April 2012 Archives

andrea smith - discussion questions?

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hi everyone!

I enjoyed reading Conquest, though very difficult at times to grapple with the violence she depicts in the text. What did people think of her incorporation of these stories/testimonies of violence?

As an American Studies student, I am really interested in empire and colonization which contrast from these related processes that occur in the Asia-Pacific and shape Asian American and Peminist feminisms. I thought her last chapter was really insight(incite)ful, as she writes, "consolidating U.S. empire abroad is predicated on consolidating U.S. empire within U.S. borders," and links this with violence that happens "out there" and at "home" (177-78). As Smith convincingly, in my opinion, delegitimizes the U.S. and writes, "our overall strategy should not be premised on the notion that the u.s. should or will always continue to exist" (50-51), how does her position complicate our use of the category "U.S. Third World women of color?" How might American Indian feminism and their ongoing histories with colonialism fit within the various categories we have been using (e.g. Third World women of color, women of color)?

I'm also interested in Smith's discussion of "nation" vs. "nation-state" and Native spiritual conceptions of sovereignty, and how these might inform women of color feminism's engagements with (cultural) nationalism and organizing within and beyond the boundaries of the U.S. empire/nation/state. Similarly, I think comparing and contrasting the role of spirituality, in which for American Indians spirituality is tied to the land, across women of color's different experiences with colonialism and decolonization might be interesting (e.g. Peminism, Gloria Anzaldua, Joy James).

I think this is a great book that truly is written for a wide audience of activists and scholars. It not only offers critique, but tangible political praxis and vision and is engaged with grassroots women of color organizing.

see you all tomorrow!

PETA and "the greening of hate"

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In anticipation of our discussion of Conquest on Thursday, I thought I would post the link to some of the "feministing" blog's discussions of PETA and how they are horrible and racist and sexist in the name of saving baby animals. You can go here and check out any of the articles. Or you can just go here to see a commercial that jokes about domestic violence in order to encourage us to go vegan. Now, if you will excuse me, I need to go put cheese on something.

dancing as memory?


So I've been thinking a lot about memory lately. The subject has come up a lot in our readings and many of us have considered the idea of retrofitted memory as a way of doing archival research in ways that make known the multiplicity of experiences and rememberances. I'm not in love with the idea of retrofitted memory because it treats memory as something that happened in the past. What I am more in love with is a more embodied way of thinking about memory as something that happens in the present. I like to think of memory not simply as a relationship to things that happened in the past but rather more of a way of relating that happens between people in the present. Although memory happens within a single body, it's useless unless it can be communicated across many bodies. So... I think the question of embodiment is crucial to really understanding the ways that memories are carried both in the body and between different bodies.

One of the really important ways (some--certainly not all) young women (and men) of color are engaging with memory happens through dance. A more committed scholar might go back through the history of some of the more popular place-based dance moves and trace the ways those moves have migrated across the country and through time. For example, when I was in high school everybody was all about the song "let me see you squirrel". People were squirreling. Right now, as Zenzele mentioned, it's about the "cat daddy". People are cat daddying. A few years ago, people were all about "teach me how to dougie". All three of these dances have similarities with each other. They all represent an engagement with both the individual body and the way that body interacts with freedom, oppression, shame, joy, sexuality, survival... the list could go on.

As an example, I've found a somewhat recent video of variations of the Cat Daddy and the Douggie. The dances require a ton of skill and work... and memory. As in, you have to work hard to watch how other people are dancing, to memorize the moves they are doing, and to teach your body how to remember those moves. I don't know what I'm getting at here--not entirely, but I do think that dancing as memory and dancing as memory-knowledge is an undervalued currency within communities of color. Moreover, dancing as memory and dancing as memory-knowledge are both instructive, and deconstructive. If you watch the following video, you will notice that there are several instances of men and women transgressing norms of the binary between "masculine" and "feminine" embodiment. You'll see here that both women (and girls) and men (and boys) are moving in ways that they aren't always allowed to move. Lots of people are laughing as they do this. Some people cover their faces. The movements are rich with technical skill and emotion--and most importantly to what I'm trying to say, the dancing captures a moment in time and moves it forward. Knowledge-making in the form of (sometimes) transgressive bodily movements is happening at the intersection of pleasure, celebration, and occasional-but-perfectly-acceptable discomfort. Why can't learning at the university be more like this? Whose interests are protected by relegating this type of knowledge to the realm of entertainment? And how might we make use of embodied memory in our stiff, and silently policed classrooms?

