“Feminist Theory and the Redefinition of Technical Communication”

Bibliography of my Life

Lay, Mary M. “Feminist Theory and the Redefintion of Technical Communication.” Central Works in Technical Communciation.” Eds. Johndan Johnson-Eilola and Stuart A. Selber. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. 146-59.


Summary: Explores intersections between work in feminist theory and ethnographic studies of collaborative writing in technical communication to illustrate contributions a feminist framework could bring to the field. Argues that feminism’s critique of scientific positivism, the myth of objectivity, and the androcentric bias of science and technology calls for a critical redefinition of the field of technical communication.


  • Lay notes in her introduction to the piece that when it was originally published in 1991, it represented both the beginning of her own engagement with feminist theory and the first time that feminism had been brought to bear on technical communication, making the piece simultaneously naive and brave
  • Defines feminist theory according to three overarching characteristics: the celebration…

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Beyonce has pushed Rihanna to be the best Rihanna she can be

I tuned into the VMAs last night to see a celebration of the dominant force Black women and Caribbean musicians and musics are having on U.S. culture right now. And even though Beyonce’s Lemonade performance was incredible, I was most struck by Rihanna’s extended performances on the eve of her Vanguard Video Award, and even her speech itself, which vocalized the Caribbeanness of the night–almost every song performed had Caribbean musical influences. As Rihanna said of Barbados upon receiving the award, “When I think about the Vanguard Award and receiving this tonight, all I could think of was my country. They’re gonna be so proud, this is the first Vanguard Award to land anywhere close to my country. My success, it started as my dream. But now, my success, it’s not my own. It’s my family’s, it’s my fans’, it’s my country’s, it’s the Caribbean as a whole, it’s women, it’s Black women.”

Riri’s opening performance (watch here), with its bubblegum pinks and dozens of dancers moving in sync, made me think that the existence of Beyonce has pushed Rihanna to craft more total performances than she was inclined to do earlier in her career. Rihanna never was a dancer like Beyonce is, often choosing to stand or sway, or do small unchoreographed Caribbean dance moves as she sang, but on her ANTI World Tour she appears to have pulled out the choreography stops and pushed herself as a dancer and a performer to something larger, more fully Pop. And in her opening performance last night, Rihanna focused on her dance moves, giving a visual performance that captured the attention of the arena and left the assembled celebrities standing and screaming for her at the end.

But what really blew me away was Rihanna’s performance of “Work” (watch here), set over a dancehall mashup track produced (I think, from the digital signature) by DJ Mustard, in which Rihanna appears with a big white t-shirt pulled over her head, a long black du-rag tied over it. Behind her is a riser stacked with dancers participating in her song, this mob of black and brown partiers inspired, too, by Kanye West’s recent performances with stages packed full with his clique. With last night’s this dense human scene Rihanna channels the Jamaican club depicted in the first video for “Work,” but she also, by donning the “masque” of drag, troubles the male gaze she solicits in both the “Work” videos. Grimacing and leering as she dances, in her VMAs performance of the song Rihanna at times makes herself ugly in a way that Beyonce never does, in a way Beyonce actively fought. In this performance of masculine ugliness as well as hyperfeminine sexiness Rihanna reminds us that she is Caribbean in a way that Beyonce, despite her mastery of Caribbean dance moves, will never be and never wants to be. (Depite the political content of Beyonce’s newer work, her identification with Creole culture may mark the edge of her progressivism.) Beyonce’s identification with Creole Beyonce’s playfulness stops at the edge of her beauty.

Rihanna performs “Work” at the 2016 VMAs, image via capitalfm.com

In the space of the VMA awards, where Black labor produces white capital, Rihanna’s performance of “Work” is an embrace of the “Caribbean Carnivalesque,” what Caribbean rhetorician Kevin Browne explains is the emergence of folk energies that inhabit “the liminal spaces between revelry and revolt” (14). Negotiating with the space given her by MTV’s neocolonial representational regime (read up on the history of MTV on this one), Rihanna’s performance of “Work” rejects the male gaze that circumscribed the hypersexualized performances of the evening by Beyonce, Nicki Minaj, Ariana Grande, and Rihanna herself. In the context of an album of ballads that sound like something by Amy Winehouse or Adele (themselves ironically the white inheritors of soul), Rihanna’s “Work”–“You see me I fi work, work, work, work, work”–signifies on the gendered, nationalized emotional labor asked of Rihanna to make herself intelligible as a commodity whose Caribbean exoticism is part of her appeal. By performing this much-mocked song with a t-shirt pulled over her head, Rihanna pushes the limits of her white audience’s illiteracies even as she explodes Caribbean ways of celebrating, performing, and critiquing onto an MTV stage. Thus, on a night that left some pitting Beyonce and Rihanna against each other, Rihanna rose to the bar Beyonce sets for all performers today but also showed us what makes her what Queen B will never be – a rude gyal.

Works Cited in this Post

Avidly’s “On Beyonce’s Face,” 2013.

Black Girl with Long Hair’s “Unaware of Jamaican Patois, Critics Blast Rihanna For Speaking “Gibberish” On Her New Single ‘Work’,” 2016.

Yaba Blay’s “On ‘Jackson Five Nostrils,’ Creole vs. ‘Negro’ and Beefing Over Beyoncé’s ‘Formation’,” Colorlines, 2016.

Kevin Browne’s Tropic Tendencies: Rhetoric, Popular Culture, and the Anglophone Caribbean. Pitt U Press, 2013.

Andy Green’s “Flashback: David Bowie Rips Into MTV for not Spotlighting Black Artists,” Rolling Stone, 2016.

Rihanna, 2016 MTV VMA performances of “Don’t Stop the Music” medley and “Work” medley.

Neetzam Zimmerman’s “Beyoncé’s Publicist Asks Internet to Remove Unflattering Beyoncé Photos; Internet Turns Unflattering Beyoncé Photos Into a Meme,” Gawker, 2013.

#BiteTheBullet: It’s time to divest from guns

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From Reuters via the New York Times. Gun stocks from Smith & Wesson and Sturm, Ruger have risen even faster than Apple over Obama’s presidential terms

In an interview last week with Essence, Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza said, “if we’re serious about making the types of changes that need to happen, we need to be really serious about redirecting resources. Why are we paying tax dollars to departments that continue to murder our people? I don’t want to pay for people to kill us, and I don’t think anybody in our communities want that.”

Many have been wondering how to support the Movement for Black Lives. Garza points to a revolutionary option: stop paying our taxes. We need to educate ourselves, listen to voices of color, attend protests, and voice concerns to elected representatives. But for those who have financial resources, there’s another action you can take today that entails financial, not civil, disobedience:

Move your money out of guns. Today.

