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Digital Literacies Assembly Planning – Join us!

Things are ruff in DC.

At the NCTE annual conference last week, Robyn Seglem and I facilitated a conversation around planning for a new assembly focus on Media/Digital Literacies/Participatory culture (the name is up in the air). If you are interested in being a founding member of such a group, please add your name to this document (scroll down). We also need any ideas/comments on the constitution added by December 15th in order to allow us to finish this work and submit it to the NCTE Executive Committee.

Please get in touch if you have any questions.

Apparently “White Privilege” is Too Much

Could you maybe try to explain why the name is offensive but without saying “white privilege”? I think people stop reading when they see phrases like “white privilege” or “supremacy.”

So began one of the more surreal questions I’ve been asked by a reporter.

Just to be clear: I was being interviewed about the power of words to hurt, to condemn, to offend.

Particularly around an issue that focuses on the politics and violence of language, I’m struck by the fact that the vocabulary necessary for discussing societal context is, in itself, too confrontational for newspaper readers*.

I should state, here, that I’ve been conscious of speaking more to the role of “white privilege” in the discussions of the name Illegal Pete’s than of a culture of “white supremacy” because the later will sound more radical and offensive to readers. Though it is language I theorize and use in my college classes and writing–invoking the language of bell hooks–I realize that “white supremacy” sounds too confrontational in a newspaper; it shuts down dialogue rather than opens it up. In case you’re wondering, here’s hooks’s description:

 To me an important breakthrough, I felt, in my work and that of others was the call to use the term white supremacy, over racism because racism in and of itself did not really allow for a discourse of colonization and decolonization, the recognition of the internalized racism within people of color and it was always in a sense keeping things at the level at which whiteness and white people remained at the center of the discussion. In my classroom I might say to students that you know that when we use the term white supremacy it doesn’t just evoke white people, it evokes a political world that we can all frame ourselves in relationship to.

My original letter to Pete (which subsequently ran in the local paper) described “white supremacy.” And, resultantly, was misinterpreted and denounced.

However, even the language of “privilege” seems too much for readers according to the reporter. As someone that’s been accused of being too “PC” throughout this ongoing dialogue, why are the words “white privilege” so offensive to readers?

While I do not have empirical data, I can imagine the general demographics of the folks that have emailed me and commented on my blog and articles. Inferring from names, I suspect they are largely white and male.

In her book Other People’s Children, Lisa Delpit discusses societal power and classroom life:

  1. Issues of power are enacted in classrooms
  2. There are codes of rules for participating in power
  3. The rules of the culture of power are a reflection of the rules of the culture of those who have power
  4. If you are not already a participant in the culture of power, being told explicitly those rules of the culture makes acquiring power easier.
  5. Those with power are frequently least aware of – or least willing to acknowledge – its existence. Those with less power are often most aware of its existence.

Pointing to power and privilege and difference (invoking another academic text), perhaps it is the highlighting of power that makes the words “white privilege” so anger-inducing. Being asked to see how privilege still exists in the 21st century and how it is tied to race is difficult to accept. Reading Talib Kweli’s problem with the “N-Word,” I am reminded here that “Context has consequences.”

I should note that, in a conversation with Ally, she pointed out that much of the arguments I’ve made about the name Illegal Pete’s are centered on the same issues my scholarship on young adult literature and pop culture also focuses. My thoughts on Wreck-It Ralph, on Kanye West, and on Gossip Girl, for example – all challenge how invisible the privilege we carry can be. In the words of George Clinton: It would be ludicrous to think that we are new to this/We do this/This is what we do.

 

* There is an unspoken irony here that pertains with the readership of my local newspaper. One aspect of the Illegal Pete’s issue that I struggle with is the fact that I only learned of the restaurant and its opening three weeks before it was to begin serving food in my community, despite the fact that it was covered by the local paper. Considering this was similarly the response of many of my co-organizers, one has to wonder if the paper is reflecting the voices, interests, and needs of its Latino community. Maybe this news wasn’t delivered to us in time because this newspaper really hasn’t cared about covering Latino issues (or covering them adequately as the shoddy coverage of the change the name meeting suggests).

Come help at the NCTE Media and Digital Literacy Assembly Planning

Are you going to NCTE next week?

Are you interested in media literacies, connected learning, or participatory culture? If not, do you want to at least hangout with people who are?

YOU (yes, you!) should come to the NCTE Media and Digital Literacy (MADLit) Assembly planning session. Briefly, the MADLit group is currently a “collaborative” within NCTE (that my friend Robyn Seglem and I are co-chairing). This meeting will be to gauge interest and shape the group into a more official “Assembly.” This would allow us to create more conference opportunities, possibly create workshops or journals, and have more flexibility with our programming. Ultimately, we want  to better connect with the media enthusiasts who attend NCTE and this is our opportunity to get planning time at the conference. We want need your help! Seriously!

