Reflecting Whiteness: Beatriz at Dinner

Why is the ending of Beatriz at Dinner so disturbing?

Because throughout the film, we have witnessed our own whiteness: normalized, privileged, comfortable. And then we are confronted with the stark reality of existential choice.

Salma Hayek is Beatriz
Salma Hayek is Beatriz

There are only three ways the film can end:

  1. White people heal ourselves and change.
  2. White individuals are killed.
  3. Healers die.

The first option is decidedly unappealing. The Trump-like character of Doug Strutt (John Lithgow) reeks of white fatalism, and his supporting cast stinks of white fragility. What can one do but ignore the damage and keep doing whatever provides pleasure?

The second option doesn’t solve the problems whiteness has created for all other living beings and the planet.

The third option is our history and our present. Are we so incapable of sacrifice, so afraid of discomfort, that we have already surrendered the future?

Brilliant, unsettling filmmaking suitable to this desperate era. A must see.

Native Nations Rise (5 Seconds of Eternity)

She was watching from a window.

We exist. We resist. We rise.
We exist. We resist. We rise.

I waved.

She waved back, then gave the universal symbol of prayer and respect.

I returned the gesture: “I greet you. I honor you. We are connected.”

She pressed her hand to her heart.

I flashed a thumbs up.

Resources on Whiteness

These articles informed a recent talk on the topic of whiteness for sign language interpreters.

A continuum of character development from white fragility through white fog toward appropriate whiteness.

“White people [must move] from an individual understanding of racism—i.e. only some people are racist and those people are bad—to a structural understanding [of white privilege].”

~ Dr Robin DiAngelo ~

White People: Stop Microvalidating Each Other, Stephanie Jo Kent

White Fragility: Why it’s so hard to talk to White people about racism, Robin DiAngelo

Fighting White Supremacy and White Privilege to Build a Human Rights Movement, Loretta Ross

Calling In: A Less Disposable Way of ­­­Holding Each Other Accountable, Ngoc Loan Tran

It’s time for white people to reckon with racism, Eve Ensler

28 Common Racist Attitudes and Behaviors, Jona Olsson

The Near Certainty of Anti-Police Violence, Ta-Nahisi Coates

Dear White Parents of my Black Child’s Friends: I Need Your Help, Maralee Bradley

White America Couldn’t Handle What Black America Deals with Every Day, Henry Rollins

This is what white people can do to support #BlackLivesMatter, Sally Kohn

Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda on Finding Originality, Racial Politics (and Why Trump Should See His Show), Lin-Maneul Miranda & Frank DiGiacomo

10 Books I Wish My White Teachers Had Read, Crystal Paul

What it’s like to be Black in Napierville, America, Brian Crooks

Police shootings won’t stop unless we address this problem no one is talking about, Jack Hitt

Aren’t more white people than black people killed by police? Yes, but no. Wesley Lowery

Could all this racial violence bring two sides together? Faye Higbee

Branches of Mentoring, Michael Meade

end white silence

Brains: “an entity yet to be seen in world politics”

International Relations Theory
(political science)

The quote above is from a comment by blenCOWe to a blogpost, Theory of International Politics and Zombies, by Daniel W. Drezner. Drezner’s blog entry is an example along the lines of this youtube video, Gay Science Isolates the Christian Gene, and a powerpoint presentation made by MJ Bienvenu at the recent biennial convention of the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, in which she offered deconstructions of audism from the organization’s official website. For example:

“English is not ASL on the mouth.”

The pedagogy of this style of teaching is aptly captured by Erin in her comment to Drezner:

“As Daniel Nexon and Iver Neumann write, “The mirror approach is broader than simply deploying popular culture artifacts as a teaching aid. IR scholars can examine popular culture as a medium for exploring theoretical concepts, dilemmas of foreign policy, and the like.” (12).”

The mirror approach operates on the simple principle of substitution: take an existing discourse, and

    a) reverse the key tropes (as in “Gay Science” or unveiling audism in “The Heart of the RID Organization”),

    b) replace the key actors with an abstraction, or

    c) combine both.