Read the rest on Medium.

To all the folks like, “This Presidential primary race is unprecedented!”

I humbly remind you of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s…

When, after a decade of deregulation and rising wealth inequality exploded in a market collapse and a decade of economic depression, lowest-common-factor politics produced two options: fascism and socialism. While Germany elected Hitler, we elected Roosevelt, who, deemed a socialist, brought us the New Deal.


Your Tumblr Feed Burns Coal

Calling it the “cloud” invokes  a light, airy space where nothing really exists except as water vapor. In fact, as Ingrid Burrington explains in The Atlantic, the industrial and electronic infrastructure that houses the cloud, where individual Internet users as well as public and private institutions increasingly store their files, including photos, video, music, documents, and metadata, is a physical infrastructure of enormous servers and physical cable network that consumes vast quantities of mined precious hard metals, consumes and pollutes water, and runs on on and off-grid electricity produced by coal, natural gas, and green methods like solar and wind. Beyond the private servers that private and public institutions use to store their files, the proliferation of personal cloud-based computing and online research and reading is driving companies to invest in bigger, faster, and more environmentally damaging server farms.


Servers | Ethan Pines for the New York Times

James Glanz wrote from Santa Clara in 2012 that “a yearlong examination by The New York Times has revealed that [servers as] this foundation of the information industry is sharply at odds with its image of sleek efficiency and environmental friendliness.” Burrington points out that every time you visit a webpage or read a feed that draws content from a stream, you receive signals from several different servers that could even be housed on separate continents.

Sometimes I think of this environmental toll when I scroll through my tumblr feed, which looks like this

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and this

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and sometimes like this

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all while the TV show I am streaming on my laptop plays commercials. When I’m done scrolling and watching, I go plug my laptop and my phone into their chargers, where they draw more electricity from the grid which, where I live, PG&E claims draws half of its power from green sources.

(I figured out how generators work while researching this post. Basically something has to make a copper coil spin really fast through a magnetized space, which generates electricity. The spinning can come from water or wind turning physical blades, or from an engine combusting coal or natural gas to boil water into steam which then turns a turbine which spins the coil.)

But beyond the environmental impacts of using electricity, I think what is most obscured to us as Western technology users is the reality that every piece of electronics we use is made out of rare earth minerals that are largely hacked out of the earth by hand. That these incredible technological products keep getting better and faster (thus enabling them to draw more electricity and receive data from more servers) even as they remain affordable to us global consumers is a result of exploitation at every level of the chain of production. For me to be able to afford a new tablet and for that tablet’s manufacturer’s stock to also rise by collecting profit on the sale, the miners need to not be paid enough; the factory workers need to not be paid enough; the transport workers who ship the pieces around need to not be paid enough; and the parts themselves need to not be priced highly enough. High enough for what? For all parties involved in producing the tablet to retain enough of its value to afford the damn thing, just like I can.

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the Gehry-designed Guggenheim Bilbao in Spain, which is covered in titanium – via architecturaldigest.net

Incredible amounts of rare earth minerals are pulled from the earth in infinitesimal quantities on an unfathomable human scale every day. Tin is mined out of mudpits in Indonesia. Coltan, which is used in almost all smartphones, cell phones, and laptops for its unique ability to hold an electric charge, is mined by hand in the Congo and increasingly mined in Columbia and Venezuela; it is described as a “conflict mineral” and a “strategic mineral,” which means–it causes war? It is worth war? People not in the Congo and Columbia are so obsessed with it that they will accept eternal war as a condition of receiving their coltan?

Did you guys read this New Yorker piece about how Peruvian miners chip gold by the flake out of the Andes in Peru? (It was really good.) Appreciating the preciousness of precious metals really underscores the grossness of Frank Gehry’s ugly aluminum buildings.

And then, on top of everything else, when our insatiable desire for new things and investors’ insatiable desire for stock prices to go up demands that hardware manufacturers push out new products that replace the old ones, we throw them away, and create e-waste that fills landfills or, when incinerated, dirties our air.


E-waste in Lagos, Nigeria | Margaret Bates, via technology.org

Sometimes when I spend too long scrolling through Facebook or Tumblr I feel gross because I know I don’t need to know more about what outfit Rihanna wore when she left her New York apartment yesterday. But in fact, there is a deeper ethical reality behind the metallic taste in my mouth: these new media habits of ours, which have supplanted the more sustainable habit of picking up a dictionary with the electronic choice of asking MerriamWebster.com, actually waste electricity, waste water, waste air, and waste people’s lives. There is actual environmental value in playing the guitar, reading a book, going for a walk, or continuing to argue about something instead of Googling it. Because, to put it concisely, your Tumblr feed burns coal, and the teens who mined the minerals in your smartphone were paid even less than the twentysomethings who assembled it.

You can read an expanded version of this post on Medium.

On White Girls Being Dredged From the Woods


Steven Avery’s mugshot, via hellogiggles.com

Last night, my boyfriend and I started watching Making a Murderer, the new Netflix documentary series that suddenly everyone is talking about the way last year everyone talked about Serial. It’s a drawn-out real-life series that explores the contradictory story of Steven Avery, a maybe-maybe-not murderer and rapist.

As we settled into bed to watch the show, Ryan said, “I think he’s an accused rapist.”

“I think he’s a murderer,” I replied.

This was a coded conversation. Over the past year or two of must-watch TV, I’ve developed (and communicated) a real aversion to shows scripted around the same boring sex crime, where a young white woman’s mutilated body is unearthed from the elements, from woods or water or some grimy basement. In fact, my boyf and I have come to share–several times now–a moment of recognition and resignation when we realize that another of the shows everyone is raving about is, at its core, about investigating the disappearance, abuse, rape, and death of some white woman who is never a character but instead plays the canvas that the white guys in the show get to puffer up their masculinity around. How trite.


Kyle Chandler in Netflix’s Bloodline

Thank you True Detective, thank you Lake of the Woods, thank you Making a Murderer, thank you Bloodline. That last one was hard to take. I thought this show was about a family trying to hold their hotel business together against the creepy rising waters of the Everglades? Oh, and also Kyle Chandler, the town detective, has to slowly pull a pale Latino woman’s mutilated teenage body from the dark dikes, then lay her out on a table so that the camera can slowly, slowly pan over the gruesome makeup this actress with no speaking lines spent so much time receiving, so we can see how much empathy he has, give him a good excuse to look real torn up. Fun. He looks upset about it

It’s not that I don’t want sexual assault stories told. I’m a survivor; our stories are important. It’s that these stories aren’t really about us. They’re medeival, hero’s stuff, chivalrous men discovering, protecting, avenging. The rape victims never matter in TV stories about rape.


