bibliogramma: (Default)



Unsettling Canada - A National Wake-Up Call sounded like something I'd want/need to read from the minute I heard about it. A collaboration between two First Nations leaders, Arthur Manuel - a vocal Indigenous rights activist from the Secwepemc Nation - and Grand Chief Ron Derrickson - a Syilx (Okanagan) businessmen, it is touted by the publishers as bringing "a fresh perspective and new ideas to Canada’s most glaring piece of unfinished business: the place of Indigenous peoples within the country’s political and economic space."

Much of the writing on Indigenous rights and
Indigenous activism in Canada is not accessible to someone like me, who can pretty much only read ebooks. (I can read a physical, bound book, but only very slowly, stopping the minute my breathing begins to be affected, which in practice means three or four paragraphs a day, and that means only one or two such books a year, so I pick only the most important books to be read in this manner.) So I was delighted to find an ebook copy of this available from the library.

The book is written from Manuel's voice, wth advice and input from Derrickson. He begins with a rumination on the land of his peoples, what settler-colonialists have called the B.C. Interior, and on his work with the Global Indigenous People's Caucus - in particular, the presentation of a statement on the 'doctrine of discovery' to the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. The doctrine of discovery is a poisonous piece of European colonialist legalism which says that a European sailing along the coast of the land and seeing the rivers flowing down from the interior had, by virtue of their 'discovery' of evidence of that land, more right to it in law (European-derived settler law, of course) than those peoples whose ancestors have lived on, gained nourishment from and stewardship to, for generations.

It's a law that has no justice or even sense of reality behind it. It can only exist if you pretend that Indigenous people never did. Yet it is the basis by which most of the land of the American continents were taken from the people inhabiting those continents, and it lies at the root of land claim discussions even to this day.

Manuel goes on to speak briefly about his family - George Manuel, his father, was a noted Indigenous activist but not very present during Manuel's early life - and his youth, which included time in residential schools due to his mother's long hospitalisation and his father's absences.

These two strands - the history of Indigenous land claims, and his father's legacy of activism, come together in the narrative of Indigenous resistance to the Trudeau government's Statement of the Government of Canada on Indian Policy - the 1969 White Paper.

"Ironically, the impetus for unity [among Indigenous activists and organisations], and what finally put my father into the leadership of the National Indian Brotherhood, was provided by the Trudeau government's Indian Affairs minister Jean Chrétien. In June 1969, Chrétien unveiled a legislative time bomb that was designed not only to destroy any hope of recognition of Aboriginal title and rights in Canada, but also to terminate Canada's treaties with Indian nations. ...

The statement sparked an epic battle that did not end in 1970 when the Indian Association of Alberta presented its counterproposal in the Red Paper. In many important ways it was the opening shot in the current battle for our land and our historic rights against a policy designed to terminate our title to our Indigenous territories and our rights as Indigenous peoples. The White Paper of 1969 is where our struggle begins."

The White Paper, in essence, sought to end all concept of Indigenous nations, abrogate all treaties, eliminate the concept of sovereign lands held in common by an indigenous nation, and force full and complete assimilation - ending by cultural genocide the disappearing of the Indigenous peoples that no previous strategy had quite managed to accomplish.

Resistance to the White Paper was strong. Indigenous leaders formally rejected the government's position, declaring that nothing was possible without the recognition of the sovereignty of Indigenous people and a willingness to negotiate based on the principle that "only Aboriginals and Aboriginal organizations should be given the resources and responsibility to determine their own priorities and future development." But although the paper was withdrawn, the positions it espoused have continued to resurface, recycled and repackaged, in government negotiations with Indigenous peoples to this day.

In 1973, however, a Supreme Court decision gave Indigenous peoples a tool for fighting the White paper proposals. In a 3-3 decision in the Calder case, the Supreme Court declined to set aside the provisions of the Royal Proclamation of 1763, which stated that Indigenous peoples living on unceded land - which at that time included most of what is now Canada - had sovereign rights to that land, which could not be set aside by government fiat, but only surrendered via treaty. While a contested victory, and one that was less useful for many nations who had been tricked into giving up more rights than intended in colonial treaty negotiations, this decision still established the legal concept of the sovereignty of Indigenous nations which would eventually lead to more fruitful legal arguments.

Balancing between historical, academic perspectives and personal recollection, Manuel traces the story of the struggles of Indigenous peoples to reclaim their rights and build a new partnership with Canada over the past 50 years. As he examines the history of court arguments and governmental negotiations over issues of sovereignty, land claims, and other key points of dispute between Canada's Indigenous Nations and the Canadian federal and provincial governments, Manuel clearly and concisely explains the legal concepts involved at each stage. In so doing, he weaves a chilling narrative of repeated attempts to, quite literally, extinguish the rights, and the existence, of the original landholders in the interests of corporate exploitation and gain - a neo-colonialist project that would finish off what settler colonialism began.

Events that for many white Canadians passed by without any comprehension of what they meant to Indigenous peoples - the James Bay hydroelectric project, the repatriation of the constitution, the Oka crisis, Elijah Harper's lone stand against the Meech Lake Accord, the Nisga'a Treaty, the Canada-US softwood lumber disputes, the Sun Peaks protests, to name a few - are placed in a coherent context of colonial oppression and Indigenous resistance.

Manuel also places the struggle of Indigenous peoples in Canada within an international context, that of the "Fourth World" - defined as "Indigenous nations trapped within states in the First, Second and Third Worlds." He recounts his father George Manuel's role in the creation of the World Council of Indigenous Peoples, which led to the establishment in 2002 of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples - a document fiercely opposed and flagrantly ignored by Canada and the other major colonial nations, Australia, New Zealand and The United States.

What makes this book so important - and so accessible - is the insider perspective that Manuel brings to the narrative. He and members of his family were intimately involved with many of the key actions and negotiations; his personal knowledge of the dealings behind the scenes fleshes out his factual accounting of the events he witnessed and participated in. Manuel's personal lived experience makes this more than just a relating of legal points and bureaucratic counters, it allows the reader to feel the profound injustices faced by Indigenous peoples in their struggle to preserve their rights and their identities and their fierce determination to succeed.

bibliogramma: (Default)



An Internet acquaintance posted a link to an online course on Critical Race Theory offered by Adrienne Keene at Brown University, and while I'm not in a position to formally enroll in, or even audit, a course, I thought that it might be both interesting and useful to read as many of the assigned books and articles as I could access.

One of the core texts is Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic (foreword by Angela Harris), which I was able to download via a link in the course syllabus.

In their introduction, Delgado and Stefancic say: "The critical race theory (CRT) movement is a collection of activists and scholars interested in studying and transforming the relationship among race, racism, and power. The movement considers many of the same issues that conventional civil rights and ethnic studies discourses take up, but places them in a broader perspective that includes economics, history, context, group- and self-interest, and even feelings and the unconscious. Unlike traditional civil rights, which embraces incrementalism and step-by-step progress, critical race theory questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law."

They go on to provide a brief history of the Critical Race Theory (CRT) movement and to identify the fore principles that most CRT scholars and activists would agree are the foundational ideas of CRT:

"First, that racism is ordinary, not aberrational—“normal science,” the usual way society does business, the common, everyday experience of most people of color in this country. Second, most would agree that our system of white-over-color ascen- dancy serves important purposes, both psychic and material. ...

A third theme of critical race theory, the “social construction” thesis, holds that race and races are products of social thought and relations. Not objective, inherent, or fixed, they correspond to no biological or genetic reality; rather, races are categories that society invents, manipulates, or retires when convenient."

Other crucial concepts in CRT are differential racialization - the recognition that different minority groups are defined, treated and represented in different ways at different times by the dominant culture in response to its changing needs and interests - and intersectionality - a concept developed by Kimberlé Crenshaw, which holds that "No person has a single, easily stated, unitary identity."

Finally, CRT argues that people of colour offer unique perspectives and knowledge on issues with a racial component: "... the voice-of-color thesis holds that because of their different histories and experiences with oppression, black, Indian, Asian, and Latino/a writers and thinkers may be able to communicate to their white counterparts matters that the whites are unlikely to know."

The concepts outlined in the text are not new to anyone who has been at all engaged in anti-racism action or discourse in recent years, but I found that there was value in seeing these basic tenets organised in a logical fashion, and seeing how they flowed from and built upon each other to create a way of seeing race in North American society. As an activist who began thinking and reading about these matters in the late 60s, and who has tried to keep current with the many changes and refinements, advances and extensions of theory over the decades, a primer in modern race theory is also an excellent source for absorbing not just new theory, but new terminology, and a resource for scholarship in more specific areas of the field of study.

I'm very glad that I happened upon this text, and decided to read it. And I'm looking forward to further readings from the course syllabus (which can be found here: https://blogs.brown.edu/amst-2220j-s01-2017-fall/syllabus/).

bibliogramma: (Default)


Michelle Alexander's book on the carceral state, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, is rightfully on most lists of essential books to read for an understanding of race in America. It is a masterful indictment of the ways in which the American justice and penal systems continue the job of the former "Jim Crow" laws, of keeping black Americans in the role of second-class citizens, with limited rights and reduced access to everything from jobs to participation in the political system. As Alexander notes in her Introduction,

"The stark and sobering reality is that, for reasons largely unrelated to actual crime trends, the American penal system has emerged as a system of social control unparalleled in world history. And while the size of the system alone might suggest that it would touch the lives of most Americans, the primary targets of its control can be defined largely by race."

She goes on to say that " ...despite the unprecedented levels of incarceration in the African American community, the civil rights community is oddly quiet. One in three young African American men is currently under the control of the criminal justice system—in prison, in jail, on probation, or on parole—yet mass incarceration tends to be categorized as a criminal justice issue as opposed to a racial justice or civil rights issue (or crisis)."

In The New Jim Crow, Alexander demonstrates with overwhelming evidence that mass incarceration is indeed a racial justice issue, and one that should he at the forefront of the social justice agenda.

"This book argues that mass incarceration is, metaphorically, the New Jim Crow and that all those who care about social justice should fully commit themselves to dismantling this new racial caste system. Mass incarceration—not attacks on affirmative action or lax civil rights enforcement—is the most damaging manifestation of the backlash against the Civil Rights Movement. The popular narrative that emphasizes the death of slavery and Jim Crow and celebrates the nation’s “triumph over race” with the election of Barack Obama, is dangerously misguided. The colorblind public consensus that prevails in America today—i.e., the widespread belief that race no longer matters—has blinded us to the realities of race in our society and facilitated the emergence of a new caste system."

Alexander begins her argument with a discussion of past 'racial caste systems' - slavery and the Jim Crow - and how the same results are created again and again by changing social structures and institutions: "... there is a certain pattern to the births and deaths of racial caste in America. Time and again, the most ardent proponents of racial hierarchy have succeeded in creating new caste systems by triggering a collapse of resistance across the political spectrum. This feat has been achieved largely by appealing to the racism and vulnerability of lower-class whites, a group of people who are understandably eager to ensure that they never find themselves trapped at the bottom of the American totem pole. This pattern, dating back to slavery, has birthed yet another racial caste system in the United States: mass incarceration."

The essence of Alexander's argument is demonstrated through detailed historical research. She shows clearly how, almost from the moment of emancipation following the civil war, unjust laws and prisons that are little more than enforced eork camps have been used to perform the same social functions that slavery did, to deny human rights, civil rights, and the rights of citizenship to black Americans, and to coerce their labour to support the economy to the benefit of white Americans. Of the Reconstruction Era, she writes that "... tens of thousands of African Americans were arbitrarily arrested during this period, many of them hit with court costs and fines, which had to be worked off in order to secure their release. With no means to pay off their “debts,” prisoners were sold as forced laborers to lumber camps, brickyards, railroads, farms, plantations, and dozens of corporations throughout the South. Death rates were shockingly high, for the private contractors had no interest in the health and well-being of their laborers, unlike the earlier slave-owners who needed their slaves, at a minimum, to be healthy enough to survive hard labor."

The Jim Crow era - the name is most likely derived from a popular minstrel show character - stretched from the Reconstruction to the post-WWII period, when changes began to appear, sparked by the nascent civil rights movement, the growing presences in politics of blacks in the North, and a desire to actualise the American ideals of freedom and equality which were made much of during the war. Of the Jim Crow era itself, Alexander notes that "By the turn of the twentieth century, every state in the South had laws on the books that disenfranchised blacks and discriminated against them in virtually every sphere of life, lending sanction to a racial ostracism that extended to schools, churches, housing, jobs, restrooms, hotels, restaurants, hospitals, orphanages, prisons, funeral homes, morgues, and cemeteries. Politicians competed with each other by proposing and passing ever more stringent, oppressive, and downright ridiculous legislation (such as laws specifically prohibiting blacks and whites from playing chess together). The public symbols and constant reminders of black subjugation were supported by whites across the political spectrum, though the plight of poor whites remained largely unchanged."

But even as Jim Crow laws were challenged and civil rights were - at least formally - gained for American blacks, the development of a 'law and order' focus that would ultimately lead to today's carceral state had begun. In federal and state legislatures, the strongest supporters of law and order platforms were the same politicians who opposed civil rights legislation. Initially, race-based arguments were openly used by the 'law and order' proponents - they pointed to lower crime rates in the south where segregation remained the unwritten law of the land and referred to civil rights protestors as criminals.

