Why Jay Smooth is awesome

I’ve been following Jay Smooth and Ill Doctrine for a couple of years now. His work is amazing…to watch and to teach. I’ve used his video, “How to Tell People They Sound Racist” in at least one of my classes (see here for the lecture). Yesterday morning, while reading my twitter feed (I follow him @jsmooth995), I came across his most recent video, “My Personal Pledge for the ‘Until Abortion Ends’ Movement.” After watching it, I noticed another recent video: “My TEDx Talk, ‘How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Discussing Race‘.” This video, from a talk given last month, is a follow-up to the wildly popular “how to tell people…” video (which is from way back in 2008). Check it out:

This brief speech is packed with great things to talk about. For now, I want to briefly highlight a few key parts of the speech (read the entire transcript at Ill Doctrine):

1. Race is a social construct that was designed not to make sense, but to rationalize and justify indefensible acts:

The first thing is that anytime we’re dealing with race issues, we are dealing with a social construct that was not born out of any science or reason or logic, we are grappling with a social construct that was not designed to make sense. And to the extent that it is the product of design, the race constructs that we live in in America were shaped specifically by a desire to avoid making sense. They were shaped for centuries by a need to rationalize and justify indefensible acts. So when we grapple with race issues, we’re grappling with something that was designed for centuries to make us circumvent our best instincts. It’s a dance partner that’s designed to trip us up. So just based on that alone we should be able to keep in mind that you will never bat a thousand when it comes to dealing with race issues.

2. We need to shift away from the tonsils paradigm of race discourse…

These are things that will just naturally develop in our day-to-day lives, so the problem with that all or nothing binary is it causes us to look at racism and prejudice as if they are akin to having tonsils. Like you either have tonsils, or you don’t, and if you’ve had your prejudice removed, you never need to consider it again. If someone says “I think you may have a little unconscious prejudice,” you say “No–my prejudice was removed in 2005! [Audience laughter] I went to see that movie Crash, it’s all good!”

…and toward the dental hygiene paradigm of race discourse.

But that’s not how these things work; when you go through your day to day lives there are all of these mass media and social stimuli as well as processes that we all have inside our brains that we’re not aware of, that cause us to build up little pockets of prejudice every day, just like plaque develops on our teeth. [Audience laughter] So we need to move away from the tonsils paradigm of race discourse toward the dental hygeine paradigm of race discourse. Basically, if I might just offer one piece of advice.

3. We also need to move away from the idea that being a good person is just what we are and shift toward the recognition that being good is a practice, one that we must work at everyday [note: hmm….see some connections to virtue ethics here; I really like the idea of repeated practices]

And in general I think we need to move away from the premise that being a good person is a fixed, immutable characteristic, and shift towards seeing being good as a practice, and it is a practice that we carry out by engaging with our imperfections. We need to shift from, we need to shift toward thinking of being a good person the same way we think of being a clean person. Being a clean person is something that you maintain and work on every day. We don’t assume that I’m a clean person therefore I don’t need to brush my teeth. And when someone suggests to us that we’ve got something stuck in our teeth, we don’t say “Wh-what do you mean? I have something stuck in my teeth? I’m a clean person! Why would you–” [Audience laughter]

4. Being good does not being perfect, but being willing to engage with our own and each other’s imperfections.

The belief that you must be perfect in order to be good is an obstacle to being as good as you can be. It would make our conversations with each other a lot smoother, and it would make us better at being good, if we could recognize that we’re not perfect and embrace that….So I hope that we can–if I could have one wish it would be that we would reconsider how we conceptualize being a good person, and keep in mind that we are not good despite our imperfections. It is the connection we maintain with our imperfections that allows us to be good. Our connection with our personal and common imperfections, being mindful of those personal and common imperfections is what allows us to be good to each other and be good to ourselves.

5. Having conversations about race isn’t enough to address bigger issues…

So I know that this is no small task, but if we could shift a little bit closer, toward viewing these race conversations the same way we view a conversation about something stuck in our teeth, it would go a long way toward making our conversations a bit smoother and allow us to work together on bigger issues around race.

Because there are a lot of–beyond the persistent conversational awkwardness of race, there are persistent systemic and institutional issues around race that are not caused by conversation, and they can’t be entirely solved by conversation. You can’t talk them away, but we need people to work together and coordinate and communicate to find strategies to work on those systemic issues. Because despite all of the barriers that we’ve broken, all of the apparent markers of progress there are still so many disparities.

…but it is a helpful way to bring us closer so we can work together.

If you look at unemployment rate, infant mortality rate, incarceration rates, median household income, there are so many disparities on the various sides of the color lines in this country that it is worthwhile for us to iron out these conversational issues if for nothing else so that we can get a little closer to working together on those big issues.