In several pieces of writing about Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, I’ve suggested that America’s ongoing fascination with the Kardashians’ penchant for dating Black men is rooted in a hundred-year-old lynching narrative in which white women are continually at risk for defilement and death by oversexualized, dangerous Black men. Peep the assault scene in Birth of a Nation, Woodrow Wilson’s favorite movie, in which the white woman character dares to open her family’s gate and immediately makes herself vulnerable–neigh, responsible, even–for being chased off a cliff by a unrestrained postbellum Black man.

In an essay for The American Reader I wrote a year ago, I considered the seeming absurdity of the Kardashians’ total domination of pop-media spaces that previous summer, even as news of Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, and the protests that followed, spread (with little help from major news networks) around the globe. I argued that “cumulatively, what we are watching is a dissimulation of a lynching, where the murder happens in one corner of our screen while our coy rationales withdraw into the manifolds of popular culture.” That is, if we zoom out a bit from the individual television programs and look at the wider picture, what we see is a hypermediated recycling of the same story that was told under Jim Crow to justify lynchings, a story about the threat unrestrained Black men pose to white women’s bodies. The obsessive fixation with stories of white women’s despoilment on TV is a Pavlovian bell ringing through cultural history, calling up our country’s worst memories and worst arguments as it tenaciously fights against progress–against police reform, against prison abolition, against integration of the public schools, against affordable college, against the payment of college athletes, against anything that could allow a Black man to walk freely around in the open air in a neighborhood where a White girl might open her gate–a resistance as powerful as the one culture waged a hundred years ago when Black activists fought to protect their own from being murdered for an endless list of insipid excuses.


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Cultural fear-mongering on the cover of Star

One of the most surprising things about Making a Murderer is how, in the second episode, we see Steven Avery become a cause celebre for criminal justice reform in Wisconsin in the 1990s. Ah yes, the plight of the blue-eyed blondie who looks like every other blue-eyed blondie in Wisconsin demands the attention and sympathy of state lawmakers. I couldn’t help thinking what a diversion this had to be of justice-based activism in Wisconsin, when the face of wrongful incarceration is a smiling white guy, in the state that has been ranked the actual worst for Black Americans in the nation. HuffPo actually named Milwaukee–the regional capital of the area where Making a Murderer takes place–as the worst city for African Americans in the nation. Yet Steven Avery becomes the face of criminal justice reform, a face so compelling that without being sued or threatened, state lawmakers tried to rustle up a 6-figure settlement for him.

Can you imagine government functionaries producing reparations for a person of color without any external pressure to do so?

And then, in the second episode, we get another dead, raped white girl, a twenty-something, actually, who only talks once because mostly she’s missing or dead, laid out in the woods somewhere waiting for us to imagine what cruelty she experienced, waiting for white men to argue their goodness and integrity over the backdrop of her naked ass.

Netflix originals are cool and all, but where is the network that is ready to tell the real, diverse, systemic, important, exciting stories that this planet is brimming with? Stories of war, migration, agriculture, drugs, extortion, exploitation, mining, slaughterhouses, activism, revolution? From the perspective, goddamnit, of someone other than the white men who are invariably running things? I’m ready to watch them–and I think I’m not the only one.


“Getting On” With It

In honor of my new ABD status, a blog post!

My boyfriend works late and I live in the suburbs around very few of my friends, so I watch a lot of TV. I hereby offer you the first of a series of flash reviews of my recent favorite TV shows.

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via The Verge

Add HBO’s Getting On to the list of TV shows I watch because New Yorker TV reviewer Emily Nussbaum told me to. Her TV taste is spot-on; she got me into UnREAL and Jane The Virgin and if she has her way I just may try out The Leftovers. Getting On was a hard sell–probably for HBO, too–because it’s about a dilapidated extended-care facility in Southern California, where a troupe of overworked doctors and nurses tend to a revolving cohort of mostly elderly, sometimes verbally responsive patients. Not a real sexy pitch.

It took actually seeing a little bit of the show, when my siblings were watching it over Thanksgiving, for me to believe it could be funny. But it is. Deeply, weirdly funny. And smart. I love shows that have a political critique, and Getting On’s outlandish plotlines only work because of their foundation in the real inefficiencies and immoralities of the contemporary healthcare-insurance-industrial-complex.

I also love a good ensemble–I get tired of shows that are vehicles for a single actor–and the doctors and nurses on Getting On have amazing chemistry, both comic and heartfelt. The show stars Laura Metcalf as Dr. Jenna James, the ward’s head doctor and a frustrated would-be researcher whose desire for prestige leads her to push the limits of her insurance billings; Niecy Nash as sweet-hearted new nurse Didi, who never seems to deliver punchlines but instead grounds the show’s humanness; Alex Borstein (formerly known as Miss Swan) as nurse Dawn and Mel Rodriguez as head nurse Patsy de la Cerda. I loved Borstein as a kid watching MAD TV; the writing for her character Dawn allows her to be goofy and lonely but also desperate, confused, and sexually crazed. My favorite plotline of the show is the hot-and-cold romance between Dawn and Patsy, a relationship which is abrasive, compulsive, inappropriate, and eternally hilarious.

dr james gif

The show only has three seasons of 6 episodes each, but the clear standout is the finale of season 2.  It’s impossible to write about this episode without giving spoilers, but as I watched it I was aware of the quality of the comedy writing, as storylines that had been set in play throughout the season each reached absurdist heights, then collided with one another. The episode starts with Dr. James arriving to the office with a ridiculous new perm which bounces from joy to hysteria as her moneymaking schemes implode and the entire ward is thrown into disarray. Most amazing of all may be how the episode ends seriously, by acknowledging the real life-and-deathness at the center of the ward’s work.

Highly recommended. Happy holidays.

Confused Feminist in an Apron Seeks Answers (Reflections on FemRhets 2015)

I spent a long weekend at the biennial Feminisms and Rhetorics Conference in Tempe, AZ, and boy (girl!) was it needed. After moving away from Syracuse in May to finish my degree while living with my partner in California, it had been far too long since I’d been surrounded by smart colleagues and conversation about writing, literacy, and rhetoric. I missed it. I missed you guys. A lot.

Being at the conference also gave me some perspective on the choice that I’d made. It’s hard to talk about my situation this fall without feeling a lot of shame and self-indulgence, because my position is a privileged one. But the vertigo of being among my peers all weekend gives me the perspective to admit the truth: it’s been a really hard four months. I left radical activists who challenged me and inspired me every day to move to Silicon Valley, the suburbs where strains of oligarchism float through the air like pollen, in an environment built for cars and nuclear family privacy, except I’m usually in the house alone. And not teaching or being a student has been seriously challenging to my sense of self-worth.  How do I know I’m valuable if a teacher or student didn’t tell me so today, and I am just barely affording my grocery, gas, and medical bills, let alone conference travel?

