Social media analysis challenges stereotype of conservative state By Amanda Jean Stevenson
The full text of the article is available at this link to the June 24th edition of The Houston Chronicle
One year ago this week, state Sen. Wendy Davis drew national attention with her filibuster of HB2, an omnibus abortion restriction bill that has since ushered in a 50 percent decline in the number of abortion clinics in our state. For 11 hours a year ago today, she stood on the floor of the Texas Senate in her pink running shoes as thousands of Texans rallied around her at the state Capitol and 180,000 people watched online. Her filibuster also sparked the wildly popular social media hashtag #StandWithWendy, instantly offering insight into a segment of the state that isn’t so red: Not all Texans agree that restricting abortion rights is a good idea.
Most discussion of Texas in the national media focuses on the state’s extremely conservative factions. But Texas is full of principled people across the political spectrum. Thousands of them marched on the state Capitol to oppose HB2. Before Davis filibustered, 700 people registered to testify in a “citizens filibuster” that lasted late into the night of June 20, and thousands filled Capitol buildings day after day dressed in orange T-shirts, the color chosen to symbolize the fight against HB2. After Davis’ filibuster, 19,000 filed comments against the bill and they continued to fill the Capitol for each hearing and vote. Throughout, they were joined by a digital chorus on Twitter that was hundreds of thousands strong.
I have analyzed the 1.66 million tweets that comprise the Twitter discussion associated with the bill. These tweets came from 399,000 users worldwide. Roughly 44 percent of the tweets were sent from Texans in support of abortion rights, and in all, about 115,500 Texans expressed their support for abortion rights as part of the Twitter discussion of the bill. These Texans are not all Austin liberals. They live throughout the state, in rural and urban areas. In fact, tweets in support of the filibuster were sent from 189 of Texas’ 254 counties, including the majority of rural counties and all urban ones. Only 1.8 percent of the Texas population lives in counties from which no identifiable tweets of support were sent.
The play Am I Invisibleengages audiences through a series of performances that demonstrate the perspective of the homeless in Austin, Texas. Directed by Roni Chelben, the presentation consists of video footage of interviews with members of homeless communities, followed by a series of monologues, and ends with a Forum Theater scene (Boal 1975). The monologues and interviews portray the lived experiences of members of the Austin homeless community. Some of these monologues include poetry, song, and personal testimonies of being ignored and made socially invisible in the consumption-laden streets of Austin. During the performance, I had my own preconceptions about what would take place and how the piece might be just another form of entertainment or ‘poverty porn.’ I was torn between these critical streams of thought and my own personal experiences in organizing street theater and productions like the Tunnel of Oppression back when I was an undergrad. However, once the play was over, and I was able to go home, rest and process, I started making better sense of Chelben’s production.
The Forum Theater is especially interesting. In Chelben’s performance spectators witness a story of a man’s ‘descent’ into homelessness. In the scene, the man gets no help from his family or friends to move his stuff from an apartment whose rent is long overdue. He ends up homeless and seeks help at a shelter, but the facility is too full. So he meets another homeless man at the facility, and they both sleep in a public space, where they’re then harassed by the police. The scene ends with both men being arrested for resisting authority.
After the scene takes place, Chelben, who is the facilitator or ‘joker’ (Boal 1975; Schutzman et al 2006), guides the audience to engage with the scene, which is then reenacted according to suggestions made by audience members. The audience has a chance to talk among themselves and propose actions that could change the outcome of the scene. The goal to implement the suggestions in order to spark dialogues among the audience and cast on the social issues presented.
I want to share some of my thoughts on the performance below. I’m relying partly on the works of Augusto Boal, such as Theatre of the Oppressed (1975), and other related perspectives. Also, I’m speaking from a spectator’s point of view, specifically that of a graduate student with limited knowledge of the production itself and of being homeless.
Theatre of the Oppressed
Theatre of the Oppressed talks about ways in which theater has become a tool of the ruling classes; confined to a bourgeois space that is divorced from the social and political spheres of life (Boal 1975, p 77). Inspired by Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Boal suggests, and demonstrates in his work, techniques to transform audiences from a passive role to an active one; making them constitutive of the theatrical process of social conscientização.
