Monday, March 26, 2007

Grocery Store Clerks and Hair Nets

The summer after I graduated from college I took a job stocking shelves at our local supermarket. For the most part i enjoyed the activity of the job and the atmosphere of the store, however, I also felt shame for working there. I felt that as a college graduate and the daughter of middle class parents I should be beyond such low-skilled labor. My interactions with my friends at the store and friends of my parents exacerbated this sense of shame. The first few days I would say hello to anyone I knew or recognized. The responses I got were looks of surprise, mild disgust, and sometimes silence. I soon realized it was easier for me to try to hide from those I knew, or pretend that I was very busy than greet them. They seemed to have no problem "not seeing me" or ignoring me if they did see me. I got the message loud and clear that there was something wrong with me working there and that shelf stockers in stores are and should be invisible.
Several months ago I started another "working class" job. This time I am delivering trays at a hospital. I wear a uniform that consists of some not very flattering pants, a polo shirt that is too big, an apron and a hairnet. I almost always have on bright blue gloves, and I might have more education than any of my supervisors. My co-workers are all high school students, one of whom is in my class. I was surprised when I started this job to feel the distant but familiar pang of shame that I had felt at the super-market.
Especially with the super-market situation I am painfully aware of how invisible the workers are. Sometimes they are not seen, other times they are discounted. People rarely regard cashiers as community leaders, or persons of status. The other day I was volunteering in our local co-op, stocking the shelves and my mentor teacher walked right past me without even seeing me. When I stopped her and said hi, she said she hadn't seen anyone at all. This invisibility is bad enough, but it goes far beyond that. How do we react when someone tells us they are a fast food worker, or a custodian? What about kids at school whose parents hold these jobs? do they ever learn about heroic acts of people like their parents in text books? Does anyone ever want to be what their parents are? How do these prejudices impact who gets to make decisions in our society and who doesn't? How well do we hear what a cashier says to us once we have found out the price? It is time we start dismantling these class hierarchies in our heads, and start to value work, and more importantly human beings. I have a long way to go on this, and as a teacher the urgency is great. Take some time, mull if over, share your thoughts. There will be more on this later... we need to go a few levels deeper, just wanted to get a start...

Friday, March 16, 2007

Revolutionary Love

Sometimes someone else just says it better. This is a note in Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed, chp 3, enjoy...

I am more and more convinced that true revolutionaries must perceive the revolution, becase of its creative and liberating nature, as an act of love. For me, the revolution, which is not possible without a theory of revolution - and therefore science - is not irreconcilable with love. On the contrary: the revolution is made by people to achieve their humanization. What, indeed, is the deeper motive which moves individuals to become revolutionaries, but the dehumanizationf of people? The distortion imposed on the word "love" by the capitalist world cannot prevent the revolution from being essentially loving in character, nor can it prevent the revolutionaries from affirming their love of life. Guevara (while admiting the "risk of seeming ridiculous") was not afraid to affirm it: "Let me say, with the risk of appearing ridiculous, that the true revolutionary is guided by strong feelings of love. It is impossible to think of an authentic revolutionary without this quality." Venceremos - the Speeches and Writings of Che Guevara, edied by John Gerassi (New York, 1969), p. 398.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

What I'm Reading...

Just wanted to spread news about a good book. I am currently reading Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits by Laila Lalami. She is a Moroccan woman currently living in Oregon and this is her first book. I am approaching the half-way point. It is based in Morocco and opens with a boat of people migrating to Spain. It is an easy and enjoyable read that brings up some interesting issues. Nothing too deep yet, although I could be entirely missing something.....
My apologies to the author, I wrote this too late last night, I was missing something. This book so far is incredibly important in that it seeks to look at the forces that make a person decide to risk their life and leave everything behind for something better. A friend recently told me there was a group of phds in Morocco who burned themselves because there were no jobs for so long. What creates this lack of jobs? What about the organization of our society makes it so that people can look for a job, in Morocco, in the U.S., in Mexico, and not find one for years and years? Just a few questions. The exciting part is that Laila Lalami also has a blog, a very interesting blog, read it. Enjoy it. More coming soon on this blog, til then...

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The View from Under the Rock

So this is the one week anniversary of this blog!!! Very exciting. Though it has been a short time I have thought a lot about this little corner of the great world wide web that I get to share my thoughts on. The questions I ask myself revolve around things like "What do I know to be writing in a blog?" "What do I have the authority to write about, and what don't I?" These questions led me to this post.

