Thursday, May 31, 2007

A Long Day

Today, I began teaching. Thoroughly cognizant of the fact that this is my first post-PhD class, I was uncharacteristically nervous.

Today is the third day of my first ever more-than-one-day toothache. Whoever said toothaches were worst than labor and delivery was not far off the mark.

Today, I went with Best Friend Louisiana to pick out the dress her mother will wear when she is laid to rest next Wednesday. I still do not know what to say. I still have to stop myself from asking, "How are you doing?" Isn't that a stupid question to ask?

Today, the only thing that is making me feel better is time spent with her:

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

I'm behind on All My Carnival Links...

...but charge it to my head and not to my heart.

For now, Sylvia has The First Carnival for Radical Action.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Children, Race, and Racism

The circumstances of the Jena Six, and particularly some of the comments have me thinking about the ways children of color versus white children learn about race and racism in the society. That's as clear as I can state that at this point--I'm still thinking and perhaps what I mean will become more clear to me as I write this.

The first time I remember thinking about race is when I was four, in kindergarten, and holding hands with my friend, a white girl named Robin. I remember quite clearly that we were walking from the main elementary building to the little kindergarten building at our school. I looked down and noted the color difference of our entwined hands. And I remember being a bit jealous of her lighter skin. I don't remember a time when I didn't know (and as a child, believe) what the children in A Girl Like Me know, that white was good and pretty and just plain better.

I learned about racism from my parents and older relatives, too, who taught me to be careful (always careful) and suspicious, to fashion "the mask"' that shielded the real me.

When I taught fourth grade, one little black girl in my class was incensed that another black student, in describing her recently deceased grandmother, said that her grandmother was in heaven. "That's not true," she told me privately. "How do you know?" I asked. "Because black people don't go to heaven." That was one of the things that almost killed me during my brief teaching career.

My son has not expressed (aloud, at least) signs of the inferiority complex yet, but he has expressed concern about the dearth of black teachers at his school and is beginning to get that awkward feeling when he is the only black child in a group of children. Last night, he cuddled with me for a minute and, knowing my usual summer pattern of nonstop Food Network-watching, asked why I wasn't watching the channel. "Nothing good on," I said. "No Paula or Rachael?" he asked. "Nuh-uh." "What about the Hispanic guy you like?" He was talking about Emeril. That floored me--of course I used cues like hair and skin color when I was his age, but living in a biracial town, I encoded everyone as black, white, or other. No other distinctions (even erroneous ones like his) for me.

And of course, these children of whom Vox speaks, have learned definite lessons about race and racism:
In the past two months, we’ve heard of Shaquanda Cotton (14, shoved a teacher’s aide, sentenced to up to 7 years in prison, released last month after one year), Desre’e Watson (6, threw a tantrum at school, charged with two misdemeanors and a felony), Lucilia (13, forced to have sex by pimp after running away from abusive home, in and out of prison for prostitution), Gerard Mungo Jr. (7, sat on dirt bike — not running at the time — on sidewalk waiting for father, arrested, processed, and let go; bike was confiscated), and the Jena Six (high school students, defended themselves against racist white bullies, charged with conspiracy to commit murder and attempted murder).

And now an 11-year-old Ojibwe boy, whose name was not released, was arrested because he failed to appear in court as a witness (or rather, his mother failed to take him) in a case where a 13-year-old boy bullied him and his mother assaulted his attacker. Police handcuffed him and dragged him out of class.
I've said all this to opine that we know that children of color, sometimes from early ages, know about, experience, construct ideas about race and racism.

So where does the assumption, the expectation, that white children do not, come from? I'm thinking of LaSalle Parish School Board Superintendent who dismissed white children's (in Jena) hanging nooses from a tree with "“Adolescents play pranks... I don’t think it was a threat against anybody.” An of the case in Ohio, where after white children at a football game "yelled racial slurs, painted their faces black, beat on frying pans, and wore Afro wigs when their team played a predominantly black opponent"* the president of the youth football association said, “Their actions, albeit unwise, foolish and insensitive, were meant to be totally supportive and not intended to insult or offend anyone in any way.”

Let's, for a minute, pretend that the men who made these statements are sincere. How do we arrive at the conclusion that white children, who live in the same racially coded and stratified society as children of color, do not construct notions of race and hierarchy, cannot knowingly use symbols and language of racism? Of course, their constructions and personal knowledge are different than those of children of color, but to posit that they are absent?

