Recently in Responses Category

Racial Formation in the Media Post 9/11

On Friday, December 9th Professor Jigna Desai presented her work-in-progress entitled "Cinema of Exception, Cinema of Insecurity: Race and Terror in Post 9/11 Media." Positioning her work in the context of former President George W. Bush's post 9/11 remarks, which propelled the nation into a "state of exception" she illustrated how the U.S. was able to justify its persecution of "bad" brown bodies (muslim terrorists). Bush's campaign relied on the idea that the surveillance and violence against these "bad" brown bodies must be done to preserve the national security of the U.S. and the international community at large. The former President successfully gathered national and international support for his campaign against terror by laying out a framework for determining what made a "good" and "bad" brown muslim body through his executive actions. More specifically, this exercise of hegemonic power and global violence would be explored in popular films. By examining two Harold and Kumar films Desai argued that these parodies do more than provide a venue to purge the U.S. of the fear of a terrorist attack.

The point I remember the most during her analysis of the films was the role that citizenship played in the stories developing narrative. For instance, in one of the films the ability of the two main characters to access goods or to participate in consumer culture became a major signifier of American citizenship. The fantasy of the American dream and the constant pursuit of inclusion became the basis of almost all the interactions that took place throughout the film.

A question that arose for me relates to the ways that representations of the American dream have shifted alongside the state of exceptions persecution of "bad" brown bodies. More specifically, how do these films disrupt the ideological particularities of the American dream? Why is that important to a parody film that aims to use humor to challenge and disrupt the idea of the "good" and "bad" brown body?

I am have always been particularly interested in the ways that the American dream continues to define, confine and legitimize certain ways of being in the world. I believe a closer examination of its role in tandem with your works established goals could open up your exploration of the role that citizenship plays in contemporary racial formation.

Good Luck!

Musical Activism, Black Feminism and Queerness

In Yuichiro Onishi's talk entitled Abbey Lincoln's Japan: Slave Art in the Creation of 1973 Albums" Onishi argued that Abby Lincoln's divorce from drummer Max Roach in 1970 did not defeat her intellectual or activist spirit, but rather gave her "the courage required to go on living in the present." Lincoln's hiatus to Japan during this time then signified a major shift in the artists concsiousness where she explored two things primarily. First, Lincoln challenged the notion that the enslaved did not speak back by recalling the importance of her ancestral past. Second, In this act of "monkery" (the act of self-searching through past exploration) Lincoln aimed to rethink and reorientate the Black families usage of the normative family model.

During the question and answer portion of the talk a number of interesting comments and questions arose, but the most intriguing came from Professor Amy Kaminsky. Kaminsky suggested that the author leave room for Lincoln's work to be interpreted as queer. In short, Kaminsky found that Onishi's reading of Lincoln's message as solely rooted in heterosexuality was limiting to the message that she believes Lincoln was trying to send in her music. Kaminsky was commenting specifically on an interview clip we watch where Lincoln talked about Polygamy in the African community and ended her comments by describing the multiple connections and linkages that should be possible, "with you, and you, and you and you."

Onishi was not 100% sure that he understood Kaminsky's comments, because he did not believe that Lincoln's reference to the "you" in the video clip made any reference to a specific gender desire. This however, is not the precursor for something being "defined" as queer (a specific gender notation), however I believe queerness does the exact opposite it relies on the ambiguity and unsureness that disrupts the heteronormative frame. But what I found interesting in Onishi and Professor Zenzele Isoke's comments back to Kaminsky was this idea that "queerness" in early Black feminist understandings was rooted in disrupting the normality of whiteness.

My question is then; How does important articles like Cathy Cohen's "Punks, Bulldaggers and Welfare Queens: The Radical Potential of Queer Politics?" help further this claim? Or rather how has the use of "queer" by Black feminist scholars been pushing back on the exertion of power by an elite ideological frame that aims to police and control "unruly Black bodies?"

Response to Squires

Catherine Squires in her colloquium talk discussed her attempts to bring bell hooks to the discipline of Journalism and Mass Communication. She linked hooks' ideas of civility and political engagement to those of John Dewey and C. Wright Mills. Squires emphasized the idea of civility in an approach of 'what I can do for you', decentering the self and promoting 'civilized' exchange. I was curious about this discussion of civility and why hooks utilizes this term given its proximity to civility and the idea of 'civilization' (as opposed to barbarism) in western ideas of liberalism and democracy. I wondered what Squires' own understandings, critiques, and interventions are regarding this. While I appreciate efforts that seek to encourage discussion between traditional disciplines and feminist studies, in utilizing the terms of debate of that discipline to draw feminist theory into it, what potential is lost, and what remains, of critique and alteration of that discipline? Could an approach that keeps hooks' discussion at critical disagreement with Communications Studies (or Dewey and Mills) and allowing her words to remain at odds with these ideas be an enactment of the very approach that hooks proposes - of sitting with disagreement and ambiguity?

