On Speech and Consequences: Roseanne and Kaepernick

Yesterday, ABC fired Roseanne Barr for her racism (after hiring her and promoting her offensive tweets as a reason advertisers should be behind the show), a move that prompted a lot of people to compare her to Colin Kaepernick – some in defense of one, some in defense of the other, but too often dealing in abstractions.

Here’s how I parse the difference:

It’s not really very difficult to tell the difference between kneeling to protest anti-black violence and making racist comments about a black woman being descended from an ape. We don’t have to dwell in the world of abstractions here (we /do/ when talking about state censorship and prosecution for speech acts, where defending offensive speech is a leading bulwark against fascism).

The racist New York lawyer who threatened to call ICE on people speaking Spanish should experience professional and social consequences for his act. The author writing that women who have abortions should be hanged should experience professional and social consequences for voicing his horrific idea.

The right wing is going to respond to the firing of Barr with accusations of hypocrisy, that saying negative things about the president, for example, is equivalent, or that the NFL like ABC can do what they like and we’re hypocrites for criticizing one and praising the other. This may even have a certain abstract truth.

But we live in a real world. There are lots of gray areas and complexities when talking about speech, but sometimes, it’s pretty clear: Fire overt racists, protect overt anti-racists.

We can do this. 

Interview: Nicola Griffith

I interviewed author Nicola Griffith for Pacific Standard. She’s one of the writers creating new literary disability culture as we speak.

We are desperately in need of seeing ourselves. Telling our stories is what builds culture, builds a sense of self. I really want that to happen. For me there’s a really exciting feeling of creating my own culture now. I felt as though I was doing that a little with my very early novels, but there was already a lot of queer lit, and some of it was pretty good. There isn’t enough disability fiction, and I feel I’m part of a group building a culture. I’m really excited because I know disabled people will read this book and see themselves.

Liberation of Medieval Fashion

Great essay on appropriating medieval fashion as feminist.

In doing so they began a feminist tradition that continues today. We saw this most recently at the Met Gala where stars donned fashion inspired by the Roman Catholic Church’s long heyday from the year 500 to 1550, including Rihanna’s glittering papal mitre and cloak. It was hard to miss the pointed irreverence of Rihanna assuming (and sexing up) the supreme mantle of an institution in which women can’t hold office. Coming at a time when campaigns against sexual harassment are sweeping the entertainment industry, the theme was surprisingly pertinent.

Keep Shaming Racists

Shame is definitely a social act that can get out of control and lead to unintended consequences. It’s good to have these discussions. What’s not happening, though, are the elite white pundits (Weiss, Ioffe, Friedersdorf, Chait, Haidt, the FIRE folks, that prof from VA who keeps writing the same op-ed, etc) thinking through the consequences of not shaming racists.

“Animals and Der Jude Kriminell” – Immigration and Rhetoric

President Trump called some immigrants “animals.” He said:

“We have people coming into the country, or trying to come in — we’re stopping a lot of them,” Mr. Trump said in the Cabinet Room during an hourlong meeting that reporters were allowed to document. “You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people, these are animals, and we’re taking them out of the country at a level and at a rate that’s never happened before.”

The debate is now predictably to descending whether we should place the animals comment in context of just the MS-13 members.

Here’s what I have to say about that:

On GOP Nazis

There are Nazis doing well in GOP elections. There’s always been a radical fringe, but they seem to be doing better this year.

The CA GOP kicked theirs out of the convention. I’d like to see more of this. Explicit rejection of Nazis is important.  And it’s the job of the GOP to deal with their own Nazis, not for Democrats to be nice to them about it.

Now if only the GOP would reject its anti-semitic evangelical preachers instead of inviting them to Jerusalem.

Whiteness and Power

My colleague, Katharine Gerbner, a brilliant historian of the Carribean, wrote this for the Washington Post:

Although many today consider race to be an immutable characteristic, that wasn’t always the case. Before the 17th century, whiteness didn’t even exist as a racial category. It emerged for the worst of reasons: slave-owning politicians invented “whiteness” as part of a political strategy intended to restrict the voting rights of free black men. Lawmakers subsequently refined “whiteness” by developing a “one-drop rule” — the idea that one drop of African blood would make a person “black.” In other words, race isn’t just connected to voter suppression; black voter suppression created whiteness.

The modern invention of race (as opposed to medieval thinking about race, also complex and important and about forms of power), has always been about this kind of power.

How to Apply for Graduate School

I get this question a lot. Eve Ewing has published a guide to the “personal statement” that is brilliant and useful. She writes:

The personal statement is a slightly misleading title for this document. It is not primarily about you holistically in the way your college personal statement was. It serves ONE MAJOR PURPOSE: to demonstrate to a department that you understand how to formulate and pursue a research question, and that there is a good fit between your question and the department.

She then outlines the major elements of the statement.

There are many ways to write this document, but its function, as Ewing says, is the aspect to keep in mind and the piece that’s often most mysterious to undergrads.

Disciplines differ, but I think this is tremendously useful.