were swept away once she got married. becoming her husband’s property, she had no right to leave him, and if he died before her and they had children, unless she could find another husband quickly, she was liable to be sent back to india as a nuisance an her children taken from her and put into orphanages where they were [forcibly] converted to christianity & put into work houses until they were ready to be married. 

(source)

So how does this reflect personally? In the generations since “liberation” from the system of indenture servitude, marriage still has the connotation of survival, or at least has for my parents’ generation. It is a mode of protection from government, poverty, and colonialism, turned into a mark of piety and respect for the family.

This is a coerced and compulsory sexuality, and one sourced from white supremacy. The social status of indentured servants and furthermore indentured women allowed for the Empire to denigrate our people to animals, where rape was seen as deserved (a pattern we see in the US with how the justice system deems Black women as deserving of sexual assault or else unfeeling). South Asian women were useless in labor and thus had to deserve murder and sexual crimes.

Sexual abuse is extremely pervasive in my and other family narratives and often silenced because of the nature of marriage as a form of survival. Later colonization – the political strife in the 50s-70s with the institution of multiple tyrants by the British and Americans – just exacerbated this system.

What’s this have to do with asexuality, then? Sexuality is a way to colonize a people. It is a way to divide the people you are enslaving (say, by gender) and thus weaken them (via justification of murder). And these traumas persist in cultures.

When I say it’s difficult for me to say I’m asexual, I really do mean, it is viscerally horrible to consider myself asexual. It is violent. It makes me think of my mother and all the women in my family put into arranged marriages and the regret the men face as they emplace their daughters in these marriages purely out of fear for them. It makes me think of the conviction my grandfather has when he tells us young girls that we need to be financially independent and educate ourselves, because we finally can be safe outside of marriage. It makes me think of the stories of soldiers roaming neighborhoods and grabbing women from inside their homes.

Asexuality is what they want. It is what the soldiers, and the masters, and the foreign governments want. They want us to lack something they deem human so they don’t have to empathize. They want us to not desire because it gives them sick satisfaction. They want us not to feel because then they can justify crimes against us in our own courts. How could it not pain me to call myself asexual?

I literally feel all of this weight every time I have to confront my sexuality, when I have to confront my family and my family history, which I’m trying to uncover because the British literally wiped our records.

So maybe be glad that you cannot personalize the ways in which white supremacy operates via sexuality. But don’t think it’s some theoretical abstraction that has no place in discussions of asexuality.

I also heard Beyond the Queer Alphabet is really good.

Hope that helps!

Has Queer Theory failed? Maybe intersectionally.

Pop Cultural References in the The Race for Theory

I don’t have any discussion questions for Barbara Christian’s great essay The Race for Theory. What I do have, however, are two observations regarding what I call the “theory-market” in both literary and historical establishments she mentions in her paper.

On page 54, Christian argues that she shifted from philosophy to literature because “since the latter seemed to me to have the possibilities of rendering the world as large and as complicated as I experienced it, as sensual as I knew it was.” However, when coupled with her previous claim anybody could be “somebody’s other“, the vastness and variety of literature doesn’t seem to be the case. Just like Christian argues that “theory has become a commodity”, I argue that certain symbols, images and metaphors in text (especially in text about a certain ethnic group) have also become commodities. For example, consider this observation about the content of fiction regarding the South Asian diaspora:

On Jeet Thayil’s acclaimed novel, Narcopolis, about Mumbai’s seedy underground world of violence and drug addiction, and the winner of the 2013 DSC Prize for South Asian literature (awarded for literature published in English about the subcontinent and the diaspora), Thayil told an interviewer, “I try to avoid any mention of mangoes, of spices and monsoons. The problem with those books about India […] I find it very difficult to recognize the country I know.”