Later, the racism in the law and order platform because implicit, with the concept of a 'culture of poverty' which led to crime standing in for a direct association between being black and being more prone to criminality. This 'colourblind' language became the norm among conservative politicians by the time that Reagan sought office:

"In his campaign for the presidency, Reagan mastered the “excision of the language of race from conservative public discourse” and thus built on the success of earlier conservatives who developed a strategy of exploiting racial hostility or resentment for political gain without making explicit reference to race. Condemning “welfare queens” and criminal “predators,” he rode into office with the strong support of disaffected whites—poor and working-class whites who felt betrayed by the Democratic Party’s embrace of the civil rights agenda. As one political insider explained, Reagan’s appeal derived primarily from the ideological fervor of the right wing of the Republican Party and “the emotional distress of those who fear or resent the Negro, and who expect Reagan somehow to keep him ‘in his place’ or at least echo their own anger and frustration.” To great effect, Reagan echoed white frustration in race-neutral terms through implicit racial appeals. His “colorblind” rhetoric on crime, welfare, taxes, and states’ rights was clearly understood by white (and black) voters as having a racial dimension, though claims to that effect were impossible to prove. The absence of explicitly racist rhetoric afforded the racial nature of his coded appeals a certain plausible deniability. For example, when Reagan kicked off his presidential campaign at the annual Neshoba County Fair near Philadelphia, Mississippi—the town where three civil rights activists were murdered in 1964—he assured the crowd “I believe in states’ rights,” and promised to restore to states and local governments the power that properly belonged to them. His critics promptly alleged that he was signaling a racial message to his audience, suggesting allegiance with those who resisted desegregation, but Reagan firmly denied it, forcing liberals into a position that would soon become familiar—arguing that something is racist but finding it impossible to prove in the absence of explicitly racist language."

With the introduction of the "war on drugs" the pieces were finally in place for a massive increase in law and order funding to provide more police and more prisons. Signalling its true goals with clarity, the federal budget for law enforcement grew in the wake of the war on drugs while spending on drug prevention, education and treatment programs was cut. At the same time, urban black men - most of whom had traditionally worked in blue collar jobs requiring minimal education - were facing an employment crisis due largely to globalisation and the shift from an industrial to a service based economy. Poverty, unemployment, the introduction of crack cocaine into urban centres, increased policing, welfare crackdowns and a 'tough on crime' policy among bith conservatives and liberals set the stage for mass incarceration and disenfranchisement of black Americans.

"The law and order perspective, first introduced during the peak of the Civil Rights Movement by rabid segregationists, had become nearly hegemonic two decades later. By the mid-1990s, no serious alternatives to the War on Drugs and “get tough” movement were being entertained in mainstream political discourse. Once again, in response to a major disruption in the prevailing racial order—this time the civil rights gains of the 1960s—a new system of racialized social control was created by exploiting the vulnerabilities and racial resentments of poor and working-class whites. More than 2 million people found themselves behind bars at the turn of the twenty-first century, and millions more were relegated to the margins of mainstream society, banished to a political and social space not unlike Jim Crow, where discrimination in employment, housing, and access to education was perfectly legal, and where they could be denied the right to vote. The system functioned relatively automatically, and the prevailing system of racial meanings, identities, and ideologies already seemed natural. Ninety percent of those admitted to prison for drug offenses in many states were black or Latino, yet the mass incarceration of communities of color was explained in race-neutral terms, an adaptation to the needs and demands of the current political climate. The New Jim Crow was born."

Alexander examines in depth the ways in which the 'war on drugs' has been used as a justification for massive investment in policing and prisons, changes in the execution of laws which make arrest and conviction easier, and incentives from grants to military equipment to asset seizures which motivate police departments to focus their resources on drug-related crime. Starting with the legal processes of warrants, search and seizure of evidence, she follows the trail through to incarceration and disenfranchisement, and the denial of access to employment, housing, education, professional certification and other essentials of living to released felons, showing the coded racism of anti-drug and anti-crime propaganda, legislation and police action, and demonstrating the ways in which the system operates to disproportionately target black communities.

In the final section of the book, Alexander addresses the massive challenge posed by any attempt to end this prison-centred system of racial caste control. The end of the carceral state requires first the end of the War on Drugs and the ideas that black communities are the primary centre of drug activity, that black men are the primary actors in the drug trade. The first principle of change, then requires an "understanding that any movement to end mass incarceration must deal with mass incarceration as a racial caste system, not as a system of crime control." In order to achieve this understanding, Americans must be willing to give up the false ideal of 'colourblindness' and look at - and have a national conversation on - the realities of race.

In considering the factors that have worked against the development of a clear consciousness of racial inequity, Alexander makes an interesting argument for the end of affirmative action:

"Racial justice advocates should consider, with a degree of candor that has not yet been evident, whether affirmative action—as it has been framed and defended during the past thirty years—has functioned more like a racial bribe than a tool of racial justice. One might wonder, what does affirmative action have to do with mass incarceration? Well, perhaps the two are linked more than we realize. We should ask ourselves whether efforts to achieve “cosmetic” racial diversity—that is, reform efforts that make institutions look good on the surface without the needed structural changes—have actually helped to facilitate the emergence of mass incarceration and interfered with the development of a more compassionate race consciousness."

She goes on to itemise the specific reasons behind this proposition: "... (a) it has helped to render a new caste system largely invisible; (b) it has helped to perpetuate the myth that anyone can make it if they try; (c) it has encouraged the embrace of a “trickle down theory of racial justice”; (d) it has greatly facilitated the divide-and-conquer tactics that gave rise to mass incarceration; and (e) it has inspired such polarization and media attention that the general public now (wrongly) assumes that affirmative action is the main battlefront in U.S. race relations." Alexander makes a strong argument that, by facilitating a small number of success stories that showcase 'black exceptionalism,' affirmative action actually supports the continuation of the carceral state by seeming to say that 'if these black individuals can succeed, that means the failure if most to do so is rooted in personal choices and decisions, not systemic racism.'

Her closing thoughts on the path to an end to the carceral state and the beginning of a society based on social justice for all look back to the shift that Martin Luther King Jr. was moving toward when his life and evolution as a leader for social change was brutally ended. As he said in introducing the idea of the Poor People's Campaign, "I think it is necessary for us to realize that we have moved from the era of civil rights to the era of human rights…[W]hen we see that there must be a radical redistribution of economic and political power, then we see that for the last twelve years we have been in a reform movement…That after Selma and the Voting Rights Bill, we moved into a new era, which must be an era of revolution…In short, we have moved into an era where we are called upon to raise certain basic questions about the whole society."

bibliogramma: (Default)
​Revealing ​Ancestral ​Central ​America, edited by Rosemary ​Joyce, is one of those museum books intended for slow grazing, on both images and text. As are many such books, it was prepared for publication to accompany an exhibition - the Cerámica de los Ancestros: Central America ́s Past Revealed, a joint project of the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) and the Smithsonian Latino Center.

The images are primarily of artefacts found in the Central American collection of the NMAI. The texts were written by diverse experts and scholars and have the stated intention of revealing "the lives of the ancestors of the indigenous, mestizo, and afromestizo peoples of Central America." In a Foreword penned by NMAI Director Kevin Cover, of the Pawnee nation, and Eduardo Diaz, Executive Director of the Smithsonian Latino Center, say that:

"Herein we honor the enduring, economically and politically stable cultural traditions of pre-Hispanic Central America through their exceptional material culture. Sharing this cultural patrimony and acknowledging its value is both our challenge and our responsibility, and we gladly take up the charge."

I've long been interested in both the art and the way of life of cultures not my own, past snd present. The artefacts presented for display in this volume give us (a modern, Western museum-going audience) a look at these aspects of Central American peoples, and the accompanying articles an overview of what is known or theorised about them. These contain fascinating discussions of art, government, trade, industry, everyday life, religious life, and other elements of the various Central American cultures. The artefacts chosen for presentation in this volume range from household items to decorative pieces and ritual objects, and represent a number of different cultures and time periods. There is much to engage the eye as well as the mind here.

Some of the articles are also valuable for discussions of how scientists and scholars do their work - the practices and paradigms of archeology and anthropology - and how artefacts such as these are collected and curated. The articles that discuss acquisition do not shy away from acknowledging a past of looting, theft, reckless excavation and other issues, but give only cursory consideration the the question of who has the right to collect, display (and benefit from) the cultural artefacts of indigenous peoples.

Unanswered questions: how many of these artefacts were in essence stolen? How many have sacred or culturally significant importance that would, if respected, mean they should not be publicly displayed? Are there people who can be considered as legitimate inheritors of the cultures represented, and if so, have they asked for the return of any of these artefacts to their native environment? Has anyone approached those inheritors and asked permission to retain these artefacts on display?
bibliogramma: (Default)


Keeanga-Yamahtta ​Taylor, African American scholar, socialist and academic - she is assistant professor of African-American Studies at Princeton University - offers a profoundly incisive and extensively researched study of US politics American racism and Black resistance in recent decades in her book From ​#BlackLivesMatter ​to ​Black ​Liberation.

Taylor's viewpoint is grounded in both socialist and anti-racist theory - and her analysis looks at both economic and cultural forces. Taylor's focus here is on the era from the civil rights movement to the #BlackLivesMatter movement, the similarities and differences between the two movements, and ultimately on "the potential for a much broader anticapitalist movement that looks to transform not only the police but the entire United States." However, she begins her analysis with an examination of America's history as a racist state, from the earliest foundation of a slave-based economy to the exclusion of Black Americans from the benefits of the New Deal. In particular, Taylor points to the effects that the cultural myth of "American exceptionalism" has had, particularly in the Cold War period, in suppressing any consideration of institutional and systemic injustice in American society, and the subsequent evolution of the idea of the "culture of poverty" as the reason for the existence of economic and social inequity in the supposedly freest and most economically mobile country in the world.

"The government and its proponents in the financial world were making a global claim that the United States was good to its Black population, and at the same time they were promoting capitalism and private enterprise as the highest expressions of freedom. American boosters sustained the fiction of the “culture of poverty” as the pretext for the persisting inequality between Blacks and the rest of the country. In some ways, this was even more important as the United States continued its quest to project itself as an economic and political empire. Cold War liberalism was a political framework that viewed American racial problems as existing outside of or unrelated to its political economy and, more importantly, as problems that could be fixed within the system itself by changing the laws and creating 'equal opportunity.' "

Taylor notes the beginnings of a wider understanding of racial inequity as a systemic issue - and one with material as well as cultural elements -during the civil rights movement of the early 1960s, the extension of the welfare state under Johnson, and most significantly, in the multiple Black Liberation movements, and particularly The Black Panthers - that followed in the latter half of the 1960s.

"Hundreds of thousands of Black Americans drew even more radical conclusions about the nature of Black oppression in the United States as they were drawn directly into the radicalizing movement; hundreds of thousands more sympathized with the rebellions. The struggle broke through the isolation and confinement of life in segregated Black ghettos and upended the prevailing explanation that Blacks were responsible for the conditions in their neighborhoods. Mass struggle led to a political understanding of poverty in Black communities across the country. Black media captured stories of injustice as well as the various struggles to organize against it, feeding this process and knitting together a common Black view of Black oppression while simultaneously providing an alternative understanding for white people. A Harris poll taken in the summer of 1967, after major riots in Detroit and Newark, found 40 percent of whites believed that “the way Negroes have been treated in the slums and ghettos of big cities” and “the failure of white society to keep its promises to Negroes” were the leading causes of the rebellion. Many, including Martin Luther King Jr., began to connect Black oppression to a broader critique of capitalism."

Unfortunately, as Taylor demonstrates, this early materialist critique of the philosophies and methods of institutionalised racism faded in the 1970s as more conservative, 'personal responsibility' narratives take the central place in the debate on both racism and poverty, and the doctrine of 'colourblindness' emerged as a means of appearing non-racist while continuing to engage in administrative and economic practices that were inherently unjust to people of colour.

"Nixon’s turn to focusing on crime fit snugly with his broader use of colorblindness to champion his domestic policies. There was no need to invoke race in this campaign for law and order, but the consequences of the policies could not have been clearer. Crime was committed by bad people who made bad choices—it was not the product of an unequal social order that left Blacks and Puerto Ricans, in particular, isolated in urban enclaves with little access to good jobs, housing, or schools in a worsening economy. Instead, inequality left poor and working-class people of color to their own devices to advance in a society that had made next to no provisions for them to do so through legal or normative means. These kinds of constrained “choices” were made in white enclaves as well, but those were less surveilled and less likely to be criminalized by the police and the criminal justice system as a whole."

As the political climate in America became increasingly conservative in the years following Nixon - even among Democrats, but alarmingly so among Republicans - the twin narratives of colourblindness and the 'culture of poverty' became fixed as the foundations of public policy. Even among the middle class Blacks who increasingly gained access to positions of political and economic power, these narratives went unchallenged, while social and economic conditions worsened for poor blacks (and other people of colour). By the time that conditions were ripe for the emergence of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, as Taylor notes in comparing the situation in 2014 immediately prior to the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson to that preceding the emergence if the civil rights movement, "The main difference is that today, when poor or working-class Black people experience hardship, that hardship is likely being overseen by an African American in some position of authority. The development of the Black political establishment has not been a benign process. Many of these officials use their perches to articulate the worst stereotypes of Blacks in order to shift blame away from their own incompetence."