One such technique is the use of Forum Theater. Forum Theater is where ‘spec-actors’ give input on a scene in order to change its course of action within the bounds of the social context so that realistic solutions are discussed and rehearsed. The goal of Boal’s work is to use theater as a means to empower audiences by creating a space to ‘practice’ social change. Of interest here is the use of the spec-actor as a means to locate the participatory potential of audiences in Am I Invisible.
During the entire production, two things stood out to me. The first thing that struck me was the monologues of being invisible in Austin. I admit I, too, am guilty of participating in this ‘invisibilization’ process as I meander through downtown. When a homeless person asks me for spare change or tries to get my attention, I shake my head, look down and just keep on walking. Why do I react in this way? What has conditioned me to not only ignore but also deny any sort of assistance to a homeless person? I’ll return to these questions later.
A second aspect of the production that stood out to me was the use of the Forum Theater in the final scene. After the first run-through of how the man became homeless, audience members were allowed to contribute to the scene and try to change its outcome. However, the ‘joker’ or facilitator does not allow for easy, magical solutions—i.e. a friend suddenly appearing or winning the lottery. The suggestions must be realistic and feasible within the context of the scene. According to Boal, the idea behind this practice is for audiences to rehearse their suggestions as a way to develop a sense of social and political participation.
Boal (1975) writes:
Often a person is very revolutionary when in a public forum he envisages and advocates revolutionary and heroic acts; on the other hand, he often realizes that things are not so easy when he himself has to practice what he suggests.
The theater provides a ‘play space’ for these types of rehearsals, but again, not without faults to be addressed in another discussion.
To go back to my previous questions, I wished we could have had a conversation about the ways in which those of us who are not homeless are implicated in the process of invisibilizing the homeless. I think this aspect was underdeveloped and would’ve provided a more engaging conversation. That is, it would be fruitful to use Boal’s techniques to illuminate the ways images are used to police boundaries between groups, viz the homed versus the homeless. In other words, to incorporate into the discussion some ways in which images of the homeless and the poor are part of a discourse of class and social degeneration used to police the boundaries between classes (McClintock 1994, p 47) to further marginalize the poor, as in this commercial.
It was through applied theater that my sociological imagination was first sparked. Community theater gives me a space for a queer marginalized body on a white campus to survive and to develop a means and a language to navigate the prisms of inequality and power we inhabit. I believe applied theater is fertile grounds for sociological engagement and provides one of many ways to communicate an understanding of social structures. Overall, I found Am I Invisible to be a rich play.
Here is a site where audiences can submit comments as part of a journal project: http://invisibleinaustin.com/journal/
Boal, Augusto. (1979) Theatre of the Oppressed. New York, NY: Urizen Books.
Fraser, Nancy (1995) “From Redistribution to Recognition? Dilemmas of Justice in a ‘Post-Socialist’ Age” New Left Review 212: 68-93.
Fraser, Nancy & Naples, Nancy A. (2004) “To Interpret the World and to Change it: An Interview with Nancy Fraser” Signs 29(4): 1103-1124.
Meikle, Glendora. (2013) “Poverty porn: is sensationalism justified if it helps those in need?” The Guardian accessed May 1, 2014 at (http://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2013/jul/05/poverty-porn-development-reporting-fistula).
McClintock, Anne. (1995) Imperial Leather: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest. New York, NY: Routledge.
Neelands, Jonathan. (2007) “Taming the political: the struggle over recognition in the politics of applied theatre” Research in Drama Education 12(3): 305-317.
Schutzman, Mady (1994) “Brechtian Shamanism: The Political Therapy of Augusto Boal” p. 137-155 in Playing Boal: Theatre, therapy, activism edited by Mady Schutzman and Jan Cohen-Cruz. New York, NY: Routledge.
Much has been said about the ubiquity of think pieces in 2014. Think pieces – written with the intention of making the reader “think” about a given topic – address everything from Beyonce to whether Michelle Obama is a “feminist nightmare” to, even on occasion, think pieces themselves! These days, social media platforms, bloggers, and online news outlets seem to have stumbled into some kind of think piece Inception-like fever dream, leading some critics to view this obsession with think pieces as both a waste of time and a lazy means of “participating” in social movements and/or politics.
