Category Archives: Race, Class, Gender

So That’s Why I have to Write Letters of Recommendation!!!

I was on the “New Yorker’s” site looking for interesting essays to use for my Creative Writing class, something hip and new, and I came across this interesting article about the evolving (at one time) admissions process for getting into Harvard and the other ivy leagues. As it turns out, the reasons I get swamped with requests for letters of recommendation every fall is because Harvard admissions folks were anti-semetic. Thanks, you snotty-snotpantses. It’s actually a really interesting read.

Thinking About Rene

Note: I wrote the first three paragraphs of this post in June of 2005. The rest I am adding in December.

I’m not exactly sure why I began thinking about Rene recently. I was driving back from Amy’s shower, and my mind was wandering around as it is wont to do when I’m driving for quite a while. I recalled Rene, a boy I was acquainted with as a young teen. As a naive suburbanite living in Cheektowaga, coming from a working class, polish immigrant, hard drinking, self-definsively racist, devoutly catholic background, I became friend with Dawn. Dawn was from the city of Buffalo, and we lived in Cheektowaga. WE were going places, living in Cheektowarsaw. So you can see there was an obvious class difference. My family had escaped Buffalo, and had a long time ago. Both sets of grandparents had lived in the polish suburb of Cheektowaga for many years. On my paternal side, my grandparents had lived in Buffalo in their youth, including when they first married. They were part of the historic white flight from the city to the ‘burbs. I’d say my family mellowed with generations, but it really depends on the individuals to be frank.

So Dawn had the citified edge to her. She actually knew people who were not white, though they were indeed still catholic. She had this friend Michael, who was hispanic and lived in Buffalo. One day we chatted on the phone with him, and he put his friend Rene on to chat with me. I was in ninth grade, and this was one of the first times I was flirting with a boy. I was receiving attention I liked, and so I had a telecrush on Rene. To be honest, I don’t think I even had any idea of his race. I’m not sure I know his last name at the time, but because he had what I thought was a french name, I probably assumed he was white.

We exchanged phone numbers, and we chatted on the phone often. It was a time of teenage sexual exploration, in the most benign manner. He asked me how big my bumps were under a sweater (not very), but I was becoming aware of myself as a sexual being, not for the first time exactly, but in a continuing sort of way. He participated in some junior air force group. I think he flew(?) — hell, I’m not sure what they did there, because he could not have been more than 15. They were having some sort of ball, and he asked me to go as his date. A DATE! Of course I wanted to go. So I asked my mom, and she said a resounding no. She said he was probably black, and that seemed to be the strongest reason for me not to go wth him. I don’t remember her saying much about the fact that he was a stranger I’d only chatted with on the phone. I so clearly recall having to call him to tell him that I could not go and citing the reason as my parents would not allow me to be in an interracial relationship. Of course when I think now, I wonder what the hell possessed me to be that brutally honest. I suppose it was complete ignorance.

(Now in December): I’d still like to hope it was ignorance. I just posted about being very mean to a girl in my homeroom. I guess I, too, have the confessional bug, which I will blame on my Catholicism, as we Catholics can’t take any blame ourselves. (The devil made me do it, afterall.) I was out the other night with co-workers, and Asha, the new teacher, said of Debbie, the teacher she replaced, that Debbie’s former students told Asha that Debbie was black. Debbie is asian. We chuckled in a sad way that our students see all non-whites as black, but frankly, I did the same damn thing as a teen, or my mom did, or we both did.

When I was so honest with Rene, he told me, “Well what race do you think I am?” And when I said black, he told me he was Spanish (might I add, not hispanic, Puerto Rican, Mexican, Guatemalan, etc). Of course that didn’t change anything for our potential dating situation. Again, I’d like to chalk it all up to age and inexperience, and perhaps in part I can. It’s not easy to figure out our own places in the world and other people’s places in the world. The sad thing is: there ARE places for us in the world.

Again and again, I am aware of my own roots, especially having jumped a social class. I am very uneasy living in West Hartford at times. I still have some disdain for ostentatious wealth. I think of the American Dream and how it deludes people so easily. That is the goal of capitalism, to delude people. I look around at hardworking people in the service sector, and I see sharp class lines. And the sad thing is, I am often aware that I help maintain those lines. When I have the energy, I do try to shake up those divides, but it’s not easy. I wonder where Rene is today. I wonder if he joined the armed forces and if he is in Iraq. I wonder if he is married and has kids. I hope he has left Buffalo, if for no other reason than the racism there is thick enough to be cut with a knife, as it frankly is in Hartford. Anyway, ‘nough said. Thoughts?

Urgent: Courts May Take New Direction!

I was trying to think of some Fox News-esque type headline. 🙂

To some people (a.k.a. Sujal), many people support or poo-poo a potential justice based on one issue — abortion. I disagree. The right to choose is a civil liberty, a symptom of the ills that still plague women’s status in society. Yes, even our modern American society. The issue is about social class, gender equality, separation of church and state, and “parents’ rights” — which as far as I’m concerned, if right-to-lifers want to follow their line of logic that life begins at conception, then they should be calling it Grandparents’ rights — because parents’ right would be the rights of the pregnant teen (or tween) daughter and the father of the unborn. So in essence, parents’ rights are still the rights of the pregnant young woman.

