Wednesday, September 09, 2009

in the weeds

I am a Bruin from the early 90s. I went to UCLA at the apotheosis of Derrida, the battles for ethnic studies, Bloomian debates about the value of multiculturalism, the identity wars, the canon wars, and the LA Riots/Uprising.

Two events stood out for me during that time: my introduction to semiotics and becoming a AAP tutor for first generation students of color. (If there are old Bruins of color out there from the 90s, give a shout out if you were AAP, too.) The two events stand out because they reinforced each other.

I remember reading some text, about Saussure, explaining the signifier, the signified, the sign and how this can be a lens through which to create meaning, or interpret meaning, in the world and it was like that moment in The Matrix, when Neo could finally see the code running behind everything. It was the concept of systems of meaning, of 'hidden' ideologies and values that fascinated me. It was glorious play to break down the semiotic system of the Western, for instance; or to disassemble the semiotic system of a Vogue magazine. Lay over this a growing gendered and racial politicization through hanging out with feminist and proud brown undergrad and grad student tutors in AAP (who could even politicize math) and suddenly my way of looking at the world changed.

Like Paul on Damascus, my scales had fallen away.

There are no accidents, my reading taught me. There is no 'But, it's just a monkey!' Because the chain of signification doesn't end with the word or image 'monkey.' Every piece of the sign has its own signifier and signified, and these bits have cultural histories and meanings of their own. The words and images are fraught with ideological, culturally hegemonic meaning; for something to be without value or meaning, its conception would need never to happen.

It is sheer mental laziness that people cannot ask simple critical questions about what is going on around them:

What does this mean (both literally and ideologically?)
Where is this coming from?
What is the value system manifested by this event/image/language, etc.?
Where do I meet these values?
Where do these values come from? (what is the context?)
Who wants me to agree with these values and meanings?
Who benefits from my agreement?
Who doesn't?

From my Tweets, you can probably tell I've been taking a look at the Van Jones resignation and the rhetoric that led to his resignation.

What does this resignation mean? It means several things. It
means that we lost an important policy maker and progressive on the frontline of
green economies and policy; it means that it will be that much harder to bring
green economic empowerment to urban (i.e., of color) communities; it means that,
once again, a smart man was brought low (however temporarily) by mediocre minds
beneath him.

From the opposing side, it means that the Big Black Buck stereotype

It also means that the progressive movement is wearing a target on its

Where did this come from? It came from Glenn Beck who has lost all
his major advertising sponsors because of the petition campaign waged by
ColorofChange (of which Jones was a founder) in protest to his white supremacist
remarks about President Obama. He, and other conservative hosts, drew a
target on Jones and went for it.

What is being valued? In the action against Jones, racial
stereotypes, racialized anxiety about communists and militants and 'un-American'
behavior is in play. In the larger political drama, the values of the
status quo are firmly supported.

Where do I meet these values? They bother me, deeply. Beck's
campaign was as big an example of race-baiting that I've ever seen.

(Let's pause here: what distinguishes the campaign that ColorofChange
launched against Beck and the one Beck ran against Jones? Ideological
honesty. ColorofChange is an anti-racism and racial justice organization;
Beck's language was identified as supporting the ideas of white supremacy and
they petitioned sponsors to distance themselves. Were Beck's words white
supremacist? Yes. In contrast, Beck's campaign was fabricated out of whole cloth
- both the rationale for it and the claims made in it. Would he admit his attack was racially motivated? No. But it is, because no other explanation has merit.)

Where do these values come from? They come from long-standing white
supremacist history and practice of demonizing people of color who threaten the
perceived status quo or current power structure.

Who wants me to agree with these values? The side Beck fights
for. Those whose interests would not be met by a green economy benefitting
poor communities and communities of color. Those whose interests would not be met by a successful Obama administration.

Who benefits from my agreement? The side Beck fights for. Those
whose interests would not be met by a green economy benefitting poor communities
and communities of color. Those who have an interest in a failed Obama administration.

Who doesn't? Those outside the power structure Beck supports.
(meaning: the rest of us)

Systems are systems. But they aren't impersonal systems. They come from us and we, whether we're talking about race or gender or sexuality or class, have a choice to support the system, to critique the system and/or to dismantle it. (If that's even possible.)

The Van Jones action, and others planned by men like Dobbs, Beck and Limbaugh, has made me look closely at the continuing activities of the GOP and their operators against this administration. It's hard to find what's redeeming about them, anymore.

Do they really want to become (in the words of Tim Wise) the Afrikaner party of the United States? Do they want that? Do they really want to hang a sign on this country that says 'For Whites Only'?

Because if that's what they want, we should call it what it is.


Orange said...

You're kind brilliant, aren't you?

Not the first time you've heard that, I'm sure.

liza said...

When you're right, you're so fucking right.
Also: you are giving me some ideas for teaching the semiotics/
structuralism bit in my "theories of popular culture" class, which is an intro to cultural studies by another name. So, thanks!

liza said...

And, also: holy shit. I hadn't seen most of those Obama as monkey images.

ding said...

think i should cross-post this at Bitch?

liza said...


ding said...


ding said...

i can't wait to be pilloried for writing un-american screeds on 9/11. or imagining racism.

liza said...

I think you stunned them into silence.

Happens a lot to me with my white friends too.

ding said...

well, after all, who's going to be FOR white supremacy? you know?