Several weeks ago, Gawker ran a piece entitled “Black People Are Cowards” in response to the release of audio of Donald Sterling’s racist comments about Magic Johnson, the players on his NBA team, and whom his alleged mistress could be seen and/or sleep with. Written by New York City recording artist, Homeboy Sandman, who also has thoughts on stop and frisk , the piece lambasts black people (and all people, generally) as cowards for failing to stand up against racism or other forms of injustice. Sandman accuses black people of being too afraid to risk losing out on earning money and/or other material possessions.
While the initial targets of his ire were the black members of the Clippers, who staged a silent protest against Sterling’s comments by wearing their team-issued shooting gear inside out and throwing their warm-ups on the center court logo, Sandman suggests that black people are “walking quietly to slavery.” He argues that black people (and, assumedly, everyone else) need to “step it up” by using social media to rally each other for real (i.e. physical rather than virtual), meaningful social action. Sandman states:
It’s almost as if people have forgotten that struggle includes struggling. You might have to lose your job. You might have to lose your life. That’s what it takes for change to happen. There’s no easy way to do this. If you’re scared to stand up for yourself, for whatever reason, all I ask is that you stop pretending. Stop with the Facebook posts. Stop with the meaningless conversations. Just stop. Be honest. About how you behave. About your part in all this madness. About what you are. A coward. Just a coward. No need to put on an act for the rest of us. We can all see right through each other.
By invoking Frederick Douglass – “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” – Sandman situates himself among abolitionists, civil rights activists, and other agitators who value action-oriented social movements, minimizing the work that can be done by sharing an article or by participating in a hashtag discussion. While I can understand the insistence that people who are marginalized must do more to push back against the system that marginalizes them, I find it a bit ridiculous to suggest that black people – who are disproportionately found to be living in poverty or just above the poverty line – should protest their conditions by staying home from work or going on strike. Call these people “cowards” all you want, but how does it help us progress as a society if the marginalized become further marginalized through these “strikes?”
As any good Marxist knows, capitalist enterprise will find a means of replacing its work force, because capitalism is very good at facilitating the growth of surplus labor. Further, Sandman’s implication that the loss of employees of color will undermine the capitalist system enough that “real” change can be achieved entirely ignores the fact that the anxieties that arise during times of abundant surplus labor are tied to norms associated with race, gender, sexuality, and class. While there may be liberatory potential in capital itself – as Ferguson suggests, it is “amoral” – that does not mean that capitalism, the system, is not inherently racist and heteropatriarchal.
People of color, women, and nonheterosexual persons are marked as nonheteronormative and pathological, and therefore, when they find a place within the capitalist framework, the “universality” that has been defined by the white, male heterosexual, it becomes undone and the racial integrity and purity of the state is put at risk. To suggest that professional athletes (though not even all of these individuals are “millionaires”) and the everyday “citizen” have the same capacity to challenge their employers/the system is a dangerous comparison to make and one that I simply cannot get behind. That is not how power works. Everyone exists in what Patricia Hill Collins terms a matrix of domination, which allows for the visualization of the limitations that result from our various intersecting oppressions; people of color, especially women of color, become particularly vulnerable in systems like capitalism due to these matrices of oppression.
When Sandman calls for black people to stop being cowards and be willing to quit their jobs, I doubt he had urban single women/mothers in mind, despite the rise in the feminization of poverty. He mocks the assertion that people are “trying to feed their families” as though that is not a valid reason to not go on strike. Rather than trying to use capitalist logic and the market as a tool to foster change, Sandman might want to try to consider a world where capitalism is not the system we operate under at all. Personally, I do not believe that “real” change comes from making wealthy, old, white capitalists take a (likely, negligible) dent in their profits.
Further, to belittle the work that think pieces, Facebook posts or hashtag “activism” can do does little to make real change happen, whatever “real” change is; having these conversations and exposing people to other ways of thinking and viewing the world can have an impact. Bringing people’s attention to issues that are outside of the quotidian can have an impact (#BringBackOurGirls or #solidarityisforwhitewomen, anyone?). It is one thing to critique the co-opting of hashtag movements by individuals who actually possess a modicum of social power (ahem, umm, yeah and oh, okay) and another to suggest that those who use hashtag activism to amplify the voice(s) of those who do not get a say/have very little social power are doing nothing. The days of protesting and marching and sit-ins are not over – we see people do it all the time. But it is important to check our privilege as public intellectuals (or whatever identity we may subscribe to) and note that not everyone has the luxury of protesting their conditions by marching on Jena or Wall Street or Washington, D.C. or Abuja, by quitting or striking their place of employment, or by risking their life. Sometimes, the only way to protest your condition is simply to survive, to exist.