I also am curious about how the 'you' to be helped in 'what I can do for you' is assumed to be the other in political discourse, and not someone who is similarly positioned with respect to social location. Can one reorient this language to think of space to speak with 'you's who may be similarly oppressed? This would also be a political choice to generate spaces of discussion and action, which supports others without centralizing self or re-centering an oppressor.

Teaching Community: bell hooks and Civility

Catherine Squires talk on bell hooks aimed to place her work in conversation with media and critical communication theory to prompt the field to rethink how it understands the topic of civility and communication in the public sphere.

In this talk I found the following connections extremely compelling:

1. According to Squires reading of bell hooks the starting point for civility is not unity or consensus, but rather equity and mutuality (what can I do for you). Hooks makes this distinction, because she believes the most important step in this process is resisting the bondage of dominator culture. dominator culture is the constant positioning of the self over the other. A mechanism of power that we are all implicated within.

2. This process of communicative exchange also requires that we tolerate ambiguity. In hooks conception this means that each party must engage in exchange willing to walk away without making any clear determinations, but accept fragmentation and psychological discomfort. Squires uses the example of the media's persistent demand that the current "occupy" movement provide them with a leader and a specific set of agenda items. In many ways drawing our attention to the limits of our current communcative practices.

These points were of interest to me, because Squires project unearths past writings by hooks that many publishers have deemed as passé'. However, it is clear that much of her work is still very relevant to the current "age of fracture" (i.e.;post-movement era). As I consider the role that dominator culture and the tolerance of ambiguity (a phrase that other women of color feminists like Gloria Anzaldua utilize) plays in the creation of civility I imagine that this conversation can not happen without talking about the ways that language or particular discursive manuvers frame these debates or discourses of civility.

Performing the Proper Medicalized Subject

Although Reg's prepared talk was compelling in its own right, it was the dialog during the question and answer portion of the colloquia that left my mind reeling. More specifically, my interest was peaked by the questions regarding the impact of affect, and the positionality of the narrator, as a narrator, within the archive.

I believe it was Kevin Murphy who began the conversation about the patient's position as narrators of their own medicalized/pathologized subjectivity at St. Elizabeth's hospital. This question - "what does it feel like to be a medicalized subject?" - speaks directly to my own academic interests, but more importantly made me think critically about narrative as both performance and affect. Kevin asked that we think about how the patients may or may not be using their psychoanalytic writing to "perform the proper subject," and for what purposes. Eli Vitulli followed up on this comment suggesting that Reg look to Disability and Transgender Studies as places of inquiry where similar strategic performance has been theorized. Of course, such performance is enacted through assimilating into the recognized and rewarded metanarrative as determined by the institutional powers. I wonder though about instances where this performance of the proper subject occurs without strategic or intention on the part of the patient. As Eli noted, previous scholarship has well noted cases where marginalized subjects adopt the dominant, necessitated narrative in order to gain access to the material realities they desire (i.e. gender reassignement surgery). I am curious though about the narratives of patients who were less calculated. What does it feel like to be a medicalized subject when as that subject you sincerely buy into the dominant discourse of healing provided for you, only then to find that discourse unrewarding? What does it feel like to be a medicalized subject who is failed?

This question pulls my thinking into the related conversation about the power of affect in narrative. To think of the patients in St. Elizabeth's struggling with the psychic pain of their pathologization is unquestionably and affective project (at least for me). I will risk sounding dramatic and admit that when Reg shared various quotes from the archive my heart sank. Most notably, I felt what some feminists of color have called a "blood memory" when she quoted a fellow archivist who said of the archive; "this is our holocaust." The idea posited of "affect as a point of identification" stuck me as exactly right, but also as an idea that I need to further explore. In an academic tradition that has for so long theorized, or thought through, identity, what does it mean to feel identity or identification? This is perhaps the reverse of José Muñoz's description of disidentification. What does it mean, and where does it take us - as academics specifically - to feel our work? As the colloquia conversation asked, what are the ethics of this affective identification and how does that structure our project? As Reg admitted its almost, if not totally, impossible to shut off our affective connection to our work - especially when it is work like this project - how can we account for its presence in an ethical way? Lastly, related to my own interests what are the relationships between narrative and affect, and affect and identification? Especially for people who find themselves positioned as pathologized/medicalized subjects?

Psychiatric Scrutiny, Race & Queerness

After attending Regina's talk, which focused on the role of psychiatric scrutiny on homosexual life at St. Elizabeth's hospital, I found the following anecdotes beckoned more exploration.