We will be meeting on Saturday from 5:45 to 7:15 p.m. in National Harbor 6 of the conference center.

Again, everyone is welcome to this planning meeting – we are hopeful that participants will help shape the future of this group. Leadership opportunities and future activities will be discussed!

I hope to see you there.

Note: If you are interested in participating but will not be at NCTE, drop me a note on twitter or in the comments. WiFi dependent, I can open up a Google Hangout for non-DC-bound folks to participate.

Why a “relaxed human connection” doesn’t make up for a racist name

Announced via email to a group of us this afternoon and posted on the company’s blog, Pete Turner states that he is not changing the name of restaurant.

In reading his lengthy response, I’m particularly offended by the ways this letter completely disregards the meaningful dialogue we engaged in last month. This is not a name that “celebrates individuality and relaxed human connection.”

Below is the response I sent back to Mr. Turner today. If you are in Tucson and interested in helping as the next restaurant prepares to open there, please get in touch.

Pete,

Thank you for your letter. I am disappointed in your decision.

In hearing your detailed, humane choices as a business owner, I am surprised to hear that the ways your name affects entire communities within Colorado (and in future locations) is not a consideration for you.

I should add the quality of your business practices was never something I questioned; the mission of your restaurant has been clearly delineated both online and in our meeting last month. It is this point, in fact, that makes your letter such a disappointment: despite all of the fantastic business practices, you continue to ignore the very real and hurtful experiences that your restaurant’s name will cause.

I share with you the fact that I, too, lost my father several years ago to a form of leukemia. It is in his honor that I must continue to advocate for others to not patronize your business. His work as a member of a socially conscious teatro – performing throughout California and Mexico including to migrant farm-workers – instilled in me a need to advocate for and push on civil rights issues around me.

I had hoped that the community of Fort Collins could wholly reflect an inclusive environment and one in which my family and I would see our cultural history valued. Sadly, you have made this not the case.

Again, the positive aspects of your business were never in question – I did not need to read six pages to know the identity, the human capital, and the passion of your restaurant were important to you. It only took one paragraph to know that a large sector of your clientele are not. I had hoped your restaurant would  be a space that is inclusive of the communities it will inhabit.

I look forward to continuing this dialogue as we continue to organize around your next location in Tucson.

Antero

Dangerous and the Revolution of Michael Jackson’s Panther Dance

I’m loving one of the recent 33 1/3 books (the 100th volume?!) focusing on Michael Jackson’s Dangerous. I distinctly remember buying the album just as I began flirting with my own sense of musical interest. My friend down the street would regularly play the record when we were hanging out, while a separate group would shortly engender me in the cult of grunge that was quickly snapping up the interests of many of us (the author, Susan Fast, points out, early on, that Nirvana’s Nevermind would eventually best Dangerous on the charts – probably a key moment in Western musical history). Because of the album’s centricity in my formative years in elementary and middle school, it is probably the Jackson album I’m most familiar with (despite the fact that most of Jackson’s biggest hits were years past in his repertoire by this point).

With 20 years of distance, I appreciate Fast’s emphasis on the album’s two biggest hits as transgressive moments in Jackson’s oeuvre. The saccharine “Heal the World,” being so much more than a feel-good yawn-fest and “Black or White” being a confrontational moment of racial politics.

 [Note: even this version of the video is edited; racist symbols/phrases were added to the windows as if they were what Jackson was smashing.]

Quoting from a couple of pages centered on the notorious (and later re-cut) video for “Black or White” including the famous “panther dance,” I appreciate Fast’s weaving of critical theory and cultural context here:

“But in the original version, of course, [the famous face-morphing scene] was followed by Jackson’s ‘panther dance’ and it was this that made all hell break loose for him and which also allowed us to see what he was really up to in the first part of the short film.

As Eric Lott has written, ‘something so extraordinary happened at this moment that the video’s initial audiences couldn’t take it in.’ The camera pulls back from the morphing scene to expose a film set an crew, the last (black) actress to appear in the morphing scene and the film’s director, John Landis, yelling ‘cut’ and saying to the actress ‘that was perfect; how do you do that?’ There’s no answer to this question: how could there be? For the question is only superficially about a feat of modern technology; a white man has just asked a black woman how she manages to adapt as a minority, in which she must move both as part of her own world and that of the dominant culture and be cheerful in the process (‘that was perfect [behavior]’, a world of double-consciousness.”

And later:

“Jackson begins his dance trepidatiously. After he emerges from the form of the panther he stands still for a moment, settling into his new skin, unsure how to move forward. He dons his fedora and is caught in a spotlight, invoking the idea of the panopticon, which Michel Foucault used as a metaphor for the pervasive surveillance and disciplining (normalizing) of bodies in contemporary society.

