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June 29, 2007

A Snapshot on Patriotism and the 4th of July?

In the Moral Problems philosophy course that I teach I have my students read a speech given on July 4th, 1852 by ex-slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass in Rochester, New York. The reason behind this is to challenge their ability to think critically. I first make sure that they understand the context of the moment for Douglass. He was an escaped slave who had his freedom purchased for him by Europeans who met him and valued him as a person of worth. Oh, and this was eight years before the Civil War would severely impact America. There are many ways of doing this, but sometimes an effective way is just to put things in front of them and see what their response is. Now, I am aware that the demographic of my students at SUNY Plattsburgh will generate a different response than if I was teaching at historically black Howard University or Hispanic serving New Mexico State University. The reality of my student population in this 50 seat course is largely racially white. Their reaction to the article, and the reactions of other students also asked to read this article in my Examining Diversity through Film course and African American Culture course are not dissimilar.

At the speech Douglass asks what should be an obvious question, but an overwhelming majority of my students admit to never registering a thought anywhere near Douglass’ question. His question and the name of the speech he gave that day is “What to the Slave is the 4th of July? Now, before you read further, ponder that question for a moment! Seriously, indulge me and push away from the computer for a moment and truly reflect on your thoughts about that question.

In the speech Douglass says: “as a people, Americans are remarkably familiar with all facts which make in their own favor. This is esteemed by some as a national trait—perhaps a national weakness.”

Douglass also states: “We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and to the future.”

And lastly, and perhaps most importantly relative to the title of this speech, Douglass stated: “I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common….The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in [chains] into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day?”

• What type of response to this article do you think the students had?
• What is your response to the article? What may be some of the current day societal implications of the perpetuation of this historical inconsideration?
• What other aspects of so-called American culture, or the so-called American Way, may be a bit awkward, somewhat inconsiderate, or down right offensive to other groups in the United States, and why?

June 22, 2007

Is Too Much Experience A Bad Thing For Women/Men?

One of our consistent contributers, Card Buddy, implied in one of his postings as a response to a scene from the film Clerks, that the average person isn't haggling over the difference in the amount of lovers one may or may not have had in their lifetime in comparison to the lover they may be currently involved with. Let's be real here, how many men are comfortable with a woman that has more sexual experience than them? What is the reason men's response is different from women's, or is there any difference at all? More importantly, is there a larger societal consequence to these differences?

June 19, 2007

Snapshots That Frame Us

I call that quick glimpse we get of someone else a snapshot. That quick glimpse is often all we have to frame a person that we know little about. I remember a time when I was talking with people that were quite different from me and was preoccupied with how others might be framing me, how others may have seen me in that moment. After all, the saying “birds of a feather flock together” is how many of us make our determinations of other people. So, growing up in South Central Los Angeles, it wasn’t thought of as cool to hang out with the kids who read books more than they played ball. In college at Cal State Long Beach I ran the risk of being framed as an “Uncle Tom” (especially by other members of the Black Student Union) if I had too many white friends. As a graduate student, having become more enlightened about heterosexism and homophobia, I remember still having a concern of being framed as “gay” by others who might see me rapping with a group of men who were romantically interested in men.

As a professor I can be framed as an elitist if I am too often surrounded by my best students (even if it is them who seek me out) or a philanderer if I am surrounded by too many female students. I remember a few years ago eating lunch with a female student in Broadview Deli and being approached by a woman who knew I was married and wasn’t good at hiding the fact that she wanted to know what my relationship with this much younger woman was. Of course she didn’t know that this young woman had taken three classes from me, was twice my Teacher’s Assistant, and perhaps more importantly, had become one of my wife’s best friends (having traveled with her to the New Orleans Jazz Festival and other similar locales).

At times I still battle the racist frame if I talk too much to underrepresented students while talking too little to white students, an intellectual lightweight if I am not having coffee with colleagues, and an aloof faculty member if I am not seen hanging out with students enough. When Andre Agassi popularized the adage “Image in Everything,” was he stating a fact or delivering the marketing phrase that would send consumers running to Nike products (while Agassi himself was losing tournaments until he figured out image wasn’t winning him grand slam tournaments)?

How many of you find yourselves overtly preoccupied with people’s perceptions of you?

How many of you think that you might have some sort of subconscious reaction to the way people could be framing you which then makes you conform more to others opinions than your own desires.

How much should we consider other people’s opinions on what we do? Why? Why not?

June 13, 2007

Similar Situations, Different Responses, All Human

There are some situations that occur, it seems, simply to show us that while we may be different from others in various ways, there are some things in life that we all go through. It is called being human! Have you encountered any of these situations? If so, which one(s) and how did you handle it/them?

1. Realizing that you didn’t quite hang up your phone and now are paranoid about whether or not someone may have heard your conversation.

2. That moment that you were flirting with one potential lover, only to then see the potential lover of your dreams who saw you flirting with that other person.

3. Thinking you are nattily attired, nicely dressed, dressed to the nines, quite the dapper individual, only to cross your legs and realize you have on mismatched socks.

4. The frustration of realizing that though you are in a hurry to get dressed and get out of the house, you are out of clean underwear.

5. Rapidly completing your business to avoid getting a ticket because your car is illegally parked, only to find a ticket left on your windshield when you get back to your vehicle.

6. Attending a meeting of over 100 people and realizing that you are the only one (of your gender, race, generation) in the room

7. Hearing your new love interest tell you that you talk in your sleep, and as they say it she/he has a look on her/his face that leads you to believe that you may have said something you shouldn’t have.

8. The anxiety that accompanied the phone call you received from your boss’ office saying she wants to see you, immediately!

9. Attempting to complete your use of a public restroom and realizing that you are out of the proper materials to finish the job.

10. Encountering someone you know that addresses you by name, but whose name you can’t recall!

11. Congratulating a woman on her pregnancy only to discover that she isn’t pregnant.

12. Approaching two people, an older man and a younger woman, or older woman and younger man, and assuming that they are parent-child, when they are not.

June 9, 2007

How Does It Affect Al Franken?

When my mother was 22 years old the only “fare” we could afford was welfare. At the time my mama had four children and my father was in prison. Now I tell students of mine who are complaining because they don’t have enough money to get their hair done, or are lacking money to go downtown to drink about the early days of my youth and they look at me as if to say, “My, your family had it tough, but what does that have to do with me?” I then have to ask myself, what does it have to do with them? The question itself takes me back to one of my favorite moments in television history, when Saturday Night Live political commentator Al Franken would listen to some of the most heinous or horrendous world tragedies or atrocities and always follow with his most biting query, “How does that affect me, Al Franken?”

Is it our responsibility to be thankful for what we’ve got? Do we have to appreciate our privilege, or is built into the notion of privilege a level of inconsideration as to how you acquired it? I need a woman who is ambivalent about social justice issues to educate me about how she can be so disinterested when the very fact that she is driving, working, voting, etc. is directly related to heavily orchestrated social justice efforts. I need a member of a racially underrepresented group to inform me how they can be biased, inconsiderate, or hateful towards others’ sexual orientation or disability, and yet get upset when people are racist to them? I need a man who loves and appreciates a woman, any woman (his mother, daughter, sister, female lover) to explain to me how any man can stand by and listen to other men belittle women simply because they aren’t related to them? Somebody explain to me how it is we take our various privileges for granted? I need someone to dig deep and come up with a list of some of the privileges that we take for granted that we should really be appreciating. What are they?