I think it is related to the idea of colorblindness--who else cannot afford to see color? More generally, I think the assumption stems from the positioning of white as normative, as somehow not a race or color, and of "whiteness" as default rather than privileged. Of course, this obscures the works of "whiteness" scholars, who posit that whites spent (and spend) an inordinate amount of time creating and strengthening notions of whiteness and protecting its benefits.

I think a question like "how do white children learn about and construct race and racism," is not solely what I want to ask--there are millions of individual answers to that one. I need to focus on narrowing my questions but also in examining, beyond these two examples, how this assumption is perpetuated.

Rachel's words from here.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Jena Six

H/T Vox and Sylvia

One of the thing that makes blogging hard for me sometimes is the fact that, sometimes there are topics that I want to talk about, but when bloggers I respect and read regularly cover the same topic much better than I ever could, I think, "Well, since so-and-so already said it..."

I read about the Jena (Louisiana) Six on Vox's blog a couple of weeks ago (she updated here). Before I go any further, here is the situation, summarized by Shawn Williams from an article by Howard Witt who writes for the Chicago Tribune (though this may be the same story here at the Baltimore Sun--doesn't require registration)

In his May 18, 2007 story, Mr. Witt tells of an incident that happened at the local high school in Jena where black students decided they wanted to sit under a tree whose shade had been reserved for white students only for years. When campus officials gave their blessing to the students request to sit under the tree, a series of events began that have apparently launched the town into a downward spiral.

According to Mr. Witt's article the following events have occurred since the initial action by the black students last September:

* The next day three nooses were hanging from the tree
* Once three white students were identified as having hung the nooses on the tree, the school superintendent suspended them for only three days. (The principal had suggested expulsion). The superintendent felt the nooses represented a "youthful stunt."
* Fights broke out at the high school between black and white students.
* Unknown arsonists set fire to the central wing of the school (November)
* A white youth beat up a black student who showed up at an all-white party
* another young white man pulled a shotgun on three black students at a convenience store
* A group of black students at the high school allegedly jumped a white student on his way out of the gym, knocked him unconscious and kicked him after he hit the floor (December)
* LaSalle Parish district attorney, Reed Walters, opted to charge six black students with attempted second-degree murder and other offenses (for their involvement in the above incident).
NOTE: The white youth who beat the black student at the party was charged only with simple battery, while the white man who pulled the shotgun at the convenience store wasn't charged with any crime at all.
Now, Jena is about one hundred miles south/southeast of my hometown. As someone interested in rural Louisiana (Jena, in the center of the state, has a population of around 3,000) personally and as a historian, I have to talk about this case.

Sylvia's post is amazing--full of updates, sources, links, and ideas to help the Jena Six, including this link to where you can donate. Yesterday, Alexandria's (a small city in central Louisiana) The Town Talk noted that 2 of the boys remain in jail in lieu of $90,000 bond. Since their trial has been continued until June 25, they face another month in jail, waiting.

I'm trying to do what I do--find people within the community and see what they're thinking and feeling. **Zan shared this in her comment:
This particular story has been going on for a long time, yes. It was going on when I was working for The Town Talk seven months ago. I was in charge of the message boards. If you wanna know how bad it really is, go read the TT's message boards. It's really clear there how racist things are. We had people defending the noose-hanging as a prank, etc. And of course the claims of 'reverse racism' when the kid got beat up.
**The Louisiana Public Defender's Association also made note of the case back in December, here.

**Sylvia has this link to the blog of a former Jena High student, Reginald M.

I attended the Louisiana School for Math, Science, and Arts which pulls students from all over the state, so I'm sending an e-mail to my classmates' group to see if any of them who live there or are from there want to talk. The Town Talk's archives contain stories from late last year about many of the events, including one that describes "racial tensions plaguing the Jena community" as the "biggest" story of the year in Central Louisiana. Jena has a weekly newspaper here.

Online, I've found the writings of a Pastor Eddie Thompson, a white Pentecostal preacher who lives in central Louisiana. Pastor Thompson was quoted by Witt as saying, “I’ve lived here most of my life, and the one thing I can state with absolutely no fear of contradiction is that LaSalle Parish is awash in racism—true racism.” But Pastor Thompson reminds me of the southern Senators during debates on the civil rights bills of the mid-20th century--he is incensed that, rather than letting the community heal itself, "Attorneys and leaders of national race-based organizations have hi-jacked any local efforts to overcome racial tensions." And though he acknowledges the racism in Jena, he believes, "the racism found here in America is subtle compared to what is going on around the world." Picture this American's jaw dropping to the floor. His invoking of meddling carpetbaggers and noble locals who shall overcome is not surprising.