Taylor sees the betrayal of black communities by black politicians and elites as the inevitable outgrowth of a switch from grassroots resistance and critique of the political and economic power structure structures to a strategy based on electoral politics - one which, due to the nature of the political process in America left black politicians financially beholden to corporate money and conservative voting bloc brokers.

After examining political viewpoints surrounding the oppression of Black Americans, Taylor turns to an examination of racism and violence toward Blacks in criminal justice institutions.

At the turn of the twentieth century, African Americans began their long transition from living largely in rural areas to living predominantly in urban ones. In that time, there have been many changes in Black life, politics, and culture, but the threat and reality of police surveillance, scrutiny, violence, and even murder has remained remarkably consistent. The daily harm caused by the mere presence of police in Black communities has been a consistent feature of Black urban history and, increasingly, Black suburban history. Police brutality has been a consistent badge of inferiority and second-class citizenship. When the police enforce the law inconsistently and become the agents of lawlessness and disorder, it serves as a tangible reminder of the incompleteness of formal equality. You cannot truly be free when the police are able to set upon you at will, for no particular reason at all. It is a constant reminder of the space between freedom and “unfreedom,” where the contested citizenship of African Americans is held."

She opens with a discussion of laws restricting black movement, employment and home rental/ownership after the Civil War, laws whose violation was punished by enforced labour on municipal projects - thus beginning the carceral-based slavery system that has replaced the plantation-based slavery system.

"The desperate need for labor seemed insatiable; it turned all Black people into potential suspects and justified surveillance and scrutiny. Convict leasing was lucrative for employers compared to slavery, since it involved lower overhead expenses. As one observer put it, “Before the war we owned the Negroes. If a man had a good nigger, he could afford to take care of him; if he was sick get a doctor. He might even put gold plugs in his teeth. But these convicts: we don’t own ’em. One dies, get another.” The police were the linchpin to this new arrangement."

Having set the scene, as it were, by delineating the history of the conditions - institutional racism and its consequences for the average black person, police brutality, the narrative of a 'culture of poverty' and the co-opting of the black elite - which could, given the necessary spark, bring about a new Black liberation movement, Taylor takes a close look at the Obama regime and its influence on perceptions of racism. She recalls the initial optimism of blacks and progressive whites at the election of a black man to the office of President:

"The excitement about Obama turned into postelection euphoria. That was certainly the feeling in Chicago on election night, when a cross-section of the city converged in Grant Park to hear the country’s first Black president-elect address the nation. It was a rare, almost strange scene to see a multiracial crowd gathered in Chicago, one of the most segregated cities in the United States. That was the power of Obama’s calls for hope and change. On the eve of President Obama’s inauguration, 69 percent of Black respondents told CNN pollsters that Martin Luther King’s vision had been 'fulfilled.' In early 2011, asked whether they expected their children’s standard of living to be better or worse than their own, 60 percent of Blacks chose “better,” compared with only 36 percent of whites. This was not just blind hope: it was the expectation that things would, in fact, be better. One researcher described the broader context: 'Certainly, the Obama presidency has fueled euphoria in black circles. But even before Obama came on the scene, optimism was building—most notably among a new generation of black achievers who refused to believe they would be stymied by the bigotry that bedeviled their parents. Obama’s election was, in effect, the final revelation—the long awaited sign that a new American age had arrived.' "Now we have a sense of future,' said Yale sociologist Elijah Anderson. 'All of a sudden you have a stake. That stake is extremely important. If you have a stake, now there’s risk—you realize the consequences of compromising an unknowable future.' Almost 75 percent of African Americans in the South said that Obama would help America rid itself of racial prejudice. Forbes ran an enthusiastic editorial opinion in December 2008 titled 'Racism in America Is Over.' "

Disillusionment with Obama's reticence on racial issues and acceptance of the 'culture of poverty narrative among Blacks helped to build a loose coalition between social justice activists and the economic justice activists of the fledgling Occupy Wall Street movement.

"...Black Occupy activists organized “Occupy the Hood,” whose goal was to raise the profile of the Occupy movement in communities of color across the country and widen the range of people involved. Some “Occupy the Hood” organizers had also been involved in organizing against “stop-and-frisk.” Thus, not only did Occupy popularize economic and class inequality in the United States by demonstrating against corporate greed, fraud, and corruption throughout the finance industry, it also helped to make connections between those issues and racism. The public discussion over economic inequality rendered incoherent both Democratic and Republican politicians’ insistence on locating Black poverty in Black culture. While it obviously did not bury the arguments for culture and “personal responsibility,” Occupy helped to create the space for alternative explanations within mainstream politics, including seeing Black poverty and inequality as products of the system. The vicious attack and crackdown on the unarmed and peaceful Occupy encampments over the winter and into 2012 also provided a lesson about policing in the United States: the police were servants of the political establishment and the ruling elite. Not only were they racist, they were also shock troops for the status quo and bodyguards for the 1 percent."

Taylor pinpoints the killing of Trayvon Martin as the turning point that led to the coalescence of the BlackLivesMatter movement. Despite protests, demonstrations and attempts by Black and anti-racist activists to challenge the narrative, Martin was characterised as a dangerous criminal and his killer, George Zimmerman, as a victim.

"Out of despair over the verdict, community organizer Alicia Garza posted a simple hashtag on Facebook: “#blacklivesmatter.” It was a powerful rejoinder that spoke directly to the dehumanization and criminalization that made Martin seem suspicious in the first place and allowed the police to make no effort to find out to whom this boy belonged. It was a response to the oppression, inequality, and discrimination that devalue Black life every day. It was everything, in three simple words. Garza would go on, with fellow activists Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi, to transform the slogan into an organization with the same name: #BlackLivesMatter. In a widely read essay on the meaning of the slogan and the hopes for their new organization, Garza described #BlackLivesMatter as 'an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. It is an affirmation of Black folks’ contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.' "

While the death of Martin ad the acquittal of his killer marked the beginning of the BlackLivesMatter movement, Taylor identifies the crucial moment when that ignited mass resistance in the killing of Michael Brown:

"For reasons that may never be clear, Brown’s death was a breaking point for the African Americans of Ferguson—but also for hundreds of thousands of Black people across the United States. Perhaps it was the inhumanity of the police leaving Brown’s body to fester in the hot summer sun for four and a half hours after killing him, keeping his parents away at gunpoint and with dogs. “We was treated like we wasn’t parents, you know?” Mike Brown Sr., said. “That’s what I didn’t understand. They sicced dogs on us. They wouldn’t let us identify his body. They pulled guns on us.” Maybe it was the military hardware the police brandished when protests against Brown’s death arose. With tanks and machine guns and a never-ending supply of tear gas, rubber bullets, and swinging batons, the Ferguson police department declared war on Black residents and anyone who stood in solidarity with them."

As she recounts the growing response to the deaths of Brown and other black boys and men at the hands of police across the country, Taylor draws clear distinctions between the positions of the black 'older statesmen' such as Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson who sought to defuse tensions and re-establish the legitimacy of the government in dealing with police violence and racism, and the younger generations of activists who sought immediate and direct action.

"The young people of Ferguson had great reverence and respect for the memory of the civil rights movement, but the reality is that its legacy meant little in their everyday lives. “I feel in my heart that they failed us,” Dontey Carter said of contemporary civil rights leaders. “They’re the reason things are like this now. They don’t represent us. That’s why we’re here for a new movement. And we have some warriors out here.” When Jesse Jackson Sr. arrived in Ferguson, he was confronted by a local activist, who said, “When you going to stop selling us out, Jesse? We don’t want you here in St. Louis!” Other activists did not go that far, but they did note that young Black people had been thrust into leadership on the ground in Ferguson because they were the ones under attack."

Taylor notes other differences between the BLM movement and the more established Black civil rights organisations - the prominence of women and LGBT people, its decentralised structure and use of social media, the flexibility of its tactics, its work in coalition building with labour and other movements, and the development of a "systemic analysis of policing.... that situated policing within a matrix of racism and inequality in the United States and beyond."

In the book's final chapter, Taylor discusses the ways in which radicalisation on political and economic issues - an analysis that links capitalism to the material conditions that Black and other marginalised people are faced - with is a necessary part of the struggle for Black liberation. She reminds us of the socialist perspectives adopted by 60s activists such as the Combahee River Collective and the Black Panthers, and traces the roots of black radicalism in the United States from the early days of the Communist Party in that country. Beginning with the words of Karl Marx on the relation between colonial exploitation, slavery, and capitalism, she outlines a radical understanding of the relation between the capitalist system and the oppression of black people, leading to the conclusion that only a restructuring of society which embraces economic as well as social justice can bring about the goal of black liberation.

"Racism in the United States has never been just about abusing Black and Brown people just for the sake of doing so. It has always been a means by which the most powerful white men in the country have justified their rule, made their money, and kept the rest of us at bay. To that end, racism, capitalism, and class rule have always been tangled together in such a way that it is impossible to imagine one without the other. Can there be Black liberation in the United States as the country is currently constituted? No. Capitalism is contingent on the absence of freedom and liberation for Black people and anyone else who does not directly benefit from its economic disorder. That, of course, does not mean there is nothing to do and no struggle worth waging. Building the struggles against racism, police violence, poverty, hunger, and all of the ways in which oppression and exploitation express themselves is critical to people’s basic survival in this society. But it is also within those struggles for the basic rights of existence that people learn how to struggle, how to strategize, and build movements and organizations. It is also how our confidence develops to counter the insistence that this society, as it is currently constructed, is the best that we can hope to achieve. People engaged in struggle learn to fight for more by fighting for and winning something. But the day-to-day struggles in which many people are engaged today must be connected to a much larger vision of what a different world could look like."

bibliogramma: (Default)


Trials by Whiteness, edited by science fiction author Jayme Goh, is the latest in Aqueduct Press' series of published essays and conversations arising from the annual WisCon (the oldest feminist-focused science fiction convention, held in Wisconsin). In recent years, Wiscon has ben making attempts to make its focus on feminism an intersectional one, looking at issues of representation, and safer space for POCs in conventions, among other things. In this, the Chronicles of the 40th WisCon, Goh has chosen to interrogate whiteness:

"I want to start a conversation on whiteness. We talk a great deal about representations of people of color in science fiction, because they are erased, invisiblized — they need to be foregrounded, in order to combat the overwhelming whiteness of the genre.

What we do not talk about is how whiteness, so pervasive, all-encompassing, is also invisible, like the water that fish live in. To talk about it is like naming racism — it’s bringing the bogeyman to life. In this logic, racism would not exist if we simply didn’t talk about it — similarly, the problem of whiteness, the problem of white culture, the problem of white supremacy, simply would not exist, because we do not talk about whiteness, do not pinpoint its murky edges. It is only a problem when Nazis are involved, and even then, mostly unremarked upon, because Nazis are not normal, so let’s not normalize them by talking about them."

She goes on to specify her theme as 'trials by whiteness': "... trials by whiteness that people of color face. The slow and steady stream of microaggressions and invalidations. The sudden eruptions of violence. The cold betrayals from loved ones in what should have been a safe and understanding space. We could talk about just white people, but the problem with whiteness is not really about white people per se, but about them in relation to non-white, the Other. To center white people in an analysis of whiteness is to repeat the problem."

The essays and creative works collected in this volume touch on this theme from many perspectives, in many voices. There's much to learn for this white reader in them. And much to remind me of how much I wish I could be a part of this community, these conversations, this learning and teaching and sharing.

bibliogramma: (Default)



I was not familiar with Erin Wunker before I decided that her collection of essays, Notes from a Feminist Killjoy: Essays on Everyday Life, sounded interesting and possibly something I'd like to read. In looking her up on the Internet, I've learned that she is a feminist critic, author, and academic, having taught at Dalhousie University, where I was a student for one year, many years ago, and also at Acadia University - my alma mater.

I was won over by her preface, "Letter to My Daughter" in which she wrote:

"When I write about having a gendered body in the world, I think, now, about your tiny infant body. I think, now, about the only kind of prayer I utter with fervency: May you be comfortable in your body and know it is yours. If your body doesn’t fit you, may we find ways to make it yours. May your body only know pleasure and empowerment. May we give you the language to say yes, to say no. May the world be gentle with you. May you not lose that unselfconscious you-ness we hear from your crib when you wake up, singing. May you know the fierceness of strong friendships with women. May you be kind. May you feel held. May you write your own stories."

Yes, I thought, this is someone whose thoughts I want to know more of.

In her introduction, she says of this book:

"This book is a record of me trying to write about feminism at the interstices of critical and literary theory, pop culture, and feminist thinking. At the intersection of those methods and epistemological routes is me. I’m writing in the I. I’m inserting myself in a long and varied tradition of women and other marginalized people working from a situated position of knowledge. I’m also busting in on and turning over tables within the other long tradition of speaking subjects who use I without thinking twice about the privilege that entails. Me, I think twice, three, even four times about that privilege."

Reading this book, I ran across something on almost every page that made me want to share it with the world. That's rare. Some of those passages are definitional sorts of things, from her Introduction. Let me share a few of these with you, dear reader.

