Monthly Archives: October 2004

About race

“He says there’s no such thing as race.”
She shrugged. “He’s right you know. About it all being constructed. But” –she turned to me, looking at me intently–“that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.”
From Caucasia by Danzy Senna

A few years ago I received a Ford Fellowship. It’s made a big difference in my ability to work on my Ph.D.. The Ford Foundation has funded these fellowships for more than twenty years with the stated goal of increasing the numbers of faculty from underrepresented minority groups. The fellowship was awarded based on merit, but applicants had to be African American, Chicano, Native American or Pacific Islander to be considered.

The fellowship is more than money (though the money helps). It’s about being part of a community of scholars of color. There’s an annual conference where current and former fellows meet to discuss research and also to support and mentor each other. (In fact, a number of fellows who are further advanced in their careers donate money so there can be more fellowships offered each year.) I’m not going to argue that Ph.D. students of color experience overt racism on a regular basis. I don’t and I don’t think that’s the case for many of us. But it can be very lonely. However diverse undergraduate programs may have become, graduate programs look basically as white as they ever did. There’s a lot of different reasons, but that’s the way it is. So we look forward to seeing each other. The internet helps the most isolated by allowing us to be part of a virtual community.

This summer, the Ford Foundation sent the Fellows a letter explaining that the Fellowship was being changed from one that was based on race to one that was based on “diversity.” I guess I should have seen it coming. Affirmative Action has lost a number of legal battles, which have left an odd situation where it’s apparently okay for a university to give preference to children of alums, but not to students of color. Meanwhile, the “news” that race isn’t determined by biology, but rather, is constructed socially, has led people like Ward Connerly to argue that since race isn’t “real” the solution to racism is to abolish race as any sort of legal or public construction.

As one fellow said mournfully this summer “It’s not that I don’t like white scholars. I hate seeing us lose the one place we had of our own. Where we could be ourselves and comfortable one weekend a year.”

I’m trying to be positive about the changes. But what I feel in my heart is that for scholars of color there really is no easy place to be.

A small life

I spend a lot of time on big things. Literature, politics, war. Global issues with world-wide impact. I’m not saying I can do much about any one of them, but I spend a good deal of effort and energy on them anyway. Lately though, my grandmother, whom I’ve always called “Nana,” is in my thoughts.

When I was 9 or 10, I had a defining moment with her. We had gone to a Saturday evening Mass and were going out for Mexican food at a local strip-mall resturant when a woman came running over, crying and asking for my grandmother for money because she had no milk in the house and her children were hungry. Nana opened her purse and gave the woman five dollars and told her she would pray things would get better for her. A male friend (also a member of our church) had been walking behind us. A retired police officer, he said somewhat dismissively that the woman was probably a drug addict and asked how my grandmother would feel if she found out her money was going to buy drugs. My grandmother didn’t answer, but asked how he would feel if her children really were hungry and had no milk. Our friend had no reply. As we walked into the resturant she stopped me and said “if someone asks you for help, it’s like Christ has asked. If you have the money to give, how can you say no?”

Nana never had or aspired to a big life. She’s a life-long democrat, never really worries very much about politics. She believes in the party and votes accordingly. She’s Catholic and doesn’t get too caught up in “thinking too much” about her faith. Her parents, who she still adores some 50 years after their deaths believed. She loved them and so she believes too. For her it’s very simple.

Sometimes the two, religion and politics, come into conflict. A couple elections ago, a priest argued that because of abortion, good Catholics should vote for the Republican candidate. It was then that I realized Nana had strong political convictions. She went up to him after mass. He was a friend, someone they had to dinner frequently. She told him she was a Catholic and as good a one as him, but that she was also an American. And that no one, certainly no man, would tell her who she could or couldn’t vote for. He was left speechless, surrounded by equally stunned church-goers as she then extended an invitation for him to join her and my grandfather for breakfast.

