Monthly Archives: May 2008

An Unusual Professor?

A friend tells me I am an unusual professor because, although I am research oriented and work at a research institution, I care about undergraduate education. I see his point but I wonder, is it really true?

1. I do not feel that I care about lower division instruction. It does matter to me, and I think it presents interesting problems and that it is very important, but I do not think I care about it. I wonder if he sees something I do not.

2. I know lots of institutions which do not care about undergraduate education, but I know lots of research oriented people with the best degrees, credentials and publications who do care about it.

What is true?



Filed under Questions, What Is A Scholar?

The Sanctuary

A friend writes that The Sanctuary is “a new community online that is pro-migrant, pro-humanity, pro-social justice, but mostly a safe space for those of us on the left who do not find the solidarity and priority of human rights (for all) in the mainstream blogosphere that we would like. The right—namely the extreme right—has hijacked the debate on immigration and rendered it hateful and ineffective. Even in many friendly spaces, we cannot count on others to maintain a sane and human environment in which to organize, share information, stories, and discuss this issue so crucial to us as a nation and a race (the human race). It has been sorely needed.

“We are not powerful or rich or important people, but we are very committed and we have taken matters into our own hands to do this, to create this environment. We have been working on this concept since last year, in one form or another, and finally we are just about ready. . . . Our strength will rely on our passion and numbers, and I want to pass along the invite to you. Please do not hesitate to sign up now, to add the feed, to post your own diaries. (Hey, you know a few of the editors well, I bet! Juice, vat@.)”
Please participate, it is important.



Filed under Movement

Merrily Going ‘Round

I am arguing endlessly with my youngest brother on the topic of race and I want to give up. I want to say:

Dear C., While I know you are a mixed Creole, and I know you want everyone to recognize you as such, I also know that where you are living, most people do not know about mixed Creoles and will just see you as African-American. I cannot really fault them for that, nor can I blame African-Americans from around the country who may feel that your identity as a mixed Creole is a mere affectation or an effort to flee from Blackness. There are historical reasons for their reaction. Let them be. Love, Z.

That is a very simple message but of course it is not so simple. I think we are arguing about race because really we are arguing about something else but we do not know its name.


He also thinks that a national education system, as they have in parts of Europe, would cure American ignorance. I say that NCLB is the tenor of any national education system we could get, that the use of metrics for assessment and the proliferation of high stakes exit examinations is already increasing, and that if we got more of one it probably would not be allowed to teach the theory of evolution. I further say that it is not the education system which is the root problem, there are many roots, as in a Deleuzian rhizome, and they include capitalism, slavery and post-slavery, xenophobia, and the corporate media. I cannot say these things to him because I can argue better than he can, and it will become oppressive. So I am talking back here.



Filed under Banes, News, Theories

California Ramblers

I am going home for a few days and I can hardly believe it. Here is California, Here I Come recorded by the California Ramblers, also known as the Golden Gate Orchestra, in 1924, the same year it was written:

Al Jolson sung it famously in blackface, in 1946. I do not approve of the makeup, but it is hard to fault the rest of the performance.

Here is our song again as sung last year by fourth graders at (I believe) George Washington Carver Elementary School in San Francisco:

I would live in that Garden of Eden if I had the Do-Re-Mi. I am taking off now, and when I arrive I will hear Barack Obama’s Oregon victory speech in Pacific time.



Filed under Songs

Invisible Racism

Clinton has, to be sure, faced a raw misogyny that has been more out in the open than the racial attacks on Obama have been. But while sexism may be more casually accepted, racism, which is often coded, is more insidious and trickier to confront. Clinton’s response to “Iron my shirt” was immediate and straightforward: “Oh, the remnants of sexism, alive and well.” Says Kimberlé Crenshaw, law professor at Columbia and UCLA and executive director of the African American Policy Forum, “While sexism can be denounced more directly, that doesn’t mean it’s worse. Things that are racist have yet to be labeled and understood as such.”

–Betsy Reed, Race to the Bottom, The Nation 19 May 2008, 11-18.

This is an interesting statement which I think is true of the situation of which Crenshaw speaks. But is it true generally? Are there not also sexist things which have yet to be labeled and understood as such? Discuss.



Filed under Da Whiteman, News, Resources, Theories

Shahrzad Mojab on “Muslim” Women and “Western” Feminists

Of course I like the name Shahrzad very much and am considering adopting it myself. In Arabic class my name was Ouidad but Ouidad is now a hair salon in New York and I am not. Here is Shahrzad:

“The record of the feminist movement worldwide shows that the struggle for liberation is multidimensional, with numerous platforms and strategies. Moreover, this struggle is intertwined with other movements which aim at the democratization of society – movements of the working classes, ethnic groups, race groups, etc. A dialectical perspective sees unity and solidarity in this diversity. It will not optimistically look for a universal alliance among all human beings. But it assumes that there is no insurmountable divide separating the women of the world. No doubt there are different meanings or expectations of freedom, democracy, and socialism, but alliances can be and are being made among those who share a common understanding of liberation. The world is divided, for example, on who should decide women’s reproductive choices. Women unite or divide on this issue regardless of their location or religion. In the Beijing conference, the Vatican and the Islamic Republic united on strategies for the control of women, while women of different cultures, colors, and religious canons united against the conservative front.