Check it out.


I was really struck when reading de Jesus's chapter on Nancy Drew and how much her criticisms of the series reflect a lot of what is currently being said about the TV show Girls.

The show has received substantial positive and negative attention. On the positive side, Girls is supposed to offer a nuanced portrayal of coming of age in the contemporary US. It follows four young women, recent college grads, attempting to find their way in New York City. The main criticism that has been lodged at it has been that is focuses too narrowly on a privileged, white experience.

See critical blog posts about it:

Here are some ways that I think this show seems comparable to Nancy Drew:

*Both attempt to show a "different" side of femininity-- while Drew is decidedly independent, the characters on Girls are supposed to be explicitly flawed. And yet, as the Hairpin blog points out, it is precisely this self-awareness that makes the race relations so problematic.

*Both use people of color as only "support" characters, and those that are included are portrayed in stereotypical ways. The only POC characters in the first episode of Girls are a black homeless man who harasses the main character and an Asian woman who basically steals the main character's job. And as we see in the casting call on ColorLines, body type is invoked for multiple WOC characters: a "pleasantly plump Latina" and an "overweight Jamaican nanny".

*Both are based on the plight of privileged white folks, upholding that lifestyle as normative and desirable (even in its flaws).

One primary difference, of course, is that Girls is not (to my knowledge) being explicitly used as an assmiliationist tool. And yet, Girls fits into a longer trajectory of popular media that valorizes white upper-middle-class life, even while presenting a nuanced picture of it. Consider movies like American Beauty or The Kids Are All Right, or books by Jonathan Franzen. Such work, and the accolades they often receive, obviously still leaves a lot to be desired, especially when such accolades could be going to media that presents equally nuanced pictures of other (less white, less privileged) aspects of daily life in the U.S. As the de Jesus chapter pointed out, such re-centering of whiteness and privilege can in fact be quite violent to consumers who don't fit that mold, creating "impossible role model[s]" (46) and leading to "a denigration or negation of self and whole communities of color" (55).

One thing that arose in the blogs and in our discussion in class, but not in the Nancy Drew article, was the question of pleasure. See this quote from the Hairpin: "Cause here's the thing about Girls: as much as I wanted to dislike the show, I couldn't help but love it. And that made it worse.....Because the show (at least the first three episodes) is actually good. It gets So. Many. Things. Right. It's on point again and again, hitting at the high and low notes about being in your twenties, about being on your own and still so far from grown......Girls is good for girls. But which girls? If this show succeeds, what other shows will get made because of it? Probably a half dozen just like it. Who wins, then? And who loses?"

The categories of Asian American/ Asian


In the innumerable forms that I have had to fill out for various reasons since I moved to the US, I have found it disturbing to indicate my ethnicity/race/place of origin. The category that applies to me is 'Asian' or 'Asian and Pacific Islander'. The discomfort is partly due to the fact that although in India people are divided along million lines, race is not one of them. Also I find that 'Asian' is a category which makes no sense except geographically. And, knowing that it is impossible to have separate 'boxes' for each country on a form does not make me feel any better.
I felt some of the same discomfort while reading Lisa Lowe because she used the category of Asian American extensively. And although I am not an Asian American , I feel that there is not 'Asian American' consciousness that makes it a useful categorization. Lowe mentions that Asian American is not a "natural or static category"; rather it is a strategic category. But I still find it difficult to conceptualize how such a category can be used strategically in the absence of a collective consciousness or common socio-economic political aims/demands from the people who fall under it.


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And here is a post about the readings.

A few things struck me about this week's readings. First, the connections to other WOC feminisms (and particularly Anzaldua) were quite prevelant-- from Melinda de Jesus searching through Bridge for writings by Filipinas to the writers' tendency to incorporate poetry and autoethnograpy into their texts to the shared experience of feeling pressured to privilege racial discrimination over sexism.

Particularly because of the creative nature of these pieces, I was very struck by Catherine Ceniza Choy's statement that "after I had entered graduate school, I lost every creative bone in my body." (93) That is a feeling that definitely resonates with me; I feel like graduate school has disciplined me to be so critical and so formulaic in my writing that it is really difficult to write anything that expresses emotion or reflects my own inner world. And I'm becoming increasingly convinced that compelling writing needs to connect the reader to the writer's affective experience. Have any of you had a similar experience, and/or do you have have any suggestions for how to break out of this tendency?