 Douglass, Frederick. (1857). “West India Emancipation.” https://www.lib.rochester.edu/index.cfm?PAGE=4398
 Ferguson, Roderick A. (2004). Aberrations in Black: Toward a Queer of Color Critique.
That life is complicated may seem a banal expression of the obvious, but it is nonetheless a profound theoretical statement – perhaps the most important theoretical statement of our time.
-Avery Gordon, Ghostly Matters.
by Eric Enrique Borja
For Dr. Sharmila Rudrappa’s Feminist Theory course the class was asked to bring in a photo or two for an essay we had to write. I immediately thought of two photos, only one of which I will show, which I took about a month ago for a photography workshop.
For the workshop we were asked to take seven to ten different photos of anything. The idea was to create a photo essay out of these seven to ten different photos and then present them at the workshop. When I originally took the photos I knew I wanted to capture “something” about my neighborhood, but that “something” was unclear. That is until I read Gordon’s book Ghostly Matters for Dr. Rudrappa’s course.
Gordon writes, “Ghostly Matters is about haunting, a paradigmatic way in which life is more complicated than those of us who study it have usually granted. Haunting is a constituent element of modern social life… To study social life one must confront the ghostly aspects of it” (Gordon 2008, 7). I realize now that what my photos were trying to capture were the ghosts that haunt me in my neighborhood.
This photo is of the Camino la Costa UT shuttle bus stop. It may look like any other bus stop, but for me this bus stop is haunted. Gordon writes, “The ghost is not simply a dead or a missing person, but a social figure, and investigating it can lead to that dense site where history and subjectivity make social life” (Gordon 2008, 8). For me, it is the ghost of the Austin Police Department that haunts this bus stop.
This bus stop is located across the street from where I live, so every morning I catch the CLC UT shuttle there. The funny thing about the CLC shuttle is that it was formerly the Cameron Road shuttle, but last semester Cap Metro decided to stop servicing my area – because a lot of brown people live in my neighborhood, so why help them get to UT, right?
The neighborhood I live in (Census tract 1812) is located just off of Cameron Road, east of I-35, and south of Highway 183. Compared to the demographics of Austin, my neighborhood is overwhelmingly brown. The racial makeup of Austin is: Whites 48.7%; Blacks 8.1%; Hispanics 35.1%; Asians 6.3%; and Other groups 1%. My neighborhood is: Whites 14%; Blacks 15%; Hispanics 69%; Asians 1%; and Other groups 1%. A day does not go by where I haven’t seen and heard the police in my neighborhood.
Around this time last year, I was stopped, questioned and frisked by APD on my way to school. It was a cold rainy morning and I wasn’t feeling too well. So when I woke up I was debating between staying in and sleeping more or going to class. I decided to go to class about ten minutes before I had to catch the bus. I quickly threw on a hoodie, a pair of jeans, and shoes, and bolted out the door. As I came out of my house, I saw a cop across the street in his car.
I couldn’t really see his eyes, but my body knew he was staring at me. I ignored it because, why would the cops stop me? I was just going to school. I crossed the street and waited for the bus.
Directly behind the bus stop is a large parking lot for ITT Tech. The cop must have driven past me three times that morning, each time staring at me. Finally, he stopped and parked about ten feet away from me.
At this point I was really confused and nervous.
The bus came.
As I began to board the bus, the cop stopped me.
“Come here,” he said.
As I approached him, I put down my hoodie and I began to recollect all of the things my father taught me when I got my driver’s license – be respectful, keep your hands where the cops can see them, and never give them an excuse.
I walked up to the cop, and he began questioning me
“What are you doing around here?
“I live here.”
“Where you going?”
“I’m going to UT. That’s the bus I catch.”
“What’s in the backpack?”
“My laptop and some books.”