At the point that a girl is pregnant, parents should have already begun to impress upon their daughter the importance of sound decisions. This is also a reason I am in favor of sex ed in schools. None of this is new, of course. We’ve heard the arguments for both sides for a long time now. It makes me sad that this is still an issue. It makes me sad that people don’t see the word “bitch” as the epithet it is. These thoughts tie into my post-shower musings from today.

I had this funny jump of thoughts this AM that began with thinking about boy bands because of this link that Sujal showed me. One thought lead to another, and I had this memory that made me very sad. I believe I was in 9th grade, sitting in front of “Ray” in homeroom. Ray and I shared no classes, so I didn’t know him very well, but I liked him in terms of being a homeroom pal. My memory of him is that he was not wildly interested in school. He was in a clique (if I recall correctly) that we at my HS called the freaks — though freak was not as insulting as it is in regular speech (though being called a freak can rarely be construed as a positive thing.) Other terms for the group: heads (short for potheads), stoners, metalheads, etc. Really, there was this strain of classist divide going on there. My clique was the punk crowd, which was on the same side of the class divide as the freaks. Nonetheless, Ray, the freak, and I were homeroom pals. We also chatted with “Nicole”, who sat nearby. Nicole was also a freak, and as most freaker chicks, she was a “known slut.” I remember one day Ray, teasing I’m sure, put his hand on my back and caressed me. Being the prim and proper, naive girl that I was (i.e. good catholic), I turned around and said to Ray, “Don’t do that! Maybe SHE (pointing to Nicole) likes it, but I don’t!” So this morning, looking in the mirror, I uncovered that ugly wrinkle in my past.

How did Nicole end up being the target when she wasn’t even involved? I misplaced my blame and anger on an innocent girl. Why? She was an easier target. I also clearly recall “Michelle” who was also a “known slut.” She was in my gym class, and the other kids were really nasty to her, challenging her to fights, calling her a slut, etc. Being on the same side of the class divide, Michelle and I hung together during gym. She was one of the most soft-spoken, kind people I’d met in high school. How did she become a target for harassment by being labeled a slut?

I don’t believe that there is such a thing as a slut; there is only objectification and anger that is easily placed on women (often by other women). If I have a daughter, I am going to teach her that there is no such thing as a slut, to not judge people by a “reputation” like that. I’m going to teach her to recognize double standards, and that should she get called such a thing to try to recognize it is misplaced aggression. If I have a son, I will teach him these same lessons, though he cannot be called a slut and have it carry the same stab.

How does this tie in to the supreme court discussing an abortion law? I do not understand why there are still sluts in our society. I do not understand why people believe it is their role to control the behaviors and decisions of girls and women more than boys and men. Damn! This law is coming from New Hampshire — the Live Free or Die state. I read this article in the New York Times this afternoon. Here’s a snippet from the article:

In asking the justices to restore her state’s law, which was passed in 2003 but has never taken effect, Ms. Ayotte was sharply questioned by Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Anthony M. Kennedy and David H. Souter after she asserted that another state law would guard a doctor from legal action, and that in any event the state attorney general’s office would lay down a policy shielding physicians in such cases.

Justice Souter challenged Ms. Ayotte’s assertion that a doctor who performed an emergency abortion would be “constitutionally protected” from prosecution or civil liability. “What do you mean when you say it would be constitutionally protected?” asked Justice Souter, who is from New Hampshire.

Justice Breyer seemed skeptical about her statement that another state law would protect a doctor in an emergency situation. “How do we know that’s the law?” Justice Breyer asked. He said “people of good faith on both sides” might disagree on whether the other law conferred such protection.

If it is not clearly worded in the law, prosecuters will be able to try to prosecute doctors acting in an emergency. It will also cause doctors to have to make tough decisions, where they may want to abort because of imminent danger, but the imminent danger may be debatable. They may fear that another expert may say that the mother would have been fine to carry to term.

What troubles me more is this excerpt:

But Jennifer Dalven, a lawyer for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, which challenged the law, said that even a minor delay can be disastrous. “As the nation’s leading medical authorities have explained, delaying appropriate care for even a very short period can be catastrophic and puts the teen at risk of liver damage, kidney damage, stroke and infertility,” she said.

Ms. Dalven met with some skepticism when she said that the provision for a judge’s order can be a dangerous obstacle. “Once a minor arrives in the emergency room, it is too late for her to go to court,” she said.

Justice Antonin Scalia wondered what would happen if the state created “a special office, open 24 hours a day” to field just such emergencies: ” ‘This is the abortion judge.’ It takes 30 seconds to place a phone call.”

So Scalia has this brilliant idea to have an on-call judge. How will the judge be appointed? Now there’s a disaster of bias waiting to happen.

