[Welcome back to the blog after a summer writing recess in these parts. To celebrate the beginning of another year of regular posts, I’ve included extra profanity and GIFs for your viewing pleasure.]
In these profoundly unsettling times, where the current presidential administration and congressional majority have declared war on large swaths of American society, one can be forgiven for feeling anxious, under siege, frightened about their future. Communities of color, immigrants new and older, those who identify as LGBTQIA, students, the ill and financially precarious–many of them warned of the violence and oppression they faced, and warned us that violence and oppression would expand into the public square in ways that would seem unthinkable to those who’ve never had to worry about being on the receiving end of those processes. And, in what has been both pathetic and eminently predictable, white pundits–most of them male, all of them privileged–have been wringing their hands, armchair-quarterbacking with a furious intensity that only the smugly unempathetic elites can muster in their unearned self-assuredness. And they have SOLUTIONS, y’all. So. Many. Solutions.
A little over a week ago, I had the honor of attending the New York Film Festival premiere of 13th, a documentary directed by Ava DuVernay that confronts the issues of race, incarceration, and justice in the United States. As one of the talking heads (a historian’s life goal, to be honest) in the film, I was intellectually aware of the phenomena, statistics, mindsets, and events the film addresses. But it wasn’t until I viewed the film–a relentless, unflinching, prophetic indictment of the structures of racism and inequality upon which our entire society rests–that I truly felt what I had before only known. In the activities that accompanied the premiere–including this historian setting a new standard for awkward walks on the red carpet–a sense of urgency seemed to pervade the proceedings. Yes, there was celebration; 13th is the first documentary to open the NYFF, Ava DuVernay is also the first woman filmmaker of color to earn that distinction, and the film is a Netflix production and will thus have a huge platform for its vitally important story. So celebration was certainly in order. I was proud to participate in those celebrations, and deeply humbled to have been asked to participate in such an urgently powerful work of art. But there was urgency, too. Now that this story is out there, in all of its raw, agonizing, poignant glory, what next? Continue reading “What Is To Be Done”
As the “occupation” of the abandoned headquarters of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon has unfolded over the last day or so (See the Oregonian for regularly-updated coverage), there have been a number of attempts to place the self-styled “militia” into larger context. The long-standing debate over public lands and their usage in the Mountain West,seems to drive some elements of the armed men that seized the building. Some of their rhetoric has also focused on the conviction of two ranchers for setting fires that burned out hundreds of acres of public land, though the convicted ranchers themselves have disavowed the actions of the terrorists*. At root, a potent and heavily-armed brew of white power, anti-government, conspiracy-theorist and vigilante group impulses has produced this latest attempt of self-proclaimed “oppressed patriots” to “reclaim their constitutional rights,” which apparently involve grabbing publicly-owned land, owning many guns, and not paying any taxes forever and ever. Continue reading “No, the Oregon Wingnut Army is not the Second Whiskey Rebellion.”
Higher education is in trouble. The Humanities, the Liberal Arts–more so. It’s been a rough year or so for colleges and universities throughout the United States. North Carolina was the bellwether, falling victim to an Ayn Rand-inspired hatchet job. More recently, the Republican clown car continues to disgorge governors who apparently believe that eviscerating their states’ educational systems is the surest path to the presidency. Louisiana‘s universities lost 80%–EIGHTY. PERCENT.–of their funding, rendering them public enterprises in name only, a blood sacrifice for Bobby Jindal’s single, measly, margin-of-error-prone percentage point in the national polls. Not to be outdone, the Scott Walker regime, after gorging on the still-bleeding corpse of Wisconsin’s public-sector unions, savaged what used to be a crown jewel of public institutions of higher learning. Gone is shared governance, gone is tenure, gone is any meaningful semblance of the Wisconsin Idea–and gone is a massive chunk of funding as well. In the midst of this carnage, we hear talk about “efficiencies,” and programs that should “guarantee graduates a good job”; apparatchiks trot out metrics that trace average career earnings, and bright-eyed legislative aides who majored in pre-law and Milton Friedman pooh-pooh programs that don’t lead to some sort of immediate “deliverable” or “job creation.”
I’m not sure if it’s an empirically-verifiable trend, or just anecdotal evidence on my TV and various social media timelines, but it seems like we’ve reached peak whining about “playing politics.” My state is the site of some closely-contested congressional elections. Thus, we’ve been bombarded with foreboding intonations that ruefully cluck “candidate x is just playing politics,” as if a politician playing politics is somehow surprising and out of character. WHEN DID THIS HAPPEN? I’M SO CONFUSED. I’ve also been following the GamerGate goings-on*, wherein these poor delicate snowflakes–when not trafficking in self-righteous, whiny misogyny–decry the influence of those they call SJWs (social justice warriors) in the gaming scene. Gaming used to be its own awesome place, they say, before these interlopers made everything all “political” with their feminism and stuff. And hardly a day goes by when we don’t hear someone lamenting the fact that everything was OK until someone “made it political,” or started to “play politics,” or “brought politics into it”–like someone peed in the pool. THANKS, LOSER. NOW WE CAN’T SWIM ANYMORE.