First, I found Reg's overall project compelling as she grappled with how to approach the archive. More specifically, she explored what different narratives would be produced by reading against the grain or reading along the grain of the colonial archive. However, I wonder how Reg intends on tempering the fact that all these writing were done through correspondence and guided direction from Dr. Kartman. In this sense the archive's encounter with power defines how each patient presented themselves. So then what does that say about this archival representation overall?

Second, Reg noted that while reading the archive she was looking for information out of place that could serve to disrupt some of the narratives that she had already been reading. She came upon some writing by a Black woman named Helen Pale, one of the only Black people featured in this archive. She noted this was out of place for the following reasons: Black people at this time were not deemed worthy of psychiatric scrutiny, she spoke of her queerness in different ways than the other white patients and she made direct references to the ways that material injustices made her "crazy". I found this very striking and in many ways believe these writings alone could necessitate an entire project on mental health in the Black community, the exclusivity of mental health practices and/or the power of race in the prescription of deviance. However, I wonder how do we make sense of the fact that Helen never directly claimed homosexuality? Or that the doctors did not prescribe a particular diagnosis like transvestism to her file? How much of that lack of information speaks to what Helen was willing to share and/or Dr. Kartman's own perceptions of Black female sexuality at the time? What were those perceptions? What cultural or political factors during this time could have shaped those perceptions?

Lastly, Reg repeated the sentence, "Using those documents that were never meant for our eyes," a number of times. While I found the consistent interrogation of the "power" she assumed by embarking on the project an important one, I also believe that it became clear that it consumed her mind throughout the early reading process. I think once Reg is able to determine for herself why engaging with this archive is so important and for whom, I think she will begin to not only pose this conundrum but then begin to share herself with her readers.

I think we all commit ourselves to various projects for different reasons, but for me I don't believe feminist work should be produced and be called feminist work unless a clear connection to the politicization of real lives on the ground is made. This archive is ripe for a number of great connections.

Good Luck!


Response to Reg Kunzel's Colloquium Talk

Reg Kunzel in her colloquium talk today examined an 'alternative archive' of psychiatric patients at the federal mental facility, St Elizabeth's Hospital, in mid-century Washington, DC. This archive consisted of notebooks and writings of gender variant and queer patients during the time homosexuality was classified as mental illness in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Drawing upon patients' personal writings - what Carolyn Steedman describes as 'things we aren't meant to see' - Reg shared with us accounts of boredom, sadness and rage against the practice of psychoanalysis and the idea that same sex desire was a manifestation of illness, same sex encounters within and enabled by the institution, and drawings and doodles of same-sex sex on hospital papers.

Framing her talk was Reg's discussion around methodology. At first seeking to read against the grain (she drew on Terry [Eagleton?], quoted in Anne Stoler) of the archive to find hidden histories and disrupt the power of the archive. Cautious of getting from archives what we want of them, she drew on Stoler again to discuss the equal importance of reading with the grain of the archive, and through this foraging for moments out of place, of disfiguration. This led to a discussion of the case of Pell, a queer black woman (who place-marked difference through race) who wrote of her experiences of racism and alienation. Reg closed by touching upon questions around queerness framed as disability.

I wondered what spurred Reg's choice of Anne Stoler to discuss approaches to the archives and colonial sexuality, and presumably Eagleton's drawing upon Gayatri Spivak's discussions of reading against the grain of the colonial archive. Given the different contexts in which their work is placed, I would have been interested to hear in more detail how Reg's project is in conversation with Stoler's (and others') work on colonial and postcolonial regulations of sexuality, both within the 'belly of the beast' and in its carceral (and not) archipelagos.

I was also curious about the occasional references to lobotomized patients. How do these patients - and the practice of cutting the brain to cure them - figure into and also put question marks into this story?

