Sunday, July 5, 2015

Understanding American Conservatives and Libertarians from a Budding Anthropologist's View

"One does not entertain a guest by mocking, deriding, and abusing the guest. Similarly, one does not entertain a thought or approach to knowledge by ridiculing it." - Carlin Romano

One thing I have been struck by throughout my academic career has been political viewpoints, particularly the viewpoints that I am not inclined to agree with (i.e. Conservative, libertarian).  I have read through mountains of their commentary in my many years on the internet and have come to believe that as a rule of thumb, their beliefs are usually based on oversimplifications and shallow understandings of people and phenomena.  The fact that so many Conservative-leaning websites actually try to run regular news stories about how bad Islam is and how its 1.62 billion adherents do bad things are non-starters for me;  it shows me how immature if not how savage the shared American consciousness is.

That said, I go back to the quote above.  Conservatism, libertarianism are the viewpoints of 38% of American voters, more than any other self-identified political ideology.  That, represents a significant chunk of people.  Personally, I don't get why, but I think it's a worthy endeavor to understand why.  I won't ridicule the Conservative, libertarian-leaning viewpoints.  I will make earnest attempts to understand it.

For example, some conservative, libertarian viewpoints have recently descended on the academic idea of the "microaggression."

I was actually interested in the idea of microaggressions some during my class days in graduate school.  I see people, mainly people of color, using the concept to shine a light on everyday racism to show how pervasive it is and affects every part of our lives.  Its a response to the idea that we have a "colorblind" society and/or that racism has largely been stamped out. 

One blogger takes away from it is these nuggets: 
  • "It’s the perfect ideology for a society of victims. Anything you say – or don’t say – can be considered not only a slight, but an aggression. And one’s intent makes no difference. It doesn’t matter that the neighbor in my story had no intention of giving offense."
  • "It’s easy to see the ramifications, such as sit-ins targeting a UCLA professor who dared to correct the grammar and spelling on graduate work submitted by African-American students. Mostly, people will just shut up and avoid as much contact with others as possible. Why invite hassle, punishment or legal trouble? But this does shift power from the most academically proficient to the most easily offended. This agenda clearly is driven from the departments that specialize in identity politics.
  • But after reading this literature recommended by Napolitano’s office, I’m convinced the goal is for us not to get along. If objectivity, meritocracy and equal opportunity are bunk, and everything is about “privilege of dominant groups,” then there’s no reason for my acquaintance to have made peace with the neighbor who innocently mistook him for a gardener. There would be no reason to be friends. After all, that would only mask the power relationships and class struggle.  This is laughable stuff. But it has the potential to sow deep seeds of resentment, anger and division among the students who are subjected to it. We’re toying with a macro amount of trouble here.
I have a cascade of wincings and headshakings.  I have a strong urge to caricaturize the writing.  In my humble opinion, the article exemplifies the conservative tendency towards oversimplifying human behavior. 

The writer offers a one-sided opinion that looks at only the negatives that come from looking the idea of microaggressions.   He does not appear to understand why microaggressions need to be studied nor offer any ways that microaggressions could produce anything positive.

Then the writer caps it off by offering a doomsday scenario in which everyone is silent and refuses to say anything for fear of ever offending anyone as if their everyday speech is offensive and it suddenly being outlawed.

As an Anthropologist, I feel that I have to acknowledge my wincings and headshakings (i.e. my biases), but also read the commentaries with some understanding as if I was an alien trying to understand the norms and behaviors of a "faraway" tribe on their own terms.  And just like any other modern-day Anthropologist, I feel I have a "responsibility" to the community I work with to portray them in as "balanced" a manner as possible, while acknowledging the biases at work in my assessments.

Here's what I would say:

I think the writer is pretty representative of the response of most conservative discourse, though it appears he is slightly better read than the average conservative/libertarian. 

His main feeling is that his freedom and ability to speak is being curbed.  I'd say that its not so much his ability to speak being shut down as much as it is about there being more visible push back in media, academia to what powers that be have been able to get away with for so long.

I think his reading of the topic of microaggressions fails to speak to any serious scholar on the subject.

But the writer probably would not care, as he does not seem to hold those scholar's expertise in high regard.  He notes that microaggressions [and other related ideas] originate in agendas driven by departments that specialize in identity politics, seeing them as the "most easily offended" rather than as academically proficient.  

The fact that he is writing for a conservative/libertarian blog probably limits him.  I think it leads him to deny the complex realities of what noting microggressions mean. The writer sees the idea of microaggressions as only capable of causing trouble, kinda like the way some people view guns as a self-defense tool in suburbs and cities.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Speculating on Why Aloha Is So White: White Is the 'Language' the Hollywood Industry Speaks

There is a Hollywood movie about Hawaii called Aloha.  It stars mostly white people in a state (and former US colony) that has mostly non-white people. 

The most egregious offense is that the protagonist of the movie, a woman named Allison Ng, is played by a white actress, Emma Stone, whom they try to pass off as more Swedish than Chinese.

I've read a ton of articles on this.  One of the best is from NPR's Code Switch.

I can't really comment on a movie that I haven't seen, but I think if there's anything to take from the rash of articles, it's that these movies can't really "get away with it" anymore.  They can't just "yellow-black-brown-red-face" movies and not expect to get away without having to explain themselves.  It's a much different world than the media world I grew up with throughout the 1990s where basically the only voices were on TV or radio.

One article quoted a press release from Media Action Network for Asians, which posed a question that I would like to answer.

"How can you educate your audience to the 'rich history' of Hawaii by using mostly white people and excluding the majority of the people who live there and helped build that history---AAPIs?" - Media Action Network for Asians (MANAA)

The question posed by MANAA reminds me of that Clint Eastwood movie Gran Turino;  the struggle of a group of people is highlighted, but it appears that story is still told on terms dictated by a leading white actor(s).