Faced with this situation, time has spun backwards. I’ve regressed, whiling away the hours doing the dishes and the laundry, wishing I had a dog. Not pulling my weight financially makes me feel worthless and useless, and I pick fights with my partner because I don’t feel deserving. I feel like a loser. I have to keep reminding myself that I was supporting myself just fine until I quit my job to move to the most expensive megalopolis in the country.

Being at a conference gave me the perspective to acknowledge how isolated I am out here, how hard it is to be away from one’s colleagues, mentors, and friends, and has allowed me to forgive myself a little for not being as productive as I wish I’d been these past few months, for taking some time to adjust. But being really busy for four days also felt so good, and lit the fire under me again. Forgiving myself for taking some time is giving me motivation to get over it and get to work.

via The Feminist eZine,

via The Feminist eZine, “The Problem that Has No Name”

But this wasn’t any conference–it was a feminist conference, which meant that great conversations didn’t hover in the abstract, but descended down to the complex material realities of our everyday lives. During lunches, attendee Ames Hawkins was wandering around with a microphone conducting micro-interviews for podcast Masters of Text, asking folks what their favorite moment was of FemRhets so far. My co-panelist LaToya Sawyer and I told the mic our favorite part was Ann Morton’s incredible opening keynote, where she discussed leaving her career in graphic design to begin making textile art that built and engaged the Phoenix community. Now that the conference is over, though, I know that my favorite moment came later, at the graduate student happy hour on Friday night. One of the women I met asked about my move out to California, and I admitted how isolating it had been. We and a few other women began talking about the choices we had made for our relationships–three of the women I spoke to had chosen their PhD programs based on proximity to their partners, all men. We shared the conflicting feelings we had about these choices, how strange it felt, especially as feminists, to feel ourselves limiting ourselves–and was it limiting ourselves?–for proximity to the men we loved. We talked about the structural inequalities which ensure that, when partners decide (with egalitarianism in mind) to follow whichever of them has the higher-paying job, the men inevitably have those jobs and the women are left to compromise. We talked about the ironies of a post-Women’s Lib world where two partners who each invest in their careers means a whole lot of long-distance relationships.

I haven’t written on this blog regularly for some time. But today I put weekly blog posts on my calendar. I want to hold myself to a higher standard from here on out. I want to acknowledge the confusing situation I’m in but not waste the luxury of it. Mostly, I want to write. Hope you’ll be hearing more from me soon–and shoutout to the awesome women and men I met, talked with, presented with, and created knowledge with last weekend. I needed y’all.

Auf Wiedersehen: Clash of Global Englishes on Project Runway Season 14

Those of you keeping up with the new season of Project Runway may have noticed that several moments of major drama so far have centered around language, emerged in moments of mis/communication between competitors speaking multiple varieties of global English.

The first clash happened in the season’s second episode, the unconventional challenge (designers had to make dresses out of Hallmark cards) when stress was already high. Swapnil entered the workroom to inform the group that three sewing machines had been set up for heavy materials.

Blake and Swapnil argue, with Edmund in the background

Blake and Swapnil argue, with Edmund in the background

“Did you set them up for us?” asked twinky American whiteboy Blake.

“Sorry?” asked Indian contestant Swapnil.

“Did you set them up for us?”

“Sorry?” Swapnil asked again.

“I don’t know how to speak Indian so I can’t say it.”

An outburst of “Wooaaahhh” spreads around the room as Swapnil protests, “I’m not speaking Indian I’m speaking English.”

In confessional, Kelley called his comments “ignorant” and “completely uncalled for” and Swapnil says, “Racism is something that I do not want to give importance to.” And Blake clarifies that he’s “actually adorable.”

Is this racism? Perhaps it’s more effectively termed “linguistic racism,” discrimination based on a racialized variety of speech. Linguistic racism is discussed by Samy Alim and Geneva Smitherman on their book Articulate While Black, which uses President Obama’s codeswitching practices as an opportunity to discuss privileged and oppressed varieties of spoken American English. According to Alim and Smitherman, linguistic racism is one of the ways that racism has gone underground, so that (for example) in one experiment, landlords didn’t call back or denied having open apartments to callers who effected “Black-sounding” speech patterns on the phone.

Because American students are taught with a monolingual ideology that denies the existence of multiple varieties of English, the clash between Blake and Swapnil is touted as pure racism and there’s little awareness that Blake and Swapnil may speak different varieties of English, but they are mutually intelligible if both listen carefully and understand the communicative challenges at hand.

Hanmiao gets eliminated

Hanmiao gets eliminated

I’ve been thinking as I watch this season that as the show has worked to diversify its cast, including bringing in people from different races and identities from the US and from all over the world, they have hit up against Americans’ general monolingualim, the mistaken notion that American English that should be learned by all citizens of the world, while Americans have no responsibility to learn foreign languages. This ideology has particularly toxic manifestations in writing classrooms, where increasingly diverse cohorts of American students are taught that there is one way to use English correctly and that other language skills are liabilities, not strengths.

What Paul Matsuda calls “the myth of linguistic homogeneity” manifested itself in last week’s episode and was a lot more subtle, as communication problems emerged between pair Edmund and Hanmiao as a pair in the season’s first team challenge. For issues of personalitity as well as language, it was a tough team. Both are strong-willed designers who worked best alone; neither seemed comfortable thinking alone or working together through ideas. In the second episode, Edmund was highlighted refusing to talk through or even disclose his designs to his neighbor at the work table. Collaborating takes verbal practice, practice Edmund didn’t seem to have had.

But I couldn’t help being curious about Hanmiao’s linguistic history–did she learn English in China? How long had she been working in the United States?–and Edmund’s as well, an African-American man from Atlanta, with its own strong dialect of African-American Language. Edmund doesn’t speak AAL in the workroom, but he may speak it at home; Hanmiao and Edmund might both be people who learned Standard English as a second language or dialect. Or maybe not–that’s why we do research.

When Hanmiao was eliminated at the end of the episode, I found myself wondering whether the outcome could have been different if the two had communicated better. To my surprise, Hanmiao had the exact same thought.

“I’m not mad,” she said in the confessional, “just speechless, and helpless. I know I failed. You have to work as a team. Communication is the only way, the best way to fix it.” She continued: “Several years ago I was in China. I watched Project Runway Season 4 in China. I never think about I can be in New York and I can be in Project Runway. It’s amazing.”