A View from Communication Theory
The engagement spawned (ha) is impressive. A communication theorist has many choices for analysis: as a media text, from the viewpoint of audience, in terms of effects, as a language game (Wittgenstein), as a social use of information and communications technology, not to mention the rich data seeded throughout regarding regional, national, and gendered points of view (classist, ableist, etc), and the production of online identities. It can be critiqued from a variety of viewpoints, including (for instance) political economy, pragmatism, or cultural studies, and at differing levels, such as mass media or interpersonal communication.
My own take is to regard the entry and comments as an instance of discourse: academic, specific to one discipline, and (probably, as goes the zeitgeist) rooted more in space than time. The use of wit (humor) to display breadth, depth, and precision of one’s knowledge in fast repartee is the most valorized contemporary mode of intellectual engagement. Everyone who can find a way in, does, and those who can’t find their way quickly enough, don’t. By the time the entry point clarifies into a path (or the perceptible path finds its entry point), the exchange is over, the event is closed. The instigators and participants have moved on to the next sexy thing. The normative behavior is that the immediate “space” occupied by this interaction has been effectively controlled: everyone (who matters?) has had their say in shining flashes of inspiration.
What strikes me, as an action researcher and a constructivist, is multileveled. First, unadulterated admiration. I envy the lightening comprehension and instant formulation of coherent, contextualized, educative information. Second, awe. We know so much. Ok, so I’m liberally folding myself into the “we,” but seriously: look at the range of knowledge pouring out! It isn’t as if there aren’t tons of “us” out here who understand the historical momentum of the social forces we’re working with – or against, as the case may be. blenCOWe continues:

In terms of his liberal institutionalist and constructivist analyses, Drezner is counting on the fact that the zombies would have the cognitive ability to calculate the benefits and drawbacks to collaborating with other actors. As such, any ideas of building an international organization, including the presence of zombies, to deal with the presence of zombies or to build a world state inclusive of zombies appears to be quite impossible.

Lastly, when he addresses neoconservatism he recognizes that the zombie threat was an existential threat, noting that the threat from zombies is from their jealously over our freedom and not from their desire for our brains. Like the faults with the other theories, this analysis is based on the faulty assumption that zombies have the ability to make cognitive decisions like that. The unavoidable fact is simple, zombies pose a threat to humans because of their desire for brains and for no other reason.

Zombies pose a threat not only because of their desire for eating brains, but – crucially – because that primal desire is coupled with an accompanying lack of brains. The implicit message in the IR discourse about Zombies is that there are, already, zombies among us. I suggest there are three broad types:

  • the undead who have accepted a singular social and ideological “programming” as the one and only way to make sense of their lives,
  • the undead who have embraced a particular intellectual framework in order to cope with existential anxiety and/or the evolutionary pressures of anarchy, and
  • the undead who have selected to master the terms of the zeigeist, “Let’s get cynical!”

Now what?
With the “what” of varying ideological understandings so thoroughly grasped in the space of two days’ interaction, enter the dimension of time. I’m speaking of deep time (esp. deep history), small time (i.e., Bakhtin), and time inclusive of the future. Politically, time is apprehendible in norms of culture and forms of institutions. Simply, what changes and what stays the same? As the Human versus Zombie IR debate unfolds, applications are posed or elaborated, such as two-level game theory and accepting Zombies as a new class to be integrated into the existing global structure. Erin, quoted above, offered

“a brief survey (n=3) I conducted in the last 5 minutes unanimously suggest[ing] that zombies should probably be considered alongside Kosovo to understand IR theory.”

She also adds “an important caveat,” to her random sampling:

“…2/3 of respondents volunteered that they conditioned their response on zombie attacks, unlike extraterrestrial visitations, remaining confined to the realm of hypothetical thought experiments.”

While I agree with the pedagogical impulse, the effect of continuing to deploy only such discrete strategies extends temporally into the future, replicating the same momentum of monological thought that substantively prevents us from finding collective means for creatively managing the diversity of human ways of being. In other words, will the brilliance of insight and potential demonstrated by Drezner & Company be translated into wisdom with a voice?
Engaging intellectual battle in the abstract can be deeply satisfying and even entertaining, the case of Zombies in point. But what about those of us who don’t speak that language? Why must we continue to demarcate the differences in such ways as to reinforce the space of separation between them? This is an illness of extreme disciplinarity. There will always be gaps. Can we ply them creatively? To do so, I suggest we need to consider multilingual models, in particular the potential of interpreted interactions. In The Language Barrier as an Aid to Communication, Rodrigo Ribeiro argues the importance of not understanding in a case study involving the steel industry, technology transfer, and Japanese and Brazilian forms of life

the ‘language barrier’, which is normally thought as a problem, can aid communication by preventing people who hold potentially clashing concepts, beliefs and customs from directly confronting each other.