"Patriarchal culture is by definition a culture in which masculinity—in people and in things—is privileged as inherently foundational to other states of being. In a patriarchal culture, systems, institutions, and social interactions reinforce this hierarchy. When you live in a patriarchal culture, as in any culture, you begin learning its rules and regulations, as well as the way you fit into them, almost immediately. It’s important to note that patriarchal culture is not an equitable culture. It’s unfair for women and women-identified people, and it’s also unfair for men, though these unfairnesses are not the same, nor do all people experience them the same way. Like any culture or way of being, patriarchal culture appears to be inscrutable. It is so entrenched in our psyches and our ways of moving through the world that it seems impossible to change. "

"Feminist: one who recognizes that the material conditions of contemporary life are built on inequities of gender, race, and class. One who recognizes that patriarchal culture is inherently coercive and stifling for women and other Others. One who works to make those inequities visible and one who works to tear them down. One who recognizes the enormity of the task. One who keeps working."

"Intersectional feminism is a feminist methodology—a way of being, thinking, and moving through the world—that takes into account the multiple factors that shape an individual’s or a group’s lived experience. For example: if we take as a common denominator the category “woman” without an intersectional approach to feminism, we might be tempted to suggest that all women everywhere have certain shared experiences. And then let’s augment this claim with Hortense Spiller’s observation that when people talk about “women” in feminist circles, they usually means “white women.” 15 An intersectional approach, however, takes into account the ways in which different oppressive conditions—sexism, ableism, homophobia, racism, transphobia, classism and so on—are interconnected. We cannot talk about one system in utter isolation from another. The lived experience of a working-class white woman is not identical to the lived experience of an upper-class Black woman or a middle-class trans woman or a woman student who is paraplegic. As legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw points out, we would do well to employ an intersectional lens when looking at different systems of oppression. An intersectional feminist approach takes time and vigilance and practice. It requires that we attune our perceptions to more than our own experiences, thus opening the possibility—the necessity—of attending to the experiences of others."

These are, to me, clear and powerful explanations of some of the most basic, and most foundational and important ideas of feminist thought.

Following on the Introduction, which bears the perfectly apt subhead "Notes for You, Reading," and is an introduction, not just to the book, but to the kind of feminist thinking on which the book is based, Wunker includes three 'essais' - deliberately using the French to invoke the sense of attempts - from the perspective of a feminist 'killjoy' - one who seeks to kill the kinds of joy that take place in a patriarchal culture, that are grounded in the oppression of the Othered - on the topics of rape culture, friendship, and motherhood.

Her writing here is both deeply personal and deeply theoretical, and she cites and discourses on the work of many other women - often women of colour, and women from French-speaking Canada, something that I deeply appreciated, having seen too many books that quote only from the usual white American sources - with maybe a little something from bell hooks or Audre Lorde thrown in as a token non-white voice. And it was a welcome change to read feminist analysis situated in a Canadian perspective.

bibliogramma: (Default)


Rebecca Solnit's latest collection of essays - The Mother of All Questions - is comprised of pieces written between 2014 and 2016, before the seachange in American life that followed the election of Donald Trump. It seems ironic to be reading, now, of Solnit's guarded optimism on some of the goals of feminist action, such as this passage from her introduction:

"This book deals with men who are ardent feminists as well as men who are serial rapists, and it is written in the recognition that all categories are leaky and we must use them provisionally. It addresses the rapid social changes of a revitalized feminist movement in North America and around the world that is not merely altering the laws. It’s changing our understanding of consent, power, rights, gender, voice, and representation. It is a gorgeously transformative movement led in particular by the young, on campuses, on social media, in the streets, and my admiration for this fearlessly unapologetic new generation of feminists and human rights activists is vast."

I say guarded, because she does follow this with a comment expressing her "...fear of the backlash against it, a backlash that is itself evidence of the threat feminism, as part of the broader project of liberation, poses to patriarchy and the status quo."

Well, the backlash is ramping up - defunding of Planned Parenthood, insane laws surrounding access to abortion that harass not only women who seek to terminate pregnancies but also those who suffer miscarriages, attempts to deny health insurance coverage to all kinds of women's health issues including childbirth - and so it is the more pessimistic parts of these essays, rather than the ones that look at some degree of progress and hope tor more, that resonate with me in my reading. Maybe some day I'll be able to reread this volume and feel the hope.

The cornerstone of the collection is a long essay on silence - the meanings of silence, who is silenced and when, and why, who does the silencing, who is not silenced. It opens thus:

"Silence is golden, or so I was told when I was young. Later, everything changed. Silence equals death, the queer activists fighting the neglect and repression around AIDS shouted in the streets. Silence is the ocean of the unsaid, the unspeakable, the repressed, the erased, the unheard. It surrounds the scattered islands made up of those allowed to speak and of what can be said and who listens. Silence occurs in many ways for many reasons; each of us has his or her own sea of unspoken words.

"English is full of overlapping words, but for the purposes of this essay, regard silence as what is imposed and quiet as what is sought. The tranquility of a quiet place, of quieting one’s own mind, of a retreat from words and bustle, is acoustically the same as the silence of intimidation or repression but psychically and politically something entirely different. What is unsaid because serenity and introspection are sought is as different from what is not said because the threats are high or the barriers are great as swimming is from drowning."

What follows is a discussion of the ways that the voices of the marginalised - Solnit focuses on women but acknowledges that her observations are true of any similarly oppressed and silenced group - are dismissed, ignored, repressed, and stopped, so that they cannot speak the truths of their lived experience, of discrimination, of targeted violence, of injustice and unregarded pain and suffering.

Other essays in the collection take on a variety of feminist issues, from the prevalence of rape jokes, to the expectation of motherhood for all women to the falsehood of the anthropological myth of man the hunter as the ingrained template of our gender-based social roles and expectations.

Solnit is always readable, and her critiques of misogyny and patriarchy are as always well thought out and expressed. I do, however, find myself wishing for more acknowledgement of intersectionality and the ways that the issues she addresses affect women of colour, queer and disabled women as distinct from 'women' - which too often means white women. But it must also be said that she does make such acknowledgements more often than other white feminists whose work I've read.

bibliogramma: (Default)


Craig ​Timberg's Tinderbox: ​How ​the ​West ​Sparked ​the ​AIDS ​Epidemic was, as far as I can tell from reading a few reviews, somewhat controversial when it was first published. Certainly there's a lot in this book, which looks primarily at how the AIDS epidemic started, and the conditions that both encouraged and hindered its spread in Africa, that makes one stop and think.

Timberg begins with an anti-colonialist narrative of how AIDS finally, after centuries of being confined to the simian population of Central Africa with no significant or recorded crossing of species lines, erupted into the human population. He identifies Western engagement in Africa as the catalyst, from the vast social disruptions caused by European projects intended to steal the resource wealth of the continent by forcing its people to do the work of harvesting and transporting, to the effects of both Christianisation and forced separation of families on traditional patterns of marriage, initiation rituals and sexual activity.

In particular, he points to a history of circumcision as an initiation ritual, and the tendency to have polyamorous but closed circles of sexual relationships as two traditions that might have limited the spread of AIDS throughout Africa had they not been lost in the decades of colonialist exploitation and ' modernisation.'

Timberg presents considerable evidence that the greater resistance of circumcised men to HIV infection was noted on many occasions during early research into risk factors, but never considered as a potential part of prevention education and programming.

He also notes that in those instances where African nations focused on trying to change sexual behaviour, stressing the idea of faithfulness within relationships and partner reduction in general (such as the 'zero grazing' program in Uganda) rates of infection fell significantly.

The narrative he constructs around attempt to slow the rate of infections across Africa contrasts the mostly African-based programs focused on changing sexual behaviour with programs imposed from outside along with Western aid money, which stressed condom use. He also contrasts attempts to introduce multi-faceted prevention programs, such as ABC (abstinence, be faithful, condoms), with programs focusing only on using condoms. Summarising the findings of one epidemiologist who examined the effectiveness of condom-centred prevention programs, Timberg says:

"Hearst found that condoms rarely failed when used properly by individuals, but he couldn’t find any examples of condom promotion campaigns slowing HIV’s spread in African societies with widespread epidemics. He acknowledged their role in reducing infection in epidemics such as Thailand’s, where transmission was concentrated within the sex industry. But while African men often used condoms in casual hookups or with prostitutes, few did so with their wives or girlfriends, despite years of public health campaigns encouraging the practice. He also raised the unsettling possibility, stimulated by some disturbing findings his research team had made in Uganda, that aggressive condom promotion campaigns, often featuring racy images and double entendres, may make casual sex seem more acceptable, potentially helping to spread HIV."

Condoms seemed not the be the answer for Africa, a possibility that few Westerners were willing to accept. Instead, Timberg suggests that the program ultimately championed by his collaborator in this book, David Halperin, focused on circumcision, partner reduction and changes in sexual behaviour, would be more effective in African nations: "What existed in Africa’s AIDS Belt, and in only a couple of other places on earth, was a “lethal cocktail” of extensive heterosexual networks and low circumcision rates. Changing either factor, on a broad enough level, could cause the pace of new infections to slow dramatically."

While Timberg deplores the imposition of Western ideas of how to fight the spread of the disease on African cultures, he does not ignore the mistakes made by African governments - often prompted by a desire to refute Western perceptions of Africans as promiscuous, primitive, and sexually over-active, or by resistance to conditions attached to money intended to help prevent the rising number if new infections and treat those already infected.

It is an interesting book, and one that tries to look at the ways in which Western imperialism and ignorance have affected the path of the disease in Africa. I find myself wishing, though, for a book that covers similar ground written by an African.

bibliogramma: (Default)

The Geek Feminist Revolution is a collection of essays by author and social critic Kameron Hurley on being/becoming an sff writer and being a woman in that profession, on sff and geek culture and being a woman in that culture, and on the ways that sexism and geekdom play out in the broader 'mundane' world. In her Introduction to the collection, Hurley says:

"At its heart, this collection is a guidebook for surviving not only the online world and the big media enterprises that use it as story fodder, but sexism in the wider world. It should inspire every reader, every fan, and every creator to participate in building that better future together."

The essays in this collection range widely: from the important of persistence in becoming a writer to a discussion of Joanna Russ's How To Suppress Women's Writing. They are painful, inspiring, rage-honing, insightful, and even funny at times, and include the Hugo Award winning "We Have Always Fought." They are definitely worth reading.

bibliogramma: (Default)
An interest in eugenics is one of the dirty little secrets that many otherwise progressive figures of the past share with the kind of folks they would never join forces with under other circumstances. Progressive eugenicists talk about improving the species, conservative eugenicists talk about keeping the race (usually the white race) strong and pure, and free of the taint of lesser races, "weak genes" and deviance - notably sexual deviance. Both have used poor science and questionable rhetoric to advance their cause, and relied on such strategies as immigration barriers and forced sterilisation to carry it out. As Nancy Ordover notes in American Eugenics: Race, Queer Anatomy, and the Science of Nationalism,

"Early eugenics proponents, drawn from the ranks of scientists, politicians, doctors, sexologists, policymakers, reactionaries, and reformers, held that through selective breeding humans could and should direct their own evolution. ... The legislation they drafted, the interventions they backed, the medical regimens they prescribed stemmed from a belief that everything from intellect to sexuality to poverty to crime was attributable to heredity."

Ordover's book is an examination of the arguments and methods of American eugenicists. Writing about the appeal of eugenics in that country, she says,

"The long-lasting appeal of eugenics has rested on its protection of the status quo, on its emphasis on individual and group "failings" over analyses of systemic culprits and on its bedrock insistence on scientific/technological remedies over fundamental social and institutional change. It has thrived in times of mainstream anxiety over genuine or perceived gains of marginalized groups, making it an attractive tool for conservatives. And so decades after litigants and activists, doctors and attorneys proved that African-American, Latino, and Native American women and girls were being singled out for coerced, eugenically informed sterilisation procedures, Norplant began to be forced it on the same communities with the full force of the judiciary and the medical establishment and with the blessing of both conservative politicians and liberal organizations. After generations of queers resisting pathologisation, exactly 25 years after the Stonewall uprising, at the time of increased visibility in the political, social, and cultural realms, The Science of Desire [1] appeared on the scene to cast us as genetically distinct from the rest of humankind. Eugenics is, once again, making a very public ascent."

In the first section of the book, Ordover traces the history, rhetoric and supposed scientific research that was a significant element of race-based eugenics propaganda and legislation. Beginning with early projects intended to keep America free from 'contamination' and 'protected' from the economic pressures of new immigrants, eugenicists sought to prove that Latin American, Asian, eastern and southern European, and North African immigration was a threat to a stable, healthy - and white - population.

"It was Charles Davenport of the American Breeders Association (and later cofounder of the American Eugenics Society) who first suggested ....[using] the Binet test to document the hereditary shortcomings of immigrants to the United States. In 1912 immigrants disembarking at Ellis Island became the first group in the country to whom the IQ tests were administered. ...[this] had a built-in class bias: only those who came steerage were subject to examination. According to his results over 80 percent of all Jewish, Polish, Italian, Hungarian, and Russian immigrants were 'feebleminded defectives'."

The 'research' was undertaken to demonstrate the supposed scientific basis for identifying immigrants, and people of colour, as well as other potential dangers to the idea of a 'superior' primarily Anglo-Saxon nation. As Ordover demonstrates, such supposedly scientific evidence was based on "... stereotyping physical and mental characteristics of outsiders and insisting on recognizable, undeniable, immutable differences between "inferior" and "superior" people. American eugenicists armed with charts, photographs, and even human skulls were there to provide the visual and mathematical support that rendered racism scientifically valid and politically viable."