By now there are three other cops around me. I showed the cop my ID, which has my home address – which, if you don’t remember, is across the street – but he is not convinced.
“Can you show me what’s in the bag?”
I open my backpack and show him my laptop and books. Still not convinced I open my laptop, and unlock it to demonstrate to him that it is indeed my laptop. He’s finally convinced. He takes down my information and lets me go. As I walked away, one of the other cops said while laughing, “We’ll call you if you turn out to be the bad guy.”
At some point between me waiting for the bus and the cop questioning me, I almost ran back home to get my headphones. Imagine what the cop would have done if I ran back home that morning.
So, really it is two ghosts that haunt my bus stop: the Austin Police Department and me.
Just over two years ago, on February 26, 2012, Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida. Zimmerman, a 28-year-old mixed-race Latino man, did not deny killing Martin, a 17-year-old black teen, but claimed he had shot Martin in self-defense. Along with at least 20 other states, Florida has a “Stand Your Ground” law, which says that a person may use deadly force if they perceive they are at risk of great bodily harm in a confrontation. Although Zimmerman’s attorneys did not invoke “Stand Your Ground,” which would have given Zimmerman immunity from prosecution, the judge was required by law to read the “Stand Your Ground” provisions into the jury instructions. This was a key issue in the case because Zimmerman had identified, pursued, and confronted Martin as a threat.
Ultimately, George Zimmerman was acquitted on charges of murder in the second degree and manslaughter. To many, the verdict was a great injustice, but not necessarily a surprise. Moreover, the verdict reinforced the historically violent and oppressive notion that the life of young black men in the United States is inconsequential at best.
What does justice for Trayvon look like? Does it come in the form of a second-degree murder conviction? Does it come in the form of a long prison sentence? Or is it something else altogether?
About nine months after the untimely death of Trayvon Martin, another black teen was shot and killed by a grown man in Florida. On November 23rd, 2012, Michael Dunn, a 45-year-old white man, murdered 17-year-old Jordan Davis. Davis was sitting in the front passenger seat of his friend’s car when Michael Dunn opened fire into the vehicle. For Dunn, Davis posed a threat. But Davis didn’t have a shotgun, he was merely “riding shotgun.” Regardless, what do grown men in Florida do when they feel threatened by black teenagers? Answer: they shoot and kill them.
Similar to Zimmerman’s case, the judge presiding over Dunn’s case read the “Stand Your Ground” provisions into the jury instructions. Dunn was tried and convicted on three counts of attempted second-degree murder for the three other people in the car who survived Dunn’s assault. However, the jury failed to convict Dunn of murder in the first degree for the killing of Jordan Davis. So even though Dunn will spend the rest of his life in prison for attempting to kill Davis’ friends, no one will be held criminally accountable for the loss of Davis’ life.
So I ask you again, what does justice for Jordan look like? Does justice come in the form of a first-degree murder conviction? Does justice come in the form of a long prison sentence? Or is it something else altogether?
Some people will look at these two cases and conclude that there is no justice for young black men in America. And they are right, but not for the obvious reason. George Zimmerman was not held criminally accountable for the death of Trayvon Martin, and Michael Dunn was not held criminally accountable for the death of Jordan Davis. But I wonder, had Zimmerman and Dunn been found guilty of murder would young black men be any safer as a result?
Is justice about prison sentences or is justice about bringing respect and closure? Those are two different questions, although navigating victim ideology is not easy and deference should always be given to self-determination. Still, we have to be open to the idea that prisons may not be able to solve the issue we have in this country with regards to the perceived value of a black man’s life. As Mariame Kaba suggests, “We must consider other models perhaps based on transformative justice instead of our current failed system of punitive and retributive justice.” These cases highlight the racist assumption that young black men in America need to be watched, told what to do, and surveilled.
We cannot seem to realize that violence is a result of hierarchical structures and institutions that pit people and groups against each other. We live in a country where justice is adversarial, and does nothing to promote actual understanding. In our everyday interactions, people assume disrespect. We live in a world where a black man’s innocence must be qualified (and contested).
Both Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis would be 19 years old by now. They would both be eligible to vote. They would both be eligible to serve on juries. They would both be rights-holding citizens of the United States of America. But, as young black men, they would still be subject to violence, assault, and discrimination. As a nation, we cannot seem to figure out the answer to the question: what does justice for black youth look like?