Hanmiao reflecting in confessional

Hanmiao reflecting in confessional

Standard American English is the lingua franca of the Project Runway workroom, but SAE may be the second language or even dialect of English learned by many of the designers there. Language diversity has always been a part of Project Runway, every since Heidi introduced Nina Garcia in her German accent and then later issued a stern “You’re out,” her R’s dropping away, then offered a double-cheek kiss in Euro-Fashion fashion, with her trademark German “Auf wiedersehen.”

When Heidi leaned in to give Hanmiao a double cheek kiss and Hanmiao wrapped her arms around the tall model for an earnest hug, I was reminded of how much broader than language communication can be, and all the ways a designer can be rendered “speechless.”

White @BernieSanders Supporters, We Need to Embrace #BlackLivesMatter

from seattleglobalist.com

On Friday afternoon, Black Lives Matters protestors disrupted a Bernie Sanders rally in Seattle.

From the crowd there were calls that the protestors should be arrested or even tased, prompting Black Lives Matter Seattle founder Marissa Janae Johnson to declare, “I was going to tell Bernie how racist Seattle is, but you already did this for you.”

Since then, discussion has raged over Black Lives Matter-Seattle’s choices. Bernie’s defenders have wondered aloud: Why interrupt the most left candidate? Why not protest the Republican debate? Why not interrupt Hillary Clinton? And, more defensively, don’t the protestors understand Sanders is their best bet? Don’t other peoples’ concerns matter? Is this kind of raucous misbehavior the real way to get change? And supporters of BLM-Seattle have replied: Yes. There is no time for respectability or patience when Black people are being murdered every single day.

I am writing to other white supporters of Bernie Sanders — because yes, I support him, and I am white — to say that we need to embrace #BlackLivesMatter.

Keep reading on Medium.

Thin Ice: on #RachelDolezal and Being a White Ally

via AwesomelyLuvvie.com

via AwesomelyLuvvie.com

Why Rachel Is Wack is now well established. I’ll let the Black women who articulated it best for me speak here for themselves:

Writer Blue Telusma wrote on Facebook: “”It’s offensive that she decided to put on black womanhood like an outfit. as a black woman who has a healthy self esteem I’m clear that my identity isn’t a fad…Offensive that my trans brothers and sisters who are killed in the street and ostracized by their families at alarming rates… are being compared to a liar – simply cause folks don’t “get it'”

Alicia Walters wrote in The Guardian: “Dolezal managed to put on an identity – that of a black woman – in a way that renders invisible the experiences that actually forged for us our identities as black women…She represented us and gained status in both black and white communities as one of us, even though she could have worn her whiteness and talked to white people about their racism – something sorely needed in a town like Spokane.”

Luvvie blogged: “”Why couldn’t she just be a very vocal white ally? I am a firm believer that we need them, because racism is not a system that Black people can “fix.” It has been created, upheld and perpetuated by Rachel’s skin folks so white people HAVE to be a part of the solution. She could have been active in the NAACP as a white woman and took her place as an anti-racism white activist. She could actually use her white privilege to create space and elevate other people of color. Instead, she is playing the part of the people she purports to be fighting for, appropriating the culture in a role that is full of mimicry of hairstyles and repetition of theory, as well as a dollop of stereotypes to make it really authentic.”

And Jamila Lemieux wrote for Ebony: “We don’t say enough about how the racism of White women—who often escape scrutiny because the public face of racism is The White Man—harms people of color. We forget how the aggression of police when encountering Black bodies is often tied to the idea that these people present a danger to the fragility of White womanhood and how the word of a White woman will nearly almost always be believed over that of a Black man or Black woman (or a Black child, which is frightening, considering how many White women are teaching Black kids that they don’t necessarily value or believe in.)”

I’ve been teaching writing using hiphop for five years now. Yep, I’ve been a white woman the whole time. A Jewish white woman, cisgendered, with all the attendant privileges that entails. Unlike my colleagues of color who teach Black cultural products in class, I’m not subject to skeptical course evaluations that question my motives or lambast a supposed agenda (see this article [PDF], and there’s lots more on this phenomenon). And I do have a social justice agenda–one I have been free to pursue in the classroom with very, very little resistance from my white students.

Me reading a speech at a TGB rally last winter. Another member pointed out to me how easily I'd centered myself in the group's public image, even though I joined relatively late.

Me reading a speech at a TGB rally last winter. Another member pointed out to me how easily I’d centered myself in the group’s public image, even though I joined relatively late.

Despite thinking I was “doing the work” all these years, though, this past year was the first time I became enmeshed in a true activist community: THE General Body, an interracial group of students, faculty, and staff working for a broad array of united causes at Syracuse University. Doing activism in community with this truly diverse group–across age, race, ability, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexuality, activism experience, university status–I was subject, regularly and rightly, to critique.

I’ve been thinking over the last few months of the metaphor of “thin ice” to describe the position of a white person doing justice work for and with Black people and people of color, and studying Black culture in the academy.  At first I was resentful of some folks’ suspicion of me, the intimations that I needed to prove I was really down for the cause, both through my words and my deeds. But I have come to respect, and expect, folks’ suspicion of me. And why not? Rachel Dolezal only reminds us how wack white folks can be. But even more saliently, I have come to recognize that my resentment at having to prove myself was itself a function of my learned privilege–the privilege of always having been given the benefit of the doubt. My whole life–and this goes on still–whenever I’ve interrupted some teacher, store clerk, public official–I am always given the benefit of the doubt.

It’s time for me to own that as a white woman in integrated, activist, pro-Black spaces, and a white academic engaging Black artists and authors in my scholarship, I am always–and ought to be–on thin ice. I am in danger of making a wrong step–centering myself and my feelings, expecting my privilege to still hold, acting condescending, saying something offensive or plain wrong–and getting called out for it, falling through the ice. And oo-wee does that cold water sting. It takes your breath away. It makes me want to thrash and lash out. But it is also informative, that icy water, if I can be still enough to feel it: still enough to feel how my very feelings have been conditioned by white supremacy, how I’ve learned that my hurt is more important than other people’s, how much power my fear has in this racist world.

Feeling that hurt and processing it, really listening to the critique I get, is how I learn how to act, speak, and be better, so I can focus on the work. I feel lucky there are people who love me enough to explain what I’m doing wrong–because, to quote SethTheSophist, “this ain’t the learning annex,” and they don’t owe me shit. But I’ve learned this year that it is worth the trouble to walk on thin ice. It is worth speaking carefully and, also carefully–and infrequently–soliciting critique. It is worth, sometimes, feeling cold.

Rachel Dolezal’s story is strange and uniquely 2015. But stories like this catch on because they resonate with us, for a diversity of reasons. In my case, she reminds me of the value and the hard work (as Tim Wise has also noted) of being a white social justice activist–hard work Rachel apparently attempted to avoid.