I've also found CenLamar: Social and Political Activism in Louisiana. Here is their summary of the events. They re-posted Witt's article as well. CenLamar is a left-leaning blog so I'll be honest and say I'm hoping they'll talk more about it.

As far as my opinion--before I attended LSMSA, I attended a school that sounds remarkably like Jena's. As I told Vox, I feel this story. I'm not going to even pretend to be objective at this point--my question is not, "Did race play a factor?" but "Did the other factors even matter?"

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Well, I Have at Least 2 Conversation Sparkers...

The New Additions!!!

"Tay," born to Best Friend LA and family on April 9. I'm trying to get his picture to upload from the new cell phone which I have no idea how to operate. Here he is!!!

And "J," born to Best friend TX and family on May 21. My son and nephew are in the first pic, too.

Monday, May 21, 2007


You know, Ragey is right. I can't force the words.

And Quinn is right--this brain probably does need a holiday.

So I'm taking one until the words and or ideas do come.

Which means I could be back tomorrow, given my gift for gab. :-)

Or, it could be after May 31, when I report that, "Teaching World History is the best thing that ever happened and my major was all wrong!!!" I'm hoping if I say that, the fear will dissipate. After all, I was brought up in the "name it, then claim it" Baptist tradition.

In any case, coming here to say, "I am taking a break," makes me feel less pressure--not that anyone's saying, "elle, you must blog!" but this makes me feel better.

See y'all!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

So What Do You Do...

When it seems you have so much to talk about, but very few words? When you're usually addicted to your blog, but can't think of a post for the life of you?

What my family and friends have long thought impossible has occured...

I am speechless.

The Allied Media Conference

From the AMC website:
The Allied Media Conference is an annual, weekend-long gathering of influential alternative media-makers and committed social justice activists. The AMC brings together a unique cross-section of media workers, community organizers, daring filmmakers, ambitious radio producers, serious publishers, skilled web designers, and artists whose work "makes revolution irresistible." This year's theme focuses on participatory media that transforms the producer and receiver, "Breaking Silence, Building Movements."
One of the caucuses, facilitated by BfP, is the Radical Women and Transgendered Persons Of Color Blogging Caucus. What they'll be addressing/discussing:
Is it possible to organize online?
Although many people have sung the praises of online organizing, all too often nobody wants to hear what a woman/transgendered person of color has to say online, much less how she is organizing. At the same time, however, many of us have found ways to expand and challenge traditional ideas of what online feminist organizing should or could be.
This caucus will be a space for women/transgendered bloggers of color to come together and consider ways in which blogging can be used as an organzing tool. What have we done in the past? What's worked? What hasn't? What could we try differently? What could we do more of? How can we continue to push the boundaries of what online organizing "should be"? How can we use blogging as a tool toward ending violence against all women/transgendered persons of color and our communities? Let's work together to figure this out!
This is a women and transgendered persons of color safe space.
The 9th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 22-24, 2007 in Detroit, Michigan. GO!!!! I'll be reminding you every week 'til then.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Busy, Busy, Busy

Oh. My. God.

Graduation was Friday. I had approximately 15 houseguests. There were 7 kids in all here. Remind me again why I like children.

Then I made the long trip to Louisiana. Got back last night shortly before midnight. Slowly melted into an exhausted puddle on y bedroom floor before congealing and pulling my self into bed.

Graded exams are due today. By noon. And I'm writing y'all.

Upcoming conference--Advisor read my paper at the hours long graduation. Mind you, it still has no conclusion!! She said it read well, but "Here are a few suggestions." I must've looked crazy because she put her arm around my shoulders and said, "Oh, elle, I know. Always something." Actually, her suggestions are minimal--I just need to make the changes and send the damn thing to the commentator.

As my signature pages are on their way back to me, I have no excuse not to finally print out the dissertation and give it one last go-over before submitting it. Plus the fee to microfilm it. And the fee to copyright it. And the cost to bind it. While still reeling from renting the cap and gown abd dreading paying for the hotel room and any other expenses incurred at the conference. Who told these people grad students had money?

Speaking of the conference, the organizers are looking for people to blog it. I want to do it so badly, but I'm afraid that I'll get their and be unable to make myself do it properly. Isn't that horrible?

I'm teaching World History to 1500 for the first summer session, which begins May 31. Which gives me all of six days (after I get back, pack up for the summer, and go home) to prep. For a class I've never taught. That isn't my specialty.