I have a colleague in the masters of education program I am a part of who is constantly saying that she feels like she has been living under a rock her whole life. This sentiment, shared by many of us, comes from the content of our program which has a strong social justice focus and highlights the voices in our world that have so rarely been heard here in the United States. This process of learning new things keeps us constantly aware of who we are and where we come from. More importantly we are now aware of the importance of that and how it limits or expands our view on the world. So I wanted to talk about the rock I have been living under...

I grew up in a small mid-western town. My parents are middle class, well educated, heterosexual, and white. Until recently I was avidly involved in the church, many churches actually, from Episcopal to Argentine Pentecostal.

This makes me little more than an expert on my own experience and all the paths that experience has traversed, which is mostly common to that of the white middle class US American. Thanks to some classes and friends at times I am able to look at my mind from outside itself, look at the origins of my thoughts and beliefs, the impact of media, education, and middle class ideology. I find this process to be exciting, challenging and so important. I have spent time in the Middle East and Latin America but can only speak about these places as seen through the eyes of a foreigner.

I hope that all of you readers out there (I think there might be two right now) will call me out if I ever overstep my bounds, that you will challenge my assumptions and interpretation of the world and that the dialectics of our discourse will bring us all to a better understanding.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Racial Profiling in Brattleboro?

This is an editorial I wrote recently (never published, it was too long) about an incident that happened here in Brattleboro VT, a small liberal, mostly white town...
I got a call from my house mate yesterday telling me that she and a friend of hers got stopped by the Brattleboro Police while walking home at 5:30 in the evening. They were asked for their names, and then to show the officer identification. Apparently, two black women had run away from the Retreat, and the police officer was just checking to make sure that my house mate, and her friend, also two black women, were not the culprits. Now in a town as white as Brattleboro, some may easily understand how two black women walking down the street was a rare enough occasion that it warranted the policeman's stopping them in light of the two women who had fled the Retreat, a facility for those struggling with mental and emotional illness. However, this wasn't about two women escaping from the Retreat...
First, let me point out that not all black women look alike. I would be curious to see just what sort of description the police had been given. Were they tall? Short? Did they wear their hair long? Was it braided, or in dreads, or combed out? Were the women fair skinned or dark skinned? Were they thin or thick? Were their any pictures of these women? Or were the Brattleboro police so confident of the limited number of African American women walking down the streets of town that they thought a simple description of gender and race would suffice?
If two white women were to escape the Retreat, would the police be demanding picture IDs from every pair of white women shopping in Sam's, or enjoying a meal at Amy's Bakery? Would the police fail to trust the verbal self-identification that two white women might give? The truth is they never would have stopped white women hanging out together in Brattleboro. They would have had more thorough descriptions, they would have been more careful in who they approached. This was a case of racial profiling. My guess is that even without the women having fled the Retreat, my friends may have been stopped just for the color of their skin.
The fact that the police department feels that the escape of two women from the Retreat gives them the right to terrorize all the black women they find walking around Brattleboro is an outrage. “Terrorize” you ask? How could this be called terror? If you take even a passing glance at the history between the police and the black community in this country it is easy to understand how just the sight of a policeman will send many black youths in the opposite direction. The shootings of Sean Bell, and many others are proof that the lives of African Americans in this country are frequently not saved, but endangered in the hands of police. As the officer was getting back into his car he told my friends that he didn't want to cause any trouble, he just wanted to ensure the safety of the community. Clearly, he is only concerned about the safety of those with white skin, like my own, and is willing to terrorize other races in an effort to protect his.
We may be appalled by the actions of the police, however our own silence is equally damaging to the community. Brattleboro prides itself on liberal values, fairness, and being open to all of humanity. We may even feel so good about ourselves that we assume we are no longer racist. However, the danger with communities that feel they are good enough in this way is that they cease to work on these crucial issues. There is no such thing as being free of racism or classism. The world we live in today is saturated with hidden messages, images, and omissions that bombard our psyches constantly. It is our never ending responsibility to work on ridding ourselves and our communities of these forms of prejudice and hate.

Kneading Dough and the Discovery Channel

On a recent test I gave to a ninth grade world geography class I asked the students to list five things new they had learned about Africa (the region we had just studied). One student's response was "that Africans aren't cannibals." When I saw it, I smiled and wrote down next to it "I am so glad you learned that!" A little strange you may think, but on one of the first days of the unit I asked the students what they knew about Africa and this student raised his hand and said (in all seriousness) that he knew Africans were cannibals. It was one of those moments when you want to jump up and down, and pull your hair out. Instead I said, "oh really, where did you learn that?" He replied that he had seen it on the Discovery Channel. This brief incident gave me an idea of where I needed to start: Africans are not cannibals. As an intern teaching at the high school level, I sometimes feel like I am fighting a useless battle. I know my students watch hours of TV every day where they receive all kinds of messages about how savage, exotic, or strange people in other places or the world are. A possibly more subtle message comes from a set of National Geographic DVDs that we have in the social studies resource room at the high school. They are about different aspects of life in Africa, one highlighting a soccer team from Zanzibar; another, two women in Kenya and Tanzania. These films all switch back and forth from human stories to the stories of animals who live in the African wild with classic National Geographic scenes of the leopard getting its prey or of the wildebeest mother protecting her calf. For me the images of the animals too closely parallel the soccer players (on the team called the Leopards) or the Kenyan woman carrying for her child. They send the not so hidden message that Africans are closer to the wilds of the animal world than white US Americans are.

