academia, feminism

Identity (It’s Complicated)


The concept of identity is complicated, at best. Why aren’t white people called “European American”? Why aren’t Asians and Latin Americans known by their respective colors (or shades of brown)? When we talk about black people, what do we actually mean? I identify as an African American woman. What does it mean to identify? In an article by Rogers Brubaker and Frederick Cooper titled “Beyond ‘identity’” (2000), the two theorists complicated the question of identity as a category of analysis. They argue that “the prevailing constructivist stance on identity—the attempt to “soften” the term, to acquit it of the charge of “essentialism” by stipulating that identities are constructed, fluid, multiple —leaves us ill-equipped to examine the “hard” dynamics and essentialist claims of contemporary identity politics.” (1) In other words, these theorists doubt the existence of identity based on the many, complicated definitions of identities across academic disciplines.

Surely, this complication of identity will be a shock for women, especially women of color, who are constantly oppressed and exploited because of their identities. As women, we are paid less than men (often justified by our ability to birth children), we are sexually abused, battered, and are offered less opportunities for social mobility. As women of color, we face what Frances Beal calls “double jeopardy”, the uncomfortable and problematic socio-cultural position of being black (or of color) and female. If identity does not exist, why are we being punished because of it?  

For people of color, our brown skin is an empowering reminder of historical tragedy, past racial struggles for human rights, and the very real continued struggle against all forms of oppression. For men and women who are not of-color, oppression and exploitation are also very real; we must not discount any struggle based on our racial and sexual differences. Like bell hooks says in her book title: Feminism is for Everybody. We must work together towards this inclusive feminism to reject all forms of oppression. Until then identity will be a hazy, complicated signifier used to enforce social, political, and cultural dominance.

academia, graduate school, guest post, lifestyle, writing

Work: A Piece on How to Survive Grad School

Guest Author Sarah Snyder is an M.A. student in Eastern Classics at St. John’s College. You can find out more about her on her academia page.

How to survive in graduate school?  Arrange to be alone with your work.  Make it your being, tether yourself to the enrichment of your own mind, and you will emerge knowing a little.  Follow your intellect and your smallest whims, and you will not go astray.  The creative mind succeeds only when it trusts itself alone.  Allow your education to become the ink on your skin, but amorphous and accommodating as a tattoo.  Love every second of your time spent reading.  Make yourself love each word, to feel around inside it.  Read one word a day to begin. Find the joy in your work, find the center of a circumference without equidistant points.  Keep the meaning and the happiness not in the peripherals, but in front.  Make sure to leave some behind, since not everything is sure to work at every time.  Do not allow habits to become the nuisance of your thinking hours.  Allow your mind to approach you with its ideas, give it your attention full.  Make your relationship with your studies known, never disrespect the gift of education with your inadequacy and laziness.  But do not fail to recognize corruption when ideology is present, and do not neglect your own conscious mind as the basis for right and wrong, true and false.  Be alone with your work.  Understand that you’re not alone when the voices of those engaged in their own pursuits may echo through you—Emerson, Homer, Woolf may be the closest alliance of your life, do not allow time and space to make crude your connection.  Make yourself responsible for your intellectual growth; cultivate love between your ego and your inner teacher.  Practice going within and without your mind so that you can see the difference between subjectivity and objectivity.  Ignore and subvert both accordingly, finally realize each simultaneously, alone with your work.

feminism, motherhood

I’m a Single Parent Kid

More than ever, families of color are being defined as non-traditional and alternative. According to the 2012 Census Bureau, single parent households are largely made of black (56%) and Hispanic (38%) families. If this is the case, why is motherhood still defined in relation to fatherhood? Why is single mothering ignored in favor of collaborative parenting?

This post is a partial response to the Randi S. Cowedry and Carmen Knudsen-Martin study “The Construction of Motherhood” (2005). In the article, both question 50 couples’ definitions of motherhood either as a traditionally feminine, gendered talent or as a conscious collaboration between two people.

While reading, I couldn’t help but note that their definitions of motherhood didn’t apply to my personal experience growing up. My siblings and I are single parent children: we were raised by our mother. There was no choice between who mothered and who fathered. My mom did both. No one assumed a gendered role. My mom didn’t collaborate with anyone (consciously or otherwise) when she chose to divorce my dad, chose to parent alone and chose to raise her kids her way. What better definition of feminist is there? bell hooks, Barbara Smith or Patricia Hill Collins would love my mom for her anti-patriarchal, anti-oppressionist choices. With that in mind, why aren’t more third wave feminist studies or feminist literature dedicated to single parents or their single parent kids of color?