"Wearing Down Arizona" -a talk with Sandra Soto

Prof. Sandra Soto gave a talk as part of the Colloquia Series that was co-sponsored by GWSS and Chicano Studies on Thursday April 21st. The talk was originally called "What's Wrong with Arizona" but she renamed it "Wearing Down Arizona." She spoke of her current activist work (with the Tucson 11) in response to the recent ban on Ethnic Studies as well as well as the now famous SB1070. This law would allow and require police officers to act as border enforcement agents and demand documentation from anyone "perceived" to be undocumented. One of the things I found interesting and telling is that for Tom Horne and other critics, the mere mention of "race" is considered racist i.e. the ban on Ethnic Studies classes. Prof. Soto also gave an example of the way that Horne often quotes Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speeches that she referred to as the "deadening" of speech. Prof. Soto also spoke of the way that Horne has targeted the books used in Mexican American Studies programs (namely Occupied America) as well as youth activists as "seditious" and "militant" troublemakers. At the root of this "racialization of fear," is the hope that through aggressive and overt hate aimed at brown bodies, people will begin to "self-deport." One of my concerns that I spoke with Prof. Soto about was the rate of youth suicide for undocumented persons as an unfortunate reality of "self deportation." Prof. Soto also spoke extensively of the possibilities for queer theory to be used in critiquing the legal aspects of such initiatives as well as the deconstruction of family-valued based rhetoric. The presentation was helpful for me to think through my own research interests on how language is employed to create a racialized fear of "others." Some of the questions I had centered on how the racialization of fear has repercussions for both migrants and U.S. born people of color. How can we analyze this relationship without conflating the two very distinct experiences? How can one speak of the realities of racialization without being labeled a racist? And, what is next? If we know that Ethnic Studies is under attack throughout the country along with a rampant and seemingly acceptable xenophobia, what does can this moment teach us about "diversity" "coalitions" and "representation"?
-reina rodríguez

"News from our Families - At the Borders"

This talk sponsored by the Diversity & Equality, the Women's Center, and the GLBTA Programs Office as well as our very own GWSS department featured professors Daniel Brauer form ASU, Charles Morris from Boston College as well as Karma Chavez from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Being that I has recently read Chavez's "Spacializing Performativity" article that spoke of the death of Victoria Arellano, I was very looking forward to the talk. The panelists spoke of the possibilities of coalition building among LGBT and migration activist and scholars and touched on the potential risks of such coalitions. Prof. Brauer began his discussion by speaking about the prominence and visibility of the Westboro Baptist Church and the ways that homophobia was understood/presented it media during the protests at military funerals as opposed to protests targeting funerals of LGBTQ community members. Prof. Morris spoke of a news story that claimed to "transcend race and sexuality" wherein a picture of a "modern" queer family was located in a "liminal space" in the queer archive. I found this quite interesting with regard to how visibility becomes negotiated for queer families. What is lost in this media story / queer archive? What is gained from this type of visibility especially one that claims to transcend both sexuality and race? Prof. Chavez's talk was most interesting to me because it focused on asking this question. In the "coming out of the shadows" narrative of undocumented youth exclaiming that they are "undocumented and unafraid" what is at stake for the LGBTQ youth that demand to be recognized wholly? What can be gained from coalition movements? Is there always a common ground or is one aspect always being overlooked/ignored/trumped?
-reina rodríguez

Sandra Soto - Whats Wrong with Arizona?

On April 21st Sandra Soto gave a powerpoint presentation entitled "Wearing Down Arizona" where she explored the xenophobic nature of recently passed Arizona laws HB2281 (ban against ethnic studies programs) & HB1070 (new immigration law most known for requiring Mexican Americans to carry "papers"). I am particularly interested in the Soto's comments on HB2281. One of the most important claims that she makes in regards to the theoretical work that Arizona's ban on ethnic studies has done is its commitment to the claim that any attention to race or racism, even as a topic of study, is in itself racist. A common form of colorblind rhetoric that I believe right wing conservatives use in order to displace the conversation of identity politics and the problematics of racial hierarchy in the current conjuncture.

Overall I found Soto's presentation to be very compelling, but I was particularly interested in the following claims that she made. First, in describing the conjuncture she states that the neoliberal state aims to create and perpetuate dead citizenship. By dead citizenship Soto is describing a conjuncture where instead of inviting rigorous public debate and critique as a necessary component of democracy the nation has moved toward a more privatized and symbolic form of political engagement. Second, in describing the campaign strategies of HB2281 chief author Tom Horne, Soto points out the ways that through narrative illustration Horne uses images of "militancy" as defiant, disrespectful and hyper masculine to reaffirm the idea that ethnic studies programs are a divisive project. This narrative of militancy is used to defend Arizona's need to dismantle ethnic studies programs, which are allegedly teaching students to "misbehave". It is also worth noting that these representations are clear linkages to the "militancy" of radical black and brown movements of the 1970s and 1980s social movement era, which became the birth place of ethnic studies programs.

As former Chair of the 2010 Twin Cities Ethnic Studies Week committee and now National Coordinator, I am particularly interested in the ways that this xenophobic language becomes a part of the nations popular discourse, which the media disseminates. I am also working to think more critically about the ways that the "left" finds itself disabled by this type of colorblind rhetoric, which is well-known for recycling civil rights rhetoric for its own political gains. If anyone knows of any recent articles that I should look toward to further explore this topic please let me know!


  • GWSS Course Blogs: 2009-2010

  • Helen Hawthorne Hartung Award Competition Idalia Robles De Leon

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