While I support Ribeiro’s conclusion of value based on non-confrontation and interpreters’ strategies of mediation, I suggest this is only one manifestation of the intercultural communication practice of multilingual/interpreted interaction. The Japanese and Brazilian interlocutors are learning – through this process – how to be with difference. What we academics need to help politicians create are systems that can deal fluidly with difference – ideological, linguistic, cultural, etc – that are, in essence, multilogical rather than monological. Among the strategies that could work are finding ways among ourselves to communicate with each other across, among, and between our fields of expertise.

Enjoy Poverty! (please)


“When you look down,
all you see is your own fear.”

It took guts for Renzo Martens to make this film. The images he presents and the strategies he attempts mirror the white west back to itself, largely in unappealing ways. Exposing the exploitation of poverty implicates himself just as much as it critiques casual disregard for suffering.

By chance, earlier today I came across a quote I’d clipped out of Newsweek a few months ago, from a special they did on women leaders.

“People have to allow fear into the process.
It’s part of creativity, whatever your job.”
Kimberly Peirce

It seems to me that we often avoid looking down. The quote from the film refers physically to the black water of a river, potentially populated by dangerous creatures. Metaphorically, it refers to socioeconomic status. What does it mean to look down, to actually see the suffering of others, to face the fact that our relatively pain-free lives are built on an edifice of others’ deprivation? There are limits to sympathy, indeed: we can only feel so much. But we can do more to change the structural conditions that perpetuate hopelessness.

This will blow your mind! :-)

film pitch
Master’s Thesis

Re-defining Deaf
Ryan Commerson

Ever wondered if abstract concepts can be discussed with signed languages?

    Here’s proof.

Ever suspected Deaf people may not be very smart?

    Find out just how wrong that view is!

The video is forty minutes long, so settle in and plan to give it your full attention. (Ryan suggests gourmet snacks to accompany viewing.)

making amends


There is only one scene that is too tidy in Gran Torino. It seems unlikely to me that after committing murder, gang members would hang around waiting for arrest by the police. But this is part of what gives the film its essential Americanness: in the midst of tragedy, the glimmer of a happy ending.
Gran Torino is a study in control, depicting the redemption of an old man who – as a young man – lost self-possession at a crucial moment and did a terrible thing. All the characters cope with the consequences of history in contemporary U.S. society, from the mass displacement of the Hmong because of allying militarily with America against communism in the 1960s to the showmanship of angry young disenfranchised men playing it cool and dangerous on the street. The verbal aggression is shocking, especially the “man talk” of white men that is typically protected from such blatant public display. Parallels with ways of talking that are stereotypically associated with racial minority groups are not difficult to draw. Racial and ethnic labels can – and are – used to express affection just as readily as disdain.
Using anti-politically correct language is not an automatic barrier to developing relationships of trust and respect across cultural difference. Not surprisingly, young people are most adept at recognizing and codeswitching among distinct forms of address. For immigrants, this is well-documented: bilingual children interpret for their parents and grandparents, bridging differences of language while undergoing irrevocable transformations in identity. The little girl who interprets her grandfather’s request to remove a wasp’s nest is no different from the hearing children of deaf parents, except that her family has no recourse to professional interpretation services. The home maintenance scene is innocent enough, unless one knows the range of situations children can be forced to handle.
Adults cope as best they can, relying on traditional rituals of communication that may or may not translate across contexts and perceptions. Cultures are in contact and conflict: the contrast between the Kowalski’s midwestern family dynamics and those of the Hmong family is stark. Despite, for instance, Walt’s grotesque violation of cultural norms, family members and friends trust a teenage girl’s intuition about inviting this crotchety mean old man for food and beer at a social/ceremonial event. Sue explains some of the cultural differences to Walt, whereas his own son fails to recognize his father’s call for help. Walt’s personal style of complaining about everything is mirrored in his son, and his self-centeredness is mirrored in his granddaughter. She has her eye on inheriting some of his belongings, and he has his eye on the physical decline of neighbor’s houses spoiling his view from the front porch.
Annoyed as he is by feeling imposed upon by his Hmong neighbors, Walt finds a use for the regard he has unexpectedly earned. Grudgingly, but not unwisely, he also allows himself to change, to grow into the opportunities that the situation affords. Circumstances unfold, as they always do, along a mix of predictable and unpredictable contours. In the end, Walt generates the only possible peaceful outcome. He is able to do this not because he is skillful at anticipating or manipulating the passions of others, but because he understands intimately – from the inside out – that fear and threat combine explosively under certain conditions.
The story is a compelling achievement on many levels. As contemporary film, it captures all the volatility of race-based nationalism within increasingly transnational societies. Xenophobia is hardly unique to the United States, and the random violence that once seemed particular to the States is spreading even to Belgium. As a potentially culminating work of art, Clint Eastwood does not offer a one-size-fits-all solution, but he does illustrate a complex set of realistic models from which we can glean inspiration.

