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Archive for August, 2012

(This post represents my second attempt to shed a light on whiteness.  To read about the background and inspiration for this project, click here and read the sections entitled, “Look, a Negro” and “Look, a white.”)

This past weekend, author and intellectual Ta-Nehisi Coates appeared on The Chris Hayes show to discuss his recently-published essay, “Fear of a Black President.” (By the way, I cannot recommend this essay highly enough–even if it’s the only thing you are able to read this month.  It’s worth it.)  Coates was asked to comment on this birther joke Mitt Romney recently delivered while speaking at a rally in his home state of Michigan.

(HINT: The reason nobody doubts you were born in the United States, Mitt, even though like President Obama your father was foreign-born, is because you’re white. I’m not really sure why that double-standard is so funny to you…) (more…)

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I want to draw your attention to Prof. Sarah Morice-Brubaker‘s very interesting interview with Profs. Virginia Burrus and Thomas Laqueur, two brilliant historians, which was spurred by Rep. Todd Akin’s recent asinine remarks about “legitimate rape.” As Republican politicians scramble to distance themselves from Akin’s views, it’s worth remembering that the concept of “legitimate rape” is deeply ingrained in our culture and historically is by no means foreign to Christian theology.

Since my field is early Christianity and Augustine’s thought has left me sick to my stomach plenty of times, I’ll leave you with an excerpt from Burrus, who is one of my favorite scholars:

As soon as I began hearing the news reports of Akin’s remarks, I was haunted by similarities with the thought of the late Roman theologian Augustine. I hasten to say that I would not want to compare Akin in any general way to Augustine, who was a brilliant theologian and writer, accolades I would not by any means assign to Akin! The comparison I have in mind is quite specific, and that is Augustine’s discussion at the very beginning of his famous work City of God of the rape of Lucretia, a traditional Roman tale that he revisits in the context of real or anticipated wartime rapes of women of the Christian community.

Do go read the whole thing. It’s well worth it.

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“Look, a Negro!”

In his classic text, Black Skin, White Masks, Martiniquan anti-colonial activist and intellectual Frantz Fanon famously narrates an incident in which a young white boy points at him, proclaiming, “Look, a Negro!”  Growing ever more frightened, the young white boy repeats this phrase four times.  As Fanon recounts,

“‘Look, a Negro!’ It was an external stimulus that flicked over me as I passed by.  I made a tight smile.

‘Look, a Negro!’ It was true.  It amused me.

‘Look, a Negro!’ The circle was drawing a bit tighter.  I made no secret of my amusement.

‘Mama, see the Negro! I’m frightened!’  Frightened!  Frightened! Now they were beginning to be afraid of me. I made up my mind to laugh myself to tears, but laughter had become impossible” (112).

Detailing the impact this incident had upon him, Fanon recalls,

“My body was given back to me sprawled out, distorted, recolored, clad in mourning…The Negro is an animal, the Negro is bad, the Negro is mean, the Negro is ugly; look, a nigger” (113).

Reflecting upon this incident in his recent book, Look, a White! Philosophical Essays on Whitenessphilosopher George Yancey chronicles the inescapability of the white gaze:

“To be the black…then, is to be immediately recognized and recognizable…There is no escape; there are no exceptions.” “It is the social world of white normativity and white meaning making that creates the conditions under which black people are always already marked as different/deviant/dangerous” (4).

(If you doubt the veracity of Fanon and Yancey’s depiction of whiteness, think about how many times you have heard white people tell stories in which only the race of the non-white “characters” gets mentioned:  “John and I were walking down the street the other day and we saw this really tall black guy…”  Or consider novels written by white authors: rarely if ever is a white character in a novel written by a white person explicitly described as being “white,” but the characters of color are almost always explicitly racially identified.) (more…)

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A photograph of Maria Alekhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, & Ekaterina Samucevich

Right to left: Maria Alekhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Ekaterina Samucevich. Photograph from freepussyriot.org

(OK. I’m going to warn you, this post is long. If you’re strapped for time, my suggestion is to read the text of “Punk Prayer,” and then skip down to “First,“. Thanks in advance for your patience.)

By now, I’m sure everyone has read about yesterday’s conviction of Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, and Ekaterina Samutsevich, three members of Pussy Riot, “an anonymous Russian feminist performance art group formed in October 2011,” for their “punk prayer” protest.

On Tuesday, February 21, Masha, Nadya, and Katya entered the Orthodox Cathedral of Christ the Savior wearing bright dresses, tights, and balaclavas, and stood in front of the iconostasis, crossing themselves, dancing, and singing in protest of the Russian Orthodox Church’s support of Vladimir Putin. Cathedral security stopped the three less than a minute after they began. On March 4, after a video of the action had gone viral and the Russian Orthodox Church had initiated a criminal case, Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova were arrested by the Russian Federal Security Service‘s terrorism division on suspicion of “hooliganism.” Formal charges were not filed until March 15, when Samutsevich—initially considered a witness—was also arrested. Yesterday, all three were sentences to two years of prison.

(more…)

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It has been now nearly a year since I gave birth to my son.  The pregnancy itself, though within the range of normal and healthy, was a completely miserable experience.  I wanted it to be over as soon as possible and then never wanted to do it again, ever.  When asked about how I was anticipating birth to be, I usually answered that I wasn’t nervous at all.  I didn’t know why everyone kept asking about it since, really, how hard could it be?  It would only last one (or two?) days and I would have a lot of support around me.  What made pregnancy so difficult for me was the monotony of feeling awful and alone nearly every day for nine months.

Fairly late in my pregnancy I had a meeting with a faculty member who was advising me on something related to my dissertation project on the topic of sexual trauma.  At the end of the meeting she said to me, “Speaking of trauma, when are you due?”  I was taken off guard by her comment.  As one who I know takes seriously the horrors of sexual abuse and rape (and as one who has given birth herself), I was surprised by the apparent casualness with which she seemed to equate childbirth and a violent act of personal violation.  It was meant partly as a joke, I know.  And, probably it was not an entirely thoughtful or sensitive one either.  But as I would come to find out, there was something true about it. (more…)

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In her sensational work, The New Jim Crowcivil rights attorney Michelle Alexander uncovers the manifold parallels between the contemporary regime of mass incarceration and the era of Jim and Jane Crow.  We at WIT have reflected upon the racially unjust character of the War on Drugs and its resemblance to the War on Terror in greater depth here, here, and here.

A new study from The Sentencing Project affirms Alexanders’ thesis, demonstrating the way in which the War on Drugs disproportionately disenfranchises African-Americans.

– “Approximately 2.5 percent of the total U.S. voting age population–1 of every 40 adults– is disenfranchised due to a current or previous felony conviction.”

– “The number of people disenfranchised due to a felony conviction has escalated dramatically in recent decades…There were an estimated 1.17 million people disenfranchised in 1976, 3.34 million in 1976, and over 5.85 million in 2010.”

– “1 of every 13 African Americans of voting age is disenfranchised, a rate more than four times greater than non-African Americans. Nearly 7.7% of the adult African American population is disenfranchised compared to 1.8 percent of the non-African American population.”

– “African American disenfranchisement rates also vary significantly by state. In three states– Florida (23 percent), Kentucky (22 percent), and Virginia (20 percent)– more than one in five African Americans is disenfranchised.”

(more…)

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