Kylie’s Kornrows

Just as Amandla Sternberg’s video comes out and gets high circulation (at least in my social media feeds) as not just an amazing piece of digital writing by a black teenage actress but also as some damn correct reporting…

…we get Kyle at Coachella…


…a festival for rich Angelenos (in a poverty-stricken rural valley) who often come bedecked in boho, native-appropriating fashion. 

from Buzzfeed, “16 things you definitely shouldnt wear to coachella”

It’s important to note the not only visual, but linguistic character of Kylie’s appropriation of blackness here. From her caption, “bad bitch” and “bad bitch alert” are both phrases from hiphop and black youth discourse, with their practices of semantic inversion.  And Khloe’s previous Instagram post is a Dubsmash dubbing of herself and kylie lip synching as black men say “I love you, bitch/ I ain’t never gonna stop lovin you, bitch.” I’ve noticed this site quickly gain popularity over the last week, and jokes already often seem to be based around lip synching to heavy ethnic or regional dialect. This kind of linguistic sampling is not so different from what in iggy azaleas case has been called “verbal blackface.” 


Anyway, have a great weekend!! 

Qualitative Methods and the Creative Writing Process: An Unlikely Analogue (My 4C’s Paper)

[This paper was delivered on the panel “Embracing the Anxiety of Influence in Writing Studies Research” with Jo Mackiewicz, Jenn Fishman, and Karen Lunsford at last week’s Conference on College Composition and Communication. Enjoy!]

Hi everyone. As the only grad student on this panel, I was brought on to make the subject of qualitative data analysis more palatable and more accessible. I hope this talk will be especially useful to anyone who is beginning or considering qualitative data analysis, or educators beginning to train their graduate students in qualitative methods. In this talk I’m going to discuss how I came to embrace qualitative methods, and how my background in creative writing has helped me make sense of them. I hope my analogy between qualitative methods and creative writing might be a useful way of conceptualizing the hard work and the rewards of what researchers do.

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TV, Politics, Race: What I’ve Been Reading, and Planning to Write

As usual, I’ve had the same 15 tabs open for 3 weeks, waiting…for what? For this blog post. I have trouble closing the links I’ve already read that seem so important I want to share them. Of course, you all have plenty to read already, so I think I’m just a digital hoarder.

I also have a nice long list on my phone of all the blog posts I want to write. I want to write about Jane the Virgin and Fresh Off the Boat and how amazing it is to see TV shows featuring immigrant families who don’t speak monolingually in their homes or on the shows: both shows feature multilingual families from Venezuela and Taiwan, respectively, where a grandmother always speaks in the home country’s language (Spanish and Mandarin) while their children and grandchildren respond in English, and everyone can understand each other. On Fresh Off the Boat, the middle generation–children of grandma and parents of grandkids–also switch into Mandarin when they don’t want people around them to understand. (For my rhet/compers out there, Cue: Canagarajah.) Large swaths of the hiphop musical melodrama Empire is also written in AAVE; I would love to see one of their scripts. How are they formatting and editing their dialogue?

Meanwhile, Fresh Off the Boat and Broad City are also showcasing the appropriation of black language by Asian-American kids and white women, respectively; recent episodes of both featured leads in t-shirts of rappers. Acutally, FOTB has its lead, Eddie, wearing a t-shirt with a rapper’s face almost constantly. There is so much richness on television for language scholars to talk about right now. And FOTB is explicitly decentering whiteness in a way I’ve never seen before – usually the white characters on the show sound like delusional crazy people – and Jane the Virgin treated migrants’ undocumented status in a way that was humane and a part of a storyline just like it’s a part of people’s lives.


I also wanted to write a post about how I wish Spotify would stop spending all its engineers’ energy trying to predict what music I like, and instead do a 1000% better job saving, categorizing, and making accessible to me all the music I’ve already been listening to, so I can find my favorite albums and artist as easily as if this was my music library.

I have also been thinking about how much time I spend as a teacher in the classroom doing managerial work vs. actual teaching –things like giving and reviewing assignments, talking about how things will be graded, coordinating who is giving a presentation on what day, giving students instructions for in-class activities, and so forth. This question was spurned by my reading of Donna Strickland’s The Managerial Unconscious in the History of Composition Studies, which had me thinking, how much of the managerialism of the contemporary writing program seeps into the classroom? How much of teaching is actually managing?

Anyway, here’s what I’ve been reading…

Jeff Chang’s “From Basquiat to Jay-Z: How the Art World Came to Fully Embrace Hip-Hop,” in The Guardian

francine j. harris’s “Civilly Unseen” in the Blue Shift Journal

Julianne Hing’s “Fresh Off the Boat’s Rocky Relationship with Hip-Hop” on Colorlines

Michael S. Schmidt’s “F.B.I. Director Speaks Out on Race and Police Bias” in the New York Times

Isabel Shepherd’s “Examining the Lasting Effects of Wilmington’s 1898 Coup D’etat” on HQR News

“Security Researcher Christopher Soghoian on How to Use a Cellphone Without Being Spied On” on Democracy Now!

Kirby Wilson’s “Lack of Diversity Leads to Burden on Professors of Color” in The Chronicle

Richard Florida’s “A Painstaking New Study Reveals the Persistence of U.S. Racial Segregation” on The Atlantic’s Citylab

Ben Sisario’s “Industry Issues Intrude in ‘Blurred Lines’ Case” in the New York Times

I’m Here So I Won’t Get Fined (A Beast Mode Bibliography)


[UPDATED]: here are some more cultural commentaries on Marshawn Lynch and Richard Sherman from women writers of color:

On Crunk Feminist Collective, “What Marshawn Lynch and Richard Sherman Teach Us About Respectability and Black Masculinity”

Jenn M. Jackson’s “We Done Told Y’all What’s Up: Black Folks Are Not Here for the White Gaze” on For Harriet

Jenee Desmond Jackson’s “Marshawn Lynch’s Selective Silence is a Power Move for Black Athletes” on Vox

Sarah Jaffe’s “The Subversive Brilliance of Marshawn Lynch” in The Week

Read more (listed in order of how much I value them):

Jerry Brewer’s “Marshawn Lynch: The Beast Who Says the Least” in the Seattle Times

Michael Silver’s “Marshawn Lynch’s Quiet Power Behind Seahawks’ Super Bowl Run” on NFL.com

Barry Petchesky’s “Marshawn Lynch Already Explained Why He Hates Talking To The Media” in Deadspin, which directed me to the first two sources above

Richard Sherman’s “It’s About More Than Me” with Peter King in Sports Illustrated

Jemilah King’s “Marshawn Lynch’s Quiet Riot” in Colorlines

The Onion‘s “Marshawn Lynch Delivers Eloquent 45-Minute Address on Privacy in the Modern Age.” 