My grandmother is thoughtful. Her family is and always has been the center of her life. Friends come next and she always remembers people’s birthdays with a bit of cake (though she’s never been much interested in cooking), a card or an invitation to join her for a drink. A few years ago, at 96 and with my grandfather failing, I helped my mother move the two of them away from San Diego. No one said it, but it was clear they’d never go back to the church community they’d been part of for 30 plus years. When my mother and I took them to mass there that last time, it was clear that their friends (most of whom were at least 20 years younger) were devestated by the realization they would probably never see them again. Though tears in the parking lot, my grandmother replied to the tearful goodbyes with by saying “I’ll see you next week.”

This, for the people who heard, was confusing and made them wonder if maybe she didn’t realize we were going away for good. I explained to them that my grandmother always says “see you next week” to make saying goodbyes easier.

Nana turned 98 this past June. Her small life makes the lives of those of us around her better, always.

More addictive than even Snood

No, it’s not a new game (though I do get hooked on those pretty easily). It’s this interactive electoral map on the LA Times Website. I find myself there at least twice a day (more most — lots more) trying out new senarios for John Kerry to beat Bush. I celebrate when a state is declared blue or drifts from red back to white. My teeth clench when I see blue become white (what’s up Hawaii?) or a white is given back to red. I make it all right, put Kerry over the 270 top and hear the happy strains of “Hail to the Chief.”

Sometimes after a half hour of work on the map, I have plans for Kerry, if only I could reach him in time. Don’t forget Minnisota and Wisconson, I want to yell. You can’t lose states that went for Dukakis! Oddly, I don’t actually have the ear of the President, so I call or email friends and family and explain what I know needs to be done. They agree, of course.

republican-hqI don’t agree with Bush on a single issue and that makes it very hard for me to understand his appeal. One problem is I don’t know any smart people who are supporting Bush. In fact, the ones I know voting for him aren’t really voting for him. They’ve voting against Kerry for whatever reason. But where I live, no one loves Bush. I’ve never met or even seen a Cheney Cheerleader. This is Santa Monica where even the Repubican Headquarters has a Kerry / Edwards sign in front of it. (To be fair, they did take the sign down.) It’s meant as a slur, but I like the idea that we live in “The People’s Republic of Santa Monica.”

Downsides? Our rent is high. And Santa Monica is too small to solve California’s homeless problem on their own.

But when the wind blows east from the ocean, I can smell the sea.


coffinsI tried to write a “not-so-politcal” post yesterday, but I kicked the plug out of the computer and deleted it before I’d saved. And so now I’m back on politics. Does it bother anyone else that of the 1100 plus soldiers who’ve died, Bush hasn’t attended one funeral? I know at least some of the families have invited him. Does he think that by going and paying his respects to one or more of the soldiers who’ve died in his war that we’ll all suddenly realize what the human cost is? Personally, I think he’s afraid of calling attention to death. That our troops are killing and dying over in Iraq, leaving behind grieving families who fear they’ll never be whole again. It’s why it was illegal for there to be pictures of flag-drapped coffins coming on or off planes home — so much so that some have workers been fired for taking pictures. We’re told that this rule is out of respect for the families, but the families have said they feel comforted by the knowledge that the bodies are being watched over. They like seeing that they’re being treated with respect. But rows of flag covered coffins are a real bummer. Bush doesn’t want us to think about them. The freeway blogger pointed this out on an overpass here in LA with an exhibit. (Love his site and work.) Maybe it’s for the best though. As Calvin Trillin wrote, commenting on Bush’s notable absences: At least there’s no Bush eulogy On why they had to die. It’s better that they’re laid to rest Without another lie.

GOP to spinal cord victims “See what happens when you support the wrong party?”

The LA Weekly is reporting that even before actor Christopher Reeve’s body is cold, Republicans in Congress are playing politics with the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Act, which has already passed in the House in a 418 to O vote, and, prior to this week, was expected to sail easily through its Senate vote.

What would the bill do? Basically make life a little better for about two million paralysed Americans without costing anything.