Eugenicists also used such research to support legislation intended to control 'internal threats' to their ideal nation, such as the poor, the physically and developmentally disabled, the sexual outcasts, African-Americans, prostitutes, alcoholics, addicts, and convicts. Instead of looking at socio-economic reasons for the various inequities they saw, eugenicists sought all their answers in biology, heredity and population statistics. As well, the force of eugenically framed discourses was increasingly aimed at radicals and anarchists, seen primarily as coming from immigrant and other marginalised communities: "These "interlopers," along with American Blacks, were viewed as both contaminated bodies and contaminators of the body politic."

Ordover demonstrates clearly that the current rhetoric aimed at immigrants to America - framing them as intellectually deficient, violent, likely to end up on welfare, a threat to the safety of the state and the jobs of 'real' (that is, white working and middle-class Americans) - is hardly new, nor is the racist construction of American Blacks as lazy, violent, prone to criminal behaviour and lacking in 'white' virtues such as diligence, intelligence, honesty, good decision-making and perseverance. Rather, these stereotypes are the continuation of over a century of eugenicist propaganda.

In the second section of the book, Ordover looks at the ways in which the concept of biological determinism, which has been the basis for eugenicist assaults on the human rights of immigrants and people of colour, has been used both for and against the queer communities in America. She begins by discussing and critiquing research into biological or genetic 'causes' of homosexuality, from hormonal influences on the fetus during pregnancy to differences in brain structures, and noting how this research has been welcomed by segments of the queer community and their allies, as well as those who see 'sexual deviance' as something to be cured.

"The warm reception that greeted these hereditarian hypotheses ... raises two issues: what is it about causation theories that is so appealing to mainstream institutions and heterosexual America?what is it about the research that has so many in the queer community looking to it for deliverance? Mainstream media and its predominantly straight consumers look for a good story; if it holds an unspoken promise of curatives, so much the better. More than that, a focus on what causes queerness eclipses the larger question: who wants to know and why? Significant segments of the gay community, on the other hand, hold that causation theories can be honed into a strategic tool and integrated into a larger legal and political struggle. For many, there may also be personal attachment to biological explanations, a comfort in being able to tell straight family and friends that "we were born that way." The stakes are clearly different but there is a commonality here. Genetic promises have been embraced without interrogation by a community and a larger society eager to accept any quick-fix explanations (and consequent solutions) that modern science had to offer. Whether the hope was for an antidote for homosexuality or homophobia, this embrace typifies the science-as-Savior prism that has created so many determinist enterprises."

As she did in the section of the book dealing with race-focused eugenics, Ordover examines the history of the medicalisation of homosexuality and 'sexual deviance' and the impact of physicians and medical opinions on legislation and mandated treatment of 'deviants.' As it had been with immigrants and American blacks, homosexuality was seen as associated with an inherited tendency to 'degeneracy' and the goal of eugenicists was to eliminate such tendencies from the American gene pool.

"Beginning in the last decades of the 19th century, a flood of state sodomy laws were passed or amended to encompass a greater array of sexual practices. Doctors ... provided a legitimizing presence among lobbyists. There was a certain reciprocity involved as castration and like procedures were transformed from court-mandated penalty to medically endorsed treatment. Physicians saw their diagnoses legally sanctioned and thus their esteem and power consolidated. At the same time, the judicial system was able to mete out corporeal punishment while still appearing to have the best interests of the defendant/patient, the public, and the national gene pool at heart.

One of the most sweeping manifestations of this dynamic was the rash of sterilization statutes enacted by thirty states between 1907 and 1932. In almost every state that legislated sterilization, eugenics boards were convened. Essentially these were medical panels established to grant or deny doctors the right to sterilize anyone with a real or imagined physical or developmental disability. Usually these were prisoners or patients at hospitals or asylums and sometimes they were members of the public at large."

As Ordover notes, at the same time that the idea of sexual deviance as a product of heritable degeneracy was being used to establish court-mandated sterilisation of homosexuals, biological determinism was being adopted by early apologists as a defense of homosexuality.

"Lesbian and gay history is replete with champions who relied on evolutionary or biological arguments to agitate for our civil and human rights. Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, for example, pursued this line in the mid 19th century. If homosexuality was recognized as inborn, he reasoned, gays could not be criminally prosecuted. Perhaps choice implied guilt, but the undeniable force of nature should not."

Unfortunately, as Ordover demonstrates, the history of homophobia suggests that focus on physical 'causes' of queerness, whether it be the search for the 'gay gene' or the idea that homosexuality (and by extension, transgender or genderfluid identities) is due to misfiring hormones or congenital abnormalities of the sexual organs, leads to more strategies on how to 'cure' sexual minorities of their 'deviance. Physical and chemical castration, sterilisation, surgical procedures on the brain, hormone 'therapy,' even fetal screening and selected abortion have been recommended, if not always carried out widely.

After examining the history of eugenist discourses and the effect these have had on legislative and other means of 'controlling' the health, purity and safety of the body politic, Ordover turns in the third section of the book to a closer exploration of the allure of the 'technological fix' - the widespread advocation of 'solutions' such as birth control and sterilisation - for eugenicists on both the right and the left. The goals, actions and politics of Margaret Sanger and her associates serve as a casebook study of the ways in which classism and racism influence the policies of the left as well as the right.

"Over the years, Sanger's work and the work of her ideological cohort refashioned eugenics rhetoric into the more palatable language of population control. Early eugenics attestations that society has a vested interest in which children were born of which women solidified in post World War II decades: the continuing investment in the techno fix as remedial to poverty in the United States and abroad, the singling out of entire regions for sterilization campaigns, and the resulting wave of reactionary legislation and welfare policies. Class bias, so central to eugenic policy (and a principal motivator for Sanger) came to the fore. This is not to say that class, in particular reliance on welfare, was a greater determinant than race, but rather that the invocation of economic rationales and the unchallenged vilification of the poor enabled eugenics to go unchecked and unnamed. Class is underscored here in an attempt to counter claims that Sanger and others were not eugenicists because they never publicly uttered racial slurs, and to highlight the vulnerability of low income women who found themselves snagged in various institutional nets (i.e., relief, Medicaid, welfare). An attack on the poor may have seemed more genteel and more viable than an openly racist attack on people of color but ultimately the same women were targeted."

Ordover goes on to document the ways in which poor black, Hispanic and indigenous women, as well as women with disabilities, were targeted by birth control advocates and by both private doctors and state laws which saw sterilisation as a way of reducing the numbers of 'irresponsible' and 'feeble-minded' women bearing children while receiving government assistance. The litany of cases of coerced sterilisation, sterilisation without consent, sterilisation without the knowledge of the victim is chilling, as is the record of forced or uninformed use of potentially dangerous hormonal contraceptives such as Depo-Provera and Norplant and the social and medical pressure in some situations to abort fetuses known to have genetic or other congenital defects. Nor has this latest thrust of eugenicist practice been limited to the United States. As Ordover notes, many foreign aid initiatives and pharmaceutical testing programs have distributed these contraceptives, from Depo-Provera to Quinacrine, to women in developing nations, often without full information on risks, and sometimes without the knowledge or consent of the women.

Ordover has delved deeply into the history of eugenicist theory and its reliance on scientific (or pseudo-scientific) research and technological solutions. In this treatise, she demonstrates the ways in which this continuing assault on the rights and bodies of peoples constructed as not only 'other' but as threats to the social, political, economic and physical health of the nation is manifest in current political, social and legislative action. Racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia - these are the theories underlying much of the rhetoric from both conservative and liberal camps, and as Ordover definitively shows, eugenics is a significant part of the praxis.

An important book, with much to say about the state of America (and by implication, other nations) today.


[1] The Science of Desire: The search for the gay gene and the biology of behavior, Dean Hamer and Peter Copeland, 1994.

bibliogramma: (Default)

The subtitle of Margot Lee Shetterly's extensively researched book, Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, tells the reader exactly what she will find within its covers.

Shetterly is well positioned to tell this story, as the daughter of a black engineer who worked at NASA's Langley Research Center during the 60s and 70s. Her father knew some of the women who feature prominently in the book, her childhood was spent in Hampton, in the same neighbourhoods these women had brought their own families to a generation earlier. In her preface, Shetterly talks about her own memories if her father's work, and pinpoints the enormous importance of telling the stories of these women.

"Building 1236, my father’s daily destination, contained a byzantine complex of government-gray cubicles, perfumed with the grown-up smells of coffee and stale cigarette smoke. His engineering colleagues with their rumpled style and distracted manner seemed like exotic birds in a sanctuary. They gave us kids stacks of discarded 11×14 continuous-form computer paper, printed on one side with cryptic arrays of numbers, the blank side a canvas for crayon masterpieces. Women occupied many of the cubicles; they answered phones and sat in front of typewriters, but they also made hieroglyphic marks on transparent slides and conferred with my father and other men in the office on the stacks of documents that littered their desks. That so many of them were African American, many of them my grandmother’s age, struck me as simply a part of the natural order of things: growing up in Hampton, the face of science was brown like mine."

So often, the face of science has been presented as that of a white man. To read the stories of these brilliant black women who persevered through the dual sets of assumptions they faced as mathematicians and engineers in a world where people of colour were associated with low or unskilled work and women with limited opportunities when single and even fewer when married is to understand how important it is to challenge that image.

Shetterly anchors her research into the hundreds of women, black and white, who held mathematical and scientific jobs at Langley on a narrative focused on the lives and careers of a handful of women: Dorothy Vaughan, Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson and others, all of whom worked in the all-female, all-black West Computing Unit at Langley. These first of these women were originally hired to meet the research needs of what was then called the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) during World War II, but their role was to continue well into the age of the Moon missions.

While recognising the rare opportunities - and unusual economic security - that the growing airspace industry offered women, Shetterly does not ignore the gender politics involved. While the 'computers' - the women mathematicians who performed all the calculations on which the male scientists and engineers depended on to be able to do their work - were often as well educated and as skilled as the men entering the field of aeronautics, they were still women working in a male field where men were individually valued and encouraged to advance, and women were seen in the perpetual role of anonymous support from which it was hard to emerge.

"Seasoned researchers took the male upstarts under their wings, initiating them into their guild over lunchtime conversations in the cafeteria and in after-hours men-only smokers. The most promising of the acolytes were tapped to assist their managers in the operations of the laboratory’s valuable tunnels and research facilities, apprenticeships that could open the door to high-profile research assignments and eventual promotion to the head of a section, branch, or division. ...

Women, on the other hand, had to wield their intellects like a scythe, hacking away against the stubborn underbrush of low expectations. A woman who worked in the central computing pools was one step removed from the research, and the engineers’ assignments sometimes lacked the context to give the computer much knowledge about the afterlife of the numbers that bedeviled her days. She might spend weeks calculating a pressure distribution without knowing what kind of plane was being tested or whether the analysis that depended on her math had resulted in significant conclusions. The work of most of the women, like that of the Friden, Marchant, or Monroe computing machines they used, was anonymous. Even a woman who had worked closely with an engineer on the content of a research report was rarely rewarded by seeing her name alongside his on the final publication. Why would the computers have the same desire for recognition that they did? many engineers figured. They were women, after all."

After the war, the anticipated downturn in employment at Langley did not take place. While in so many other industries, the return of men from the war pushed women (particularly white, middle-class women who had not worked before the war) out of the jobs they had taken on and back into the home, such was not the case in the aeronautical industry. Driven by the Cold War, research into aeronautics and space flight, the Langley 'computers' had become an integral part of the research process.

"Black or white, east or west, single or married, mothers or childless, women were now a fundamental part of the aeronautical research process. Not a year after the end of the war, the familiar announcements of vacancies at the laboratory, including openings for computers, began to appear in the newsletter again. As the United States downshifted from a flat-out sprint to victory to a more measured pace of economic activity, and as the laboratory began to forget that it had ever operated without the female computers, Dorothy had time to pause and give consideration to what a long-term career as a mathematician might look like. How could she entertain the idea of returning to Farmville and giving up a job she was good at, that she enjoyed, that paid two or three times more than teaching? Working as a research mathematician at Langley was a very, very good black job—and it was also a very, very good female job. The state of the aeronautics industry was strong, and the engineers were just as interested in retaining the services of the women who did the calculations as the aircraft manufacturers had been in keeping the laundry workers who supported their factory workers on the job."

Along with the potential of stability in a well-paid professional field that allowed them to use their education and abilities, however, the Cold War also brought the chill of the "Red Menace" which was increasingly associated with any progressive political movement, including those advocating civil rights and racial equality. The politics of race that turned the NAACP into a suspect organisation were also a part of life at Langley for the black women and men who had found careers there. While the book's narrative line is primarily focused on the women of the West Computing Unit and the part they played over three decades in the advancement of air and space travel, Shetterly relates events in the lives and career experience at Langley of both black women and the few black male engineers to contemporary developments in the civil rights movement, placing their story within the cultural, political and legal shifts of their times.

This approach makes clear the ways in which the story of how these brilliant women mathematicians became central to the successful development of the space program was deeply entwined with international politics, national pride, cultural change and the push to end segregation in the American workplace. In tracing the shift from NACA to NASA, Shetterly's account also follows the changes experienced by the black women mathematicians who had built careers at Langley.

As engineering projects diversified and became more specialised, the women of the West Computing Unit were moved out of the pool and into the various departments and working groups. Once there, the contributions made by some led to advancement from mathematician to the more respected, more influential and more highly paid rank of engineer. But though few of the 'girls from West Computing' reached such rarefied heights, their work was an essential part of the R&D that led to the first Americans in space.