Nate Scott’s “Marshawn Lynch Calls out Media in Defiant Press Conference” in For The Win


What I’ve been reading: Holiday Giggles Edition

Azealea Banks on Hot 97 ( must watch, and then listen to her great new album, Broke With Expensive Taste. I’ve also been bumpin Big K.R.I.T.’s Cadillactica.)

Amanda Chicago Lewis’s “Pam and Tommy: The Untold Story of the World’s Most Infamous Sex Tape,” in Rolling Stone.

The couple already had a reputation for carnal and pharmaceutical indulgence, but peeping on their love play offered an entirely new level of dirty, thrilling violation, as we leap-frogged PR flacks, centerfold photographers and even the paparazzi to land squarely in the most private of worlds.

The cover of a Pam and Tommy sex tape VHS, via RollingStone.com

The cover of a Pam and Tommy sex tape VHS, via RollingStone.com

Jia Tolentino’s “The Promise in Elena Ferrante” in Jezebel (and then–DUH–go read EVERYTHING by Ferrante herself.)

Anyway, women’s writing will be the business of inwardness as long as it’s still risky for women to walk around alone.

Emily Nussbaum’s “Great TV 2014: Not a List, Not in Order,” in The New Yorker–aka, my to-do list for the past week.

“Jane the Virgin” is thirty times better than ninety per cent of all network shows. Fiona Apple’s theme song to “The Affair” is way better than “The Affair.”

David Uberti’s “The Worst Journalism of 2014” in the Columbia Journalism Review.

Live television is exceedingly difficult to produce, of course, but [Don] Lemon’s gaffes this year offer a case study in how to choose words wisely — or not.

“New Evidence Sony Hack was ‘Inside Job,’ Not North Korea,” in the New York Post.

Errata Security’s Robert Graham also noted to Politico that the hacker underground shares plenty of code, calling the FBI’s evidence “nonsense.”

via NYPost.com

via NYPost.com

Michael Schulman’s “Why ‘Into The Woods’ Matters,” in The New Yorker.

When the musical opened on Broadway, in 1987, parents would occasionally yank their young children out of the theatre in shock during the second act, thinking, They killed Rapunzel?

Revolva’s “An Open Letter to Oprah, Whose ‘The Life You Want’ Tour Asked Me To Work For Free,” in Digital Music News.

Criticizing the Oprah Winfrey tour is scary, Oprah Winfrey!  I can already see the impending comments about how artists should be grateful to appear at your event (which, by the way, is certainly paying the going rate to the lighting people, the sound people, the caterers, the janitors, the people who erected the outdoor side stage, basically everyone except the local artists appearing on said stage).

Matt Agorist’s “The NYPD Is Essentially Refusing to Do Its Job and Yet New York Hasn’t Collapsed into Chaos,” on the Free Thought Project.

This sharp drop in the enforcement of certain offenses has not created the Mad Max scenario that so many people predict would happen if police loosen their grip.

And, just for serious,

Paul Grohndahl’s “Heroin Addiction’s Stranglehold on Adolescents” in the Albany Times Union.

“I have low self-esteem and I’ve got a lot of emotional issues,” she said. “I’ve struggled with my relationship with my father and my own addictive personality. I been depressed for a long time.”


Sam Mitrani’s “Stop Kidding Yourself: The Police Were Created to Control Working-Class and Poor People,” on the Labor and Working Class History Association blog.

There was a never a time when the big city police neutrally enforced “the law,” or came anywhere close to that ideal (for that matter, the law itself has never been neutral).

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

What I’ve been reading…so I can finally close all these gotdamn tabs!

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Brett Samuels and Justin Mattingly’s “Chancellor’s Workgroup on Sexual Violence Prevention, Education and Advocacy delivers final report to Syverud,” in the Daily Orange.

The workgroup found that without the Advocacy Center, “there is no longer a single office designated to provide information about services, advocacy, education, and prevention, as well as physical space for victims and survivors to informally congregate and support each other.”

Karen Narevsky’s “Remember Me as a Revolutionary Communist,” in Jacobin.

Leslie was so gifted at identifying working-class issues that even though Leslie had a Buffalo accent, Leslie came and infiltrated with me.

Natalie T. Chang’s “Who WIll Survive in America?” in the Harvard Crimson.

Most of the time I’m glaring so hard at everyone who walks by me that I probably should be stopped by the police, but it’s only because I learned a long time ago that if I don’t, eventually some white boy in a baseball cap is gonna look me up and down and ask if I can love him long time.

But forty years ago my parents were yelled at, spat on, beat up. Violence is tricky like that.

Chris Mooney’s “The Science of Why Cops Shoot Young Black Men,” in Mother Jones.

And then suddenly, you have a horrible realization. When black faces and “bad” words are paired together, you feel yourself becoming faster in your categorizing—an indication that the two are more easily linked in your mind.

Irene Routte’s “What the Bodies Are Telling You,” on the Harvard Divinity School’s blog.

When systems, rituals, and rules dictate how our bodies can be or how much value our bodies hold, how do we not only envision but embody an affect of hope?

Tanzina Vega’s “Schools’ Discipline for Girls Differs by Race and Hue,” in the New York Times.

Black girls with the darkest skin tones were three times more likely to be suspended than black girls with the lightest skin.

Trish Kahle’s “Echoes of Mockingjay” on Red Wedge.

And if we step back for a moment, we see that even though Katniss Everdeen is the trilogy’s protagonist, Black rebellion is the driving force of revolution in Panem.

An anonymous reader’s “My Cousin was Shot Dead By Police in Albuquerque,” on Talking Points Memo Daily.

I’ll confess that I didn’t totally understand, either emotionally (duh: I grew up in white affluence) or frankly intellectually (they don’t just shoot kids, do they?).

But now I understand

Linda Chavers’s “An Elegy for Michael Brown” in Dame Magazine.

In other words, I am not just an English teacher, I’m among the keepers of the gates. And they need to see me here for the White boys.

“White Folks: Act Up Accountably,” on the SURJ Action Team blog.

Do:  Organize white people to participate in actions led by People of Color (POC).

Don’t:  Expect to lead those actions.

Sam Biddle’s “Leaked: The Nightmare E-mail Drama Behind Sony’s Steve Jobs Disaster” on Gawker.

