bell hooks, Rethinking Everything, and Colorism – Hidden Power of Words Series, #13

bell hooks continues to transform my thinking and understanding of all things related to critical theory and History. I have completely fallen in love with her conceptualization of the White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy.

Yesterday I was listening to this talk (which is excellent!) between hooks and Gloria Steinem, and the word “colorism” caught my attention. “Colorism” is not a word I had heard before, but it sounded intriguing. One of the things I love about learning is that you are always learning something new, and in this case, something that “makes so much sense.” 

A search on Google does not reveal any substantial results, but the basic idea that colorism is discrimination based on the hue of a person’s skin (similar to but different than phenotype) was clear and is, potentially, a revolutionary concept for my thinking, writing, and teaching. 

Given how much scholars in the Liberal Arts preach that race is a social construction, not a biological reality; that race does not exist but racism does exist, students frequently say, with full sincerity, how can we have racism if race does not exist. Or, they will say, “clearly we all have different skin colors, how do you “explain” that away.” For a while, I learned to frame this with the following explanation: No one is white or black, but they can be and are racialized as White or Black. 

The ways in which society and its prejudices have defined race include more than skin color. None of these categories “make sense.” And none are supported by biology. There are more “Asian eyes” among so-called Whites than among so-called Asians, as the American Anthropological Association would put it. Nonetheless, skin color “as race” is ultimately what determine’s a person’s “race” or how they are racialized, in the overwhelming majority of cases. 

This has always bothered me some. I just did not have the terminology to fully grapple with it. I have liked the usefulness of “racialization” because it takes the emphasis of a “thing” and places it on the “process.” But still, the term adds some legitimacy to “race” as a both a “category of practice” and “category of analysis.” One thought on this is that someone might be “racialized” as Black based on recent ancestry (and have skin society would racialize as White), voice, a name, clothing, etc. These are very real, all too real, forms of discrimination. People with White-sounding and Male-sounding names get all kinds of Privilege from society, for example. 

But, ultimately, when it comes down to it, the ways in which a person is colorized and the colorism they face seems to be a way to more specifically target the problem.

People are not white or black, but they are colorized as White or Black: placed into artificial binaries that confine and divide. 

Is it fair and more precise to say I (mostly) study “colorism,” not “racism”? Should scholars and professors teach “colorism” more often than “racism.” 

Words are powerful. Precise and thoughtful words are even more powerful. 

Please check out other articles in the Hidden Power of Words Series!

An Open Letter and Request to the Bush and Clinton Family – Please Do Not Run For Office

Dear Bush Family and Clinton Family, 

In particular: Jed Bush, I know George W. Bush has recently encouraged you to run for President next time around.

Hillary Clinton, I know people have expressed hopes that you too will run for this office, and based on some of your actions, there have been speculations that you might.

On behalf of United Statesians (not “Americans” because “America” is not a country), I ask that you both, please, do not run. Being elected to office of President of the United States is absolutely a wonderful accomplishment by any standard. Mrs. Clinton, yes it would be absolutely amazing to have a Woman in this Office. 

HOWEVER, out of respect for the nation and traditions (even when, as is often the case, they involve much more rhetoric than actual practice) of democracy and opportunity, it would be wrong for either of you to run or for another Clinton or Bush to run. This would risk setting a dangerous precedent that in order to be President, you have to be from one of your families or risk a civil war or something. 

Also, please consider what is best for the nation, the world, and, especially as it becomes especially important to look beyond Earth, the universe. Do you really think you are the right person for the job? Every candidate should ask these questions long and hard, and not just run based on name recognition.

Thank you for your time, 

Andrew Joseph Pegoda

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An Open Letter to the Texas State Historical Association – It’s Time to Include LGBTs

Dear TSHA,

First, let me express my profound appreciation for the goldmine of information found in The Handbook of Texas. I regularly use this free, online reservoir of knowledge when further learning about the geopolitical area called Texas and when preparing lessons for my students, especially as I am now teaching Texas History.

My concern emerged this evening. I had a few extra minutes, and I was looking for some additional information for my lesson about LGBT peoples and rights in Texas for a lesson I am putting together. The Handbook of Texas currently has no entries of which to speak. Zero out of over 26,000 articles.

“Gay” appears in reference to the town, hill, and the last name, with the one exception of this article, which mentions that two of four members of the Austin, Texas, band “The Dicks” were gay.