Some context regarding “violence” and Illegal Pete’s

On Wednesday, a group of us were able to meet with Peter Turner, the owner of Illegal Pete’s. The event was level headed and filled with rational discourse about concerns around the name of the restaurant. It was covered, later that day by the Coloradoan. And while I appreciate the media coverage, the article does not portray the even keeled nature of the meeting and quoted me without a lot of context to clarify my meaning. The article has since gotten radio coverage, additional news articles here, here, here, and here, an editorial response here, Reddit discussion here, was on the Drudge Report, etc. (I am probably missing additional media coverage.)

To be clear, I stand behind sentence I am quoted as saying in the meeting: “This is a place that’s going to instill violence in our community.” In the meeting I discussed that there are forms of symbolic violence and physical violence; I believe Illegal Pete’s will foster both (based on the violent rhetoric in the comments supporting the company, I frankly see this violence already at work.) What’s missing however is the explanation of how the word “Illegal” is not simply a word about the immigration status of an individual. In many contexts today, it is a label that we place on Latinos wholesale. Many people in the meeting voiced the fact that they were born and raised in Colorado or other parts of the U.S. and have been verbally attacked and berated–violent language–telling them to ‘go back where they came from,’ that they are illegal, that they are different from other citizens in the country. Based on skin tone or language practices, Latinos are perpetually treated differently. To be clear (this is something that is not understood by many of the negative commenters I’ve heard from), this does not have anything to do with one’s legal status in the United States; Latinos are regularly labeled as illegal.

In this context, I shared with Pete at the meeting that his restaurant’s name continues a legacy of hate speech and violence that is worsening in the current sociopolitical climate. We need to reconsider the “I-word” in general. A colleague shared this video in my Facebook feed, which I find illustrative:

Considering the ways hateful speech is statistically tied to violence, I would label Illegal Pete’s as a place that perpetuates a culture of white supremacy and, as a result, “instill[s] violence” in my community.

People have argued that I am unable to interpret that the word “illegal” is being used in a different way – that it is from a book, is about counter culture, etc. Again, it doesn’t matter how Pete Turner intended the name to be understood. It does not matter that some people see the name as harmless. The legacy of racism means it is an injurious name for an entire (and growing) sector of Americans.

This is not about whining or complaining. It is about refusing to accept hurtful, violent language in the context of society in 2014. In regards to this, there is a concern that Fort Collins residents are simply unable to decipher the difference between how Pete uses the word “Illegal” and how it is interpreted with regards to immigration. It is my belief that a Mexican-influenced restaurant with a person’s name and the adjective “Illegal” can convey little else but the current issue at hand As such, I continue advocating for the business to change its name.

An Open Letter to the Owner of Illegal Pete’s

Hi Pete,

I know several people have contacted you recently with concern about the name of your restaurant and its soon-to-be-open Fort Collins location. I too am concerned.

I should add that I really appreciate the work of your company from what I’ve been able to gather on your website. Your company clearly seems committed to some aspects of justice and bettering the world around you.

That being said, I cannot, in good conscience, be a patron of a Mexican restaurant that is called “Illegal Pete’s.” I understand, from a friend, that the name comes from a book and that it is also in tribute of your father. I admire both of these aspects. However, whether or not your intention, it is a denigrating and derogatory name. The restaurant will be located in the same area that current Fort Collins residents remember often seeing signs saying “No dogs or Mexicans.” It is under this legacy of American racist practices that the name Illegal Pete’s becomes unacceptable. I understand that this may not seem fair to you – as it may not be the origin of the name. However, the slippery nature of sociocultural context in the U.S. is something that cannot be dictated by us as individuals–they are a part of a culture of white supremacy that we remain entrenched within and which your restaurant’s name furthers.

I should also add that, in looking at your site to author this letter, the photograph on your history page (found here: http://illegalpetes.com/about/history) plays into the longstanding history of undocumented (“illegal”) cooking and cleaning staff that work as much of the lifeblood of the service sector in the U.S. The covering up of the subject’s eyes in the photo makes him appear anonymous as if he is in fact the Illegal Pete of the namesake. Again, regardless of your intention, the name, the composition of the photograph, and the cultural context (including the hand that could be seen as a wave or as a ‘no photos please’ gesture) are read in a problematic and offensive way. I believe you were an English graduate and I would hope your multimodal analytical acumen would allow you to see how I am seeing what I am seeing.

Did you know that this month, throughout Northern Colorado there has been a play called “Do You Know Who I Am?” that has been performed in various locations (https://www.facebook.com/doyouknowwhoiammotuslyfe)? Written and performed by undocumented Latino youth, the play is a powerful reminder that there is a large “illegal” Latino population in our community. As patrons in Fort Collins, how will Latinos (regardless of legal status) feel about a legacy of identity and citizenship with regard to the name? Or what about everyone (regardless of ethnicity) that sees the name and implicitly, unconsciously reinforce the concept that legal identity for Latinos is somehow tied to cultural conceptions of heritage? In this sense, the name functions as a continual micro-aggression.