Thanks to the false sense of privacy social media affords, the world has the opportunity to peek into the private thoughts of individuals. Many people tweet, or post on Facebook, without realizing their announcements – whether positive or negative – have become public knowledge. While it is disheartening to know that many people still harbor racist, sexist, and other bigoted sentiments, social media helps us to see the areas where our society still needs to make progress.
The question of what constitutes “real racism” is, unfortunately, prevalent in American society. Since we no longer publicly hang blacks from trees or operate Japanese internment camps, some sincerely believe that America has become a colorblind society. While it is true that great advances have been made in that direction in recent decades, the social constraints associated with race still exist in our culture. Events in pop culture can sometimes bring these issues to the forefront, allowing us to analyze how racialized stereotypes are still very prevalent in our society.
Three weeks ago, anyone who is a sports fan or who uses social media was bombarded with images of NFL star Richard Sherman’s loud, passionate, adrenaline-fueled postgame interview with Erin Andrews following his Seattle Seahawks’ victory over the rival San Francisco 49ers (for the “interview,” see the video above). After declaring himself the best cornerback in the NFL, Sherman called out opponent Michael Crabtree, with whom he’d had an ongoing dispute.
Following the interview, social media exploded with anti-Sherman reactions. While Sherman’s words were indeed boisterous, the social media reaction was heavily skewed toward negative representations of Sherman with the main themes typically including references such as “nigger,” “thug,” or “classless.”
For a reaction to the racist tweets see this link.
Racial slurs are inherently dehumanizing and strengthen socially constructed power hierarchies, and many people quickly jumped to stinging racial epithets of Sherman because they could not distinguish his comments from his status as a black man. The negative representations had nothing to do with his postgame comments, and said nothing about his intellect or personality. Their comments demonstrated that even in “colorblind” America, Richard Sherman’s actions are seen not in the context of an individual, but of an entire race. In other words, his “negative” actions became generalizable to the race as a whole.
After the game, Sherman was remorseful and admitted that the tone of his interview was immature. But, if he wasn’t aware of it before, he is now surely cognizant of the fact that his actions are intimately tied to race. If Peyton Manning had gone on a strongly worded tirade after his victory over the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game, he may have faced criticism from fans and the media, he may have been called “classless” as Richard Sherman was, but his actions would be understood as the feelings of an individual, while Sherman was cast under the umbrella of “nigger.” For some, Sherman spoke not for himself but for everyone who shares his skin color, which is something Peyton Manning doesn’t have to consider.
This saga showed us that at least a fraction of America is not able to accept that Sherman’s actions can be understood in a framework other than his blackness. Racism is still present in different forms than it existed in our parents’ and grandparents’ generations. It hasn’t been eliminated, and I personally don’t think it’s anywhere close to being eradicated. But, when all of us can look at another “Richard Sherman situation” and see it not only in the context of a “black athlete,” we may be getting close.
Missouri senior Michael Sam, who was named 2013 SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year, told ESPN and the New York Times on Sunday he is gay. Following this announcement the defensive lineman’s NFL draft stock fell from 90 to 160; a decline that means the possibility of being drafted in the first four rounds less likely now. Some have argued that the decline in stock has nothing to do with Sam’s sexuality, but with the way he called attention to it. But the question remains, is the NFL ready for an “openly gay” player? I agree with Atlantic blogger Ta-Nehisi Coates that the NFL will never be ready for a gay player, but in TNC’s words, “ready or not, here he comes.”
Is the NFL ready for an “openly gay” player? In anonymous interviews with SI.com, eight NFL executives and coaches answered in the negative. Football is still “a man’s-man game” and, according to them, introducing a gay player would make the locker and meeting rooms “chemically imbalanced.” In their candid interviews, these men argued for a status quo that is complicit with homophobia in the locker room; a status quo that ensures that to be a “a man’s-man” is to be normatively heterosexual; argued for their right to play “smearthequeer” in the locker room.