to do or to know

Dialogue under Occupation

Back in the days of my Master’s Program in Social Justice Education, we spent a great deal of time studying how to facilitate our own, each other’s, and student’s growth along the continuum of social identity.
The core model in the program was Jackson and Hardiman’s (1992, 1997) model of racial social identity based upon “white” and “black” identification in the US context. A social identity model (SID) provides a paired rubric for processes that individuals undergo as members of the “target” or “oppressed” group who seek to become empowered, as well as the processes that individuals take on if they want to understand themselves as members of the “agent” or “oppressor” group. That model has been adapted to apply to many other “isms,” including for instance, sexual orientation. My emphasis tends to the “agent” side of the pairing – how do people who are members of dominant cultures come to grips with the reality of privileges (access to resources and ways-of-being which are not equally available to members of non-dominant groups) and the fact of unconscious collusion with systems of discrimination and prejudicial beliefs that work together to keep oppression real?
My own interests have moved beyond the US domestic context to inter- and transnational issues involving migration and especially the role of language in empowerment processes – those that enable individuals to develop agency and assert voice. I find social identity is still a useful construct, although I now understand identity as the result of communication patterns at multiple levels (the interpersonal, the level of groups such as culture, organization, and/or religion, and mass-mediated (e.g., via television, radio, the internet).
Presently, I’m working on a chapter for a book on media, education and dialogue. Some of the other authors are relying on social identity theory from Tajfel and Turner, which seeks “to understand the psychological basis of intergroup discrimination. Tajfel et al (1971) attempted to identify the minimal conditions that would lead members of one group to discriminate in favor of the ingroup to which they belonged and against another outgroup” (italics removed).
The difference between the two approaches (Jackson & Hardiman, and Tajfel & Turner), at least on this surface reading, is that the latter is geared to understanding while the former is geared to action. Debates during the mid-1990s involved whether or not social identity models are descriptive (i.e., distanced, theoretical, “what is”) or prescriptive (as in, this is the normal way people grow, through all of the stages and roughly in this sequence). I’d love to know of work combining these two different theoretical bases: what are the practical, applied uses of this kind of knowledge?
[Perhaps this 2005 overview by Briodo and Reason situates these two – and perhaps additional – approaches in relation to each other?]

“shoot the horse, ride the cowboy”

