It is the weekend, so we shall sing. These are the Novos Baianos on Samba da minha terra, a very old song by Dorival Caymmi. Recommended weekend reading includes two posts by Rebel Girl, on Rubén Salazar and on Labor Day.
There are people here saying that this is not about race. I would really like to know how hanging nooses from a tree to scare Black students away from sitting under it is not about race.
There are many more videos, all different and each as interesting as this, at Voices from the Gulf.
Long ago someone I knew made a diagram of the graduate programs in which his wife and her friends, of whom I was one, were studying. The diagram drew and explained the parallels between these programs and the branch of the military they most resembled. The military parallel for my program was the Marines, because we were required to have the most skills and had the roughest form of basic training.
People become professors for various reasons but for me it was strictly about becoming the subject of my own discourse, and a subject in my life. Reeducation stopped this, largely because it believed itself to be the only legitimate subject, but I have perhaps remained a professor for as long as I have because I still want to get from, in or through it the most fundamental of the things I came for – ownership of my life.
Academia is about as unlikely a place to seek such a thing as is the military. On the other hand, I know quite a few military people and they are often far more independent thinkers than are people with regular jobs in business or government. It may be that as with the military, if academia does not turn you into a Stepford Professor, a useless pile of mush, or a petty and egocentric tyrant, it then requires that you claim a self in a way that relatively few are required to do (although many do it anyway).
My mother expressed surprise when she realized I was not going to get married. She had, however, emphasized throughout my childhood that marriage was not a good idea, and recommended that I postpone it as long as possible. She did not foresee that I would be able to postpone it forever.
I was relieved to discover, late in the fourth grade, that not everyone got married – even though people as alternative as Grace Slick had been married – and that it was again going out of fashion. I knew by now that marriage was a patriarchal institution designed to enslave women, control men, and produce new workers. I had not learned this from feminists or Marxist-Leninists. It was obvious just from observing operations around the housing tract where we lived.
It was also clear to me that I, in particular, should not marry because I was by now structured in such a way as not to be able to distinguish between a clinically abusive relationship and the more mildly hierarchical – or sadomasochistic, if you will – marriage relationships which were and to some extent are still the accepted norm. I was especially terrified not to make my own money, because I had been told very clearly that those who are being supported financially have no rights. Most specifically we had no right to be subjects of our own lives, as opposed to objects in the lives of others.
I also learned somehow from my mother, who kept saying vaguely I could “do anything I wanted with my life” but did not discuss the meaning of this phrase or any details at all, that in fact I would not be able to get or keep a job. This created a very worrisome double bind, since I also did not dare to be supported. And one of my father’s favorite songs during that period was Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone.” If you read the lyrics, and consider that since I thought I could neither work nor be supported I was in fact counting on hitting the streets when school ended, you can begin to see the outline of my dilemma.
My father, however, had a job. I could see what it entailed, and I knew I could handle that. I became a professor for this reason and for some other practical reasons, but I think mostly because I would have, anyway. My Reeducator believed this career choice indicated faulty individuation, and perhaps it did. It could also be seen more calmly, as a particularly steep path to self.
I am in my specific field for similarly contingent reasons, but once again, even with true freedom of choice, I might very well be here anyway. Had it not been for the distraction of Reeducation, of course, I might have switched fields by now – or found ways of soaring higher above the humdrum aspects of the academic life than I do at present – or perhaps not. And as I have said before, it is very interesting to see how much Reeducation paralleled my first education. But I have graduated from both of these homes, and I go to school now. And there are many problems with school, but I still prefer school to staying home.
At school we make observations, develop theories, draw pictures of these, and finally write them down. We do this no matter what anyone else has to say about the evils of “overachievement.” Because we are not “overachieving,” we are living, and doing creative work. We do this in memory of Paulo Freire, and for the sake of the collectivity – and to entertain the spirits. And everyone has a right to be a subject in their own life, to stand at the head of their own acts, and to speak.
Hurricane Katrina was two years ago today. It was also my cat’s fifth birthday. Today he is seven. He has lost two fangs in the intervening time and Louisiana has lost two fangs as well. I have lost a molar to Katrina-related family tragedy, still unresolved, but I have gained four fangs by rejecting Reeducation. The following post is one more of the many I wrote in the two July weeks during which I accomplished this feat.
Here is why Reeducation was such a distraction. In essence, it said:
1. Consider the possibility that what you feel may not be what you feel.
2. Slowly – in the way that the characters in The Magic Mountain convince themselves that they have tuberculosis – convince yourself of this.
3. Decide, if you can, that what you feel is in fact something else – that you feel something far less healthy – that, in fact, you feel as we expect you to feel.
4. Now, try to learn how not to feel this thing which you do not in fact feel, but have just, on our instructions, tried so hard to convince yourself that you should and may perhaps feel.