The question of the NFL’s preparedness for Sam speaks to the way in which sports, particularly American football, is a heteromasculine space. If all players in the locker room are presumably straight, their homosocial desires are subsumed under a discourse of “just playing” or “no homo.” Within this context, “men’s men” can be free to love each other while at the same time denigrating men who love other men. The presence of an “openly gay” man disrupts this homosocial discourse by revealing its need to exclude other sexual possibilities in order to fashion itself as original and natural (for more on this see Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble).
Is the NFL ready for an “openly gay” player? It remains to be seen how Sam’s announcement will affect his NFL career. However, his decision to come out is meaningful. In his interview with the Times, he commented, “I guess they don’t want to ask a 6-3, 260-pound defensive lineman if he was gay or not.” But this 6-3, 260-pound defensive lineman is gay. He changes how football fans and players can imagine what it means to be gay. He opens up the possibility for rethinking what it means to be a “man’s-man.” Chris Kluwe is not gay. But he has been vocal about his support for same-sex marriage and claims that this outspokenness resulted in his release from the Minnesota Vikings. He is currently a free agent and it seems the consequences of deviating from a heterosexual norm in football are still dire. And by the way, Jason Collins still remains unemployed.
Is the NFL ready for an “openly gay” player? The sports world has not shrugged at Sam’s announcement the way that they may have about Brittney Griner’s. And this reaction is telling about how women and men’s sport are differently organized with regard to sexuality – that’s that heteromasculinity I mentioned earlier. To repeat TNC’s words, “ready or not…”
It wasn’t supposed to be a book about violence at all. When Prof. Javier Auyero and his co-author Maria Fernanda Berti (a local school teacher) began conducting research in a poor neighborhood in Buenos Aires called Arquitecto Tucho they thought they’d be writing about environmental contamination, a topic Auyero has written about extensively in the past. But, after two and a half years of fieldwork, they had a completely different story to tell, one that revolves around the many forms of interpersonal violence that are part and parcel of residents’ everyday lives. Last week Auyero spoke about the book, entitled “Violencia en Los Margenes,” at a presentation organized by the Lozano Long Institute for Latin American Studies.
According to Auyero, one of the book’s principal arguments is that interpersonal violence is not merely dyadic, or retaliatory, but rather connected in “chains” or concatenations. In other words, what may begin as an incident between two drug dealers on the street is connected to the violent disciplinary action taken by a mother against her son, or the abuse a man later inflicts on his female partner. In this conceptualization, not only are there many “uses” of violence, these uses are also connected to one another in ways that transcend the typical public/private divide in how violence has been studied by many other scholars.
Hearing Auyero describe these connections between so-called “public” and “private” violence, I was reminded of the fundamental feminist insight that the division between the public and private spheres is an artificial one, a historical construction used to justify and maintain gender hierarchies. This division between public and private has not only been used repeatedly to confine women to the home (where their “proper” roles are supposedly located), but it has also been used to construct hierarchies of violence. For example, “public” forms of violence such as murder, robbery, or gang activity has historically attracted the iron fist of the state, while “private” forms of violence, particularly that which is perpetuated against women and children in the home were, up until the last 30 years or so (Tierney 1982), almost entirely ignored—a classic case of what anthropologist Nancy Scheper-Hughes (1993) has called the state’s “averted gaze”.
A second argument that Auyero described as central to the book is precisely the role of the state in encouraging the very violence it ostensibly ought to be preventing–or at least punishing. For example, the same state that provides welfare assistance to families is also represented by local police officers who participate in the local drug trade. This suggests a state whose presence is highly contradictory—and through its selective responses to violence in the community may in fact be contributing to the normalization and legitimacy of violence. Thinking “like a state” (Scott 1999) for a moment, what purpose could such a seemingly contradictory stance serve? What is the logic that might explain the state’s action and inaction in this context?
Some recent scholarship on the neoliberal state in the United States argues that the rollback of welfare and the mass incarceration of poor (mostly minority) men are two sides of the same coin: a broader project to “punish the poor” (Wacquant 2009). Is there a similar state project underway in Argentina? Or is the massive increase in violence simply one inevitable result of long term social and economic changes, such as the decreasing access to formal employment and in-migration to the neighborhood? How do these structural conditions relate not only to the increase in violence, but also its interconnected manifestations? These are some of the questions that Auyero hopes to answer—in his next book.