I wrote my next blog post about Union Parish, but I don't like it and have no idea when I'll edit it. So for the next couple of weeks, this is going to be a wholly unacademic, insignificant blog--I'm just going to complain about my life, okay?

Back to recording grades.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

elle, phd

thanks for all the input! i changed my title, but i'm waaaay too lazy to change the address.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Life in Rural America (Union Parish, part 1)

Finally, I'll begin with the schools in Union Parish, where I taught briefly. I also plan to talk about the community, the economy, and anything else that the Union Parish residents who are offering input would like. Here's my perspective as a teacher. Next up, the perspective of some parents.

When people ask me why I gave up teaching, my answer amounts to something like, “I loved the kids, but teaching in poor school districts is hard.” They ask for examples—after all, aren’t teachers always complaining that there’s not “enough”—resources, time, money? And so I give them examples.

Like how, my first year, I had 33 fifth-graders in a small classroom in which you still had to get permission to turn on the air conditioner. Or, how our playground had one small swing set that the fourth through eighth grade had to share and a decrepit basketball court that the boys claimed, early-on relegating girls to the status of observers and facilitating the habit of standing around in small, exclusive cliques. Or, how the only ancillary was PE (no music, art, etc.) twice a week, for 45 minutes, if the PE teacher came on time--he wasn't going to keep them over if he was late.

That 45 minute period was the only during-school planning period we had. In addition to the lack of a planning period, there was no duty-free lunch, so you had to shuffle your kids through a 20-minute lunch break during which cafeteria employees and district officials expected you to keep the kids virtually silent.

Oh, and the textbooks that fell apart and (to the horror of a historian!!!) the social studies texts from pre-the fall of Communism. I taught there from 1999-2001. Some of my kids’ textbooks had my cousin Trinity’s name in them. Trinity was in the fourth and fifth grades in the 89-90 and 90-91 school years.

But mostly I tell people about the fraction test that I tried to give my fourth-grade class back in the winter of 2000 (yes, I remember). Black and white copies in my school were like some illicit drug—available, but you had to pay dearly, by begging and describing why you needed them, and endure abuse, from the office staff and teachers’ aides, to get them. Keep in mind, there is no Office Depot or whatever right down the street. The local bank would make a few copies for you for 25 cents per page or, if your pastor or church secretary felt sorry for you, you could use the church's copier.

The school wanted us to use, primarily, the purple ditto copies. When I taught fourth grade, the new principal quite generously offered us 200 black and white copies per month (hah!). By the time of the fraction test, mine were used up. And though a co-worker offered to let me use some of her allotment, the principal said no. So I made ditto copies.

Blurry ditto copies on which the kids couldn’t see into how many sections a shape was divided or how many were shaded or if that number was 1/3 or 1/8 or 1/2. So I showed it to the principal.

And he said, “I’m sorry.”

I made a transparency of the original and had my kids copy the problems from the overhead. By the time they finished copying it, after I walked around pointing out errors and reminding them, "please don't begin until you have all the problems copied!", and I'd read over them aloud to make sure we were all on the same page (many children have problems transferring from board/screen to paper), they didn't have time to take the test that day. So, I took the original, drove the 20+ miles to Ruston and made copies.

And I realized, as much as I loved my kids, with a base salary of $18,600 (with a master’s degree), I couldn’t keep supplementing and buying things and trying to fill in the gaps. And I wasn’t one of those super-creative teachers who could make everything from scratch (scratch materials cost money, too, btw). That's always been strange to me, the expectation that teachers are to be these selfless, constantly giving, unconcerned about money, always super-resourceful, uber-noble individuals. Teaching in poor circumstances does inspire you... sometimes. I learned to love construction paper, glue, and cardboard. I learned to hoard nubby pencils, loose leaf, newspapers, and boxes.* But, sometimes, it just makes you exhausted beyond words.