And this is the real importance of Shetterly's book, that it makes prominent the contributions of black women, that it presents them boldly. As Shetterly says in her Epilogue:

"For me, and I believe for many others, the story of the West Computers is so electrifying because it provides evidence of something that we’ve believed to be true, that we want with our entire beings to be true, but that we don’t always know how to prove: that many numbers of black women have participated as protagonists in the epic of America."

bibliogramma: (Default)

Wonderfully left-wing publishing house PM Press has been putting out a series called Outspoken Authors which consists of collections of writings by visionary left-leaning writers, most of them writers of sff. I've read and talked a number of these before, including volumes that contained selected works (and an original interview) with people like Ursula Le Guin, Nalo Hopkinson, Kim Stanley Robinson, Terry Bisson and Eleanor Arnason.

My latest read from this series is a collection of essays, poems and other works from Marge Piercy called My Life, My Body. Woven through all the selections is a strong, politically and socially radical consciousness, conjoined with a commitment to feminist analysis, addressing topics ranging from the effects of gentrification on marginalised communities to the enforcement of a white male canon in literature.

Her focus ranges from social justice to literary criticism. Several of the selections here deal, in part or in whole, with the growing problem of homelessness, particularly among women. Others argue passionately against the trend in criticism that demands the separation of politics and art, and devalues literature written from a political consciousness (which, she notes, is often work created by women and marginalised peoples.

In addition to the essays and poems, the volume includes an interesting interview with Piercy conducted by fellow leftist and science fiction writer Terry Bisson.

If you're a fan of Piercy's work, you'll appreciate the pieces collected here immensely. And after that, I heartily recommend that you have a look at other volumes from the Outspoken Writers series.

bibliogramma: (Default)

For those who don't know (and until I read a passing comment on the Internet about her and the book she'd just written, I didn't), Lindy West is a feminist, fat acceptance movement activist. That was quite enough for me to be interested in her book Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman.

Shrill is, like Roxane Gay's Bad Feminist or Laurie Penny's Unspeakable Things, a heady combination of personal narrative, political analysis and call-to-arms.

She talks with humour and honesty about growing up as a shy, overweight child, about reaching menache in a culture that seeks to ignore the biological processes of female bodies, about living as a fat woman, about struggling to come to self acceptance and to raise the consciousness of colleagues in the media about the effects of public fat-shaming.

She writes matter-of-factly about her abortion, and I recognised some of my own reactions on having mine. It was no horrible tragedy, no wrenching drama, simply a thing that I chose to have because I was not interested in having a child. What she says about the right to abortion, to control one's body, is short and exactly on the mark.

"The truth is that I don’t give a damn why anyone has an abortion. I believe unconditionally in the right of people with uteruses to decide what grows inside of their body and feeds on their blood and endangers their life and reroutes their future. There are no “good” abortions and “bad” abortions, there are only pregnant people who want them and pregnant people who don’t, pregnant people who have access and support and pregnant people who face institutional roadblocks and lies."

West writes movingly about the psychological consequences of the violent and obscene harassment - often minimised as "trolling" - of women on the Internet. She pulls no punches - she calls it what it is, abuse directed at the marginalised inhabitants of the net:

"Why is invasive, relentless abuse—that disproportionately affects marginalized people who have already faced additional obstacles just to establish themselves in this field—something we should all have to live with just to do our jobs? Six years later, this is still a question I’ve yet to have answered."

One of many interrelated topics she addresses is the idea of socially responsible comedy - comedy that does not make marginalised people, be they women, people with a disability or a socially awkward disease such as herpes, or any other marked status, the punchline of the joke.

"When I looked at the pantheon of comedy gods (Bill Hicks, Eddie Murphy, George Carlin, Lenny Bruce, Louis CK, Jon Stewart, Richard Pryor, Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld), the alt-comedy demigods (Patton Oswalt, Zach Galifianakis, David Cross, Marc Maron, Dave Attell, Bill Burr), and even that little roster of 2005 Seattle comics I rattled off in the previous chapter, I couldn’t escape the question: If that’s who drafted our comedy constitution, why should I assume that my best interests are represented? That is a bunch of dudes. Of course there are exceptions—maybe Joan Rivers got to propose a bylaw or two—but you can’t tell me there’s no gender bias in an industry where “women aren’t funny” is widely accepted as conventional wisdom."

She pays particular attention to the phenomenon of the rape joke.

"Feminists don’t single out rape jokes because rape is “worse” than other crimes—we single them out because we live in a culture that actively strives to shrink the definition of sexual assault; that casts stalking behaviors as romance; blames victims for wearing the wrong clothes, walking through the wrong neighborhood, or flirting with the wrong person; bends over backwards to excuse boys-will-be-boys misogyny; makes the emotional and social costs of reporting a rape prohibitively high; pretends that false accusations are a more dire problem than actual assaults; elects officials who tell rape victims that their sexual violation was “god’s plan”; and convicts in less than 5 percent of rape cases that go to trial. Comedians regularly retort that no one complains when they joke about murder or other crimes in their acts, citing that as a double standard. Well, fortunately, there is no cultural narrative casting doubt on the existence and prevalence of murder and pressuring people not to report it."

I enjoyed reading West's lived experiences - some of which, in certain ways, seemed similar to some of mine - and her strong, bold voice. Not shrill, Lindy, though frightened misogynist men might label it so. Just strong, and true.

bibliogramma: (Default)

Fatima Mernissi's The Forgotten Queens of Islam is framed as a direct response to the outcry against the election of Benazir Bhutto as Prime Minister of Pakistan in 1988. In telling the story of the women who have previously held political power of the Islamic world, Mernissi is countering both the resistance to women being active in public life, and the tendency of male historians to overlook the contributions of women.

When Benazir Bhutto became Prime Minister of Pakistan after winning the elections of 16 November 1988, all who monopolized the right to speak in the name of Islam, and especially Nawaz Sharif, the leader of the then Opposition, the IDA (Islamic Democratic Alliance), raised the cry of blasphemy: 'Never - horrors! - has a Muslim state been governed by a woman!' Invoking Islamic tradition, they decried this event as 'against nature'. Political decision-making among our ancestors, they said, was always a men's affair. Throughout 15 centuries of Islam, from year 1 of the Hejira (AD 622) to today, the conduct of public affairs in Muslim countries has been a uniquely male privilege and monopoly. No woman ever acceded to a throne in Islam; no woman ever directed the affairs of state, we are told by those who claim to speak for Islam and who make its defence their battle cry against other Muslims. And, so they say, since no woman had ever governed a Muslim state between 622 and 1988, Benazir Bhutto could not aspire to do so either.


Because the concept of separation of church and state, of religious and secular authority, is not a uniformly accepted thing in the Islamic world, Mernissi takes care to differentiate between caliph and mulk, between the leader whose authority is divine, who can claim descent from the Prophet, and the leader whose authority is only of the world.

The caliphate is the opposite of mulk in that it represents an authority that obeys divine law, the shari'a, which is imposed on the leader himself and makes his own passions illegitimate. And therein, Ibn Khaldun explains to us, lies the greatness of Islam as a political system. The caliph is tied by divine law, his desires and passions checked, while the king recognizes no superior law. As a result, the caliphate has another advantage that mulk lacks. Mulk deals solely with the management of earthly interests, while the caliphate, given its spiritual nature, is also in charge of the Beyond.


Mernissi goes on to explain that in the Islamic workd, a woman can not be a caliph, but that she can - if she is able to negotiate her society's networks of secular power - become a mulk.

Not just anyone can claim to be a caliph; access to this privilege is subject to strict criteria. By contrast, titles like sultan, the linguistic origin of which is salata (dominate), and malik (king), which has the same connotation of raw power not tempered by religion, are available to anybody. And that is why women can carry them; they do not imply or signify any divine mission. But women could never lay claim to the title of caliph. The secret of the exclusion of women lies in the criteria of eligibility to be a caliph.


But even though there have been no female Caliphs, Mernissi finds examples of many women who have held other titles which speak to their exercise of secular power - sultanas, malikas, al-hurras, sitts, sharifas, amiras, khatuns. But in examining the rise to power, and subsequent fall of many of these women, Mernissi frames the history of female political power in Islam as a struggle between women seeking power and the line of male caliphs, whose claim to spiritual power places them, at least in theory, above any secular leader, male or female.

... this one constant endured throughout the empire and its states: as soon as a woman came close to the throne, a group whose interests she threatened appeared on the scene and challenged her in the name of the spiritual, the name of the shari'a.


In writing this history of female leadership in the Muslim world, Mernissi is not just telling histories of the queens and their deeds. Rather, she is using the history of these women to explore what female power means in the Islamic context, examining how it occurs, what forms it takes and limitations it encounters, how it is understood in the Muslim political tradition of male-led theocratic institutions. In her examination of the meanings of women's political power in the Muslim world, Mernissi's text discusses the instances of secular rule - whether failed or successful - of women across a range of states and eras, begining with the first woman to assume secular authority in a Muslim community - A'isha, the widow of Mohammed.

A'isha was the first woman to transgress the hudud (limits), to violate the boundary between the territory of women and that of men, to incite to kill, even though the act of war is the privilege of men and belongs to territory outside the harem. A woman does not have the right to kill. Deciding on war is the function and raison d'etre of men. 'A'isha, as the first woman who took a political decision by leading armed men, remains forever linked in Muslim memory with fitna (disorder and destruction).


Just as she draws a distinction between the highest position of power, the caliphate, which being both religious and political in nature can not be held by a woman, and the mulk, which is a secular leadership that some women can achieve, Mernissi also differentiates between sovereign secular power and other forms of leadership. In the Muslim state, the primary signifier of true sovereignty is the proclamation of the head of state in the khutba, the Friday sermon.

The Friday khutba is both the mirror and the reflection of what is going on in the political scene. In the case of war, one learns what is happening at the front by listening: the name of the sovereign that is mentioned is the one who currently controls the territory by military means. And the name changes with events in periods of political trouble.


Mernissi notes that very few women have held this level of sovereignty - rather, most who have, by
Western appraisals, indubitably ruled, have done so while invoking the sovereignty of another, a man. A second indicator of sovereignty - the minting of coins with the sovereign's name - has likewise been limited to a very few among the women who have held power. Mernissi refers to the work of another modern scholar, historian Badriye Ucok Un, who identified 16 women who have held sovereignty in Muslim history by both criteria - none of whom ruled in Arab states, but rather held power in Muslim states in Asia (largely in those under Mongol control) Turkey (including Egypt under Mamluk rule) Iran, and Indonesia and other south Asian island states. Mernissi adds to this list two women rulers in Yemen whose sovereignty was proclaimed by khutba, but whose existence appears to have been, not just forgotten, but actively suppressed - not just because they were women, but also because they were Shi'ite monarchs.

After her discussion of women rulers of the past, Mernissi returns to the implications of Benazir Bhutto's election. In the election of a woman to sovereign power, two key aspects of the traditions of leadership in the Muslim world were broken - the assertion of a woman's will, to rule in her own right, and the aristocratic tradition of rule by dynastic elites, gaining sovereignty by association or inheritance (including all of the sovereign queens) or conquest.

That is why, as the fundamentalists well understand, the election of Benazir Bhutto constituted a total break with caliphal Islam. It represented the dual emergence on the political scene of that which is veiled and that which is obscene: the will of women and that of the people.


What began as an exploration of female rule in the Muslim world ends as a question about the future of both universal suffrage and democracy in a tradition that has long vested power in a male-dominated aristocracy in which secular power depends on religious authority.

bibliogramma: (Default)

Sarah Erdreich's book, The Roe Generation, looks at the current state of reproductive choice access and politics from the perspective of those she calls "the Roe generation - those for whom abortion has always been legal, but has also always been a topic of public discussion and controversy.

Erdreich covers a great deal of territory in this book. She begins with an overview of the history of abortion in the US, including the role that credentialisation played in the elimination of lay-midwives experienced in abortion from the health care scene and the pro-nativist concern over falling birthrate of white women that lay behind much of the early anti-abortion rhetoric.

Adding context to her research through extensive interviews with interviews with abortion providers, pro-choice activists, non-medical personnel who work in abortion clinics, students considering becoming abortion providers, and others involved in the reproductive rights movement, Erdreich examines such important topics as:

- the current state of training around abortion care and contraception in medical schools and the efforts of anti-choice organisations to further erode access to training

- strategies used by anti-choice activists to restrict access to abortion through legislation and court challenges that have the long-range goal of overturning Roe v. Wade

- the strong focus on family in anti-choice rhetoric, and how its emphasis on the fetus and on the damage to women from "post abortion syndrome" infantilises women and perpetuates the idea that what everyone really wants is a tradition family focused on child-rearing

- media representations of women seeking abortions and the very few instances in popular media where women choose abortion as a valid and positive option.