Andy, in the tradition of Andy Warhol, Andy Kaufman, and Mahatma Andi, read & rapped his poetry to the sonorous sounds of a contrabass and various accompanying instruments, including electric guitar, flute, and vocal percussion.
Given the fact that Andy and The Androids deliver their art in Flemish, my interpretation is based upon the one in a thousand words I understood: periodic English terms dotted throughout, and/or phrases that my mind could hear as English, even if it wasn’t! I gleaned some things by the tenor of the music and the interplay of syncopation among/between instruments (including Andy’s voice) and the trio of artists.
The flavor I captured was dark and humourous: at turns optimistic (and-or-but activist optimism doesn’t seem to matter?), engaged with/against violence (superspastic, illustrated by the pro- and anti-taser brigades), or calling out the Serial Thing to Kill or was it the need for Serial Pain Killers? I enjoyed watching my friends laugh, yet also noticed disparate effects on the audience-as-a-whole. At times a laugh would ripple throughout in a spontaneous wave, other times the audience was carved into thirds: those attempting to suppress their amusement, those with quizzical expressions – apparently puzzled or processing, and those whose stiff blank visages suggested a deep unease or even disassociation. Countering the bursts of laughter, silence often echoed in the cozy, filled lobby of the cultuurcentra Antwerpen (Berchem).
I enjoyed the challenge of applying my closure skills: that particular leap of faith interpreters make as their best guess as to the meaning being attempted by a particular message right now. Andy jumps from one non-sequitur to the next; how else can Albania, the ozone layer, “lesbes in El Dorado,” “Income Walker,” kanker zo hip, and “nipples” appear in such close linguistic proximity?
Why has the burghermeister gone underground?
Who is wearing moonboots?
What is the title of the song of Stevie Ray Vaughn’s that was emulated? (I recognized the melody but my musical recall is pure lousy.) :-/
The moan of disappointment that shot through the crowd when Andy announced the last number, after the guitarist had just amended his earlier superspastic claim to a psychopathic fascination with degrading fruitcake sex with every girl, testified to the coherence of his unlikely combinations.
I am not sure if the last rap about Caesar referenced the political hate group here or some larger human entity (groups and/or institutions) seeking control, but what Andy is doing with language proves how supple, creative, empowering and membering our ways of speaking can be.

Imago, by Octavia E. Butler

The trilogy, billed first as Xenogenesis and then as Lilith’s Brood, closes with more insight on the human condition from the vantage point of maturity. (Am I a grown-up, now?)

“Humans said one thing with their bodies and another with their mouths and everyone had to spend time and energy figuring out what they really meant. And once we did understand them, the Humans got angry and acted as though we had stolen thoughts from their minds.” (p. 548)

Why are we so reluctant to be known? And what is the crime of understanding?

“…the ooloi perceived all that a living being said – all words, all gestures, and a vast array of other internal and external bodily responses. Ooloi absorbed everything and acted according to whatever consensus they discovered. Thus ooloi treated individuals as they treated groups of beings. They sought a consensus. If there was none, it meant the being was confused, ignorant, frightened, or in some other way not yet able to see its own best interests. The ooloi gave information and perhaps calmness until the could perceive a consensus. Then they acted.” (p. 553)

Jodahs is another child of Lilith, Tino and Nikanj, Dichaan and Ahajas. Jodahs has exceeded the limits of genetic engineering designed to ensure only male and female children, instead becoming ooloi, an ungendered being. “Not being able to go to anyone for comfort…can make you like the lightening – mindless and perhaps deadly” (p. 558).
I have acted “like the lightening” sometimes, in past events and instances I’d rather not remember. Quick anger and deep hurt spark words that leap unbidden from the tongue even before my mind has wrapped itself around them. Then come the rationalizations: the excuses and reasons why, the justifications. None suffice.
Some things, however, must be said.

“There are easier ways to say these things,” it admitted.
“But some things shouldn’t be said easily.” (p. 565)

Jodahs is afraid of causing harm. “Give yourself time. you’re a new kind of being. There’s never been anyone like you before. But there’s no flaw in you. You just need time to find out more about yourself.” (p. 571)
The hard things Nikanj had to say were about killing in self-defense – if absolutely necessary. Such an action is a horror to the Oankali, whose reverence for life exceeds all other imperatives. “Nothing is more tenacious than the life we are made of.” (p. 663)
That is the Oankali religion in a nutshell: “A world of life from apparent death, from dissolution.” (p. 663) I am reminded of Alvin the Maker and quantum physics.
If one accepts the fact of quantum indeterminacy, however unlikely the probability, there remains chance – for life, for change, for health, for happiness, for any good thing (just as equally as, to be fair, any bad thing). One can never predict when, where, how, or why one may discover – in themselves and others –

“the tiny positioning movements of independent life”

Book Two: Adulthood Rites
Book One: Dawn