Refilling our wells

Image source

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.

Oh, Tilda.

Image source

Dear Emma,

You don’t know us, but you’ve been in our heads for years. We’re fans. We’ve enjoyed seeing you on the screen in many a movie, including the one where you’re playing a hapa character. Oh wait, we didn’t see that one. Because Whitewashing. Which leads us to why we are writing to you. We want to ask you some questions about a truly important social conversation that we hear is happening on social media. No, we lie. We don’t just hear about it. We read about and engage in those conversations all the time because it is important to us. Mostly, though, we have these conversations with other people of color and we decided that perhaps we needed a White perspective on this issue, especially from someone who has a recent role in perpetuating this longstanding phenomenon in American popular culture.

We hope that you will be willing to answer these questions even though you have no idea who we are. Tell us to fuck off if you want, but you’re probably aware that we’re only two of many folx who are invested in these questions and in getting answers.

What gave you the confidence to feel like you could portray well a hapa character? Were there questions for you as you read the script about “Could I authentically the experience of someone whose multiracial identity might have subjected them to discrimination, self-doubts, exclusion, and bonds of community?” If all you thought was “I can portray that person because she’s a person, and well, so am I. Color does not matter,” what gave you the confidence not to think about how racial identities are built, established, and reproduced through histories and social circumstances? What kinds of experiences have you had in your life that “Color don’t matter”? When you say, “The character was not supposed to look like her background which was a quarter Hawaiian and a quarter Chinese,” what do you imagine it means to “look like” one’s background?  

As scholars of race, while we are deeply suspicious of any statement that suggests race is written on the body in meaningful (consistent) ways, we also recognize that much of racism and racialized experiences are based on the fact that we assume we can accurately place people into racial categories and we act on those assumptions. As Omi and Winant put it, “Race is ocular in an irreducible way. Human bodies are visually read, understood, and narrated by means of symbolic meanings and associations.” Because this is all so complex, we want to know what kind of conversations you have had and are having about the complexities of racial identities and experiences and what exactly you feel you have learned from the debate about “Aloha.” [And we don’t want to get too much into racial theory right now since this email is already getting long, but see our P.S. for some suggestions on what to read.]

We thank you for taking time to read this letter and for answering our questions.

Your fans,

Adriana & Anita

P.S.

Michael Omi & Howard Winant, 2015, Racial formation in the United States, 3rd ed. (New York: Routledge)

Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, 2013, Racism without racists, 4th ed. (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers)

Critical Race Theory: The Key Writings That Formed the Movement, 1996. (New York: The New Press)

Yen Le Espiritu, 1992, Asian American Panethnicity: Bridging Institutions and Identities (Philadelphia: Temple University Press).

Note to our blog readers

Happy new year, y’all!

If somehow in the excitement of making and possibly already breaking your New Year’s resolutions, you missed the email exchange between Tilda Swinton and Margaret Cho on the whitewashing of Hollywood movies, (a) check it out here and (b) check out the fabulous analysis by Tracy Clayton, Heben Nigatu, and Gene Demby about the email exchange on this episode of Another Round, starting at 3:50.

Inspired by our take on Tilda Swinton–i.e. she’s someone who thought she wanted to listen, decided to reach out to someone she did not know personally, and sent this email as “kindly” as she thought possible–we decided that we should write to a White actress we don’t know to ask her our questions about why she chose to participate in an instance of Whitewashing in Hollywood. And we imagine that the letter above might have been the kind of letter Margaret Cho might have written back to Swinton if she hadn’t been so kind in her first response, and if she had been as salty as we felt reading Swinton’s first email.