Erdreich concludes her examination of abortion with a critique of established pro-choice organisations as bureaucratic, inflexible, and not prepared to make effective use of modern communications and social media in organising. She stresses the need for more aggressive planning and action by pro-choice organisations and supporters to turn the tide of increasing barriers and restrictions on abortions, and advocates greater grassroots involvement. Finally, she talks about something every pro-choice supporter can do - help to normalise the idea of abortion rights by discussing it in the same way as any other public policy issue. Ending the atmosphere of shame and secrecy about reproductive choices is, Erdreich argues, a major step toward being able to see contraception and abortion as normal life issues.

bibliogramma: (Default)

Jonathan Metzl's The Protest Psychosis: How Schizophrenia Became a Black Disease is an examination of how institutionalised racism and social constructs of "abnormal behaviour" have influenced the changing psychiatric definitions of certain mental illnesses - specifically schizophrenia and the now out of fashion dementia praecox - and resulted in a situation in which "... African-American ​patients ​were ​'significantly ​more ​likely' ​than ​white ​patients ​to ​receive ​schizophrenia ​diagnoses, ​and ​'significantly ​less ​likely' ​than ​white ​patients ​to ​receive ​diagnoses ​for ​other ​mental ​illnesses ​such ​as ​depression ​or ​bipolar ​disorder."

In noting that black men entering treatment (voluntarily or otherwise) for mental illness are far more likely to receive a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia than any other racial group, Metzl argues that allthough "Everyday ​racism ​seems ​a ​reasonable ​explanation ​for ​these ​findings," the situation is actually more complex. In the preface to his book, Metzl states:
This ​book ​makes ​a ​broader ​claim: ​from ​a ​historical ​perspective, ​race ​impacts ​medical ​communication ​because ​racial ​tensions ​are ​structured ​into ​clinical ​interactions ​long ​before ​doctors ​and ​patients ​enter ​examination ​rooms. ​To ​a ​remarkable ​extent, ​anxieties ​about ​racial ​difference ​shape ​diagnostic ​criteria, ​healthcare ​policies, ​medical ​and ​popular ​attitudes ​about ​mentally ​ill ​persons, ​the ​structures ​of ​treatment ​facilities, ​and, ​ultimately, ​the ​conversations ​that ​take ​place ​there ​within.


Focusing on how the diagnosis of schizophrenia was used to classify people admitted to Ionia State Hospital in Michigan from the 1940s onwards until it closed as a mental institute in the late 1970s, Metzl examines the changing use of this diagnosis. Initially given primarily to nonviolent white criminals and distressed housewives - who were seen as ill but not dangerous - by the 1970s it was predominantly assigned to black men supposedly characterised by "masculinized belligerence."

In his book, Metzl looks at the origins and evolving definitions of schizophrenia in the context of social changes, and particularly racial politics and the civil rights movement in the USA, especially in Detroit which was part of the catchment area of Ionia Hospital. As Metzl notes:
American ​assumptions ​about ​the ​race, ​gender, ​and ​temperament ​of ​schizophrenia ​changed ​beginning ​in ​the ​1960s. ​Many ​leading ​medical ​and ​popular ​sources ​suddenly ​described ​schizophrenia ​as ​an ​illness ​manifested ​not ​by ​docility, ​but ​by ​rage. ​Growing ​numbers ​of ​research ​articles ​from ​leading ​psychiatric ​journals ​asserted ​that ​schizophrenia ​was ​a ​condition ​that ​also ​afflicted ​"Negro ​men," ​and ​that ​black ​forms ​of ​the ​illness ​were ​marked ​by ​volatility ​and ​aggression. ​In ​the ​worst ​cases, ​psychiatric ​authors ​conflated ​the ​schizophrenic ​symptoms ​of ​African-American ​patients ​with ​the ​perceived ​schizophrenia ​the ​civil ​rights ​protests, ​particularly ​those ​organized ​by ​Black ​Power, ​Black ​Panthers, ​Nation ​of ​Islam, ​or ​other ​activist ​groups.


As Metzl further comments in the preface:
As ​but ​one ​example, ​the ​title ​of ​this ​book ​comes ​from ​a ​1968 ​article that ​appeared ​in ​the ​prestigious ​Archives ​of ​General ​Psychiatry, ​in ​which ​psychiatrists ​Walter ​Bromberg ​and ​Frank ​Simon ​described ​schizophrenia ​as ​a ​"protest ​psychosis" ​whereby ​black ​men ​developed ​"hostile ​and ​aggressive ​feelings" ​and ​"delusional ​anti-whiteness" ​
after ​listening ​to ​the ​words ​of ​Malcolm ​X, ​joining ​the ​Black ​Muslims, ​or ​aligning ​with ​groups ​that ​preached ​militant ​resistance ​to ​white ​society. ​According ​to ​the ​authors, ​the ​men ​required ​psychiatric ​treatment ​because ​their ​symptoms ​threatened ​not ​only ​their ​own ​sanity, ​but ​the ​social ​order ​of ​white ​America. ​Bromberg ​and ​Simon ​
argued ​that ​black ​men ​who ​"espoused ​African ​or ​Islamic" ​ideologies, adopted ​"Islamic ​names" ​that ​were ​changed ​in ​such ​a ​way ​so ​as ​to ​deny ​"the ​previous ​Anglicization ​of ​their ​names" ​in ​fact ​demonstrated ​a ​"delusional ​anti-whiteness" ​that ​manifest ​as ​"paranoid ​projections ​of ​the ​Negroes ​to ​the ​Caucasian ​group."


Metzl further quotes Bromberg and Simon on the 'sypmtoms' of this protest psychosis: “antiwhite productions and attitudes. . . . It becomes apparent that the intellectual dissociation represents in part a refusal to accept the syntactical language of standard English. . . . Often the prisoners draw pictures or write material of an Islamic nature, elaborating their ideas in the direction of African ideology with a decided ‘primitive’ accent. . . . The language used may be borrowed from the ancient ‘Veve.’ . . . Bizarre religious ideas are Moslem in character, either directly from Mohammedan practice or improvised.”

Key to Metzel's argument is the fact that "... the ​rhetorics ​of ​health ​and ​illness ​become ​effective ​ways ​of ​policing ​the ​boundaries ​of ​civil ​society, ​and ​of ​keeping ​these ​people ​always ​outside." Marginalised groups have historically been characterised as more likely to be diseased or defective, either physically or mentally, and discontent with society or one's assigned status in it, no matter how merited, as a marker of mental health issues. Metzl lists some of the ways in which this has manifested or been observed with regard to both political dissidents and racialised groups, points particularly pertinent to an examination of the psychiatric labelling of black makes during the 1960s, a period of civil rights activism and black power movements that combined both political protest and a heightened presentation and awareness of racial discontents.
Scholars have long argued that medical and governmental institutions code threats to authority as mental illnesses during moments of political turmoil. Much of the best-known literature on the subject comes from outside the United States. International human rights activists such as Walter Reich have long chronicled the ways in which
Soviet psychiatrists in so-called Psikhushka hospitals diagnosed political dissidents with schizophrenia. Meanwhile, Michel Foucault often cited French hospitals as examples to support his belief that the discourses of the human sciences produce and discipline deviant subjects in the larger project of maintaining particular power hierarchies. Foucault also importantly developed a theory of "state racism," whereby governments use emancipatory discourses of what he called "race struggle" as excuses for the further oppression of
minority groups. Meanwhile, the Martinique-born psychiatrist Frantz Fanon called on his experiences in Algeria to describe a North African syndrome in which political and medical subjugation literally
created psychiatric symptoms in colonized subjects. Fanon's important schema, discussed at length below, focused on the ways in which racist social structures reproduce themselves not only in political or economic institutions, but also in the "damaged" psyches of people it needs to control.


As Metzl notes, however, the history of ascribing specific kinds of mental illness to black patients predates the civil rights movement by a considerable length of time. He notes the early history of the diagnosis of mental illness among blacks in America, which usually worked in support of
... existing beliefs [that] "Negroes" were biologically unfit for freedom. This troubling argument emerged from the work of American surgeon Samuel Cartwright, who wrote in 1851 in the New Orleans Medical and Surgical Journal that the tendency of slaves to run away from their captors was a treatable medical disorder. Cartwright described two types of insanity among slaves. Drapetomania resulted when "the white man attempts to oppose the Deity's will, by trying to make the Negro anything else than 'the submissive knee-bender' (which the Almighty declared he should be) by trying to raise him to a level with himself, or by putting himself on an equality with the Negro." According to Cartwright, such unnatural kindness led to a form of mania whose sole symptom was the propensity of slaves to run away. Similarly, dysaesthesia aethiopis, which is Cartwrights term for the "rascality" and "disrespect for the master's property" that resulted when African Americans did not have whites overseeing their every action. Cartwright theorized that both conditions resulted from biological lesions and he advised treating both with whipping, hard labor, and in extreme cases, amputation of the toes.


Metzl includes in his arguments a brief overview of the development of the understanding of schizophrenia as a mental illness. Originally known as dementia praecox, one school of researchers characterised the disease as "... a biological illness caused by underlying organic lesions or faulty metabolism ... [that] resulted from irreversible biological changes..." Others theorised that dementia praecox "...was not a biological disorder, but was instead a psychical splitting of the basic functions of the personality." This splitting "...was accompanied not by violence, but by symptoms such as indifference, creativity, passion, and even fanaticism." This theory led to the use if the term schizophrenia, from the Greek words for "split" (schizo) and "mind" (phrene).

Metzl notes that the differences in theorising about praecox as opposed to schizophrenia resulted in the condition being interpreted very differently based on the psychiatrist's beliefs concerning its etiology. Those who followed the idea of schizophrenia as an illness of personality instead of biology tended to describe patients in terms that "...remained largely, though by no means entirely, free of connections to violence, invasions, crime, impurity, and other eugenic staples." Patients with schizophrenia were in general not seen as dangers or as threats, but as persons needing nurturing in order to find the "sensitive and tender nature" hidden behind a patient's "cold and unresponsive exterior." Leading clinicians "... advocated teaching patients how to function as adults through activities that substituted 'objective The reality for phantasy' such as occupational therapy, physical exercise, and the encouragement of participation in 'dances, concerts, and other opportunities for social contact.' "

Those who understood schizophrenia to be essentially the same as the organically caused dementia praecox, however, were more likely to see it as a racialised disease:
... in 1913, Arrah Evarts, a psychiatrist from the Government Hospital for the Insane in Washington, D.C., wrote an article in the Psychoanalytic Review titled "Dementia Praecox in the Colored Race" in which she described dramatic increases in the illness in "colored" patients.

.... Evarts linked the appearance of praecox in these and other patients to the pressures of freedom - pressures for which "Negroes," she argued, were biologically unfit. Speaking of slavery,
Evarts wrote, 'This bondage in reality was a wonderful aid to the colored man. The necessity of mental initiative was never his, and his racial characteristic of imitation carried him far on the road. But after he became a free man, the conditions under which he must continue his progress became infinitely harder. He must now think for himself, and exercise forethought if he and his family are to live at all; two things which has [sic] so far not been demanded and for which there was no racial preparation. It has been said by many observers whose words can scarce be doubted that a crazy Negro was a rare sight before emancipation. However that may be, we know he is by no means rare today.'


However, as the clinical use of the diagnosis of dementia praecox declined and the conceptualisation of schizophrenia as a disease of personality became the prevailing one, this tendency toward a racialised diagnosis declined. As Metzl points out, "Prior ​to ​the ​civil ​rights ​movement, ​mainstream ​American ​medical ​and ​popular ​opinion ​often ​assumed ​that ​patients ​with ​schizophrenia ​were ​largely ​white, ​and ​generally ​harmless ​to ​society."

As the civil rights movement and other events highlighting the unrest among black people in this the U.S. entered the consciousness of the public and the psychiatric profession alike, a shift began to appear in the perceptions of mental illness. Metzl notes that the release of the revised Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-II) in 1968, on which many symptoms of mental illness were seen as maladaptions to the patient's environment, both reflected and in some ways codified an understanding of schizophrenia as a violent disorder commonly seen among black patients. By the 70s, anti-psychotic drugs marketed for treatment of schizophrenia were often advertised with imagery that suggested angry black men, inner city tensions, or "primitive" thought processes - the latter imagery often suggesting or openly using traditional African art or artefacts.

In examining the language used to discuss research into psychiatric conditions beginning in the 60s, Metzl observes that "... data analysis suggests that authors of research articles in leading psychiatric journals preferentially applied language connoting aggression and hostility to African Americans during the 1960s and 1970s. The spike in such associations raises the specter that the DSM-II codified ways of talking about blackness in addition to talking about mental illness. To be sure, the DSM claimed to seek neutrality. But, in the real world, doctors and researchers used the manual’s charged language to modify, describe, and ultimately diagnose the category of black under the rubric of the category of schizophrenia."

This developing construct of schizophrenia as a disease of blacks led into madness by hostility and delusions triggered by the "antiwhite" ideas of prominent black leaders was not limited to psychiatric circles. Increasingly during the 60s, the media began using the imagery of schizophrenia and psychosis to discuss racial unrest among blacks in America.
For instance, an electronic newspaper archive search for articles with the terms schizophrenia and schizophrenic in combination with terms such as Negro, racial, civil rights, and, by comparison, with Caucasian, feminism, and Equal Rights Amendment, reveals a series of significant numeric trends starting in the late 1950s. As but a few examples, the electronic archives of the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Chicago Tribune show the terms Negro plus schizophrenia or schizophrenic returned 36 results dated 1930 to 1955 and a staggering 259 results dated 1956 to 1979. A search for Negro plus paranoid or paranoia similarly returned 12 results dated 1930 to 1955 versus 358 results dated 1956 to 1979. Caucasian or white plus schizophrenic or schizophrenia returned no results from 1930 to 1955 and only 1 from 1956 to 1979, and feminism or women’s rights plus schizophrenia or schizophrenic returned no results from 1930 to 1955 and 10 results dated 1956 to 1979.