So many important themes here–willingness to be wrong/imperfect + emphasis on building connections/community + recognition that being good involves repeated practices–and delivered in a way that encourages us to laugh, think and act. Jay Smooth is awesome.

One other reason (among many) that Jay Smooth is awesome: He’s fostered a great community on his blog; the comments on his Ted Talk post are really impressive (full of love and support). With so much talk about how pointless comments usually are (with trolls and blowhard d-bags derailing or hating on important discussions), it’s always great to see spaces where comments work to build community.

More sources to archive: Cleaning out my Safari Reading List

The end of the semester is here (well, almost…I still have some assignments to grade) and it’s time to get organazized. I thought I’d start by cleaning out and archiving some links that I put on my Safari Reading list over the past few months. I wonder, should I include all of them so as to document what I found interesting enough to mark, or should I cull the best of these links? Considering I have 40 to read through, I think I might try to be a little judicious. Here’s the list:

1. Education Needs a Digital Upgrade: This source is a NYTimes review of Cathy Davidson’s Now You See It, which I bought right after it came out and have read the first chapter so far. I can’t wait to finish it over the next couple of weeks. Skimming through the review article,  I found this great bit:

To take an example of just one classroom convention that might be inhibiting today’s students: Teachers and professors regularly ask students to write papers. Semester after semester, year after year, “papers” are styled as the highest form of writing. And semester after semester, teachers and professors are freshly appalled when they turn up terrible.

Ms. Davidson herself was appalled not long ago when her students at Duke, who produced witty and incisive blogs for their peers, turned in disgraceful, unpublishable term papers. But instead of simply carping about students with colleagues in the great faculty-lounge tradition, Ms. Davidson questioned the whole form of the research paper. “What if bad writing is a product of the form of writing required in school — the term paper — and not necessarily intrinsic to a student’s natural writing style or thought process?” She adds: “What if ‘research paper’ is a category that invites, even requires, linguistic and syntactic gobbledygook?”

What if, indeed. After studying the matter, Ms. Davidson concluded, “Online blogs directed at peers exhibit fewer typographical and factual errors, less plagiarism, and generally better, more elegant and persuasive prose than classroom assignments by the same writers.”

Yes! I definitely agree with Davidson. Many of my assignments, including my informal writing assignments for my feminist debates class this semester, are based on challenging and rethinking the typical writing a term paper approach by having students write a lot online. I think I need to write a blog entry about this assignment and about writing-as-process assignments for my classes. I’ll have to bring in Davidson and Now You See It

2. fbomb is a really sweet feminist blog created and maintained by teenage feminists. It’s a great resource for anyone who wants one example of how young feminists are organizing/reflecting/acting/critically thinking/connecting online. Plus, their blogroll is really helpful for finding new blogs to check out.

 3. Sir Ken Robinson on Creativity and Changing Educational Paradigms This link is to a brain pickings summary (and if you scroll down to the bottom of the post, there are some great links to other posts you might like, like this one: 7 Must-Read Books on Education, which lead me to this book–which I’m thinking of checking out: DIY U: Edupunks, Eduprenuers, and the Coming Transformation which I found on amazon and that has some pretty interesting looking “customers who bought this book also bought” selections. Uh oh. I’m going down the rabbit hole here…better stop). Here’s the Robinson’s video, which I may or may not have posted here before?

4. A Queer Culture and Social Media Study Here’s the description on the blog:

The Queer Culture & Social Media Study is a documentary-style project exploring a queer generations relationship to social media and how that has influenced their sense of community and identity.

I haven’t watched  all of the videos here, but it seems important to archive it for future reference; the explicit focus on negotiating identity and community in relation to social media is intriguing.

5. Flip the Media, various sources. The original post that I saved on my Safari Reading List was Is the Rise of Digital Media Helping, or Hurting, Queer Youth? Flip the Media’s Elizabeth Hunter interviews Dan Savage to find out I need to read the article more closely, but my initial response is: That’s the wrong question to be asking. I think this is a good resource + the comments at the end generate an interesting discussion. When I clicked on the home page for Flip the Media, which is the “blog of the University of Washington Master of Communication in Digital Media,” I found another article that I’d like to archive here…and maybe as an “oh bother!” too: Viral Video of the Week–Breast Cancer Awareness Here’s the PSA:

I am bothered by the heteronormativity (assumed heterosexual as natural) and the idea that women should/will be inspired to regularly care for themselves just so they can ogle hot guys. I want to think more about this campaign, because they also have a free App to encourage you to check your breasts. Hmm…an app that is about women and care. My immediate reaction to this app/campaign is “OH BOTHER!” However, I’m willing to think about it some more. I just downloaded the free app and have set it up the reminder on Thursdays at 4 (so in less than 30 minutes). Will I remember that I set this up? Doubtful. Next week, I will get my “man reminder” at some inopportune time and an awkward moment will ensue.