Finally, I was really struck by the way that the dual colonizations of the Philippines have placed Filipina/os in an almost impossible situation. Their oppressions are so layered and intermingled; for example, Leny Mendoza Strobel recalls feeling alienated from her culture when she could not participate in the (Catholic) feistas. Is there potential for the kind of hybridity seen in Filipina/o culture to become political productive, perhaps by providing multiple fronts for coalition with other groups (Catholics, Asians, Latino/as, Third World people, etc.)?

Trayvon Martin and/vs. Prison Abolition

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Hello all,

Anne (Wolf) and I were talking about the ways in which the Trayvon Martin case does or does not challenge our views on Prison Abolition the other day, so I thought I would link to this blog post which discusses the issue. She doesn't really take a firm stance on the issue, but it's food for thought.

Writing as a Form of Resistance-- For Whom?

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One of the central themes of this class has been writing as a form of resistance. As Anzaldua writes, women of color are learning to yield the pen as a weapon. I wrote a bit about this in my last paper, but the Lowe book might be a good chance to bring it up with you all.

In using written text as the crux of her analysis, Lisa Lowe centers the possibility of writing as a form of resistance. Cultural forms can speak to the contradictions inherent in and necessary for the formations of US capitalism; they can articulate the complexities of lived experience; and they can speak back against dominant narratives that either render such subjects invisible or romanticize them in dangerous ways.

However, I am always left wondering to what extent writing can be the crux of political movement, as it seems to necessitate an audience with the time and ability to read it. As we have discussed in class, not all forms of political engagement are possible for poor and working women.

Citing Chandra Mohanty, Lowe writes, "[third world women's narratives] are in themselves 'not evidence of decentering hegemonic histories and subjectivities. It is the way in which they are read, understood, and located institutionally which is of paramount importance.'" (157)

A few things to ponder:
1. Changing dominant discourse is an important goal. Perhaps then it's not a problem if certain forms of political writing, whether fiction or academic, primarily reach privileged circles if those circles hold power and use the texts to re-conceptualize their own politics, thus altering the material realities of less privileged women.

2. The Mohanty quote above implies that the text itself matters less than how it was read. But it does not address the writing process, something of central importance to Anzaldua.

3. Lowe talks in Chapter 7, "Work, Immigration, and Gender", about narrative as cultural form. This makes me wonder if it might be useful to broaden the definition of or find a different term for "writing as resistance." Indeed, Lowe points to "life stories, oral histories, histories of communities, and literature" (156). Could we name thus rename it "articulating resistance"? Thinking even more broadly, Anzaldua uses non-text based images and embodied experiences as crucial ingredients in her theorizing. Is that still "writing as resistance"? Does that term do her process justice?

Response to Immigrant Acts by Lisa Lowe

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In the introduction to 'Immigrant Acts' titled 'Immigration, citizenship, racialization : Asian American critique', Lisa Lowe brings out the complex relationship between Asian American identity and the history of immigration laws, citizenship and the rhetoric of a 'national culture'. She talks about how these legislations have been used to construct Asian immigrants and Asian Americans as the intellectual, ethnic and cultural 'other'. In this context I was thinking about how the post 9/11 'anti-terror' rhetoric has implicated Asians, specifically South Asians, as the 'potentially dangerous other'. Lisa Lowe's idea of constantly having to prove ones assimilation to the 'American national culture' and a simultaneous disavowal of ones ethnic/inherited culture, is very valid while looking at what has been expected of South Asians in post 9/11 United States. Not surprisingly, immigration laws were the first to respond to the post 9/11 anti-terror rhetoric.

Last semester I wrote a paper titled 'Redefining whiteness in post 9/11 US for Prof. Isoke's 'Gender, race and class in the United States' class. This was one of the many blogs that I read while researching for the paper, about the profiling of people from South Asian and Middle Eastern countries/descent.

Lisa Lowe Handout / Summary and Questions

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hey everyone!

here's a draft of my handout (probably won't change much). see you tomorrow!


lisa lowe_v2.docx

Annie's post for iChicana Power!

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Like Mingwei, I definitely saw parallels between Blackwell's concept of retrofitted memory and James's concept of transcendental communities. They concepts seem similar, but I wonder if the idea of retrofitted memory, and perhaps particularly the way Blackwell develops it through the tensions of visual representations of political movements, is in some ways more constructive, in the sense that it is endowed with a kind of creative agency that I don't remember being forefronted as much in the idea of transcendental communities (though I may be forgetting). For example, in Favianna Rodriguez's re-presentation of the soldadera picture, the image is re-constituted in a way that attempts to decouple that image from the notion of the female solider-as-mother, thereby reducing the ambivalence of the image. I like the idea of retrofitted memory because I think it is true to the way culture actually behaves, which is ever-changing and ever-adapting, and being constructed and constituted from the bottom.