Instead, why don’t we stop treating pregancy as a punishment for premarital sex. The parental values of “might makes right” is actually quite juvenile. Teens and tweens need sincere input (driving input) into the major decisions that will affect their lives and bodies. Parental consent laws like this are for protecting those parents that are overprotective. Clearly, if a child wants an abortion without her parents knowing, there is a reason for that.

Most of us probably know girls who had abortions, particularly who really could not tell their parents without having had awful results. I recall a chat I had with two of my catholic relatives several years ago, and both disagree with abortions in general, yet they both agreed that a friend they had needed the protection of being able to make that choice without having to tell her parents. Her parents would have done something drastic. Ugh, and socioeconomic class is so deeply tied in as well, so no, I do not at all think that rejecting a potential justice based on his or her past rulings around the right to chose is a single issue at all. Not at all. I have no interest in hanging my rights on the coat-rack and grabbing my apron as I head into the kitchen. None at all.

Patricia Williams

So I’m having my senior class read Ironweed by William Kennedy, and it is a really good book. I wish I could say I felt the same about all of the books in the curriculum, but alas, I cannot. I’m trying to introduce literary criticism to the students, and I have been giving them definitions. once in awhile, I give them critical essays. I remembered Patricia Williams’ book The Alchemy of Race and Rights. This book left quite an impression on me when I read it in grad school, and one of the specific characteristic I love about Williams is her tenacity in seeing the world in shades of grey. I thought about the book in conjunction with Ironweed, because I remembered some of her anecdotes about people’s reactions to the homeless. I decided I’d have my students read that section, because discussion broke out into, “I won’t give money to the homeless because they’ll just drink it.” While I can understand why the students who espoused those views believed them, I’d like for them to see the perspective of a larger view of homelessness as a systemic problem. Hopefully an interesting discussion will ensue. The school where I teach tends to be pretty liberal, yet I think I have a generally right of center class.

Latoyia Figueroa

I’m writing this post because Sujal tore me away from my reading induced nap and asked me to read this post about Latoyia Figueroa and then respond to it. He wanted me to write it to post on Fatmixx, and so I am also pposting it on my own beloved website:

When Sujal called me to ask me to write this post, I asked him to tell me about it first. I will admit, my first reaction internally was something along the lines of: Okay, so what do you want me to do about it? There’s nothing I can do about it. I think that was coming directly from my deeply rooted white guilt. And as quick as lightning, a flurry of thoughts ran through my head. I have never been a big fan of the hyping of missing women, white or otherwise. Frankly, I think that it paints missing women as entertainment. Just ask Sujal, I despise TV shows that rovolve around a woman being vistimized: raped, murdered, abducted, you name it. Years ago, I began thinking about how there are very few movies or books about men being victimized by women. (I think I may have even posted about this in the past.) I even opened it up to men being abducted and tortured by other men, and still my list was quite short. I asked a lot of people at the time for their knowledge, and collectively, we came up with a short list. the two that come to mind are “Misery” and “Man in the Iron Mask” (men without any heroic status in the text or film — and yet “Iron Mask” even seems to break that rule). For the most part, men are not protrayed as being so powerlesss. I’d say this goes for the news, too. Women, on the other hand, are the perfect object for victimization in pop-culture, non-pop-culture, and the news. Honestly, I began to think that women were victimized more in reality. I did a little online research to see if indeed women were more likely to be on the receiving end of violent crime. I came upon this website, Bureau of Justice Statistics. Men are indeed much more on the recieving end of victimization. I couldn’t find info on abduction and/or torture. I go through all of this because what really upsets me is how skewed the perceptions of women as victims are. There’s a book called The Culture of Fear. I have not read it, but I see it referenced a lot and know that it deals with fear being a means to control “the masses” and public perception. I also think that portraying the victimization of women, whether it is as entertainment or as news can foster an idea that this IS what happens, and therefore it’s out there, not that it is exactly okay to victimize women, but it’s out there — just like lying is not okay, but it happens all the time (perhaps not on the same scale).

My other hesitation to post about this was because there has been a long standing clash between some white feminists and some feminists of color. I do not want to diminish the importance of any human being, which is probably the main reaction to this phenomenon of underreporting missing minority women. I would agree that it does indicate a disconcerting lack of concern for all individulas regardless of skin color. But I am also not prepared to get into a really big discussion of white feminism vs. feminism of color, and that is probably because I am white and have not looked into it too deeply.

So I guess my feelings on Figueroa are as follows: I am not a fan of any woman’s disappearance being paraded on TV, newspapers, or internet. I usually see these things as private matters, and I do not want to be a voyeur. I do, though, see the helpfulness of publicizing a face of a missing person to report leads. So I guess it gets a bit complex there. As for the fact that minority women are not given the same media attention, well, that is flat out wrong that our media reports that way, obviously. (though any good businessperson will tell you that news is a business, and they reposrt on what sells, so the larger society is equally guilty.) Clearly there are issues of race and class at play. Clearly as a nation we value some people over others. This is wrong. Bust again, I think it is wrong period to treat the victimization of women as entertainment.

The blogger on All Spin Zone wanted any blogger to link to mention Latoyia Figueroa to get her name out there to try to get leads. I do not know how to post pictures, so just click on All Spin Zone.