5. At no time trust yourself.
That was the deal, and that was why it was all so strange, and so utterly disabling. It was very reminiscent of the more dysfunctional situations I had ever been in, except that now it was called the road to health. The fact that the road to health looked so much like what, heretofore, I would have called utter insanity was the most confusing aspect of all.
And I thought it could not be, and that I must have misunderstood, but the messages kept on being these. And they seemed ludicrous, but since I did not leave soon enough, I absorbed them. And I was too stubborn to leave without getting what I had come for, and too willing to believe that the reason for this was that I had not worked hard enough or waited patiently enough.
To walk around with these messages was to carry a great weight. With each step I had to lift not only myself but their enormous building. It is amazing what a light and lithe spirit one can be when not surrounded by that Gothic structure.
Now I am drawing a magic circle around myself. The world as constructed in Reeducation is gone. The lightness is amazing. I could do gymnastics. I could fly right through all my books and into the great, uncharted skies like a jet-powered, pointy-nosed aeroplane.
One could go (and I have gone) into long, convoluted speculations on how it was that I fell prey to this. On how, for instance, I managed to recreate the situation of me, the five year old, but now writ large and overly Gothicized. I was certainly frozen to the spot, and I certainly found myself unable to avert my eyes from the Horror.
One of the most essential points is how anti-feminist Reeducation was. In high school, college, and beyond we had had feminism. We learned that we need no longer believe the things we had been told earlier on about resignation to unreasonable limits. In Reeducation, however, we learned that what we had been told originally was in fact true. And not only was it reality, it was also health. Many manipulative techniques were used to beat this into us. This was the bad news of Reeducation, the true Horror.
This Horror was perpetuated through emphasis on the examination of the soul, the discovery of sin, repentance, and confession. This ritual was traumatic. It retrained us such that life became much more difficult. One could no longer simply act in accordance with ones lights and tastes. Everything had an underlying motive, and these motives were necessarily dark. Every feeling must be mistrusted and second-guessed, every decision guilt ridden and drawn out.
In Reeducation as in many forms of education for women, self-doubt and self-torture were absolutely required. If you had come to Reeducation, it must be that you needed these. It was utterly improper to have a positive self-image, to feel innocent, or to think you knew what you were doing. You must find and confess your imperfections, mourn and repent.
I was surprised and horrified by this news, but I still learned the lessons. I have spoken a great deal about self-doubt in these pages, but what I have not said explicitly is that I began to be able to distance myself from Reeducation when I realized one sunny day that I had known before that self-torture was a bad thing, that through Reeducation I had somehow installed an automatic self-torture machine, and that I could authorize myself to turn it off right then. I could pull it out by its roots.
And it is not useful to reinflict old wounds, or to inflict new ones. Nor is it a crime to live sparely, and innocently, and in the light.
Perhaps truest or deepest Horror of Reeducation was perhaps not its misogynist content but its inquisitorial form. Reeducation claimed not to be religious and indeed, although it mimics religions it would not pass muster with a real one. It was like being in a Puritan cult and Agent Orange, an analyst of the 12 steps, makes some good points on faux religiosity in his Snake Oil chapter. Agent Orange is bright, and I recommend his whole book which is not just for 12 step refugees but for anyone living anywhere the 12 steps have penetrated the culture.
And people say that the 12 steps do not have to be inflected with Christianity, but I note that they do require a belief in a monotheistic, personalistic God who watches over one, and the enactment of a series of self-flagellation rituals. I further note that many of the “spiritual” beliefs they espouse are far less advanced, although more convoluted, than what you can get from any actual religious text.
Although I have shed a great deal of Reeducation I still have noticeable trouble just doing as I like and see fit some days, remaining confident, uncrippled, innocent. Every day I must remind myself that I can and in fact should now act and respond in freedom.
Via Liprap, New Orleans City Council member Shelley Midura’s letter to George W. Bush, on the occasion of his visit to new Orleans for the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina:
August 28, 2007
Dear Mr. President:
Thank you for visiting New Orleans for the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the worst federal levee-failure disaster in United States history followed by the worst federal disaster response in United States history. We’re also grateful for the $116 billion federal allocation for the Gulf Coast. That $116 billion has served you well, as your spokesmen often cite it as an indicator of your dedication to our recovery. But, it hasn’t served us as well — it’s not enough, it’s been given grudgingly, and only after our elected officials have had to fight for it. So I feel I must correct the record about you and your administration’s dedication to our recovery and implore you to take action to make things better.