“Homosexual” and “Homosexuality” appear here in a discussion of prostitution in the 1970s, here in reference to a fictional account, here and here and here when discussing groups in opposition to non-heterosexual peoples. A few brief mentions of supporters are here.

Other very brief (almost one-word brief) accounts found here and here and here come up when searching for “lesbian.”

There is no mention of Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003), no mention of the Austin, Texas, Marriage Resolution; the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act; the Texas Gay Rodeo (which has occurred yearly since 1984); Ray Hill; or of Houston’s Gay Political Caucus, for example. No mention of anything of which to speak that would be classified as part of the Gay Liberation Movement or the LGBT Civil Rights Movement more broadly. No mention of the controversy and protest that surrounded Anita Bryant’s visit to Houston in 1977 that became a parallel “Stonewall” event for Texas.

What else is left out of The Handbook of Texas’s narrative of the past when it comes to LGBTs? I can think of many, many examples. Doing a search for “African Americans” or “Blacks” in the Handbook reveals plenty of examples that could make for parallel LGBT articles.

(Added Nov 12, 2014, at 5:35 PM: The Handbook includes no mention of Barbara Jordan’s longterm partner, Nancy Earl.)

While preparing this letter, I read on your website that “biographical entries are limited to individuals who are deceased.” I have to ask, why? When historians only permit “dead people,” we unintentionally perpetuate one of the reasons why people do not like History. Additionally, if we only studied those who have already died, our knowledge of the past would be greatly hampered and include no first-hand oral histories.

I see that the TSHA is currently working on expanding its resources on Tejan@ History, which is a wonderful effort. Now is also the perfect time to expand resources for LGBT history with the help of qualified scholars. (Unfortunately, this falls outside of my specialty, and I am currently writing my dissertation, so I cannot help at this time.)

Historiographical gaps, as we all know, exist because of popular prejudices (in the case of Bayard Rustin being almost deleted from History for several decades) and lack of research in order to make history part of History. There is for certain a wealth of sources that shed light on LGBT peoples, their history, and their struggles for human rights. Naturally, by further investigating and knowing about LGBT peoples in Texas, we will have a better knowledge of the Lone Star State. While too much homophobia still lives in Texas, a first step toward erasing this is knowledge.

The Handbook of Texas truly is a wonderful resource, and it can be all the more wonderful by expanding its scope and leading the way toward truly including all people who have lived and created Texas.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

Andrew Joseph Pegoda

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Disguised Racism?: A Very Brief Analysis of a Postwar Image

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This postwar image and ones like it regularly appear in textbooks. Scholars use such images to make arguments about how new technologies made housework less time-consuming and advertising made these appealing necessities.

Other arguments focus on the sexism of having a Woman use the vacuum in this advertisement – a Woman who is wearing an apron and presumably also cooking lunch and dinner.

Still other arguments rest of the implied harmony and peace and content for this Woman and her implied husband and children, and such argument focus on the corresponding problems with this rhetoric, specifically what it ignores. 

Additionally, such images served to reinforce that with World War II over, the Women who had taken jobs needed to go back home. In the later years of the war, about 35% of Women were employed, up about 10% from before. 

But, I have never seen an argument or analysis point out that in reality in the vast majority of cases, the Woman depicted in this picture and all the Women for which she becomes a historical stand-in would seldom, if ever, actually vacuum their own home. White families hired Black Women (and immigrant Women) to do their cooking, cleaning, and frequently, childcare, too, and they paid them far below any kind of reasonable wage and generally offered little respect and thanks in return. 

Regardless, though, this image–and the countless parallel ones–delete and ignore Black Women and their work and their agency. That’s the true take-home message here. 

Amazon’s “Echo” and the White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy

Earlier this afternoon I was watching this short advertisement for Amazon’s latest product:

(Email subscribers, you might need to visit my webpage to see the video.)

While watching this short video, I was at first intrigued and wonder if it is better than Apple’s Siri. Then, without meaning to, I noticed the rampant normalcy and perpetuation of heterosexism (or heteronormativity), sexism, racism, and capitalism. This is the definition of a blessing and a curse. I can’t watch anything without immediately deconstructing it and examining the power structures at play.

Patriarchy is perpetuated because a Man, in this case the husband and father in particular, is the center of attention — not the product — despite the voiceover narration by a young female voice. He teaches one of his daughters and corrects his wife when it comes to operating the product. (The son already knows, if you didn’t notice.)

Patriarchy is also emphasized given that the relationship between the White Man and White Woman is emphasized via their three children, when they are in bed sleeping and Echo wakes them up, and when they are dancing. This also speaks to heteronormativity. Consider too the extremely taboo nature of showing fictionalized married characters in the same bed that existed not that long ago.

Patriarchy and sexism takes root too in that the Woman in this narrative is cooking in the kitchen and instructs Echo to add “wrapping paper” to the shopping list, implying shopping. Shopping and cooking are both stereotypical female domains and almost the extent of permissible roles, historically speaking. Although, she does have a few speaking lines.

Another element of sexism–and this in particular relates to the historical unconsciousness–is that the voice of Echo is female, as is the default voice of Siri. Echo, furthermore, is there to serve the family and answer all of their questions for no pay and no thank you. (And when giving commands or asking questions, the family never says “please” or “thank you.”) Now, of course, with machines notions of pay and thanks are very different. HOWEVER, those who we expect to serve all of our needs and answer all of our questions have almost never been fairly treated, historically speaking.

Racism–or Whitenormativity–is present in that all of the characters are racialized as White.

Capitalism is naturally also present given that Amazon wants people to buy Echo. Capitalism and classism are also present given the implied large size of their home. It is at least two stories (stairs are shown several times), a front door to a house (opposed to an apartment, for instance), and takes places in six or seven rooms. The family is clearly composed of good capitalist given all of their possessions and the shopping list they are making!

All of this happens in under four minutes, and all of this reinforces perfectly what bell hooks terms the White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy. Now I know from lots and lots of experience that many people will say “you are reading too much into this.” I would first respond read this. Then, I would remind you that each and every aspect of the short commercial (a mini film) were deliberately choose. This rhetoric speaks very powerfully to present-day mores and by extension, the values our society and Amazon truly want to uphold.

Of course not every commercial or movie should or even could have diversity in terms of how people are classized, racialized, etc., but that this is clearly a wealthy, English-speaking, White family, with a White Man leading his White Wife and their three White children is most worthy of significant note. This brief advertisement excludes almost all of the people who are actually United Statesians.

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“The Day The Music Cried”

Election results are pretty much in. As usual, voter turnout is extremely low. As of 2012, Texas had 13,000,000+ people registered to vote (and certainly many more in the recent pushes to get more people registered) out of an eligible population of around 19,000,000. Less than 5,000,000 of these people actually used the number one way to use their political voice. In total, as usual, around 25 percent of those qualified/eligible to vote, voted. 

This is offensive. Offensive especially to the many Women and Blacks who fought so hard for everyone to have the franchise. Offensive to our zealous proclamations of Democracy. Leaves one speechless and frustrated. 

With the results of this evening’s election, Texas–in a very real way–is a more dangerous place to live unless you are a Protestant White cis-Male. In ways, I would not be surprised in another Great Migration occurs–a mass exodus of people from Red states to beckons of home and life. For Black Men especially, Texas is a dangerous place.  

Today’s election and the promises of the GOP speak to a very specific set of hopes and fears and a very specific demographic. The GOP’s and Tea Party’s rhetoric focuses on “how dangerous the world is” and practices exclusionary/selective politics. And they more or less admit this, as indicated with all of their messages of “Take Texas Back” and “Family Values.” History teaches us that such slogans are coded language for a much deeper and different kind of fear, one in response to a world knocking at the door of change, change demanded by those who refuse to be silent. We all need to carefully watch politics in Texas, more so than ever before, especially since the most powerful person in the state, the Lt. Governor, is supported by the Tea Party. And as you watch the politics, compare it with the History of the geopolitical area called Texas.

Both parties continue to say Texas (and the United States) are the best in the entire world. Consider the (wrong) message this sends to children, yourself, the nation, and the World. Ethnocentrism has never accomplished anything. 

Finally, I am reminded of a quotation that basically goes: if voting made any difference, it would be illegal by now. Voting can, but often doesn’t, make real differences. Beyond voting, we must be vigorously involved in everyday live, politics, and history. Grassroots activism–people in the street—-that makes differences. 

LeticiaGraphic

 

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