I can't say I know a whole lot about the world, but I do know, as a Euro-American, how these ideas and images of others as cannibals, or animals get folded into our minds, into our being. Not unlike the flour that I was just kneading into some bread dough, these ideas become so much a part of us that we don't even know they are there, let alone how to remove them. As I take my first few steps as a teacher I am daunted by the task of teaching about the world without furthering these stereotypes, and hopefully at times pulling them out of students so they can look at them, examine them, and discard them. This time in the Africa unit we focused on lot of the pillaging of the continent by Europeans during colonization. However, in looking back I am realizing that I didn't do much to make the people there more human. That will have to come next time. The great thing about teaching is that you get to try again and hope that you don't do too much damage along the way. If there are any suggestions out there they are welcome. Thank you for your time in reading these musings, e.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Painful Protests

Last month I found myself on an overnight bus to Washington DC for UFPJ's January 27th protest against the war in Iraq. We were on a bus filled with students from UMass Amherst, Smith, and some other area schools. To pass the time, the coordinator of our bus MC-ed an open-mic for all those who wanted to share political views or musings. During the time several people identifying as socialists, anarchists, and or communists spoke. While I was impressed with their intelligence, I was struck by their constant bashing of G. W. Bush, liberal democrats, and republicans. The attacks tended towards a more personal and less political nature. The theme was continued the following day at the protest with many of the signs that people brought including one that said "send the twins" meaning Bush's daughters. My concern is that socialist, communist, or pro-peace ideals when expressed in this way do not reflect a concern for all of humanity as I believe they were originally intended, instead they reflect a desire to be right and to be better than others - instead of being used for the common good, these statements become a tool of individual aggrandizement and the belittling of others. Attack people's ideas, or actions in a productive way that seeks change and you may have an impact. Attack people personally and you are just wasting your time, and your cardboard.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Rigoberta Menchu

Rigoberta Menchu, Nobel Peace Prize winner and now presidential candidate will be speaking in Amherst. Check it out

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Labor's Response to la Crisis

Here is a great story about how Argentine's are responding to the economic crisis of 2002/2003.

Argentina's “Recuperated Workplaces”

What happens when a group of workers take over their workplace and try to run it without private owners, professional managers, or the government? 10,000 workers in 200 workplaces in Argentina are trying to find out.

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I recently had a friend ask for reflections about anger and politics, the following was my response...
Thinking about what makes me angry lately I am finding it in seemingly very small things, small things that are large. I find it in places where I feel I cannot be fully human. Freire speaks of our current world order (one that has worsened since Freire's time with neo-liberal policies of free market capitalism) as being one of dehumanization, one that belies humanity's true destiny. Destiny is its own topic, but the inequality and injustice in this world breed inhumanity, and maybe those small pieces that are inside of us, still fighting to be human, still fighting for love courage and compassion are angry. We may not recognize this deep source of anger, it may manifest itself in political, interpersonal, or video-game-killing rage; actions that further dehumanize. Yet its root is a deep and undying desire for true human interaction, exchange, and love. This may reflect an idealistic hope in the goodness of humankind, or it may reflect the shaking ground we try so vehemently to defend.

Origins of the name

Yerba mate (Spanish) or erva mate (Portuguese) (Ilex paraguariensis) is a species of holly (family Aquifoliaceae) native to subtropical South America in Argentina, southern Paraguay, western Uruguay and southern Brazil.

The infusion called mate is prepared by steeping the dry leaves (and twigs) in hot water rather than boiling water like black tea or coffee. It is slightly less potent than coffee and much gentler on the stomach[citation needed]. Drinking mate with friends from a shared hollow gourd (also called a mate in Spanish, or caba├ža or cuia in Portuguese) with a metal straw (a bombilla in Spanish, bomba or canudo in Portuguese) is an extremely common social practice in Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, eastern Chile and southern Bolivia and Brazil.

Its use has also been introduced into Lebanon and Syria, particularly among the Alawi, Druze and Ismaili minorities. It's a very popular social drink in Salamiyah, Syria.

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