Under the Obama administration, nearly two million people have been deported, with no end in sight. NIYA – the National Immigrant Youth Association – is tired of seeing families ripped apart by these deportations. And on Monday September 30th, the same day the government shutdown occurred, 30 undocumented migrants – the Dream 30 – crossed the US-Mexico border at the Laredo, Texas port of entry. This is the second time the organization has successfully organized such an act of civil disobedience – with the first occurring on Monday July 22, 2013 when 9 undocumented migrants (the Dream 9) crossed the US-Mexico border near the Nogales border patrol station. Since the Dream 9, NIYA has successfully crossed 15 undocumented migrants, but 24 of the Dream 30 remain detained.
Our very own Dr. Michael Young has worked closely with NIYA, and was present during the Dream 30 crossing. Below, we present his op-ed piece on the Dream 30 originally published in the Houston Chronicle on October 3rd:
In the middle of last week, they started to arrive in Nuevo Laredo, across the Texas-Mexico border from Laredo.
By the weekend, there were 34 of them gathered in a Catholic shelter for migrants.
Each had a different story of how they had gotten to this point, but they all shared a dream – actually, more of a desperation – to come home.
From the roof of the shelter, they could see the Rio Grande. On the other side of the river: Home.
For three days, they sat in workshops led by Benito, an organizer for the National Immigrant Youth Alliance. They role-played what would happen on Monday. They told their stories to each other. They cried, they laughed, they bonded.
On Monday morning, they embraced in “a burning ring of fire” and took turns jumping into the center telling the group what they meant to each other. They used the word “love” freely. Standing next to them, I believed they meant and felt those words as intensely as a human can.
Who are these people?
In the way they spoke English, in the way they dressed, in their mannerisms, they were just like the kids at my children’s public school in South Austin. They were mostly 20-somethings, but also a few minors. They were gay, straight, jocks, nerds, junior ROTC, evangelical, Catholic, atheist – all raised in the U.S., all undocumented, brought here as young children by their parents, and all unafraid.
Around noon, they gathered at the central plaza in Nuevo Laredo.
“Was this the place that they (the Zetas) shot the mayor, or was it the sheriff?” “Is this the place where they brought the decapitated heads?” The kids put graduation caps and gowns on – the DREAMer uniform. Benito assembled them in a line. He interspersed the innate leaders with the anxious. He put the strongest one in the middle of the line, building a column that would not break.
One last check: Benito touched each one on their shoulders and looked them in their eyes for a long moment, saying not a word. They were ready.
With four pesos in hand, they walked one block north from the plaza to the pedestrian “Bridge No. 1” linking the two Laredos. They paid their toll on the Mexican side. Mexican soldiers stood by letting them cross without a word, barely a glance.
When they got halfway across, the chants began in a call and response. DREAMers who had gathered on the U.S. side of the bridge chanted, “Undocumented!” The crossers responded, “Unafraid!” They got louder.
The U.S. Border Patrol agents in boats under the bridge gunned their engines, drowning out the chants for a moment.
A flash of fear spread through the column, but only for a moment. The chants from the U.S. steeled their nerves.
The crowd on the U.S. side called returnees’ names, one by one: “When Javier comes under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back! When Alberto comes under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!”
They arrived at the U.S. point of entry, where Border Patrol agents stopped them.
The DREAMers’ lawyer presented boxes of documents – petitions for asylum for each young person. The chants continued.
They stood for a half-hour, maybe more, in the Texas heat and then they were taken into Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention.
I had never seen such a protest – a brilliant, beautiful and heartbreaking protest. In all my years of studying protests, I know of little to compare it to.
Of course, most Americans know nothing of the day’s event. The news cycle has room for only one big story.
That was Monday.
By the next day, the minors had been released on humanitarian parole along with their parents. But 25 remain in ICE detention, now housed in an El Paso facility.
American kids, back in America, but behind guarded walls dressed in prison jump suits.
Their crime? They went back to Mexico to bury loved ones, to care for sick family members, to finish an education they couldn’t finish here, to follow a parent who couldn’t find work.
What they found there is something we all already know, even if some of us won’t admit it: Mexico is not the home of these kids raised in America.
Now they are home and now they must be set free.
The government may be shut down, but its prisons are still at work jailing kids who just want to come home.