So, I sent out the three PhD applications I’d been thinking about.
* On supplies, for comparison, my son attends public school here that is consistently ranked highly in the state accountability system. The school does not send out supply lists in the summer. Instead, the PTO puts together the supplies the teachers want, boxes them by grade, and sells them at a marked up price to raise money for the PTO. The teachers there have no qualms about sending out a note the night before requesting that the kids bring something to school the next day, sending lists of things for you to buy for school activities, requesting certain types of notebooks or brands of supplies, or requesting that all the children bring a sack lunch on certain days. In Union Parish, doing such things were frowned upon because they 1)presuppose that the parents had time and money to go to the store 2) assume that the small local stores would have a wide variety of supplies for reasonable prices 3) ignore the fact that perhaps the parents of children receiving free or reduced price lunches (as the majority in my school did) had no money (especially in the middle of the week) to buy a lunch (duh!). Though the faculty at my son's school are nice, they are a bit cushioned and smug, I think, and sometimes I want to point these things out to them.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Cotton Wool

Once, I read this romance novel (not literally once; I've probably read thousands), and because it was a Harlequin Presents, the hero and heroine were English (maybe not the hero. Apparently, while white English women are teh shit, the white English men are all bland and blond and boring. No, the hero was probably Italian. Or Greek. Or some "exotic other." But I digress.)

The heroine had a really hard life (her parents had done one of the standard Ds necessary in the line--Died, Disowned her, or Distanced themselves), as hard as it can be for the 21 years that you're gorgeous and brilliant until you meet your BILLIONAIRE husband (speaking of which, I don't read the Presents line anymore, but as I pass the titles, I am amazed by how many BILLIONAIRES there are in the world. And virgins. And sheikhs. But I digress). Because her life had been so hard, the hero, who back then was probably only a meager millionaire, revealed his love (after being a complete asshole out to ruin her for 180 pages) by telling her something like, "If I could, I would wrap you in cotton wool and ease all your pain."

And, being the ignorant American, I thought, "What the hell is cotton wool? (And fortnight. And gaol. But I digress). When I realized it was just cotton, I thought, "Ohhhh. How sweet."

That phrase has stuck with me since I was a teengager. The feminist in me balks at it--another attempt to pedestal-ize and "protect." But, part of me can't help loving the sentiment and that tenderness implied in the statement (even if it is a sentiment and tenderness predicated on the concept that this is a "hard, cold" world for women). And sometimes, I feel that way about people.

See, this isn't just a sarcastic explanation about why I no longer read that particular line. It is a response to these posts by Bint and Kactus. These are strong, smart, wonderful women whom I respect. When I hear of their suffering, I think about that phrase.

The cotton wool seems impractical, but I hope they know they are wrapped in love, respect, and admiration. And I hope it does ease the pain.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Who Gets to "Peaceably Assemble?"

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me...

Remember, at the end of School Daze, when Lawrence Fishburne is ringing that damned bell, then utters a solemn, "Wake up"?


From Nezua:
THERE IS NO PEACEFUL RIGHT OF ASSEMBLY IN AMERICA. There were signs earlier, it's true. But now it can be said to be official. File this along with what you read on blogs about habeas corpus and wiretapping, this latest display of contempt for our rights: here is a clear example of excessive use of police force, of tyranny by weaponry, of unwarranted police aggression, assault and battery—on women, children, and citizens alike.

See BfP here and here.

H/T Sylvia, who adds
Say whatever bullshit you desire about your racist and classist preferences of designating living, breathing people as “alienz,” but I have a hard time thinking that born and bred, tried and true American citizens are receiving any better treatment from our so-called “representative democracy.”
It is not a crime to seek a better life.
It is not a crime to seek out opportunities for your families.
It is not a crime to agitate for fair policy.
It is not a crime to challenge unjust laws.


Okay, a few people have mentioned that I'm going to have to update the name of the blog. I, of course, am 96.37% in favor of "elle, phd." But I'm thinking that after all the hectivity of the last few weeks, maybe we can all ruminate on some options.

One I've discarded: Sistorian, you know, because I'm a sister and a--

You get the point.

One I sort of like: This Woman's Work, because I'm a woman and I study women and their work, etc., etc.

Anyway, while I 1) clean up the final draft 2) decide what I want to write about Union Parish, LA and 3) get ready for a conference, please leave suggestions in the comments.

Sway me from elle, phd. That's so predictable :-p

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

May Day

Lord, as a labor historian (there's a discussion going on on h-net about whether or not I should even be calling myself that!!) I have to at least acknowledge today.

Happy May Day, people.

For today, at least, I give you permission not to dwell on the sad state of labor in the U.S.


Three people have given me the Thinking Blogger Award (a distinction that means the world to me, btw), and I've been promising to sit down and think about who I'd like to give it to. Not going to do a full post at this moment, but a wonderful man at the top of my list is leaving the blogosphere.

Quaker Dave.

I am so very, very sad to see him go.


Quickly (as usual):

22nd edition of the Carnival against Sexual Violence is up at abyss2hope.

History Carnival at Clioweb coming to a computer near you shortly.
Revelations and ruminations from one southern sistorian...