Standing with and Understanding Standing Rock

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Decolonizing Thanksgiving

The last time we wrote about what’s happening at Standing Rock and the resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline, the unarmed water protectors (the term the Indigenous folks there use for themselves) had been attacked by dogs and pepper spray. We are writing about what’s happening there again after more violent attacks on the water protectors this past week with water cannons and concussion grenades. What’s happening there has been getting more mainstream coverage, assuming The View is relatively mainstream. We wanted today to highlight two resources to learn more about what’s happening in Standing Rock currently and to understand the historical, social, and cultural context of the protests:

  1. Dr. Adrienne Keene visits our favorite podcast to speak about her visit to Standing Rock (before the water cannons and concussion grenades) and describes what’s happening there and provides a larger context for the protests, explaining terms such as settler colonialism. Dr. Keene writes the blog, Native Appropriations, which you should all check out. (Anita was lucky enough to attend her convocation talk earlier this month at Carleton.) (Adriana is jealous, but plans to watch the video soon.)
  2. Check out the #NoDAPL syllabus created by a group of Indigenous and non-Indigenous scholars and activists to understand the current resistance against the pipeline in the long history of colonialism and racism.

Education matters, but action should follow. Here are concrete ways for you to take action to support the water protectors:

  1. Call North Dakota governor Jack Dalrymple at 701-328-2200. See phone scripts here.
  1. Donate items from the Sacred Stone Camp Supply List: http://sacredstonecamp.org/supply-list/
  1. Call the White House at (202) 456-1111 or (202) 456-1414.
  1. Contribute to the Sacred Stone Camp Legal Defense Fund: https://fundrazr.com/d19fAf
  1. Call the Army Corps of Engineers and demand that they reverse the permit: (202) 761-5903
  1. Sign petitions asking President Obama to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. Here’s the latest – https://act.credoaction.com/sign/NoDAPL
  1. Write to the 17 banks funding the pipeline and consider moving your accounts if you have any at these banks:

http://www.commondreams.org/…/how-contact-17-banks-funding-…

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Re-framing “self”-care

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We think a lot about the notion of “self-care,” because we want our lives to be sustainable and because everyone else is thinking and worrying about how to do it too. Yet in all of our love of massages, therapy, and the right amount of dark chocolate and white wine (or red or rosé, whatever floats our boats ‘cause we’re all about ‘diversity’), we wondered whether “self-care” placed too much responsibility for collective well-being on the shoulders of individuals. In that vein, we recently read two pieces that we think do a nice job of analyzing the notion of “self-care” as being part of an individualistic neoliberal framework. The first piece argues that, in order to have lives less focused on work, we shouldn’t focus our individual effort to achieve the ever elusive work-life balance but, rather, we need to engage in a collective effort to change the culture of our workplaces, through unions. As Peter Fleming concludes,

The trouble with much work-life balance advice is that it’s been captured by the self-help movement. It all centres on the individual. If you want to rekindle your wellbeing and discover your inner potential, then take control of your choices, find a job that better fits your temperament, erect firm boundaries between work and leisure and learn to say no…The trick is to see the ritual of overwork as a societal pressure, not an individual fault. And much of this pressure stems from the disempowerment of the workforce that has occurred over the last 20 years…We need to come together as a group to voice these concerns if progressive policy and legislation are to be forged. Otherwise little will change. Want a healthier work-life balance? Join a union.

While we appreciated this author’s focus on collective organizing and pushing back against impossible demands and expectations, the second piece we want to highlight focuses more specifically about the experiences of women of color in academia. Karen Hanna offers suggestions for “survival” and what we really appreciated about her suggestions was her focus on building healing community spaces with other women of color. We’ve certainly relied on individual women of color friends as well as communities of women of color to support us through everyday and extraordinary experiences of marginalization during our graduate school days and throughout our years of being faculty members.  We also appreciated her call for fighting for funding for healing spaces and for identifying allies in our institutions “who have access to funds and understand the needs of women and queer people of color.”

We hope that you find the two articles as inspiring as we did. Here’s to collective organizing, dreaming, and healing!

Back to life, back to reality

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Photo credit: Kat Chma (2016)

Note: We’ve decided to stick with the format of alternating our original blog posts with posts highlighting others’ work in the spirit of collaboration and community…and in the spirit of being real about our lives and schedules!

We’ve spent the summer traveling, doing research, writing, breaking toes, hanging out with family and friends, reading for work and for pleasure, and learning that the American national anthem has a racist third verse. We come back to this space, wanting to acknowledge our solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other Indigenous communities standing strong against the building of the Dakota Access Pipeline. If you haven’t been following what’s been happening there, get caught up by: reading a summary of what you need to know; getting the big picture of Indigenous rights issues; following @SacredStoneCamp if you’re on Twitter; choosing whatever way makes sense for you to support the folks leading the #NoDAPL fight.

We also want to give a shout out to some of the books by women of color authors we read and enjoyed this summer:

A House of My Own (2015), Sandra Cisneros (a lovely gift from a lovely neighbor!)

