The one in which we talk about posters. Again.

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Reminder: here’s the link to ask your questions! We’ll be answering some questions we’ve already received in January. Also, this is our last post for the year–we’ll be back in January!

In this week’s post, we wanted to provide some links about the recent outbreak of posters that appeared on various college campuses last week (as well as in some communities and at some high schools), proclaiming that “It’s okay to be white.” These posters seem to have originated from a 4Chan group (we refuse to provide a link for 4Chan!), explaining their appearance at multiple sites across the country.

First, some articles about what happened: Washington Post provides an overview; InsideHigherEd connects these posters to previous antisemitic and racist posters.

Second, we appreciated this response by Concordia College President Craft about the posters that appeared on his campus. Craft’s statement was covered by MPR’s Newscut, which ends snarkily:

The school took the posters down; Craft said postings have to be approved in advance. But he’s not stopping there, he said.

He’s going to schedule a forum “about how we Concordia bring the very best of our minds and hearts to this conversation about our diverse identities and shared humanity.”

That likely is the last thing the person who put up the poster wanted to happen.

Finally, a big shoutout to Adriana’s awesome son, Nico, who said that if these posters appeared at his high school, he’d want to create posters in the same font with phrases such as “It’s okay to be Black,” “It’s okay to be trans,” “It’s okay to be Muslim,” “It’s okay to be short”…which we love because it responds in a creative way that doesn’t just shut down speech and because it reminds us of a fun children’s book.

My best self

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Note: We occasionally feature posts written by just one of us or by a guest. This post is by Anita.

A friend of ours recently posted messages on Facebook telling her friends what she appreciated and admired about them; another friend noted that what was lovely about these messages was that they spoke to the best selves we can be. I know that I am not always my best self. I usually strive to be and many times, I fail. I fail to be patient, I fail to listen, I fail to live up to my principles in big and small ways. One thing that my friend posted about me was that she admired my  “courage in speaking [my] truth,” which made me think about the many times I don’t speak my truth, when my courage falters.

Because of the recent #taketheknee actions, my friend’s post got me thinking about a particular instance of when I wasn’t brave. The #taketheknee demonstrations began with Colin Kaepernick in the summer of 2016. There are many who have participated since then, both recently and over the past couple of years, with professional athletes, high school students, elementary school students, and others (e.g. cheerleaders, anthem singers) kneeling to protest police brutality, racial injustice, and now President Trump’s speech and tweets. Protesting racial injustice has a long history among Black athletes. While I’ve been reading about and following these protests through media coverage, I hadn’t seen them as being personally relevant to me, because as most people who know me know, I don’t really do sports.

I don’t like playing sports, I don’t like watching sports, I don’t care to read about sports teams or results…and it’s also rare that I’m in settings where the national anthem is played. But the one sports team I do support and will actually pay money to watch are the Lynx, Minnesota’s WNBA team, and their games are the one context in which I hear the national anthem played. Last summer, a friend and I went to a regular season game, and before the national anthem played, my friend told me that he was not going to stand for it. I looked around where we were sitting–we appeared to be the only people of color in our section. Lynx fans are a racially diverse group but also predominantly white (we are in Minnesota). I started to feel uncomfortable and expressed that to my friend, and he, out of courtesy to me, ended up standing. I later regretted asking him to put my comfort over his principles, and apologized. And I know that while I felt uncomfortable, I did not feel unsafe–I did not believe that anyone would harm us or even say anything negative to us if we sat down for the anthem.

While I was not brave at that time, and there are many such times, I do also think that we can change and grow in all ways, including in how courageous we are, especially when we have someone else to be brave with. The same friend and I made plans to go to Game 2 of the WNBA finals–the Lynx were one of the two teams in the finals–and we knew that at Game 1, the players of the opposing team had been booed by some Lynx fans when they decided to not be on the floor while the national anthem played. My friend and I talked about what we were going to do–and we decided that this time, we were going to sit, particularly in support of the members of the LA Sparks team. I steeled myself to be okay with feeling uncomfortable.

As it turned out, we once again were in a section where all the folks around us looked White. But a white woman had commented positively on the shirt I was wearing (“Demilitarize police”) and she was sitting in the row ahead of us, so I felt better. Many in the crowd booed again as the LA Sparks team left to head to the locker room before the national anthem was played. My friend and I did sit, as did the woman who had commented on my shirt, and an older white woman sitting next to us. No one said anything to us. We all also clapped in an effort to counter the booing as the LA Sparks came out of the locker room to start the game. We probably weren’t heard by the team, but later I did send a message to LA Spark via Facebook, letting them know that I admired their stance, and I respected their right to take such a stance.

