I’m thinking about the chaos of democracy….and how Stephen continually critiques the Left for “giving credit” to “the other side”, of being willing to look at their own faults as perhaps part & parcel of any dynamic, even of keeping things complicated.
I noticed a pattern in one of my classes that I thought I recognized from my first AKRICE conference when I completely unwittingly and innocently played into an institutional pattern of racism. It SUCKED! Partly because it just sucks to find yourself someplace where a) you don’t want to be and b) goes against your ethics. It also sucked because I had been so convinced I was “doing what I was supposed to do.” It was an embarrassing and humbling experience.
The day I decided to send an email to the group about my worry…to share my lack of ease with what looked like could be happening, I remembered another AKRice conference, when I had “saved” a seat for the African-American woman who’s authority was being blatantly challenged by the group. I KNOW academia is not a group relations conference! And, what is the point of only being an activist or taking stands in places designed to practice such behavior? What about the real world?
So, I plunged. I did have that seed of doubt/questioning in my mind about my own perception, but in terms of timing, it seemed if I sent the email early people would be able to respond and “beat the deadline” in order to prove me wrong forthwith, whereas if I waited, it would look/feel even more judgmental – OR, maybe become impossible to say. I opted “to say.”
The response was initially a bit curious but also hurt. Now it has seems to have turned aggressive. *I* am the “bad guy”. (For instance, as I write this, it occurs to me someone might believe I “did it on purpose” as an instigator. I only wish I had such foresight and control!) As it is, it has unfolded this way, for better or worse. (Right now its feeling like “worse”.)
There are two axes at play here that I feel I can put my finger on, and others that I suspect but can’t articulate. One that I’ve encountered before (and still obviously don’t manage too well), is the shift from “there and then” academic theorizing to “here and now” interaction. Just because we’re intellectuals doesn’t make us immune from the effects of socialization, discourse, media, etc ad nauseum! But our department seems to work pretty hard at keeping such analysis and recognition at bay – perhaps it is true of academia in general (seems likely).
The other one that seems pretty clear to me is the conceptualization of a group-as-a-whole. The responses seem consistently to reduce my argument to the individual level. I don’t seem able to articulate or explicate or otherwise convey that this is simply NOT where I am coming from. It puzzles me that there is such resistance to this lens, especially coming from communication folks who (and here I may be guilty of an assumption) have generally accepted the notion that there is no fixity of meaning, that meaning is always dialectical and co-constructed. To me, this removes ANY possibility of individual “responsibility” for a group’s collective behavior, because it is what the group decides such behavior means…..
Aha! It could be that this is a contestation over such construction? But, the way it is playing out (so far) is an isolation of “me” on the individual level…and I contributed to that by admitting to my own ambivalence (the “sin” of the left, is what I’m thinking) – which provided “ammunition” so to speak for the accusation that it is “just” my personal bullshit and has nothing/no relevance whatsoever to the overall group. (Hence, I can understand some of the anger as resentment over being “dragged into something” that doesn’t feel like it has anything to do with oneself.)
The other axes that I suspect are operational but I don’t have a grip on are cultural and what’s considered “normative” for the classroom.
Anyway, the last challenge to me was why didn’t I just frame it as “I want such-and-such to happen.” Its a good question. I have an immediate reaction, and a more thoughtful response. On the reaction level, because the person with authority had already said what she wanted and it hadn’t happened, why would MY saying so make any difference? On the more thoughtful level, it does suggest a way of “acting into the future” (Vernon strikes again!) that I think I didn’t consider carefully enough (the timing question). Again, it comes back to the question of deliberation and planning…..my preference is to be able to communicate without having to dance through a bunch of hoops just to make my message “hearable” by my interlocutors (whoever they may be). But, I need to exercise better judgment about when I can be more relaxed and when I need to be more deliberate – either because of the content of the message or the personalities/subjectivities of the interlocutors. (Of course, how can one KNOW until one puts oneself out there?)