The Blue Between Sky and Water (2015), Susan Abulhawa

The Farming of Bones (2003), Edwidge Danticat

The New Jim Crow (2010), Michelle Alexander

Scenes of Subjection (1997), Saidiya Hartman

Lots to read…before our next original blog post next week!

Being In and Not Of the University

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For your reading pleasure this week, we present you with a forum published in the Boston Review that highlights contributions from Robin Kelley, students activists, and other faculty. Titled “Black Study, Black Struggle,” the conversation aims to consider whether or not universities are appropriate or adequate sites of activism.

Kelley’s description of the kind of “betrayal and disappointment” that Black students experience once getting to the colleges they were heavily recruited to resonated with what we have heard from students of color on our campus.

Indeed, to some extent campus protests articulated the sense of betrayal and disappointment that many black students felt upon finding that their campuses failed to live up to their PR. Many students had come to the university expecting to find a welcoming place, a nurturing faculty, and protective administration. If they believed this, it was in no small part because university recruiters wanted them to: tours for prospective students, orientations, and slickly produced brochures often rely on metaphors of family and community, highlight campus diversity, and emphasize the sense of belonging that young scholars enjoy.

Kelley argues that students need to be careful about how they deploy “the language of personal trauma” in their activism and cautions student activists that “managing trauma does not require dismantling structural racism, which is why university administrators focus on avoiding triggers rather than implementing zero-tolerance policies for racism or sexual assault.” He also calls for the creation of intellectual spaces on campuses that use the resources of universities without being a part of them. He asks black students “to become subversives in the academy, exposing and resisting its labor exploitation, its gentrifying practices, its endowments built on misery, its class privilege often camouflaged in multicultural garb, and its commitments to war and security.”

The student respondents usefully take up and push back against Kelley’s critiques of their activism, demands, and framing of their experiences. Especially powerful was Charlene Carruthers’s argument that for today’s black student activists, “trauma is inseparable from the love that motivates activism. It is love in the face of repeated trauma that governs my work and the work of so many young black folks with whom I organize in communities across the country. We cannot separate our pain from our resistance.” Aaron Bady reminded us, two tenured professors, of the positions we occupy on our campus: “…if professors are in danger of acting on behalf of the institution—of mistaking its identity for their own—students tend to understand their place in this machine with much more clarity. Theirs is the exploited labor that makes the university operate; theirs is the debt that funds professorial salaries and endowment; theirs is the place that must soon be vacated to make room for fresher meat.”

 

Recess – sumer is icumen in, yo!

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It’s summer! Grades are in, graduation is this Saturday, and well, we have other writing and reading on our plates! And some fun and relaxing, too! Consequently we’ll be on a biweekly (every two weeks) schedule for our posts; in the recesses between them, we plan to link to Things We’re Reading that we hope you’ll read too. We especially hope to provide a signal boost for the writings of women of color.

Without further ado, please meet Jenny Zhang, a poet whose essay “They Pretend to Be Us While Pretending We Don’t Exist” tackles what it’s like to be a woman of color in the literary world. She confronts moments like when Michael Derrick Hudson masqueraded as a Chinese American poet under the pseudonym Yi-Fen Chou in order to publish a poem.

She and the other white writers who marveled over my luck wanted to try on my Otherness to advance their value in the literary marketplace, but I don’t think they wanted to grow up as an immigrant in the United States. I don’t think they wanted to experience racism and misogyny on a micro and macro level, be made to feel perpetually foreign no matter how long they’ve lived here, and be denied any opportunity to ever write something without the millstone of but is this authentic/representative/good for black/Asian/Latino/native people? hanging from their necks.

Zhang documents the ways in which the voices of poets of color have been underdocumented, underheard, and, as in the Hudson case, appropriated and monetized. “When they wonder why I am still here I can’t help but suspect it’s very different from when I wonder why I am still here. I can’t help but suspect they are enraged there even has to be anyone like me here at all.”

Our pride is our survival and the white wounded ego does not get to ooze over our excellence anymore. We will not be colonized by white injuries scabbing over our words. The reparations white people claw for the minute they feel excluded from this world is not our problem.

Complementing Zhang’s essay beautifully and painfully, Jennifer Tamayo’s piece “When You Handle Poison” relates the cost of living within the white supremacy of  U.S. poetry communities, detailing the taxing emotional and economic tolls.

The handling of this poison — the labour to spot and deconstruct instances of capitalist white supremacist cis-hetero-patriarchy at work — is particularly venomous because it performs both personally and systemically.

Tamayo traces this work–how her “unpaid and unseen” labor fits within larger raced and gendered cultural and economic systems–through her body. She emphasizes, “Essays of this kind are written with the body. If I track the progress of writing, my body becomes the compass.” In this way, she charts the everyday resistances she engages in through the ways they harm and eat away at her.

What I find difficult about these e-mails is the performance it asks of me — at times civil, or charming, or pleased, or excited, or careful — I am never myself. I am your social justice doll come to life. I distrust the invisibility of this kind of private conversation and what it demands of me.

Both of these  poets end with refusals to make nice, demanding that their experiences and their knowledges be recognized and heard…. so please do read these pieces and feel free to start a conversation in the comments.