I know that I’ve learned to be braver, act more courageously, and take more risks because I have friends who honor and recognize what I already do and friends who push me to be and do better, and I am deeply grateful for both.

Refilling our wells

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Happy September! We’re back after a summer of reading, watching TV and movies, spending time with family and friends, writing, and, of course, confronting the darkness (ahem, I think we’re experiencing an eclipse–let’s hide in the basement!!).

As we sit here and plan out this post, we’ve been engaging in a vigorous discussion about “summer.” Summer is a curious space and time for academics (especially for those of us with tenure and the economic privilege of not having to teach over the summer). Within the labor expectations of academia, and given our pre-tenure experiences at a small liberal arts institution, we’ve been trained to use summers for our research work–thinking and writing towards publications. But given the pace and intensity of our academic year, which includes a juggling of teaching, service, and research, summer offers one of the few longer periods in which to really breathe and get a break.

We want to be very honest here. The work that we do on campus, in our classrooms and in our committees, is often exhausting and difficult, even as we believe in the importance of our focus on social justice. At the end of an academic year, we have drained our wells of patience and generosity of spirit that we feel is necessary for us to do this work well.

Both of us were struck by a post by Julia Jordan-Zachery where she talks about using her summer to avoid soul murder. What does it mean to take a break that refuses to participate in an academic exchange rate, where productivity and experiences become measures of our self worth?   

Taking a break for us often means being able to enjoy cultural productions, particularly those by folks of color, and we want to highlight some of the amazing work that we watched, read, and listened to that made us laugh, helped us reconnect to our communities, healed us, inspired us. In other words, we refill our wells. Like Jordan-Zachery, we think it’s vital for any of us who experience discrimination and marginalization based on our identities to take time to take care of our souls and bodies.

Our favorite song and video this summer

Immigrants (We Get The Job Done)

First, we both love Lin-Manuel Miranda, and anyone who knows Adriana knows that she lurves the musical Hamilton. Whatever you think about musicals, you will love this remix of parts of Hamilton into this music video. The images and lyrics portray a critical and complex view of immigrants and their communities in ways that seek to challenge the xenophobic discourses prevalent in America right now (and historically). We also love that the lyrics are both in Spanish and English.

Our favorite podcast

Another Round–of course. We can’t say enough about how much we adore and appreciate this podcast. Our favorite episode of the summer was their live show from New Orleans, featuring several black journalists, including April Ryan, and bounce music.

Our favorite movies we watched together this summer

Girls trip–we haven’t laughed that hard in a long time. We appreciated the exploration of women’s friendship, women’s sexuality, and the hijinks.

Set it off–there’s a moment in Girls Trip when there’s a quick reference to this movie that was also about women’s friendship and also starred Queen Latifah and Jada Pinkett Smith and it turned out that Adriana hadn’t watched it (wut?!). So we watched it as well—-and just a warning, it’s not the type of same comedic movie that Girls Trip is.

Step-it might be the case that Adriana loves step so much that she dragged Anita to this documentary. But we both loved following the three girls’ stories–set in a Baltimore high school–as they struggled to balance home life, academics, and their desire to win the big step competition before graduating. We cheered along with other audience members for their triumphs and cried (well, Adriana did at least) as they shared their lives with us.

Show we watched separately but talked about together:

Atlanta season 1
Insecure season 2
Queen Sugar season 2
The incredible Jessica James

Books we read and loved:

Roxane Gay Hunger
Yaa Gyasi Homegoing
Marc Lamont Hill Nobody
Waziyatawin This is what justice looks like
A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota (an anthology of essays edited by Sun Yung Shin)
A final note: Like last year, we will be alternating original posts with round-ups of links. And as always, we welcome your feedback and thoughts on our posts.

Shoutout to St. Olaf students

Students sitting in at Tomson Hall, St. Olaf College. Image source

Last Friday, videos of a student protest and rally at St. Olaf College started popping up on our Facebook feeds. As we watched the livestream and checked in with faculty friends who teach there, we were quickly impressed and inspired by the students’ organization and determination. Led by students of color at the school, the protests were sparked both by recent events (notes left on students’ cars that used racial slurs and threatened violence) and by longstanding experiences of marginalization on a predominantly White campus. With today’s brief post, we want to spotlight the students’ statement of their experiences, their demands, and their terms of engagement with the administration.