One reason is that single parents contend with negative stereotypes or negative social perceptions. Valerie Mannis’ article “Single Mothers by Choice” (1999) notes that single mothers deal with negativity and fight for a positive outlook:

     When they are confronted with stereotypes and negative social attitudes about single mothers, these women rely upon their maturity, financial security, and family and community support to either distance themselves from the stereotypes or ignore the negative social discourse surrounding them. (126)

Single moms (and dads for that matter) are fighting an uphill battle for their kids and for their sense of self. I was a single parent kid and I am now thinking of starting my own family. My mom continues to fight for her balance between internal positivity and external negativity. She creates a legacy for us that questions collaborative, gendered parenting. How do I continue redefining parenting for my own family?

I am empowered as a single parent kid to define what a father means to me. My idea of a dad is a question mark. I’m not bound by any hegemonic gender roles, because I didn’t grow up around that. When we have kids, my husband will be my equal partner. Rather than mother and father, we will be parents. Being a single parent kid is empowering because it gives us some very unique perspectives on parenting. 

 Are you a single parent kid? How has this affected your views on parenting? 

discrimination, oppression

On Oppression

Oppression is a global experience. Men and women regardless of race, gender or class have come face to face with oppression in its many forms. For me, oppression is being made to feel different, uncomfortable and uneasy because of gender, sexuality, age, class, race or ethnicity. Consider the following true situations:

  1. Cape Coral, FL: An African American teenager walks into a gas station to pay for a soda. A Caucasian man walking by mutters “Get out of my town you little n*gger!” (racism)
  2.  Pittsburgh, PA: During a scholarship interview, an African American woman is asked what she would do if she doesn’t receive the money. The head of the scholarship committee, a Caucasian woman, says, “Well, you can always sell your body.”(sexism)
  3. Lancaster, PA: A Caucasian man in his sixties is laid off from his job. On an interview, the Caucasian woman interviewer notes that despite the man’s years of experience, “You will have a hard time finding a job, especially at your age.” (ageism)
  4. Northeast Philadelphia, PA: On the playground a Jewish girl overhears a group of kids talking negatively about Jewish people. Upset, she says, “Well, I’m Jewish.” The group says, “Well, you don’t LOOK Jewish.”(anti-Semitism)

Everyone feels a similar, systematic powerlessness when confronted with oppression: We first feel stunned. Then, we have an internal struggle with the fact that something is not right, that it’s not ok for someone to say, do or act this way towards us. Then, the powerless feeling turns to anger and frustration: why didn’t I say something in the moment? Why didn’t I defend myself? What can I do to get rid of this anger?

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s essay “Three Ways of Meeting Oppression” (from Stride Toward Freedom, 1958) argues that the best way to deal with oppression is nonviolent resistance or rejecting a violent, physical response in favor of building a community to overcome oppression. He writes, “nonviolent resistance is not aimed against oppressors but against oppression.”  Our fight is against oppression and not each other. In lieu of Dr. King’s model of nonviolent resistance, the following is a few options for everyday nonviolent resistance:

  1. Talk to someone: Sadly, these situations are common. Talk to someone about it. You will probably hear a similar story of how they overcame oppression.
  2. Read, read, read: Confront your feelings of powerless by educating yourself about oppression. Human Rights Activists, Feminists, LGBT activists, and many others have been fighting for our rights to not be oppressed. Reading about their past and current fight will provide you with knowledge and a support system against oppression.
  3. Continue the conversation:  Start your own human rights conversations with friends, family, and other people that you know have experienced oppression-induced powerlessness. This will lead you to understand oppression in many different ways.

The idea behind this entry is to start a conversation about oppression. As a black woman, I have experienced oppression in many forms. Through various conversations, I have realized that all people experience oppression in some form, no matter how they identify themselves.

How have you been affected by oppression? How do you incorporate nonviolent resistance into your life?  

love, pets, wellness

From Fear to Friend: My Life with Megatron

Fear isn’t the right word for how I felt about dogs. It was more like a terror-induced anxiety. Whenever a dog barked, snapped or came within two feet of my ankles, my heart would race, my palms got clammy and my whole body would tense. Stiff as a board, I wondered if this was what a fear induced allergic reaction felt like. Was there a shot or some ointment for it?