So why the delay? Apparently Christopher Reeve is being punished (yes, you’d think being paralysed from the neck down and then dying would be enough, but no) for speaking out a little too loudly in support of stem-cell research. There’s nothing about stem-cell research in this bill, but that’s apparently not the point.

Further, a spokesman commenting for the Christopher Reeve foundation believes the Senate Republicans wouldn’t have dared do this were Christopher Reeve alive.

So the cause to which he devoted his post accident public life takes a hit because of his politics. Never mind the millions that could be helped. Just when you think the Republicans can’t sink any lower.

Little wonder that his widow, Dana Reeve, today announced that she’ll be supporting John Kerry.

Me too. I just wish I got to vote twice. Once for Kerry and again against Bush.

Tracking Bush’s memory hole

As soon as Winston had dealt with each of the messages, he clipped his speakwritten corrections to the appropriate copy of The Times and pushed them into the pneumatic tube. Then, with a movement which was as nearly as possible unconsicious, he crumpled up the original message and any notes that he himself had made, and dropped them into the memory hole to be devoured by the flames.

— George Orwell, 1984

I was reading DailyKos this afternoon and was struck by one posting specifically commenting on the Bush administration’s “scrubbing” of the White House website of any embarrassing audio and video clips. Talk about trying to sweep sand out of the ocean.

This site by blogger Brad Friedman tracks these various revisions.

I’m not a huge fan of George Orwell, but it’s hard not to see 2004 and the last four years as a move toward a 1984 world. A state of eternal war against a vague and ever changing enemy. The purpose of this war isn’t victory but fighting. The fighting justifies autocratic rule by an infallible leader whose errors are erased and therefore never existed. Dissenters can be called “enemies” of the state.

A Ministry of Truth whose job it is to erase and re-write history, making new reality and truth. Thought Police regulate every internal resistance.

Though this just struck me today, clearly students at Columbia have been thinking the same thing for a while now. Warning: the site is depressing.

If Bush is re-elected, are we voting for war or peace? Or for a man who doesn’t know the difference, who stated “I just want you to know that, when we talk about war, we’re really talking about peace.”

War is Peace.

Freedom is Slavery.

Ignorance is Strength…

…because we’ve always been at war with Oceania.

See Mom? We’re Not Nazis!

One of the newsgroups I read (soc.sexuality.spanking if you really need to know) had an off-topic discussion going on about whether or not Bush was like Hitler or whether it was trivializing the Holocaust to say so….

Is this really where we’ve come to? That we have to argue about whether or not our President is as bad as Hitler? And if we can’t prove he is, well, then see? It’s all okay then?

I mean, say what you like about Hitler, but at least he was self-made.

I find it bizarre beyond belief that we need to see Bush as being “like Hitler” in order to agree that he’s bad.

What he and Ashcroft have done is prey on the fears of Americans in the manner of fascists — making even sane people believe that if they sacrifice their freedoms and privacy they’ll somehow be safe. They’ve called dissent unpatriotic, forgetting somehow that we’re a nation founded on dissent.

No, I don’t think we’re about to round up Muslims in mass and lead them off to detainment camps. We’re not Nazis.

But we’re going the WRONG WAY. We’re giving in to terrorism ourselves by giving up freedoms.

I read on a site today someone defending Bush by saying that in a nation of 300 million people, the 1102 US soldiers who’ve been killed in action and the 8000+ who’ve been seriously wounded are insignificant. I’ve heard people say the freedom of the men being held at Guantanamo doesn’t matter — that it’s only a few hundred anyway.

This is deeply un American in my opinion. The rights of the individual matter. That’s the very basis our country is founded on. Whether it’s the 3000 killed on 9/11 or the lives of our soldiers overseas or their families at home — they all matter. Each of them. The lives of the people of Iraq matter. The rights of the men being held in Cuba matter. That’s why we need such good causes to send our troops into harms way. Because their lives all matter. And unless we can see the value in defending the rights of individuals to life and freedom, we erode our own to the same.

That’s backwards and wrong.