Indeed, you have allocated $116 billion for the Gulf Coast, but that number is misleading. According to the Brookings Institute’s most recent Katrina Index report, at least $75 billion of it was for immediate post-storm relief. Thus only 35% of the total federal dollars allocated is for actual recovery and reconstruction. And of that recovery and reconstruction allocation, only 42% has actually been spent. In fact, while your administration touts “$116 billion” as the amount you have sent to the entire area affected by Katrina and the levee failures, the actual long term recovery dollar amount is only $14.6 billion. This amount is a mere 12% of the entire federal allocation of dollars, billions of which went to corporations such as Halliburton for immediate post-storm cleanup work, instead of to local businesses. Contrast that to the $20.9 billion on infrastructure for Iraq that the Wall Street Journal reported in May 2006 that you have spent, and it’s an astonishing 42% more than you have spent on infrastructure for the post-Katrina Gulf region. The American citizens of the Gulf region do not understand why the federal obligation to rebuilding Iraq is greater than it is for America’s Gulf coast, and more specifically for New Orleans.
New Orleans has more challenges and fewer resources than we’ve ever had in my lifetime in the City of New Orleans. Yet, other than FEMA repair reimbursements, the only direct federal assistance this city has received from you has been two community disaster loans that you are demanding be paid back even though no other city government has had to pay back a these types of loans for as long as our research can determine (at least since the 70’s). These loans are being used to balance the city budget to provide basic services to citizens who need far more than the pre-Katrina basics.
Despite this obvious contradiction, your administration blames local leadership for our continued need for federal assistance. But this argument is disingenuous, Mr. President. There are a host of tasks that only you and your administration can accomplish for our recovery. These are some concrete steps you can take to make good on your 2005 Jackson Square promise:
* Completely fix the federally managed levees
* Fully fund our expertly crafted recovery plan
* Give New Orleans all that you have promised to Baghdad – schools, hospitals, infrastructure, security, and basic services
* Forgive the community disaster loans, as authorized by the new Congress
* Appoint a recovery czar who works inside the White House that reports daily and directly to you and whose sole job is the recovery of New Orleans and the rest of the region
* Restore our coast and wetlands
* Work with Congress to reform the Stafford Act
* Cut the bureaucratic red tape
In turn Mr. President, the people of New Orleans are more than willing to do our part. We have already:
* Consolidated and reformed the state levee board system.
* Consolidated and reformed our property assessment system.
* Passed sweeping ethics reform legislation.
* Created an Ethics Review Board.
* Hired an Inspector General.
* Submitted a parish-wide recovery plan.
Much has changed in New Orleans for the better since the storm, and more progress is coming. Civic activism is at an all time high. For the first time in my lifetime, there is an actual reform movement in New Orleans driven by the people. “Best Practices” has become a City Council mantra. We have a new Ethics Board. Our incoming Inspector General, Robert Cerasoli, is considered one of the elite in the Inspector General world, as is our new Recovery Director Dr. Ed Blakely in that world and our Recovery School Superintendent Paul Vallas in the realm of public education. We are attracting the cream of the crop. Young people from around the country seeking to make a difference in their lives are moving to New Orleans to teach in public schools, provide community healthcare, build housing, work for nonprofits engaged in post-Katrina work, and, in general, do whatever they can for the recovery because they all know what I am not so sure that you know, mainly that what happens in New Orleans over the next few years says something about the very heart of America itself.
Mr. President, we are in fact doing our part locally in New Orleans despite contrary comments by your administration. Our intense civic activity and government reform initiatives are serious indicators of our local commitment to do our part for the recovery. But we are drowning in federal red tape. We are being nickel and dimed to death by your Federal Emergency Management Agency. We are resource-starved at the city level. The mission here is not accomplished. What we need is Presidential leadership, not just another speech filled with empty promises. Our recovery’s success, struggle, or failure will be intimately woven into your legacy, for better or worse. What Americans think about America is deeply affected by how this country rises to national challenges, none more significant than post-Katrina New Orleans. Fully restoring New Orleans to its formerly unique and permanent place in American culture is this nation’s greatest domestic challenge. Your leadership of our country through this difficult time will serve as an American character lesson for future generations.
New Orleans City Councilmember
Z: What are the characteristics of “Our America” in the famous essay by the same title?
Student: Well, I understand that the author is referring to the multicultural, intellectual and spiritual Latin America as opposed to the industrial, utilitarian, and Anglo-Saxon United States. But when you actually read the essay this is not so clear. “We” Latin Americans are multicultural, but “we” are also concerned to engage with a “they” that is Native American or Afro-Latin. So who is this “we?” It seems that the essential Latin American person here is a white man trapped in a brown body!
In the time of Reeducation I had a recurring dream, part of which is recounted here. It involved the aftermath of a hurricane in my building. One detail not included in my earlier post were that there was a cadaver hanging in the shower – of the author I was working on – and the body was as heavy as lead, we could not lift it out, so we could not take showers even if the plumbing were working (it was not working well – the pipes were crooked), and we had this macabre cadaver on our hands. Another detail was that the coffeemaker would make coffee, but would spit it out everywhere except in the pot. I saw a dream analyst who said it meant I was putting energy everywhere except where it would nourish me – enough to be able to move the cadaver, for instance. I got a T.A. today, against all expectations, and I have the general impression that the coffee is now running into the pot.