“Those books” Thayil refers to are South Asian diaspora novels about the Indian subcontinent. Mangoes, spices, and monsoons. I’ll add saris, bangles, oppressive husbands/fathers, arranged marriages, grains of rice, jasmine, virgins, and a tacky, overproduced Bollywood dance of rejection and obsession with Western culture. The frustration Thayil expresses has been echoed by other South Asian writers and readers who don’t identify with the stories and struggles presented in many of the South Asian novels published in the West from 2000 forward — the era ushered forth by the Pulitzer Prize-winning Interpreter of Maladies and all the copycats that followed. They see nothing of the real India, or the real Pakistan, or the real Bangladesh, or the real diaspora communities reflected in these novels, which are designed for a primarily white reading public. What they do see are stereotypes — a colonialist “jewel in the crown” version of the subcontinent that includes tall servants named Raj and palm fronds, mosquito nets and teatime and exiles longing to return to their super romantic homeland. In much contemporary literature, South Asians are exotic little creatures fluttering about in glass jars for the bemusement of monocle-clutching Western observers.

This is very true. Nearly every fictional novel I have read with a South Asian protagonist has mentioned mangos or arranged marriages. I certainly don’t think this is fair, considering I’m South Asian myself, I dislike the taste of mangos, I’ve never worn a sari in my life and I do not plan on having an arranged marriage. Such literary tropes and stereotypes make it hard for me to identify with this type of literature. Although Christian may be right in saying that literature can render the world in a variety of ways, I argue that literature (and in general, the media) ought to represent the world in a variety of ways.

My second observation is that Christian claims that black scholarship and writing has been “has been generally ignored in this country….. [and that we] are seen as a discredited people, it is no surprise, then, that our creations are also discredited” not only because of their race but because nearly all institutions in the country “believed their ideas to be universal.” Christian argues that “theory” itself is governed by those few who shape the language well enough and thus, fails to explain the variety of thoughts and experiences of those in other cultures. However, a few years before Christian wrote her essay, a new field of field was emerging that may have combated this issue: subaltern studies. Subaltern studies could be defined as “basically it’s the study of history through the eyes of people who had no voice throughout most of history, people who were mentally ill, people who were colored, women; it describes the lower classes and the social groups who are at the margins of a society.” 

Subaltern Studies emerged around 1982 as a series of journal articles published by Oxford University Press in India.  A group of Indian scholars trained in the west wanted to reclaim their history.  Its main goal was to retake history for the underclasses, for the voices that had not been heard previous.  Scholars of the subaltern hoped to break away from histories of the elites and the Eurocentric bias of current imperial history.  In the main, the wrote against the “Cambridge School” which seemed to uphold the colonial legacy—i.e. it was elite-centered.  Instead, they focused on subaltern in terms of class, caste, gender, race, language and culture.  They espoused the idea that there may have been political dominance, but that this was not hegemonic.  The primary leader was Ranajit Guha who had written works on peasant uprisings in India.  Another of the leading scholars of subaltern studies is Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak.  She draws on a number of theoretical positions in her analysis of Indian history: deconstruction, marxism, feminism. She was highly critical of current histories of India that were told from the vantage point of the colonizers and presented a story of the colony via the British adminstrators (Young, 159).  What she and other historians (including Ranajit Guha) wanted was to reclaim their history, to give voice to the subjected peoples.  Any other history merely reconstructs imperialist hegemony and does not give voice to the people—those who resisted, those who supported, those who experienced colonial incursion.  According to the Subaltern Studies group, this history is designed to be a “contribution made by people on their own, that it, independently of the élite” (quoted in Young 160).  They did this by establishing a journal out of Oxford, Delhi and Australia and called it Subaltern Studies to write a history against the grain and restore history to the subordinated.  In other words, to give the common people back their agency.

Although subaltern studies has its valid criticisms, I argue that it’s one way to deconstruct a narrow understanding of literary and historical theory that has existed in the West.

Sources:

(this is for my pop culture/discussion assignment)

Pop Cultural References in the The Race for Theory