As I was finishing up this post, I got my first Man Reminder. Here it is (I was disappointed that the “hot guy” doesn’t actually speak to me):

An interlude: This cleaning out sources is a lot of fun…and a lot of time. It’s a great exercise for getting inspired, being curious and thinking critically. I think it would be cool to do something like this on a weekly basis.

6. Uses of Blogs TOC This book looks like it’s worth taking a look at…maybe reading ch 1 which is online. However, the book was published in 2006. How dated are these articles? What relevance do they have for contemporary social media/blogging issues? Doing research on social media is a tricky thing, especially when it’s constantly changing. What are the best ways to write about online technologies for a scholarly audience? I know there some great resources for thinking through this question, but that’s another blog post…

7. How Blogging Helps Students Crush the Digital Divide My ability to be curious is failing me right now, so this will have to be the last source I archive right now. Posted on July 21, 2011 on GOOD, it is about an elementary teacher who used blog writing to train a class who had previously had limited access to tech training and writing in English (over 60% were ESL students). A key claim in the article: giving students blog assignments encourages them to be creative and better writers + it provides them with digital literacy skills. While I really appreciate the focus here (and the claim), I wonder: Does this really crush the digital divide?

Shifts in language that encourage feminist curiosity

I really like Cynthia Enloe’s notion of feminist curiosity. I teach it every year in my feminist debates class and I wrote about it on this blog a few years ago. In her discussion, Enloe describes how/why feminists need to be curious and to keep engaging in the difficult and exhausting labor of asking questions, challenging common-sense assumptions and taking the stories of a wide range of women seriously.

Here’s what I wrote about the essay and the need for curiosity in my post from a few years back: In her essay, Enloe is primarily concerned with exploring why so many of us have stopped being curious. As her title indicates, she is curious about our lack of feminist curiosity. Enloe attributes this lack to a variety of factors: laziness and an unwillingness to exert too much effort; the desire to conserve energy for more “important” activities; an over-reliance on what is “natural,” “traditional, “always” and “oldest”; a strong encouragement by those in power to not question or think about why things are they way they are and how they could or should be different; and a desire to remain comfortable (because thinking too hard and asking too many questions might be too disruptive or unsettling to ourselves and/or others).

Enloe reflects on this lack of curiosity by offering up an example of her own laziness. She writes:

for so long I was satisified to use (and think with) the phrase “cheap labor.” In fact, I even thought using the phrase made me sound (to myself and to others) as if I were a critically thinking person, someone equipped with intellectual energy. It is only when I begin, thanks to the nudging of feminist colleagues, to turn the phrase around, to say instead “labor made cheap” that I realized how lazy I had been. Now whenever I write “labor made cheap” on a blackboard, people in the room call out, “By whom?” “How?” They are expanding our investigatory agenda. They are calling on me, on all of us, to exert more intellectual energy (2).

I really like this idea of creating phrases that encourage (and sometimes even demand) that we ask questions about our basic assumptions or the ideas that we become (almost) too comfortable with using. It is relatively easy to throw around the phrase “cheap labor” without really thinking about what that means and at whose expense. “Labor made cheap” invites us to take the topic seriously.

And here are a few shifts in language that encourage us to be more curious:

My inspiration for creating this blog post (and the above chart) was Robyn Maynard’s discussion of replacing “marginalization” with “exploitation” when thinking/writing/talking about “women, people of colour, Indigenous people and migrants” (118). In “Fuck the Glass Ceiling,” (Feminism for Real) she writes:

I think she makes a compelling argument for why using exploitation instead of marginalization encourages us to be more curious about how and why people suffer extreme poverty/face hardships.

Any other shifts in language that you think encourages us to be exercise some feminist curiosity?

Oh bother: Just accept it

I saw this commercial earlier today and felt compelled to post it here.

I am bothered by how masculinity functions in this clip (just accept it = wimp = emasculation) and how that emasculation is explicitly tied to/caused by the annoying girlfriend. After watching the clip, I typed in “Ally bank just accept it” and found the following comment at the top of the 4th link on the list (on the message board for forumscommercialsihate.com:

Just saw this new ad, surprised I found the vid. So starts out fine, blah blah blah… cut to 0:47 sec… and another bitch wife/girlfriend getting ready to chastise another nut-less man for not accepting the $3.00 fee. Bitch, I wouldn’t accept either and I’d make you pay for the tickets. Also, most to all theaters take card, why the F* are you getting out cash; it better be for hit you take out on this twat! Grrrr!!

Really? Having spent some time this semester in my feminist debates class discussing rape culture/violence against women I’m extremely bothered by this comment (to say the least) and this commercial. Sure this commercial isn’t explicitly encouraging men to do violence to women, but it is tapping into a deeper belief that woman emasculate men and deserve to be punished (violently) for it. Oh bother! (and don’t even get me started on the implications of this policing of masculinity for those who identify as male…)