Metzl goes on to note the way in which this imagery of schizophrenia was used to differentiate between "good" blacks, who did not raise anxiety in mainstream, white, society, and "bad" blacks, who were angry and appeared poised to destroy the social order: "Schizophrenia also provided a framework for dividing civilized blacks from unruly ones, the Martin Luther Kings and Jackie Robinsons who espoused nonviolence from the LeRoi Joneses, Stokely Carmichaels, and Rap Browns who did not."

During this period, the black press, and black leaders and theorists, also adopted the psychiatric imagery of schizophrenia, but for them it was seen in reverse. Rather than categorising the revolutionary black man as violently mentally ill, and his protest, his frustration and his anger as the symptoms of his disease, black writers saw the situation of a black man living in a white supremacist society as the cause of a kind of survival schizophrenia and revolution the healthy road to a cure. "In their pages, schizophrenia also became a rhetorically black disease. But, instead of a condition caused by civil rights, schizophrenia resulted from the conditions that made civil rights necessary. Civil rights did not make people crazy, racism did. Instead of a mark of stigma, schizophrenia functioned as a protest identity and an internalized, projected form of defiance."

It is when Metzl turns his attention to his historical research into the medical files of hundreds of patients at the Ionia State Hospital, originally known as the ​Michigan ​Asylum ​for ​Insane ​Criminals, which operated between 1885 ​and ​1976, that we see the real-life consequences for black, primarily male patients.

In looking at the charts of schizophrenic patients from earlier time periods, prior to the beginnings of the civil rights movement, he found that these patients were not seen as particularly violent. While a minority of patients were described as hostile, suspicious or paranoid, these patients were most frequently described as confused, withdrawn, and cooperative. Further, differences between the symptoms of white and black patients with schizophrenia were for the most part insignificant; black patients were more likely to be suspicious, white patients to be suicidal.

Further, it was the assumption that patients, even those remanded to the Hospital because they were classified as criminally insane, were to be treated with the eventual goal of recovery and release. "During the first half of the twentieth century, the idea that even criminally insane persons might improve with treatment and return to their lives functioned as a viable concept. The goal of institutions such as Ionia was not merely to warehouse people, but to recuperate them."

In examining the medical records of Black men admitted in the 50s and early 60s and diagnosed with various personality disorders, Metzl observed that these diagnoses were often changed to one of schizophrenia in the late 60s and early 70s, even though the other contents of the records made it very clear that there had been no change in their symptoms, no new manifestations of disease. Despite the move toward deinstitutionalisation of the period, which led to the downsizing and eventual closing of many hospitals for the mentally ill, these black men were considered dangerous and were among the few patients kept in custody. Indeed, when Ionia Hospital was finally closed, this same group of black men were transferred to another facility for the dangerously insane. At the same time, white women who had been admitted with diagnoses of schizophrenia were being re-diagnosed with depression and released to the care of their families.

Metzl makes it clear - and quotes extensively from representative case files in so doing - that the black men in treatment at Ionia Hospital were not healthy persons unjustly confined. Rather, he is exploring how the ways in which the assessment of the men's condition, and their prospects for release, were affected by changing ideas about blackness, illness and violence.
This is not to suggest that many of the men did not suffer from debilitating mental anguish—indeed, the men lost lives and dreams and loved ones, and were often deeply in need of treatment and care. But the associations implied by that anguish changed over time. In institutional terms, “Negro symptoms” such as hallucinations, delusions, and violent projections came to mean different things. ... Thus did African American men at Ionia develop schizophrenia, not because of changes in their clinical presentations, but because of changes in the connections between their clinical presentations and larger, national conversations about race, violence, and insanity.


Metzl concludes with a brief exploration of the way in which imprisonment has replaced commitment to care facilities for those who enter the justice system with a mental illness.
Many mental-health professionals feel that something is deeply wrong with a system that incarcerates so many mentally ill persons, or that posits prisons as primary treatment centers. The illnesses themselves too often become life sentences. Symptoms so frequently get worse, and the prison rhetoric of containment precludes improvement, recovery, or reintegration. We are not apologists for crime. Yet, most mental-health providers believe that even nightmare scenarios, in which mental illnesses contribute to criminal acts, demonstrate the importance of treating such illnesses proximally, in the community, rather than distally, after the deed is done.
...

The notion of recuperation fell by the wayside as hospitals became prisons. Sentences grew ever longer, moats deeper, and barbed wire sharper. Empathy gave way to fear, fear to anger, and anger ultimately to indifference. “Everything changed when mental health was taken over by Corrections” was a refrain I heard again and again during oral history interviews with staffers who worked at Ionia during the transition to Riverside. “Corrections told us to stop caring for people,” an elderly gentleman who worked as an attendant told me, “even though in some cases we had these people in the hospital for years. Corrections made clear that our job was just to keep them quiet. No one gave a damn about their needs."


This is a difficult but important book, especially in the current rising wave of racial unrest that may well presage a second wave of revolutionary human rights activism among people of colour. One of the most important take-aways from this book for me has been how psychiatry and white fear interacted to reinforce the caricatured social image of black people as violent savages - which is the exact racist imagery that both triggers and is used to excuse the violence against black bodies and black lives we are seeing all around us. This is one part of how these images gain credence and blot out the truth.

bibliogramma: (Default)

Jason Rosenhouse's Among the Creationists: Dispatches from the Anti-Evolutionist Frontline is an interesting look at the culture of creationists from the perspective of an outsider - a mathematician and atheist - who has spent time observing and interacting with creationists.
This book has three main purposes. It is a memoir recounting some interesting experiences I’ve had socializing with people whose worldview differs greatly from my own. It is also an explication of the beliefs and attitudes that are common in the anti-evolution subculture. And it is a discussion of certain questions about the relationship between science and religion that arose naturally through my experiences.
Rosenhouse structures his account around his personal experiences in visiting specific sites - from "creation museums" to bookstores - and attending pro-Creationism conferences, both to see the way that "creation science" is presented within the Creationist community, and to engage with actual creation believers.

Rosenhouse's approach in this book is not to "prove" evolution, or "disprove" creationism through recounting the scientific evidence for evolution, though he does present a reasoned account of the evidence for the former and the errors made in asserting the latter. Rather, his primary goal is to describe and critique the nature of creationist arguments and the Biblical Christian worldview they are derived from, and explain why the concept of evolution is such a threat to that worldview. Another aspect of his argument focuses on the general lack of understanding of science and the scientific mindset that seems common to most advocates of creationism, a lack which results in most arguments either presenting a completely false summation of the scientific evidence, or setting up strawdogs based on misunderstanding of scientific data and conclusions.

In the process of reporting on his experiences with both "Young Earth" creationists and those who propose Intelligent Design, Rosenhouse discusses the history of Christian opposition to the concept of evolution and how that has manifested in American judicial and educational history - as well as examining the positions of those who have attempted to reconcile Biblical Christianity with evolutionary theory. In this undertaking, he covers a great deal of theological ground, often making his points and illuminating contradictions by the juxtaposition of quotations from both modern creationists and Christian thinkers from the pre-Darwin era on the one hand, and scientists, progressive theologians, philosophers and historians on the other.

What I found particularly interesting about Rosenhouse's work is that, where other science-minded critics of Creationism have turned first to the scientific evidence of evolution to discredit the claims of Creationists, Rosenhouse mounts a significant critique based on the interpretation of Biblical texts, demonstrating the problems in arguing Creationism from a literal reading of the Bible. He also examines arguments that have been made attempting to reconcile allegorical and other ahistorical readings of the Bible with the evolutionary record and its implications for the nature of humanity. Ultimately, he demonstrates that many of the basic tenets on which traditional Christianity is based, from the special relationship between God and man, and the idea of God as omniscient, omnipotent, and the source of all good, are seriously threatened by the scientific understanding of evolution.
bibliogramma: (Default)

Lawrence Hill's latest book, Blood: The Stuff of Life, is a meditation on the cultural and personal meanings of blood. An essential part of our anatomy, it is perhaps the only internal aspect of our physical beings that almost all of us, at some time or another, will see outside of its natural place. And it has come to mean so many things in addition to simply the red fluid that is so much a part of what keeps us alive.
It’s hard to imagine a single person in a school, restaurant, theatre, hockey arena, hospital room, or bookstore who does not have a set of personal stories about blood. Maybe it was the blood of a distant ancestor, persecuted because his or her blood was deemed to be impure. Maybe it was a grandfather who fell under the blade of a farm instrument and bled to death in the fields. Maybe it was an aunt who donated plasma weekly for decades, or a sister who won international attention for designing a more effective way to kill cancerous white blood cells before they multiplied madly and killed the patient. Maybe something happened to you in the blood lab, or in the operating room, and lodged so deeply in your mind that you have passed the story along to every single family member. Blood keeps you alive, for sure. Yet, the very blood in your veins and arteries can suddenly betray you. One day you feel healthy and have just hiked up a mountain with the person you most love in the world, and the next day what you thought was a routine blood test tells you that you have prostate cancer and had better decide, pronto, if you’re going to opt for surgery or radiation, or tempt the gods by doing nothing at all. Blood is the lubricant of our bodies and the endlessly circulating river supplying oxygen and nutrients to our cells. But it is far more than a sign of your physical health, or an omen of your mortality. It has the potential to reveal your most hidden secrets: How is your cholesterol level? How much alcohol have you consumed? Have you been snorting cocaine? Are there any other residual traces that might scare off an employer, or lead a life insurance company to deny your application? What has been the average amount of sugar in your blood over the past ninety days? Did you cheat in that Olympic marathon race? Are you the father of that child? Blood won’t tell all. But it can tell enough to get you in a whole lot of trouble.
Hill's book is exhaustive in its examination of matters of blood, from traditions of blood sacrifice to the gods to blood donation policies to blood as a marker of race. But while the range of topics mentioned is vast, one might wish for a fuller examination of them. In being encyclopedic, Hill has sacrificed depth of analysis. For example, in one section devoted to discussing blood as a symbol of honour and sacrifice, Hill covers Aztec religious sacrifices, Japanese seppuku, and honour killings of women in just a few pages, providing the literary equivalent of sound bytes on each, but little background or individual context.

It's an idiosyncratic book, organised as much by Hill's musings about blood and his life experiences, as it is by generally accepted themes associated with blood. I enjoyed much of it, though there were times that I wished Hill had spent more time on a topic, and other times when I thought he went into too much detail for something that seemed to me to be a relatively tangential aspect. But it's also a very personal book, and in many cases the amount of space given to an issue seems at least in part determined by the strength of its meaning in his own life.

bibliogramma: (Default)

Laurie Penny's book Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution, is (whether Penny or her readers know this or not) a call for the rebirth of the radical vision of feminism I remember from my youth, a vision I've never set aside, and one I hope will indeed come again, a true revolution that will change society, not just for women, but for all those oppressed by power inequities - and for those driven to oppress by fear and insecurity.

Working from within the system was never going to get us very far. And Sister Audre told us we couldn't use the master's tools to tear down his house. But many of us tried. For so many reasons. Because good girls don't ride the thunder and shake the house down to the foundations. Because the lies we swallowed with our mothers' milk kept us divided from all the other people who needed to tear down that house, the ones we could have worked together with, if we weren't white middle-class women who weren't ready to ally with queers, with workers, with the poor, with people of colour. Because the people who identified most with our oppressors (not seeing their own oppression) were our fathers, our brothers, our lovers, and even our sons.

Penny speaks to the women who came after us, and she is calling them to finish the revolution.
It must be mutiny. Nothing else will do. I used to be less hardline about this. I used to vote, and sign petitions, and argue for change within the system. I stayed up all night to watch Obama get elected; I cheered for the Liberals in London. I thought that maybe if we kept asking for small change – a shift in attitudes about body hair, a slight increase in the minimum wage, maybe shut down a few porn shops and let the gays marry – then eventually we’d get the little bit of freedom we wanted, if it wasn’t too much trouble.

No more of that. Being a good girl gets you nowhere. Asking nicely for change gets you nowhere. Mutiny is necessary. Class mutiny, gender mutiny, sex mutiny, love mutiny. It’s got to be mutiny in our time.
In her analysis of the current state of sexism, Penny looks at issues that will be familiar to most feminists - among them the policing of the female body, the consequences of enforcing socially-defined gender roles on people, male, female and non-binary, the relationship between reproductive freedom and personal freedom, the unpaid emotional work that women do, the backlash against women who dare to enter the public area, male entitlement and the nature of marriage - with clarity and with passion.

But more than this, Penny is drawing down the future with a vision of a renewed revolution:
A time is approaching when the humanity of women and girls and queer people and our allies will be understood in practice rather than acknowledged in passing. I believe that together we will find the courage to rewrite the old, tired scripts of work and power and sex and love, the old stories about what it means to be a beautiful woman, a strong man, a decent human being. I believe that the time is coming when those stories will be heard in numbers too big to silence. The great rewriting is already under way. Close your eyes. Turn the page. Begin.


Profile

bibliogramma: (Default)
bibliogramma

October 2017

S M T W T F S
1 234567
8 91011121314
151617181920 21
22232425262728
293031    

Syndicate

RSS Atom

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Oct. 23rd, 2017 09:41 am
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios