Thursday, March 17, 2011

Race Theory

Welcome to Race Theory Week by Reggie Bell and Carolyn Block. We hope you enjoy our post! Below you will find a summary of each of the readings with some contemporary (and not so contemporary) examples of how these readings manifest themselves in society. Because discussions of 'race' are often personal and at times, heated, we ask that you approach these readings with an open mind. Try to put yourself in the role of the 'other.' Even if you already classify yourself as such, remember that all of us in the class are not fully an other.

Storey, Chapter 8: 'Race', racism and representation

'Race' and racism
The concept of race is not based in biology but in cultural and historical categories designed to highlight differences between people for the purposes of establishing political and social hierarchy. How difference “is made to signify is always a result of politics and power, rather than a question of biology” (Storey, 167). Stuart Hall recognizes three moments in history of ‘race’ and racism in the West: slavery and the slave trade, colonialism and imperialism, and 1950s immigration following decolonization. The concept of and belief in ‘race’ is a result of continued racism. Without racism, there would be no ‘race.’

The Ideology of Racism: Its Historical Emergence
Racism first developed in England to defend the economic profits that resulted from slavery and the slave trade. Black and white people were seen as different species in which the whites were naturally superior. Fear of mixed race children “as mischievous as monkeys and infinitely more dangerous” (170) helped to keep the institution of slavery alive. The ideology of racism spread to those who did not directly benefit from slavery or the slave trade. Indeed by the nineteenth century, it was widely accepted that the human race was divided into two categories: superior whites and inferior others with only whites being capable of “thinking and governing” (171). These beliefs were based in scientific evidence and conquest was directed by God.

Edward Said (1985) describes the “Orient” as a creation of Europe to help define the West as its “contrasting image, idea, personality, experience” (171). Orientalism was created as a fictional ideology designed to highlight differences and maintain Western power over the Orient. These fictional stories have two basic plot structures: white colonizers succumbing to the powers of the jungle and “going native” (Kurtz in Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now) or whites who impose themselves on the jungle and its inhabitants (Tarzan). This imperialistic approach shifts the attention away from who, what, or where the story is about to those who tell and consume the story. How Hollywood tells the story of the Vietnam War is a particular example of Orientalism. The way in which discourses about the war are constructed tells America and the rest of the world that what happened in Vietnam, “happened because Vietnam is like that” (172). The stories allow people to experience Vietnam and may become the war itself. The historical accuracy of Hollywood depictions of Vietnam does not matter. What matters is that they produce a specific reality for audiences. Three ‘regimes of truth’ are featured in Hollywood films about Vietnam in the 1980s.
• The war as betrayal- America’s defeat in Vietnam was a result of 1) bad politicians 2) incompetent military command or 3) civilian betrayal. All films in this category are centered around loss- prisoners, pride, innocence
• The inverted firepower syndrome- America’s techno-military advantage is inverted. In these narratives, individual Americans are seen fighting against the innumerable odds of countless North Vietnamese military soldiers and Viet Cong.
• Americanization of the war (“imperial narcissism”) - The United States is center in the narrative and Vietnam and the Vietnamese exist only as context for the brutally loss of American innocence that was doomed from the very beginning. America and Americans are the only victims.
For cultural texts to be effective they must be integrated into the lived experiences of the audience. Simply because a Hollywood narrative was designed as a narrative about American tragedy and bravery does not necessarily mean that the audience received or consumed it in the same manner. Examples ranging from Presidents to soldiers illustrate that this seems to be the case for Hollywood and its creation of American memories.

Hollywood is great at perpetuating this idea of orientalism. From the conquering of the American Frontier to 300 to The Kingdom to the Hurt Locker to Borat offer us a multitude of examples of how 'regimes of truth' can be passed down through media. It is important to remeber that the term does not only apply to the Orient or Asian cultures. It refers to anytime we exoticize people and view them merely as objects to serve us rather than as humans.

Anti-racism and cultural studies
The work of cultural studies is “to intellectually, and by example to help defeat racism, and by so doing, help to bring into being a world in which the term ‘race’ is little more than a long discussed historical category” (179).

Fannon: Decolonizing, National Culture, and the Negro Intellectual (Social Theory 364-369)
Decolonization is always a violent event that does not occur overnight. It can only be understood as a historical process where two antagonistic forces with a long history of violence and control must negotiate the new identity created through liberation. In decolonization, “the last shall be first and the first last.” However, this change-over will only occur after violence ensues.

West: The New Cultural Politics of Difference (Social Theory 511-521)

The new cultural politics of difference are not designed to simply contest the mainstream for inclusion or to blatantly shock the conventions of the upper class. Rather, they are articulations by cultural contributors who choose to align themselves with the under privileged in hopes of enabling social action and expanding freedom and democracy. Cultural critics are faced with a double-bind where they are simultaneously condemning the very institutions that are financially reliant upon. The new cultural politics of difference face three obstacles—intellectual, existential, and political. The intellectual challenge is how to understand representations in terms of history, culture, and society. The new cultural politics of difference are built upon and go beyond flawed Eurocentric traditions: the Age of Europe, the emergence of the United States as the world power, decolonization of the Third World. The legacy of these events present a precarious situation in which the postmodern movement must come to terms with “crimes against and contributions to humanity.” The plight of Africans in the New World is indicative of this ambiguity.

European control included brutal enslavement, institutional terrorism, and cultural degradation of Black people. Efforts for identity, dignity, and material resources through selective appropriation, incorporation, and rearticulation of European ideologies and institutions created an uncritical acceptance of non-Black conventions and standards in two ways. First, asserting that Black people were like White people (assimilation) disregarded differences in history and culture. Second, all Black people were assumed to be alike (homogenizing impulse), thus eliminating differences in class, gender, region, sexual orientation between Black people. It is the Black women’s movement that has voiced the most opposition to how bureaucratic elites use language about “homogenous national communities and positive images in order to repress and regiment their diverse and heterogeneous populations” (519). Black cultural workers must work to “deconstruct the earlier strategies of identity-formation, demystify power relations that incorporate class, patriarchal and homophobic biases” (519) and construct new ideals of Black complexity and diversity.

"Race" as the Trope of the World

Gates addresses the issue of race with a discussion of the arbitrary ways researches and theorists have attempted to signify “differences” in race. Race, which he calls trope, is a futile method to underscore difference because “The biological criteria used to determine difference in sex simply do not hold when applied to race” (522). Nevertheless, many whites considered blacks to be inferior simply because of their skin color.

One popular justification for the denigration of blacks during the Enlightenment period was the belief that blacks lacked the capacity to reason. The ability to reason well was determined by one’s ability to write well, which required a person to master “the arts and sciences” (523). Moreover, the ability to write well also signified the difference between animal and human (526). Since blacks had proven they could write, they were not considered human and, as such, should be enslaved and sold. However, because of the writings of such persons as Phillis Wheatley, James Gronniosaw, John Marrant, and Ottabah Cugoano, blacks were able to prove they are more intelligent than animals and that one’s race is not an indication of their intelligence level.

Interestingly, though such studies and beliefs would be considered ludicrous by many today—I actually laughed while reading it, such studies and beliefs are still prevalent today. Race and Intelligence: Science’s Last Taboo, a 2010 documentary, addresses how several academicians still believe that race is more than skin deep and that white people are much cleverer than black people. Though blacks were able to “write ourselves out of slavery” during the Enlightenment period (526), it is clear not everyone is convinced of their capacity to reason as well as their white counterparts.

Spivak: Can the Subaltern Speak?

Spivak’s contribution to this week’s reading is designed to caution researchers and theorists to guard against allowing their hermeneutic of what is right and wrong to shape their research. The case study for her discussion involves a Hindu widow who willingly immolates herself shortly after her husband’s death. Because such practices were foreign to the researchers who devoted themselves to studying and “improving” the life of Hindu women, they set out to abolish this sacred act. From their perspective abolishing this practice was a noble deed because it enabled them to, in essence, “save brown women from brown men” (539). However, by not immersing themselves into the Hindu culture and by interpreting the act through their worldview, they missed the fact that “the woman actually wanted to die” and that the unorthodox act was her way of expressing herself (539). This leads Spivak to conclude that the subaltern cannot speak.

Oppressed groups are better served when researchers approach and assess the condition and context from the subject’s perspective, not their own. This will require the researcher to “question their position as investigator” and “unlearn” their way of life so that he or she can comprehend the true essence of the subject (538). Such a process minimizes the possibility of misinterpreting foreign acts and assigning uninformed solutions. Moreover, research from this vantage point will position researchers to identify ways to carve out spaces for subaltern members to speak for themselves instead of everyone else speaking for them.

Anzaldua: The New Mestiza

The underlying question in Anzaldua’s piece is “What should a person do when he or she is constantly displaced?” Anzaldua is forced to wrestle with this question due to her displacement geographically, sexually, and culturally. She cannot refer to a particular geographical location as her ethnicity’s homeland because they either migrated or were forced to move numerous times. Her sexual orientation prohibits her ability to neatly situation herself within the heterosexual confines of her Catholic and Mexican rearing; neither group is ready to accept her rebellious lifestyle. Finally, her impacting experiences with white culture, Mexican culture, and Indian culture causes her internal conflict because each culture constitutes a relevant part of her identity. As a result, her answer to the question of displacement is the stop trying to fit into the predetermined spaces and make a new space based on her unique experiences.

Collins: Black Feminist Thought in Matrix of Domination

The key word in Collin’s article is intersectionality. Intersectionality argues that we should focus on how different systems of oppression interlock. To identify these systems and, ultimately, empower the oppressed, Collins emphasizes the importance of gaining new knowledge for the purposes of overturning oppressive practices. Her solution is black feminist thought.

Black feminist thought is important for two reasons. First, it “fosters a fundamental paradigmatic shift in how we think of oppression…by embracing a paradigm of race, class, and gender as interlocking systems of oppression” (541). This means that it does not start with gender and then add other variables such as race, class, sexual orientation, disability, etc. It sees these distinctive systems of oppression as being part of one overarching structure of domination in which all these systems are dependent on one another. Instead of arguing about who experiences the worst oppression, intersectionality focuses attention on how these systems of oppression interconnect in different peoples’ lives. Second, “black feminist thought addresses ongoing epistemological debates in feminist theory and in the sociology of knowledge concerning ways of assessing truth” (541). This approach acknowledges that “truth” is always relative to a particular person in a particular context and should be dealt with as such. For example, Sojourner Truth’s 1851 speech Aint I a Woman in 1851 demonstrates the reality that what she considered “right” what vastly different than the “right” her white counterparts envisioned. As such, we must all view our experiences not a universal truths, but as truth revealed in our limited contexts.

Questions to ponder

All of us can see racial differences and issues of denomination when it comes to black/white issues. Fox 13 news does a segment "Memphis in Black and White" every time they need their ratings boosted. But, how do other cities deal with issues of difference? For an example, we turn to Arizona and their battle of immigration reform

How can intersectionality be applied to explaining Memphis's recent consolidation?

Spivak is concerned about research that minsinteprets the subject and attempts to "save the brown woman from the brown man." What are some steps you can take to ensure your methodology is not dominated by your worldview? Is it really possible to "unlearn" your way of life so that you can fully immerse in another's culture?

In light of Anzaldua's article, how can we identify and support the validity of new "cultures" developing in our field of study?


  1. Part I

    Hey gang! How are my Media Theory compatriots? Well, I figured since I've been tardy with my last two posts, I was gonna step up my proverbial game and represent.

    Before I answer the questions posed by Reggie and Carolyn, I would like to comment on the portrayal of Hollywood Vietnam films in the Orientalism section. Quite honestly, I think the films cited, with the exception of the jingoistic, right-wing films in the WAR AS BETRAYAL paradigm section, are simplified and improperly analyzed (an aside, I find Chuck Norris and the Rambo films laughable, and the fact that Storey chose to cite the climactic monologue from FIRST BLOOD made me howl with laughter).

    Regarding Apocalypse Now, the film isn't strictly about 'going native.' I think that characterization is stupid and lazy. To me it seems that Storey needed a film or idea to bolster his claim -- i.e. needed a horse for his cart -- and he disregarded the intended and actual purpose of the film to prove his point. Ultimately, the film isn't about going native. That's total 8th-grade-project bull shit. The film is about the madness of the American involvement in the war and of its leaders; the soldiers' intractable situation; and what happens when people are removed from law and order and thrust into an environment where nature, not society, is dominant (this is a quick summary, mind you).

    Regarding Platoon: again a very base and incorrect characterization. Though I agree that many Vietnam films portray America as an underdog and the INVERTED POWER SYNDROME is present in many films, the cited example of Sergeant Elias being chased by Vietnamese soldiers as an example of this paradigm is false and misleading. He forgets to point out that Elias was shot (wounded) in the previous scene by Sergeant Barnes, or the fact that there were previous scenes where American soldiers rape a Vietnamese girl or when the soldiers carry out a Mai-Lai style massacre in a village OR that there's a scene with Charlie Sheen's character speaking with Sergeant Elias, where Elias states: "We're gonna lose this war....I figure we've been kicking peoples asses for so long it's time that we got our asses kicked." I don't think this last example is inverted firepower syndrome; I think Elias is pointing out American warmongering and aggression and how America paid for it in Vietnam.

  2. Part II

    Regarding the AMERICANIZATION OF WAR paradigm: again, this is an example of somebody who either doesn't understand film or does lazy research. IMPERIAL NARCISSISM, according to Storey, is an example "in which the US is centred and Vietnam and the Vietnamese exist only to provide a context for an American tragedy, whose ultimate brutality is the loss of American innocence" (175). Really?! Really, seriously, c'mon. Let me try to make an argument that will debunk this claim: the reason Vietnam is told from American perspective is because the studios who produce these films are trying to sell these films to (you guessed it) American audiences! Also, and again I think I already alluded to this, I think Storey is reading too much into this or attaching conclusions to incorrect interpretations. If this is really the case, why does this not explain a film by FULL METAL JACKET, where the soldiers lose their innocence in boot camp and are turned into killing machines and John-Wayne-war-film parodies where they spout cliche war-film dribble in front of the cameras?

    Lastly, The Hurt Locker and Borat aren't examples of Orientalism. They're just not. Here is a quote from Storey to prove two points: "Orientalism, a 'system of ideological fiction,' is a matter of power. It is one of the mechanisms by which the West maintained its hegemony over the orient. This is in part achieved by an insistence on an absolute difference between the West and the Orient, in which 'the rational, developed, humane, superior, and the aberrant, underdeveloped, inferior.' For one thing, Borat's character is from Kazakhstan and Hurt Locker takes place in Iraq, so geographically these films aren't Oriental. Second, though Borat and Kazakhstan are presented is backwards, borderline medieval, the joke is on the West, for Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat) uses his stupidity, naivete and ignorant racism to point out how America (supposed West) is just as backwards, stupid, and racist. The only difference between the Borat (supposed East) and America (supposed West) is that America is supposed to be the civilized culture. The fact that both Borat and Americans portrayed are ignorant of their stupidity is called dramatic irony.

    The Hurt Locker is another bad citation. This film has nothing to do with Orientalism. It has to do with battle stress, PTSD, soldiers' naivete and the ability of bomb disposal technicians to do the work they do -- i.e. psychological examination.

    Whew! Sorry Reggie and Carolyn if I upset you. :-)


    Overall, a job well done to Reggie and Carolyn's post! If Kevin and I can do half the job y'all did in summarizing the readings, I think we will be alright.

    Though I have already exceeded my originally intended blog quota for the week, there are a few more things I would like to discus so as to display that I got more out of the readings than just poor film citations by Storey. For the sake of brevity, I will limit this last post to West and Collins. For those of you not familiar with West, he is a regular on the Colbert Report, and his appearances are always enjoyable.

    To quote West: "Distinctive features of the new cultural politics of difference are to trash the monolithic and homogeneous in the name of diversity, multiplicity and heterogeneity; to reject the abstract, general and universal, in light of the concrete, specific and particular; and to historicize, contextualize and pluralize by highlighting the contingent, provisional, variable, tentative, shifting and changing....The new politic" (ST 511). I think this is one of the most brilliant and cogent arguments for social change I have read all semester. Ultimately, if this generation of Americans can adhere and follow this idea, then greater social change and justice will (most likely) be prevalent, in my opinion. I think what is most interesting about this summary is that social change in America has not been fully realized because all to often social progressives and activists tend to "generalize" the problems inherent in society so that the argument will come across as more palatable and understandable when, in reality, it is in more flux, more variable, and more complex than we tend to realize.

    Here is a passage from Collins that does a good job of explaining why repressive power in our country has historically operated the way it has: "Subjugated knowledges, such as a Black woman's culture of resistance, develop in cultural contexts controlled by oppressed groups. Dominant groups aim to replace subjugated knowledge with their own specialized thought because they realize that gaining control over this dimension of subordinate groups' simplifies" (ST 545). I think this goes a long way to explain the way the American government's use of force has operated over the past 30 years. A good example is police brutality in the black community. I don't think that power has necessarily operated with a specified malicious intent to keep down black people. I think that it is more a case of incompetence and misunderstanding of certain factors within the community, and, sadly, the only way American power can understand this dynamic is through simplification.

    Lastly, I will quote a passage from Collins that beautifully sums up our reading. I don't think I need to comment on this because she says all that needs to be said:"Each group (different ethnic groups) speaks from its own standpoint and shares its own truth as partial, its standpoints without relinquishing the uniqueness of its own standpoint or suppressing other groups' partial perspectives, 'What is always needed in the appreciation of art, or life,' maintains Alice Walker, 'is the larger perspective. Conection made, or at least attempted where none existed before, the straining to encompass immense diversity.' Partiality and not universality is the condition of being heard; individuals and groups forwarding knowledge claims without owning their position are deemed less credible than those who do" (ST 551).

    1. Tamara Novak March 12, 2012 05:30pm

      I just stumbled upon this blog in an attempt to do research on oppression through family and culture. I wanted to offer a response to your entry that if you have not seen the movie "American Violet" I believe it is called, you should. I agree that although movies cannot really represent the entire truth as they are entertainment, this movie documents the life of a woman who fights against police swat teams and police brutality as they raid her projects routinely only to catch Black people that will fill their prisons. The lead actress has done nothing wrong but has been picked up by one of the visits of the swat teams. This movie is a slap in the face of what it means to be humane. I could not believe it!


    One last thing I will let this week's reading go. Here is a great passage from Collins: "[Audrey] Lorde and [Toni Cadi] Bambara's suppositions raise an important issue for Black feminist intellectuals and for all scholars and activists working for social change. Although most individuals have little difficulty identifying their own victimization within some major systems of oppression -- whether it be by race, social class, religion, physical ability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, age or gender -- they typically fail to see how their thoughts and actions uphold someone else's subordination" (ST 546).

    With this in mind, I give you a stand-up bit by Louis CK entitled, "Being White."

  5. This week’s posting covers well the comprehensiveness of the readings on Race Theory, which address a number of intertwined, though very distinct issues related to race, representations of race, and the language of race. I’d like to address one theme which emerged in the post and readings (black feminist thought), to attempt to answer this question posed by Carolyn and Reggie: “Is it really possible to "unlearn" your way of life so that you can fully immerse in another's culture?”

    Concepts like “worldview” and “immersion” immediately make me think of the related notion of “standpoint.” Many of us have read Brenda J. Allen’s piece on “Feminist Standpoint Theory: A Black Woman’s (Re)View of Organizational Socialization” (Communication Studies 47 [Winter 1996]: 257-271) for various communication courses in our department. This study is ideal because it not only addresses issues related to worldview, but it does so through a case study of the experiences of African-American women in the academy – which speaks to Carolyn and Reggie’s point that “cultural critics are faced with a double-bind where they are simultaneously condemning the very institutions that are financially reliant upon.” Allen functions in this way, as an intellectual reflecting upon and critiquing the institutions which she relies upon for employment.

    In her piece, Allen is an “agent of knowledge” concerned with putting her own experiences “at the center of analysis,” so as to offer “fresh insights on the prevailing concepts, paradigms, and epistemologies” concerning how Black female intellectuals in the academy – indeed, in the communication discipline at large – are treated (Collins, ST 541). Openly informed by the work of Patricia Hill Collins, Allen relays this definition of feminist standpoint theory as one way through which to generate a critique: it is an “interpretative framework dedicated to explicating how knowledge remains central to maintaining and changing unjust systems of power” (258). A key premise that this definition works from is that “knowledge is socially situated and based primarily on the lives of men in dominant races, classes, and cultures” (258).

    I find this definition to be a helpful entry point into addressing Carolyn and Reggie’s question of both unlearning yourself and learning others and their cultures. My sense of this question is that the answer is no, at least not completely. The key word Allen uses is “interpretation,” or another way I understand this, “approach.” I can approach another culture or even leave one of my own to do so. But I cannot interpret, or even experience, that culture as anyone but myself. Who do I approach that culture as? I am both white and a woman, through a combination of genetics and choice. Though I share gender with Allen, I will never be able to assess my experiences in this discipline from the standpoint of a black woman because I cannot interpret my experiences from the standpoint of a different race. I can try, and perhaps even admirably gain new insights through an attempt to “walk in someone else’s shoes,” but I will not be able to ever fully and completely do so.

  6. (Apparently, my post is too long, so I need to be like Robert and have a multi-part comment).

    Part I:

    Great job Carolyn and Reggie! I think your question about “intersectionality” and Memphis in light of the CA article and Patricia Hill Collins’ excerpt is very interesting. But before getting to it, I wanted to make a few points.

    First, regarding the Collins’ excerpt, I had a different take on the key word; it seemed to me like she emphasizes “interlocking” (541) as a way of characterizing forms of oppression. But while I know she is associated with “intersectionality” theory, I don’t know enough about “intersectionality” to know if the emphasis makes a difference. That said, I think we both would agree that her emphasis on the “intersecting” or “interlocking” structures of domination, offers a productive way to think about oppression.

    In fact, her emphasis on “interlocking systems of domination” made me think about Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s argument that “racial alienation” and “economic alienation” are interrelated through the practice of literacy. He posits that “literacy” is the connecting “emblem” that shows how these two modes of oppression interlock by pointing out how dominant whites used literacy as a rubric for assessing Africans’ humanity but then simultaneously denying those people access to that literacy. But even when these slaves did gain access to literacy, as in the case of Phillis Wheatley, their ability was used as a justification for their humanity and also a way of buying their manumission, as with the case of George Moses Horton and his master. In this case, the sign of their humanity—the writing—becomes co-opted as a commodity that the dominant group can sell. As Gates puts it: “Writing, for these slaves, was not an activity of mind; rather, it was a commodity which they were forced to trade for their humanity” (523). This example points to the powerful way that systems of oppression “interlock.”

  7. Part II:

    Now, about how these ideas might apply to the Memphis “consolidation” situation: to be honest, I’m not sure how it applies, because I’m not sure where you would locate the “oppression” in this situation. In Memphis politics, everything gets so murky and blurred, and I think last November’s consolidation referendum points to that. (FYI: for those of you might not be familiar with the situation, the article about Sharpton voicing his opposition to the consolidation referendum last November was about the city and county governments consolidating; that situation was different than what happened with recent referendum to dissolve the Memphis City School charter two weeks ago. Arguably though, both “consolidation” referendums were very related.) What I mean is that something fascinating happened: the consolidation opposition came from two usually very opposed constituencies (yet both had their different reasons). The county opposition presumably didn’t want anything to do with the City of Memphis because the city brings with it the typical baggage: poverty, crime, under-performing schools, and so on. The opposition from within the city presumably opposed consolidation because it would eliminate city jobs held by African Americans and because it would reduce their power within the city. In this situation, two very different groups of constituents, who frequently find themselves in opposition to one another, agreed that both wanted to stay under separate governments. In what other situation can you see predominantly white suburbanites, who normally disagree with everything Al Sharpton says, agreeing with him (or with the local Thaddeus Matthews for that matter)? The first comment under the article points to this irony: “It pains me to be on the same side as Sharpton.” But on the same side they were.

    I don’t even know how to begin with all this. It appears that dominant group’s oppression (i.e. predominantly white county voters arguing to keep the City of Memphis at arms length) and the minority group’s resistance (i.e. significant sections of the black constituency arguing that consolidation means less power) both translated into the same action. One group seemingly maintains the racial cleavage in Shelby County by opposing consolidation; the other group seemingly resists the white power structures by opposing consolidation. Both end up supporting the same thing. Is this an example of “interlocking” systems of oppression? Perhaps it is, in the sense that both moves maintain the existing racially polarized social structures.

  8. Thank you for the amount of detail that has gone into this post, Reggie and Carolyn!

    In response to your third question, there are no steps I can take to ensure my methodology is not dominated by my worldview. Because my primary methodology is rhetorical analysis, my worldview will inevitably determine my way of viewing the world. However, by recognizing that “language is epistemic”[1]-I can approach a text with a more critical lens. Through that lens I can question the dominant narratives that surround my text.

    Two of the readings offer strategies that I could uses to make sure my worldview is not the solitary perspective in my analysis. Cornel West explains how Heideggerian destruction, Derridean deconstruction, Rortian de-mythologization, and Marxist/Focaultian demystification all offer ways in which we can view dominant narratives. Although West elevates demystification over the other three forms of analysis, I believe the strengths outlined in destruction, deconstruction, and de-mythologization are significant enough to continue to use these forms. I also like Patricia Hill Collins’s suggestion of using Black Feminist thought and intersectionality.

    Each of those perspectives offers an entry way into understanding how one’s perspective is influenced by her or his position. Drawing from our earlier readings, I do not think we can ever truly become the Other, because even when you look at arbitrary nature of the constructions of realty or the points of connection/contention you will continue to maintain your position. However, by taking on another’s viewpoint, you are able to gain multiple vantage positions.

    “Cultures” or “cross cultures” that have yet to be defined face the dilemma of having to prove itself worthy of study. While including everything would begin to blur the lines between what is a valuable to study and what is not, including too little, risks exclusion. The remark Anzaldua offers in the closing sentence of her essay offers an insight to your last question. She argues, “I will have to stand and claim my space, making a new culture- una cultura mestiza—with my own lumber, my own bricks and mortar and my own feminist architecture” (p. 558). In essence, what she knows becomes the way in which she builds her approach. As critical scholars we must continue to recognize that regardless of what lens we use, it will inevitable have some cracks within it. By using our own spectacles, while recognizes the flaws found within them---we open a space for new cultures.

    1. Bradford Vivian

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  10. Race as it is understood by most in its very existence is a necessary mechanism for controlling human subjects. It exists in its sole purpose to categorize in hierarchal terms privilege and dominance. If we examine the practice of racial politics in world cultures it becomes evident that the categorization of human beings by physical characteristics is a simple attempt to maintain societal structures. What we have is multiple caste systems set in place that propagate mythologies about inherent capabilities of races and ultimately are self-regulated by subjects who take them at face value.

    To avoid longwindedness I will reference Stuart Hall's "Race the Floating Signifier". Hall says:

    “What do I mean by a floating signifier? Well to put it crudely, race is one of those major concepts, which organize the great classificatory systems of difference, which operate in human society. And to say that race is a discursive category recognizes that all attempts to ground this concept scientifically, to locate differences between the races, on what one might call scientific, biological, or genetic grounds, have been largely shown to be
    untenable. We must therefore, it is said, substitute a socio-historical or cultural
    definition of race, for the biological one.”

    Race, like other systems of signification is arbitrary and can never be static or stable. What critical theorists do is articulate these instabilities to illustrate the instability and cultural practice of how these meanings are defined. For something that is understood and accepted as very real and tangible, the goal of this paradigm is to illustrate clearly how unstable these categories are. Racism will always exist as long as we accept racial classification. Critical race theory seeks to destabilize these arbitrary distinctions.

  11. The war as betrayal seemed to move from Hollywood to Washington during the last presidential election. The whole narrative of Senator McCain’s experience in Vietnam was highlighted in his campaign, “Country First.” The war as betrayal story line was transferred from Vietnam to Iraq. In these narratives Sen. McCain takes on the role of Rambo, the good soldier who suffered and scarified for the country only to be betrayed by the politicians, the Democrats, who claim we are losing the war. Candidate Obama represented the heart of this betrayal. According to McCain’s campaign, Obama didn’t believe in the troops and his slogan “Country First” assumes that Obama was putting the country second or third or fourth. A vote for McCain was a vote for America, for the troops, and for winning the war.
    In Carolyn and Reggie’s first question, in asking how other cities deal with difference. One way to answer this might be to examine how many states including Arizona and Tennessee are dealing with the first non-white President. Cornel West states, “Yet social theory is what is needed to examine and explain the historically specific ways in which “Whiteness” is a politically constructed category parasitic on “Blackness” and thereby to conceive of the profoundly hybrid character of what we mean by “race,” “ethnicity,” and “nationality” (Social Theory, p. 519). One place where it seems these political constructions collide could be in the calls for President Obama’s birth certificate. For the first time in America’s history, states are passing laws requiring Presidential candidates to present their “long form birth certificate” before they are allowed on the State’s ballot. One question could be, “how do we legislate difference?” Throughout history, these constructions seem to find their political nature once they become law; Miscegenation laws, which made it illegal for “White” and “Blacks” to marry; Chinese Exclusion Act; even Article 1 of the Constitution “Representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several states which may be included within this union, according to their respective numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole number of free persons, including those bound to service for a term of years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.” Once difference finds its way into law, constructions of race, ethnicity, and nationality become as Foucault might say “disciplined” by the government. Could we say that the powers of the state are used to produce difference? If you want to know how a city, state, or country deals with difference, then one place to look could be their laws.

  12. Part I

    My first real revelation concerning race theory as applied to researching race occurred this past Fall in a Qualitative Research course. We were required to read a special issue collection of essays titled “Accepting the invitation to dialogue: The communication discipline, journal review process, and race/ism related research.” In these essays, communication researchers of all ethnic backgrounds discuss various topics related to researching race. Reading these articles enlightened me on an incident that happened to me and a colleague after presenting a paper on Native American radio. During the question and answer session, one of the audience members questioned my colleague and I as to why we chose Native American radio to research and what right did she and I have as white women to conduct this research. My colleague and I answered honestly: I have Native American heritage on both sides with the closest being my great grandmother and my colleague, while not Native American, had worked at a Native American radio station and had spent a significant amount of time visiting Native American radio stations all over the U.S. Later, I found out that this audience member, who is Native American, had spent most of her life researching Native American communication aspects but had only been able to publish a couple of articles on it. After reading the collection of articles, I realized her frustration with us and our research. Our readings this week discuss the white versus other perspective, such as the history of racism, specifically it’s development in the slave trade and the orientalism, which is “a system of ideological fiction” (321, Storey, 172). Both are “a matter of power” (Storey, 172). it is such cultural perspectives and ideologies that led this woman to be frustrated with white researchers being published in areas of race and my colleague and I not thinking to initially reveal our positionality to our research. While I personally think about my position to my research constantly, before this year I had never thought to include that in my writing of research. I think that some of this can be contributed to training and exposure, but it is cultural indoctrination of white ideologies which have dictated my training and exposure. I did not even think about revealing my positionality in my research because as a white person that is not required or even expected.

  13. Part II

    Spivak is concerned about research that minsinteprets the subject and attempts to "save the brown woman from the brown man." What are some steps you can take to ensure your methodology is not dominated by your worldview? Is it really possible to "unlearn" your way of life so that you can fully immerse in another's culture?

    I would like to address these questions. For the first one, while some might argue that only those of each race should research their own race, I would argue that like the material in this class, having multiple perspectives on something allows us to piece it all together to gain a better view of the situation. I also believe that it is important to position yourself in relation to your research so that you, your research participants, and your audience know your perspective. In addition, it is important that your research methodology be triangulated and grounded in data. A further measure would consist of theoretically testing. Most of the time this means taking your conclusions back to your research participants and making sure that they agree with your conclusions.

    As for the second question, I have to agree with Melody’s response. When it comes to the scenario I described above, I may be descendent from Native Americans, I have always defined myself as a white woman. While I share my gender with the questioning audience member and maybe ancestry, I do not commonly refer to myself as Native American and I did not grow up on a Native American reservation with Native American radio as a way of learning my culture. I can only position myself in relation to my research. However, since my revelation in the area of positionality, I have found myself contemplating how I should be classifying myself to “fit into the predetermined spaces” (Reggie and Carolyn). I found Anzaldua’s essay inspirational in understanding the intersecting dynamic of multiple classifications of a person or as Collins terms it the ‘matrix of domination.” It is in this intersectionality that “viewing the world as one in the making raises the issue of individual responsibility for bringing about change” (ST, 551).

  14. Part I –


    This week’s readings are rich and complex. Entire papers, monographs, and texts have been written on this excerpted material. I will resist a desire to comment on every concept and instead focus on two points in the question “How can intersectionality be [used] to explain [or understand] Memphis's recent consolidation [discussion]?”

    Long before I encountered Patricia Hill Collins or her predecessor Kimberly Crenshaw, I had an understanding of reality and/or experience as merely points of convergence of structures and events; that is to say, I understood that at any given moment we were at a point of intersecting realities given shape to them and being shaped by them. While I am always thankful to find the right technical term that allows me to map my thoughts onto larger discursive activity, I find Crenshaw’s (and Collin’s) understanding of intersectionality to be rather narrow. However, I can forgive that narrowness because they are adapting a theoretical construct to a specific analytical pursuit.

    In the calculus of human experiences, no two people can ever experience the same intersection in the exact same way. In fact, no one person can ever experience the same intersection in the exact same way. You can’t cross the same river twice. Thus no two people will interpret the intersection in the exact same way. So, groups synthesize experiences to produce a commonality. This is my understanding of rhetorical invention.

    So, what is “normal?” Normal is always subjective. This is the running joke of psychology. A “normal” family exists largely by definition against a dysfunctional family. The object of study is usually something in deviance to some perceived standard. That is to say one intersection of factors becomes the standard for understanding another intersection of factors. Out of this arises an understanding of normal.

    What does any of this have to do with the question I propose to answer? I’ll use a personal story – a remembered experience of intersections. I experienced the implementation of school desegregation. The experience profoundly shaped me and I cannot say it was a good thing. While being a Black male of above average intelligence in a segregated learning environment, my reality was fairly well situated in the fabric and narrative of African American community and life. That is to say, I fit. However, in the Fall of 1970, when my elementary school was desegregated (as well as all elementary schools in East Baton Rouge Parish), I suddenly did not fit. My white teacher was shaped by an intersection of color, class, and academic achievement that gave rise to a negative set of expectations for her Black students. Thus, when I did not fit in the low or middle ability groups, but had to be seated in the high group as the only black student, there was tension and conflict. I was displaced and suffered a psychic violence. The various intersectionalities represented in that situation created a nightmare. Even Black peers were no longer sure what to do with me. I’ll leave the story at that for my purposes here.

  15. Part II -

    I cannot help but understand and interpret the current Memphis situation through my experiences of school desegregation. It has been an essential defining experience giving shape to my life and worldview.

    I have oriented my intersections to the intersections of others in a particular way in order to live. Even in my most progressive and open-minded moments, I still find myself resisting a change in the orientation that gives meaning to my reality. This is the problem in Memphis. An effort is being made to drag factions to a common intersection. This is being met with resistance not necessarily out of malice, but because the various parties have constructed meaning and status and reorientation becomes disorienting.

    The sad reality of human being is that division shapes being. We resist broad, bold movements or leaps. Moving to another place on the graph of existence is often a glacial process and overcoming friction is never easy. Part of the friction has to do with the illusion of freedom and agency. I may not have created the convergence point, but I sure want to have the freedom to make some choices about it.

  16. Race and racism are obviously fabricated constructions based solely on the color of one’s skin. For example, Storey points out that hair color and eye color could easily bear identifications as skin color marks one‘s identity in such a substantial way (CTPC, 167). As Storey explores the ideology of racism, I found Edward Long’s 1774 account of racism in, History of Jamaica, particularly interesting. Long opens stating, “I think there are extremely potent reasons for believing, that the White and the Negroe are two distinct species….When we reflect on… their dissimilarity to the rest of mankind, must we not conclude, that they are a species of the same genus…? Nor do orangutans seem at all inferior in the intellectual faculties to many of the Negroe race” (CTPC, 169). This ideology firmly posits racism through a false narrative. Long further emphasizes his naivety as he refers to two different human beings as different species based on the color of the skin.

    In Gloria Anzaldua’s article, The New Mestiza, she highlights the way bordering of countries creates division and alienation (ST, 552). While often seen from a U.S. perspective, Anzaldua offers a new insight as a white, Indian and Mexican, claiming that she is unable to “chisel” her own identity as societies expect one to classify into one race or another (ST, 558). Anzaldua wishes to form a new culture, one that is real, that is, not limited by the color of the skin but by individuality. The idea of incorporating new cultures to the communicational field of study appears simple at first glance. Of course, we all know that Long’s declaration of a species differential between skin colors is asinine; culture has engrained in each one of us some opinion or lens through which we view race and more broadly, culture. Just as Anzaldua felt constantly displaced, between cultures, the majority of people do not fit one mold or another. Although I am predominately Irish and Italian, I also have Cherokee Indian in my lineage, therefore, in terms of race and culture, who am I? Am I white?

    Theoretically, doing away with such arbitrary distinctions of race permits the free construction of identity by the individual a new cultural approach to race theory. Namely, this change will perpetuate once society comprehends the outdated bigoted and often hateful discourse of racism. Once society deems racial identities as arbitrary and realizes that these labels ultimately restrict one ’s self through naïve distinctions a new cultural approach may begin to emerge.

  17. As I read the readings for this week, I was drawn to Storey’s opening about constructions of the term race, something which Gates and West (1990), citing it as a social idea, also touch on as well; “race is a cultural and historical category, a way of making difference signify between people of a variety of skin tones. Difference exists whether it is made to signify or not. But how it is made to signify is always a result of politics and power, rather than a question of biology” (p. 168). Gilroy notes that, “without racism there would be little meaning to the concept of race” (Storey, p. 168); and Gates adds that as trope, race is an “ultimate, irreducible difference between cultures, linguistic groups, or adherents of specific belief systems” and which often have opposing economic interests” (Social Theory, p. 521). In these readings, in particular, it seems that in cultures race is a term used for political and social power, and therefore, should not be used in society as it perpetuates the system of the idea of racism. If found this to be interesting because the term race does seem to hold both power and possible beneficial influence in the area of health. Upon first glance, it appears that the term race serves an importance purpose to use to bring awareness of certain or more dangerous health risks for different ethnicities. However, I was confused because our readings tell us that race is not biological, even though some, mostly white men, have claimed this to be true in the past and even a few in modern day; but rather, race is constructed and maintained to create a hierarchy of a white, male dominant class hegemonically repressing other humans.
    To conduct a quick investigation about how race is discussed or viewed in the health arena, I went to the index of my old health communication textbook which I used for a health communication class in my masters. In this index (book) by du Pre (2005), upon finding the word race, it simply says, “See Minorities” (I-16); and when I get to the word, minorities it tells me to “See also Cultural diversity and expectations” and also lists a number of pages about racial discrimination in health care, high risk for diseases, and knowledge of health issues. After readings this week’s scholarship on race and then finding the word minorities to be supplemented for the word race in this text, I had to stop and question if minorities is just as demeaning of a word to use as race is? Does it not discriminate and belittle humans who are not the majority populations? I wonder when people use the term minorities is it being used to describe smaller populations of people or is the term being used as a way of perpetuating a culture of difference in which dominant hegemonic regimes are reinforcing the concept of Us vs. the Other, or simply defining the other as object. When I finally got to the text in du Pre’s (2005) book on race and health, like our readings, du Pre also states that race is not biological, but rather is social and the health risks that are experienced by some ethnicities and not others is due to what they have been exposed to socially- through their culturalization, which also can include their nutrition, exercise habits, economic upbringing, education, etc; also, unfortunately, any type of discrimination can cause people to experience more stress which can negatively impact and affect their health.
    Overall, while I am not that familiar with Memphis’s school consolidation to use as an example, I believe that the idea of intersectionality can be easily applied in the health area. Physicians and other medical professionals do not just focus in on ethnic backgrounds, but also the patient’s gender and economic means and also geographic locations to afford such health care and be able to obtain it. All of these issues come into play when both diagnosing and recommending treatment to patients and may also be problematic due to discrimination or oppression that one has experienced in the arenas of ethnicity, gender, and class.

  18. Sorry, forgot to include Du Pre's book citation above:
    du Pre, A. (2005). Communication About Health: Current Issues and Perspectives (2nd ED). NY: McGraw-Hill. (2nd ED). NY: McGraw-Hill.

    And sorry my post was a minute late, I brought back my brother's labtop with me from spring break, and the clock on it must be set ahead which I was made aware of just now when I posted.

  19. Regarding the question of whether an individual can "unlearn" his/her culture in order to understand another, I agree with Darren's statement "In the calculus of human experiences, no two people can ever experience the same intersection in the exact same way. In fact, no one person can ever experience the same intersection in the exact same way."

    Take the Louis CK clip that Robert posted. "If being white were an option, I'd re-up every year...How many advantages can one person have? I'm a white man. You can't even hurt my feelings!"

    I can't stop laughing when I hear that. The thing is, there are only 4 of us in class who can relate to it from Louis' perspective. Everyone else is the Other, is the outsider looking in. You laugh along because you know it's true, but you can't live that truth.

    The question "In light of Anzaldua's article, how can we identify and support the validity of new 'cultures' developing in our field of study?" relates to a minor point from last week's reading in CTPC pages 159-160.

    The field of "men's studies and masculinities" is met with trepidation and, at times, scorn in academia because it is widely regarded as navel gazing by the dominant ideology. However, I agree with Antony Easthope that "It is time to try to speak about masculinity, about what it is and how it works" because the scholarship of non-white-European-American-heterosexual-males has caused us (the white-European-American-heterosexual-males) to recognize that our historical hegemony is waning, and that we are one small voice among many other small voices. We are, in fact, refuting Simone de Beauvoir and volunteering "to become the object, the inessential" (ST, p.346).