“Postmodernism treats universalistic principles as inherently oppressive, even totalitarian. But the equation of the universal and the global with “totalization” or, more particularly, with totalitarianism is at best simplistic. Totalitarianism as a political phenomenon has nothing to do with the scope of generalization. Just as universalistic principles can be liberating, small-scale narratives can be extremely oppressive. Nor is totalitarianism related to size or geography. It can appear in small-size locations such as a family, a court, a classroom, a village, no less than in large-size spaces such as a city, a country or a whole region of the world.

“The feminist movement does not become totalitarian simply by forging alliances on the national, regional, or global levels. Such alliances are not incompatible with mutual respect for cultural differences, and the cause of liberation is better served if our practice is not constrained by theoretical positions that fragment and weaken our agency. Stoning a woman to death in Bangladesh should and can be seen as an assault against women everywhere, and it should and can spur us to think and act in North America.”

Those are the last three paragraphs. Read the whole article.



Filed under Bibliography, Da Whiteman, Movement, Theories

The Idea of Citizenship

The concept of citizenship is apparently difficult. Many people do not know what it is. They are nationalistic and they want immigrants, for instance, “to know our language and our culture, to understand our form of government and our laws.” Yet they tend not to believe in the rights of “man” and citizen. Daniel Brook’s article Extreme Inequality addresses this and other problems. Some interesting excerpts:

“Early in Free Lunch, Johnston’s lumping of the United States with Brazil, Mexico and Russia sounds inflammatory, even irresponsible, but the more one reads of his litany of plutocratic shenanigans, the less far-fetched it sounds. Johnston’s story of an oligarch getting $100 million in corporate welfare to open a call center filled with dead-end jobs in a frozen postindustrial city and then getting laudatory coverage in the local paper, which said oligarch owns, sounds right out of Putin’s Russia. But the Frost Belt city isn’t Vladivostok, and the oligarch isn’t Boris Berezovsky–it’s Buffalo and Warren Buffett.”

“Ever since the beginnings of democracy, Thompson explains, political thinkers have understood that a democratic society can not endure under conditions of extreme inequality. There was broad agreement on this principle. The difference between left and right was not that progressive thinkers opposed extreme inequality and conservative theorists supported it. Rather, left and right differed only on why they feared inequality.”

“For 2,000 years, hardly anyone thought extreme inequality was tenable in a republic. So while William Greider has described … the New Right agenda as ‘rolling back the twentieth century,’ it is even more audacious than that–it is to roll back Western civilization (or perhaps human civilization, period, for even Confucius warned, ‘Where wealth is centralized, the people are dispersed. Where wealth is distributed, the people are brought together’). While Aristotle began Western political thought with his insight that ‘man is by nature a political animal,’ Margaret Thatcher sought to end it: ‘Who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families.'”

“Admittedly, in American political thought there has always been a counterargument that high degrees of economic inequality, if established under conditions of open competition, could coexist with democracy. Thompson traces this tradition from Alexander Hamilton through John C. Calhoun to Milton Friedman. But none of these thinkers, so sanguine about the risks inequality poses to democracy, were particularly committed to democracy. Hamilton humiliated himself on the floor of the Constitutional Convention by arguing that what the new nation really needed was a ‘monarch’; Calhoun was America’s leading intellectual apologist for slavery; Milton Friedman advised Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet. The only thinkers who dismiss extreme inequality as no threat to democratic society appear to be, at best, indifferent to democracy.”

“How, after 2,000 years of broad agreement that extreme levels of economic inequality were anathema to self-rule, does one explain the United States, an ostensibly democratic country where the concentration of wealth exceeds not only those of our peer countries but that of imperial Rome? Thompson blames this on the triumph of liberalism, with its emphasis on individual rights and equal opportunity, over republicanism, with its emphasis on civic virtue, social equality and the absence of domination. Conventionally seen as being in tension, liberalism and republicanism, Thompson argues, were initially aligned in their opposition to feudalism. Early American liberals assumed that an economy of open competition would lead to reasonable levels of economic equality. After all, every person had the capacity to work; freed from the constraints of feudalism, each worker could keep the fruits of his labor.”

“In the early American economy of small farms and shops, this idea seemed reasonable. What liberals didn’t understand was that in the industrial economy of large corporations that would develop after the Civil War, work and reward would again be separated. In the feudal system, serfs worked land owned by nobles; nobles got rich while serfs remained poor. Under industrial capitalism, workers work in corporations owned by industrialists and shareholders, who similarly get rich while workers often get shortchanged. Blindsided by the rise of industrial capitalism, with its bifurcation of work and reward, liberalism was impotent to take on the inequality of the first Gilded Age or its re-emergence in the second Gilded Age today. While a liberal ideology of open competition has been able to take on racial and gender inequality, it has nothing to offer against the scourge of economic inequality. Capitalism’s Smithian system of seemingly free and open competition is a mechanism for generating extreme economic inequality. Until liberals understand this–including liberals like David Cay Johnston–there is little chance of rolling back the new inequality.”

“While it would be comforting to assume that extreme inequality would naturally lead to popular demands for greater equality, in highly unequal societies, people often aspire not to roll back inequality but to benefit from it. How to turn a nation of gamblers into a nation of citizens is the question that looms over America.”



Filed under Banes, Da Whiteman, Movement, News, Resources, Theories, What Is A Scholar?