Here are some links to the mainstream local and national coverage of what was happening on the campus.

Minnesota Public Radio

New York Times

Washington Post

Feminist formations, Part III: Our Friendship Meets the Bechdel Test ALL THE TIME

(What’s the Bechdel Test? Glad you asked.)

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We started the blog because as women, as women of color, we felt like we were constantly being told what to do — this was our way of carving out online space where we could write about what we want, the way we want. In today’s blog post, we write about a couple of examples of how the kinds of constraints we discussed in our posts about our feminist beginnings show up in our workplace now; about times we’ve been asked to accommodate to the existing structures and practices–and have been actively discouraged from being and doing “different.” For both of us, our gendered experiences at Carleton are very much intertwined with our racialized experiences. We were hired at least in part because we are women of color–we bring our “diverse” bodies to the institution so that the institution can be “diverse.” But actually wanting to do things differently based on our experiences, identities, and ideas isn’t always welcome. As Sara Ahmed puts it, “Universities often describe their missions by drawing on the languages of diversity as well as equality. But using the language does not translate into creating diverse or equal commitments” (90).

One place where this kind of reluctance about imagining that things can be done differently is when it comes to “traditions” on campus. When Anita first started working at Carleton, one of her favorite traditions on campus were the weekly convocation talks. Because part of what appealed to her was the idea of all community members sitting and being together, she did not particularly care for the tradition of “opening convocation” where faculty and staff had to wear their robes, line up by status, and sit separately from the rest of the audience. So she did at opening convocation what she did at other weekly convocations–she took a seat in the audience. Everything seemed fine until one year when she ended up sitting in the very front because she wanted to sit with a new faculty member. After that convocation, a senior colleague talked to her about how they, as well as a few other faculty members, saw Anita’s action as “an affront to faculty” and told her that she either needed to show up in robes and sit with the faculty or not show up at all. At the time, as an untenured faculty member, Anita ended up going to the opening convo in robes and sitting with the faculty. She decided to “pass institutionally”–“the work you do to pass through by passing out of an expectation: you try not to be the angry person of color, the troublemaker, that difficult person. You have to demonstrate that you are willing to ease the burden of your own difference” (Ahmed,131). But now that Anita has tenure…

Adriana arrived at Carleton with a lot of ghosts haunting her in the background. This would happen at any institution, and part of what tenure-track faculty struggle to figure out is which ghosts matter and therefore should be listened to carefully. One of Adriana’s specters was a very material, historical queue of those who had taught Latinx studies or been Latinx at Carleton before she got there; stepping into this queue, Adriana understood she had to figure out what the institution had appreciated or what had “worried” it about what each of these very different scholars had brought. What we mean is that people around her told her stories, and she knew she had to listen to these stories to understand what paths ahead were available. One set of circulating stories concerned a Latina faculty member who worked at Carleton in the 70s and 80s. In these stories, she was narrated as always asking the institution to think about race and gender which made her a burr in the side of the college. Adjectives stuck to her in these stories: difficult, angry, demanding, troublesome. While she made it through the tenure process and stayed at Carleton quite a while, this is not the way Adriana heard the stories, which instead always emphasized her leave-taking, in a flurry of disappointment and anger. Adriana was also regaled with tales of a beloved visiting professor; this set of stories emphasized how this professor had students over to their house all the time, creating a welcoming and warm environment for Latinx students. The subtext Adriana heard was that, in being hired to teach Latinx studies, it was also her job to make Carleton a home for Latinxs students. Adriana bristled at the implication that she should be always available to students in a way that felt particularly targeted and, because her son was four years old at the time, she knew that she couldn’t perform the particular kind of labor that these stories seemed to ask of her. With both these stories, Adriana came up against the fact that “an institution willing to appoint someone (to transform the institution) is not the same thing as an institution being willing to be transformed (by someone who is appointed)” (Ahmed, 94). The stories informed her of her place and, while she refused some of these expectations, they weighed on her and worried her until she earned tenure.

It’s exhausting to come up against these kinds of expectations and resistance to change or critique. A university administrator quoted in Ahmed’s book describes doing diversity work as a “banging your head against a brick wall job.” One thing that has been so important to our survival and persistence in academia and at Carleton has been our friendship. We are feminist killjoys together.