It appears that in Aloha, the issue is that almost all the main actors are white.

I'm not really privvy to any of the actual decisionmaking within the movie, so in the absence of that access, all I can do is make an educated guess.

My big insight/guess was this:  Directors/producers live in a very competitive industry.  They are sympathetic to the causes of 'other' people and perhaps wanted to show a little bit of that (good intentions), but also find a way to make whoever their masters are some money. 

But they also want to make money, and thus rely on 'star power' (incidentally, and appropo 'white power') to 'speak' a language they think 'audiences' (re:  lots of white people in America) speak.

You know how when someone speaks another language you don't know you might automatically tune out what they say --- perhaps that's was the fear implicit in their decisions.  If you use just people of color, audiences might automatically tune them out, perhaps dismissing the movie outright as something pertinent only to "those" people of color.   The movie might as well be in Mandarin at that point.

But if you bring white people in, you bring more receptive eyes, and then ears to 'the cause.'  Unfortunately, that's probably been the rule of thumb in the industry, but hopefully

I'm already used to the idea of hearing people say that if you cast people of color, they may not have as broad an appeal.  I dislike the idea, but I think I know what they are saying.  From a movie producer's point of view, they need to operate within certain constraints, but them not being of Asian descent in America, I don't think they realize how much each piece of representation affects us and our ability to simply be here.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Immigrants = Hackers

That is if I define "hacking" as "making something out of nothing," and assume "immigrants" are the archetypal Ellis Island-or-jornalero raw, dressed in rags types.

Nowadays you can't travel the internet without encountering an article about "hacks," or "hacking" something.  There's even a category called "life hacks" or "life hacking", which are usually about making things out of common (cheap) materials.  Things from air conditioners to antennas.

At its foundation, hacking is about making function out of available form. 

And who better to make function out of available form than those without much to begin with?

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Re: Chris Hernandez, "“Microaggressions”, “Trigger Warnings”, and the New Meaning of “Trauma”'

1)  When you said “fuck your trauma” and “fuck my trauma”:  I agree with your idea that you can’t really expect to have people be that sympathetic and necessarily care about your trauma because people all over the world have gone through harder things.  I respect that you said, “fuck my trauma,” at least you’re willing to dismiss your own problems.

2)  I can kind of agree with one point that you seem to be making:  that the micro-aggressions don’t quite fall at that level of “trauma”, but I’m not sure that anyone was really trying to recognize micro-aggressions as "trauma."

Only one of your examples, the petition by the UCLA student(s), actually links microaggressions to trauma, and the purpose of that piece of writing probably was more purposive rather than a declarative statement taken to represent what they might actually think.  In other words, I think whoever wrote that petition used the word “traumatic” to draw attention to their cause, which I agree probably isn’t an appropriate use of the word. 

What I Don’t Agree With: 
1)  You give only the American soldier and yourself the license to talk about trauma.  It appears the only people you give license to talk any kind of “trauma” is a soldier who is handicapped as a result of combat.  I’m not quite sure that’s quite right either and somewhat myopic.
I have not listened to a lot of war stories, but I can acknowledge that combat can be very traumatic on physical, emotional, and social levels.  So traumatic that I know I would not want to entertain being an American soldier. 

I’ve also listened to traumatic stories from the Cambodian genocide in the 1970s.  Labor camps, harsh punishments, eating snakes to survive, starving, suffering from malnutrition and poor health, being separated from family members, losing family members, seeing bodies either beheaded, battered. people report roughly the same experience.   I mean if you want a scale for trauma, I think that any story from that time and place would dwarf those hardship experiences, but were not comparing are we?

I’d like to think I have a fair perspective of what trauma is without having gone through any on the scale of either a soldier and/or a genocide survivor.

I think deeply about the trauma of those events and always think about how small and simple my problems are as a college-educated Californian born into a middle-class family and try to remain grateful for all the privileges I have. 

2)  I think you don’t fully understand what micro-aggressions are nor why people like to point them out.

I don’t like being an elitist, ivory tower prick that tells people that they don’t know what they are talking about.

But, what would happen if I, for these purposes, an everyday civilian, tried to talk to you, a police officer, about police use-of-force incidents, and what I think police should do and should have done in other incidents? 

Oh, I know that would go over well with you, and you’d be just as receptive of my ideas right? 

You’d probably be offended and tell me that I don’t understand those worlds.  Well same thing here, you really don’t --- understand those academic worlds, so either try to understand and use the language and terms, or just keep listening.

Pointing out microaggressions are usually not "traumatic" nor did the two examples you point out actually state that they were equating microaggressions to "traumas", but I think pointing them out is a type of evidence-gathering.  

Noting microaggressions is evidence-gathering of racist, sexist, sizist, agist, ableist behaviors.  All behaviors that communicate to a minority group that they are somehow lesser, inferior.  Making note of them, and showing them serves as concrete replies to the claims that tend to dismiss what people experience, i.e. (we live in a color-blind, post-racial society).

I think some evidence is stronger than others, and you cherry-picked some of the examples that don’t seem as strong.

3)  You seem to assume that people nowadays are fragile and are falling apart just because they point out instances of discrimination when you say "Generations of Americans have experienced real trauma."  "Don't move on with your life, just continue to be trapped by those obstacles that racism, sexism, sizism, agism, ableism, etc. etc.," said no one ever. 

You seem to conflate the fact that people point these things out with people somehow being weak and being flummoxed by everyday life.

I guess it is so weak and a symbol of our pansy-ass times when civilians try to go to police and seek out evidence every time someone steals from, robs, cheats, attacks them. 

Geeze, just move on people, if you're really strong you won't let such little things like that deter you.  It isn't real "trauma" after all.