I want to support your business when it opens in Fort Collins. I want to encourage my friends, family, and students to do the same. However, this name is simply not something that I can accept and I have no choice but to actively discourage my network to patronize your restaurant.

I know you have extended an invitation to meet with a CSU graduate student and, travel-schedule permitting, I hope to discuss these issues with you in person. In full disclosure, I intend to post the contents of this letter on my public blog: theamericancrawl.com to invite dialogue (there have been numerous Facebook discussions of this topic and I would hope to broaden the discourse beyond a layer of private nay-saying).

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Antero Garcia

Thinking about Race, Civic Agency, YA Lit, & #ComicEd

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First off, Marcelle Haddix and I have a book chapter in the newly published collection The Politics of Panem edited by Sean P. Connors. Our chapter is called “The Revolution Starts with Rue: Online Fandom and the Racial Politics of the Hunger Games.” In it, we contrast the dialogue found within this meme with the racist response to the casting of the Hunger Games several years ago. Marcelle and I expand our thinking with regard to this topic in an upcoming ALAN article (I’ll share this, too, when it is released).

More broadly, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about civic identity in popular media for youth. Recently reading the first 10 issues of Zero by Ales Kot, I am reminded of the civic lessons from his earlier work, Wild Children (take a look at our conversation from a while back).

Similarly, the new(ish) comic series Storm focuses on the so-named mutant who is able to control weather. With a woman of color as a mainstream comic book protragonist, it’s been striking to see how this series has largely been episodic understanding of civic identity and discussions of collective responsibility. This panel from the first issue, for instance, has had me thinking about how this medium can more deliberately instill concepts of civic action amongst readers.

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Particularly in light of following #FergusonSyllabus, I am reminded of the powerful lessons I can glean daily from social networks. (My friend Peter and I have been discussing and thinking about critical applications of comic books in classrooms on Twitter using the hashtag #ComicEd. Join us!)

As I think about the white-washing of history taking place in my home state and of the organizing in Ferguson (not to mention the three other young black men that have been shot in the St. Louis area in the two months since Michael Brown’s death), I reflect on the potential voices of activism and dissent in popular media: Rue as a revolutionary, Storm as a conflicted ideologist, Officer Gordon on the TV show Gotham (to name a few).

As educators, how do we challenge youth to think civically in a time when their rights are being actively restricted?

Some Upcoming Presentations

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Next Saturday, I will be delivering a keynote presentation at the 2014 Teachers of Color and Allies Summit (TOCA) here in Colorado. If you’ve been following the news, this is a particularly interesting time for critical educators in Colorado. I’m looking forward to learning with my colleagues at the summit next week.

The following week, I will be in England as one of the floor wranglers for the Build and Teach the Web track at the Mozilla Mozfest. In addition to helping design the spatial design and narrative experience of our floor, I’ll be mainly found running a gaming corner for attendees. We’ll be hacking, playing, designing, and sharing games throughout the weekend. If you’re attending Mozfest, please say hello. (We’re at the Hogwartsianly awesomely named campus, Ravensbourne.)

Finally, in mid-November, I’ll be giving a keynote at the New York City School Librarian System conference. If you’re a librarian and you’re in New York City, I look forward to saying hello!

Teacher Solidarity article in Race Ethnicity and Education

I have a new co-authored article in the (comma bereft) journal Race Ethnicity and Education. Titled, “Toward a teacher solidarity lens: former teachers of color (re)envisioning educational research,”this article is an expansion of dialogue conducted as part of a working group of former teachers of color at UCLA organized by Thomas Philip. I am grateful to Thomas, Eduardo Lopez, and Danny Martinez for working this paper. Also acknowledged at the end of the document, friends Ursula Aldana, Elexia Reyes McGovern, and Oscar Navarro also greatly contributed to the dialogue as former teachers of color.

The abstract follows (the article is behind a subscription wall, so please get in touch if you are unable to access it and I will share my author eprint copy):

Based on a two-year self-study by a group of early-career scholars of color, we explore and purposefully name our role, within the contemporary context of neoliberal reform, as educational researchers of color who are former K-12 teachers. We capture the insights that emerged from our self-study through a close reading of dominant neoliberal educational reform discourses, particularly through an examination of the writings of Michelle Rhee and Wendy Kopp. Along three dimensions of: (1) experience as teachers; (2) solidarity with teachers; and (3) analyses of racism in schooling, we characterize prominent discourses through which educators, researchers, and the public describe teachers and teaching. We name these discursive frames to make explicit the assumptions that are embedded in each and the intentional or inadvertent consequences of each. Finally, we propose a teacher solidarity lens through which we strive to approach our research and work with teachers.