I have gotten very interested lately in the relationships and tensions between cultural and political identities. This book hasn't exactly solved these issues for me, but I think it's an interesting site to try to see the ways that the two interact. It seems like nationalism has been in many ways a detriment to the advancement of women's liberation and equality, but why is this? On the one hand, national movements have provided a site and an incentive for women of color to mobilize politically. On the other hand, Blackwell shows how such nationalist projects are so often dominated by heteropatriarchal ideologies, and the subordination of women (and their labor and sexual exploitation) is defended through the connection of nation and family, and through tropes that celebrate men as liberators of subjugated communities. One of the problems is that nationalism as a political project moblilizes cultural concepts and identities to fulfill itself. One the one hand, mining culture and history to recover a sense of independence and agency on the part of colonized peoples is empowering and a challenge to white supremacy. On the other hand, the danger of reinforcing static notions of culture is real, and to do it in interest of nation-states whose contours have been determined by colonialism is risky. Perhaps I am confusing notions of nation with notions of nation-state. I think I am...
Regardless, I've recently been reading on ways that political identity formation has had a polarizing effect and has consequently created much of the violence in the 21st century that is often conceptualized as based in cultural conflicts. These political identities were usually created and mobilized by colonial powers. Culture, as dynamic, hybrid and impossible to neatly delineate seems less likely to create the kinds of contests that have been fought through political identification. This is maybe particularly evident in post-colonial Africa and at least parts of the Middle East. One thing I am trying to puzzle through is how those concepts impact the sites Blackwell is talking about. How much of this is cultural struggle, how much is political struggle, and how much of each kind of struggle is misidentified as the other?

questions on maylei blackwell

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I very much appreciated Maylei Blackwell's book in thinking through decolonizing history--its methods, epistemological premises and practices, and historical narratives. Reading this book generated a lot of questions that I am still working through.

Considering the multiple layers of remembrance that shaped the Hijas de Cuauhtemoc, I also thought about parallels, on a spiritual register, to AnzaldĂșa's use of Mexican cultural figures to inspire her theorizing and shape her indigenous political identity. What similarities and differences did you observe between AnzaldĂșa's conceptualization of Chicana feminism and Blackwell's? What is, if any, the conceptual overlap between retrofitted memory as radical acts of "re-membering," AnzaldĂșa's spiritual activism, and Joy James' transcendent community?

Blackwell's discussion of iconography and the images of la soldadera and la adelita reverberates with Joy James' critique of iconography and the sexualization of radical and militant black activists (e.g. Kathleen Cleaver, Assata Shakur, Angela Davis). However, Chicana feminists were able to change iconographic practices and multiply the possible subject positions for women in the movement through disidentification with nationalism (e.g. resignified Cuauhtemoc in order to create a women's revolutionary, decolonial image) and realize/expand a space of feminism-in-nationalism (119). How does Blackwell's position on iconography and visual culture compare to James'?

What do you make of the term "double militancia" (translated to double activism) as a term and political practice? Does it imply militancy or is this moment that is "lost in translation" (in this case, reading "militancy" from "militancia")? As a political practice, I think it exemplifies Sandoval's differential consciousness and coalitional politics that work across movement spaces and oppositional ideologies.

We have read three very recent books (Blackwell, McDuffie, Boyce Davies) on the historical recovery of political subjectivities, all of them embracing transnational imaginaries to various degrees. What do you think is animating these historical excavations, interdisciplinary approaches (especially with Blackwell), and "transnational turn" within women of color feminist scholarship?

Reflections on The Hoodie March

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I have been thinking about the hoodie march on Northrop plaza last week a lot. I am not exactly sure of everything I want to say at this moment about the march. But, as of right now, the only thing I can think about is what I want to happen post-march. I marched. Now, what would I like to see happen next at the U? A critical dialogue about race, gender, class, and violence. I want the communities of color in Minneapolis who marched for Trayvon last week to feel comfortable at the U at all times rather than in the event of a hate crime. I want to see those faces at the march in my classroom. I don't want to be the only one anymore, especially after standing next to so many people of color on Northrop plaza last week. If change can happen on the plaza at the U, it can happen in the classroom.

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