Our feminist friendship is based on:

  • Laughing, often loudly and hysterically
  • Critiquing institutions when they uphold racist, sexist, classist dynamics
  • Holding each other up and believing each other when we tell stories about racism, sexism, classism, etc.
  • Our adoration of Shonda Rhimes
  • Butter and brussel sprouts cooked in butter
  • Our complicated brown families
  • Wordsmithing
  • Enthusiastic interruptions and then bashful recognition of the interruptions
  • Love of social theories that help explain structural inequalities
  • Rigorous debates about the role of love in justice
  • Board games
  • Adriana’s son’s love of Anita and her return of that love
  • Going to live performances (concerts, plays, etc.)
  • Negotiating our complicated relationship to Americanness
  • Music that makes us dance in many languages
  • Discussions about pedagogy, student-centered learning, reflective practices
  • The joys and frustrations of working in a HWCU and PWI
  • Gesturing wildly as we speak
  • Holding up a larger mirror for our students of color so that they can see that they are not alone, in which they can see us and them; being “possibility” models as Laverne Cox puts it.
  • Modeling vulnerability for each other and students
  • Being braver together
  • Checking each other
  • Passion for chocolate
  • Our love for Heben & Tracy
  • Being there for each other
  • Making room for our differences
  • Honest conversations about sex and sexuality
  • Non-heteronormative family formations
  • Movie marathons as alternative holiday celebrations
  • Talking about money
  • Idris Elba

Some of these may seem silly or like something superficial, but it is precisely the mix, the combination of the shared “pop” and the shared “serious” that create the strong glue that holds us together in the face of a world and institutions that pull us apart as individuals in order to ensure our institutional conformity.

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[Source: ETSY!]

Sara Ahmed, Living a Feminist Life (Duke 2017).

Supporting student activism

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We know we promised you Part III of our Feminist Formations series this week, but something came up that we really wanted to highlight: a fund that was created by Carleton alums of color to support the activism and organizing of current Carleton students. [We will post Part III next week!] We think they offer a terrific example of how alums can provide emotional and economic support to current students; we’re impressed by how they gathered together to make their gesture possible.

We have these alums’ permission to share with all of you the message they sent to our current students–we loved this concrete gesture of solidarity and support!

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Dear students:

These past few months have been extremely challenging as we see members of many minority and immigrant communities targeted due to fear, hate, and ignorance. A group of alumni have come together because we want you to know that we are here to support your efforts and the efforts of other students of color/international students. We want you to succeed and thrive at Carleton College.

Being a student is challenging. We know that many of you already juggle a full course load, spend hours on assignments outside of class, and engage in various co-curricular activities. Staying focused becomes difficult in times of frustration, anger, confusion, and despair.  But we also know that there is renewed energy building around opportunities for student activism and engagement.

Part of Carleton College’s mission statement reads, “Carleton develops qualities of mind and character that prepare its graduates to become citizens and leaders, capable of finding inventive solutions to local, national, and global challenges.” As you go forth in doing what is right, voicing your opinions and frustrations, and breaking down systems of interpersonal and structural oppression, we want you to know that we support you. Your actions matter. If you feel silenced or unheard, we want you to know that we see, hear, and value you. And we want to support your efforts to make a difference on campus and beyond.

To do that, we want to offer resources for students of color, international students, and the student organizations representing you. We have donated $900 dollars in gift cards to the OIIL office to fund student organizing. You can apply to use a gift card toward food or supplies needed to bring together other students in order to connect and mobilize around the causes that are most important to you.

Maybe you want to organize a group to be trained as grassroots organizers. Maybe you want to help canvas in the Northfield community. Maybe you want to bring an alum to campus to help you create a plan for action. Whatever makes sense for you, we want to help you get started. To request student activism funding, fill out this (short) form: https://goo.gl/forms/cXrcMoh1kB5ttooe2.

We have also set up a google spreadsheet where you can let us know more about your passions and how we can help. We want to connect students to alumni who have expertise in areas of importance to your student community. Whether your interest is in criminal justice reform, immigration policy, raising the minimum wage, sexual assault legislation or something else, there are likely alums of color and international alums we can connect you to.

We hope that these small steps can help create new conversations between students and alumni, and help students on campus stand together and work together as a community.