Our cat, Optimus Prime, is a misanthrope. He doesn’t like humans or being pet, unless it’s on his terms. I have the faded scratches on my arms to prove it. One day, amidst the paper grading, classwork and stress, my husband and I realized that we craved more affection. A dog would be perfect because we were too poor, too immature, and too self-centered to afford a human baby.

After months of scrolling on PetFinder, we walked through the doors of the Mahoning County Dog Pound. Nothing could have prepared us for how heartbreaking this place was. Near the pound’s entrance were some scary looking adult Boxers and Pitbulls that barked and pulled on their chains attached to iron bars bolted to the ground. Terror made me pause in front of the cages, where I stared at these dogs. With each step closer, the dogs bark a little quieter, their tails wagged harder; despite the fear some part of me realized that these “vicious” dogs just wanted some attention and some human interaction.

We finally went into the pound. Dozens of dogs were locked in iron cages. Each called out to us for a little petting time or some affection. We fell in love with the first dog we saw. She was a tiny, brown ball of fur that couldn’t have been more than three months old. Each time my husband put his hand near the bars, she would mash her head against him, fighting for a few more seconds of warmth. If he pulled himself away, she would yip, scream, and howl. The warden said she was found wandering the streets and had been locked in the pound for about a week before we arrived.  She was waiting for us.

We were approved, got her spayed (as per Ohio law, all adopted pets have to be neutered and spayed no matter how old they are) and took her home. As soon as she found the cat, she tried to nibble him. That was when we knew her name would forever be: Megatron.

For the past two years, she has been one of my best friends. I talk to her about my day, my ideas, and personal setbacks. Meg is always there to listen. She sits near my head when I have a migraine and she never leaves our side if we’re feeling sick. We provide her with food, water, hugs and cuddle sessions. She brightens up our lives and is such an important part of our family. I used to be terrified of dogs, now I have so much love for them. I have Megatron to thank for that.

Do you have a similar experience with dogs? How do you feel about your fur ball? 

adulthood, lifestyle, youth

How to Be a Toys-R-Us Kid

Sitting in my apartment next to my sleepy German Shepard, I can’t help but wonder when I became an adult. Being in my mid twenties, married and in grad school all add up to something. Paying rent, cooking my own meals and having deep literary conversations with scholars who wear glasses add up to something too. Why can’t I shake the urge to eat Frosted Flakes in my jammies and watch Spongebob? Why do I get a little sad when I have to decide between having a Snickers Bar or a salad for dinner? When did I grow up?

Baffled, I drove to my older sister’s house and posed this very question. Over a glass of wine and a plate of cheddar, she wrinkled her nose: a sign that she was even more stumped than I was. Does being an adult happen once you buy your first house? Or do you feel like an adult once you have kids?

Over the phone, my seventy something year old grandmother and I continued the investigation. Her life has been rich with children, grandchildren, and a couple great grand kids. Some of her friends have long since moved away or passed on. Yet her answer was, “I dunno. I still feel sixteen, at least in my mind.” Perhaps you’re reading this and shaking your head. Maybe you’ve even discovered the secret to being an adult (which is probably to drink prune juice or something silly like that). In any case, I have compiled 3 tips for staying young in your mind, which is really all that matters.

1. Laugh (a lot): One thing that babies and kids do a lot is laugh, giggle, smile, and chuckle. Do what the babies do: laugh at yourself, at other people, and at silly sounds. This will release serotonin, which will make you feel good.

2. Avoid saying “I’m too old for that”: For my sixteen-year-old grandma, you’re as old as you feel. Constantly reinforcing the idea that you’re too old for something will cut out a lot of fun stuff like roller coasters, carousels, Chuck E. Cheese’s, amusement parks, Haunted Houses, Trick or Treating, the list goes on.

3. Get Messy: If I’ve learned anything from children it’s that they are really messy. Try doing something messy like finger painting, playing in the rain, or jumping into a pile of leaves. Adults work so hard to be neat and clean. Getting messy only helps release your inner kid.

After living a quarter century, I’m proud to say that I will probably not be an adult for another ten years. Maybe going to my twenty-year high school reunion will transform me. For now, I’m going to have some ice cream for lunch.

  Do you have any tips for being a kid? Leave a comment and let’s hear it.