In solidarity,

Amina G. ’06, Bes K. ’12, Brittney ’13, Catie G. ’10, Hiyanthi P. ’15, Isabel R. ’12, Jini R. ’09, Katie J. ’04, Marlene C. ’06, Melissa M. ’04, Nimo K. ’11, and Song L. ’05

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If you’re a Carleton alum and you want to help this stellar group of alumni out, let us know and we’ll put you in contact  with them. If you’re a current student, we hope you’ll take advantage of this offer of emotional, intellectual, and financial support.

P.S. We are working on surveying some women of color alums about their experiences at Carleton–stay tuned for a future blog post on what we learned from them!

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Feminist Formations, Part II

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[Adriana in kindergarten — determined to climb jungle gyms.]

Note: This post is part of a three-part series where we reflect on feminism–first individually on our feminist beginnings (Anita last week, Adriana this week) and then together about how our feminism has evolved and what role it plays these days in our lives.

Anita’s the one who set us this writing task, even before we’d started to dig into Sara Ahmed. As best as I can recall, she said something like, “Hey, let’s write about when we first knew we were feminists!” With those few words, she sent me on a memory scavenger hunt, trying to put together a narrative that ends me up here, now, today, in this body with these feminist ideals and practices.

This is what I can remember. I remember writing most of my college essays on female writers; I remember being concerned with representation and issues of power and participation. I remember long conversations with friends about our sexualities, which meant, for me, a lot of disentangling pleasure from guilt and worry and fear. I remember this feminism I grew into through college and grad school as mostly cerebral –Ahmed suggests, indeed, that to become a feminist is to “stay a student” (11), by which she means feminism is always trying to “make sense of things,” to “describe the world we are in” (27). Ahmed talks about “companion texts”–feminist classics–that provide moments of coming into awareness and knowing.

But wait. I can go further back. Shadows of high school simmer on the movie screen of my past. I remember feeling awkward and unfeminine. I remember wearing hand-me-down clothes and struggling to feel cute. I remember being one of the only girls in the advanced computer science course. I also remember being surrounded by my brilliant female friends. We dreamed big. Yet those dreams sat alongside reminders of our bodies and their fragility in the world. I walked down many a street in Richmond hearing catcalls, crossing the street to feel safer. I remember the band teacher who was a little pushy and a tad too familiar; I remember feeling …not scared, but anxious and annoyed. I remember wondering why me.

I remember my mother working long hours, and the way that I was tasked with my brothers. Being the oldest girl meant responsibility, meant homemaking, meant taking care of others. I hated this. It felt unfair. But I also loved my mom. And my mom would come home tired most days; I knew–I’m not sure how or when–that she deserved my respect for all her sacrifices for us.

I remember elementary school library trips. Reading biographies of Florence Nightingale, Harriet Tubman, Amelia Earhart. I must have been around eight, and I was looking for she-ros. I feel an incredible tenderness for that eight-year old me; I don’t really know what she was thinking, but I remember what she was reading. Beyond those biographies, I was imbibing worlds where girls (as in A Wrinkle in Time; Susan Cooper’s The Dark King series) had adventures and Did Things. Meanwhile, in real life world, I learned to mistrust my body. I didn’t do sports or play on jungle gyms. I remember, in fact, feeling awe and wonder and girls who could do cart wheels or spin around the horizontal bar. I have no clue how it happened that my mind grew more fierce and daring while my body grew lesser so, but Ahmed points out that often feminism “can allow you to reinhabit not only your own past but also your own body. You might over time, in becoming aware of how you have lessened your own space, give yourself permission to take up more space; to expand your own reach.” (30)

And so one thing this short history of me reminds me of is that there are very embodied ways in which I’ve come into feminism, from learning how to lift weights to the choices I made about my pregnancy. Both of these experiences gave me a greater sense of strength and knowledge about my body; both involved speaking back to the world and refusing its expectations. “What, you weightlift? You’re a woman? You use machines, right? I’m sure you don’t use free weights!” “Here, let me touch your belly!” “Oh, you’re gonna be a beautiful mommy!” It was an amazing thing that my body in motion was its own reply, a big deadlift-fuck-you-and-your-assumptions. Similarly awesome to learn that I had the right to refuse to let others touch my body.

Ahmed says, “a world can shrink when we shrink” (25) but it is also true, in my experience, that you can turn that tide back. You can grow, and thus grow the world.