You better shut it down

That is what you said

That sounded like a threat to me

Alicia Florrick Tho

still from season 6, "The Good Wife"

still from season 6, “The Good Wife”

The Good Wife is a show about a woman learning to wield her white privilege for her own ends. It is about her—this woman, Alicia Florrick (Juliana Marguiles), the “good wife” of a disgraced Chicago (of course) Attorney General (Chris Noth) learning what powers are available to her as a white upper-middle class woman, if she can accept the limits and insults that come with the role. In its interrogation of white female privilege, identity, and limitations the show is aptly named, because even as Florrick is the title character that moniker is itself defined by its relationship to a man, and by its value judgment around how well the woman, Florrick, plays the role she was cast in. The Good Wife.

Now we have watched Alisha for six seasons, from her start as a mild-mannered suburban housewife-turned-returnee to the workforce, through her years as an increasingly powerful lawyer at Lockhart Garndern, in her role as first lady when her disgraced husband pulled off a return to the governor’s mansion of Illinois (another great spot for a corrupt politician), to her new role in the current season, as a candidate for Attorney General of Chicago, to succeed her husband’s smug successor.

I started watching The Good Wife because my mom, my sister, and Emily Nussbaum told me to. My mom and my sister recommended The Good Wife even more highly than Scandal—in a television lull, I’d asked them which show to start—but it was the New Yorker’s Nussbaum whose glowing column sent me clicking to Amazon Prime. But what Nussbaum or her colleauge Josh Rothman never key into—and what may have tipped the scales for my mom and sister, though they never said so explicitly—was the way that The Good Wife interrogates the role of the white woman in professional-class society—a role the women in my family have tried to master—just as Olivia Pope toys with the limitations of being a black woman with power and prestige. I love watching Kerry Washington tease out the socio-cultural possibilities of Olivia Pope, but I don’t identify with them in the same way I do with Alicia Florrick, whose Bobbi Brown makeup pallette (amirite??) and deep brown hair stain are surely the same as my mother’s, a woman also married to a Chicago lawyer with enough friends and cousins in Highland Park to fill a big country club bat mitzvah.

shady people of color scheming on "The Good Wife" - still from season 6

shady people of color scheming on “The Good Wife” – still from season 6

In their sixth-season coverage for the New Yorker of The Good Wife, both Nussbaum and Rothman attend to Florrick’s increasing comfort with and facility in using her power, but neither see the way that it is specifically gendered and raced: Florrick’s power, I contend, is specifically the power (in our society, at least) of white women. It is the power of being a white lady. Let’s take a closer look at their two reviews. Rothman writes:

The longest plot arc in “The Good Wife” shows Alicia becoming more like Peter—that is, becoming more comfortable with the exercise of power, more elegantly invulnerable when she is being magnanimous. Part of that transformation entails coming to terms with her own privilege. Alicia starts out the show as an underdog, but, at the end of the first season, she draws on one of her husband’s connections to win a coveted position at work. When, a few years after he’s released from jail, Peter becomes the governor of Illinois, Alicia leverages that connection to secure clients.

She’s also privileged in subtler ways that she is less willing to admit. From her husband’s sex scandal, Alicia retains an air of innocence and vulnerability; women root for her, and men are attracted to her. For much of the show, she drifts in and out of a romantic relationship with Will Gardner, one of the partners at her law firm. When, as the governor-elect’s wife, Alicia starts her own firm, taking some of Will’s most valuable clients with her, he calls her out on her own mythos of innocence and victimhood: “You’re awful, and you don’t even know how awful you are,” he says. Everyone, including Alicia, thinks that she’s a victim—but, in fact, she’s a predator, all the more dangerous for being stealthy.

In this accounting of Alicia’s coming to power, Rothman figures Alicia’s “stealth” as an aberration to her use of power, a quirk in comparison with her husband’s brash use of the throne. But I contend that her stealth is gendered—her “stealthy” danger, that wolf in sheep’s clothing, is her feminine use of power, power through flirting, through favors, through being nice. This is power in a “ban bossy” universe, where bossy women are bitches so Alicia has to be the bossy by flirting and cajoling to get her way, not demanding it.

All Hail Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski)

All Hail Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski)

Now here’s Nussbaum:

Alicia didn’t get the job [at Lockhart Gardner] because she was exceptional: an old law-school friend, Will Gardner (Josh Charles), promoted her over stronger candidates after she strategically flirted with him—a shady origin story that emerged slowly, over years. On “The Good Wife,” there is no success without corruption. The higher Alicia climbs—winning the second-year slot, making partner, leaving to start a new firm—the more compromised she becomes, and the more at ease with compromise. This applies to her marriage, also: it’s too valuable an asset for either spouse to abandon, even when they separate, when he is elected governor, and when she has an affair with Will. “You’re a brand! You’re St. Alicia,” Eli Gold, her husband’s chief of staff, tells her, begging her to run for office. Yet, despite everything, Alicia clings to her self-image as a heroine, a moral person in a godless universe. (Alicia Florrick is one of the rare explicitly atheist heroines on TV.)

Here again we see how the specifically feminine way Alicia starts her law career is folded into a larger narrative about corruption, collapsing Alicia’s crucial wielding of feminine power into a larger story about power. Similarly, the compromises Alicia has to make to retain that St. Alicia brand—namely, to stay in a sham marriage with a compulsive cheater—is the same compromise women have been making for millenia, just without the rewards.


By the sixth season, in fact, Alicia Florrick has given up the delusion of her earlier years that she can or cares to help anyone—the delusion of white women living in the suburbs, which she doesn’t anymore. Instead, when asked point blank by her new campaign manager (who I am still waiting for her to sleep with) why she wants to run, she answers, “Because I can win.” The only trick to winning is to keep pretending she doesn’t care to. After an interview, Alicia comments to her new foil and “body woman,” Eli Gold’s brash Jewish daughter Marissa, “I don’t like being someone I”m not when I’m being interviewed.”

“Really?” Marissa says. “You’re good at it.”

Good at it in a way that a brash Jewish girl could never be, because to own white femininity is to be invisible, to make one’s power and pain invisible, to win just to win without anyone thinking you want anything at all.

People commend this show for its deft handling of race themes, because a series of minor issues which characters of color adds up to a discrimination lawsuit for Peter Florrick. What no critic seems to have noticed is how Florrick’s continued demotion of lawyers of color equals the show’s continued demotion of actors of color. There’s no neat way to handle that. The discrimination line is like saying “no offense.” Sorry, but it’s still offensive. But very deftly handled.


[all the stills in this post are from season 6 episode 6, “Old Spice,” the most awesome and most feminist episode of the season, which features the show’s female stars almost exclusively. Alicia Florrick tho, but also Diane Lockhardt tho, Elsbeth Tasscione tho, and Kalinda Sharma tho. Fuck yah lady lawyers.]

Love, Hiphop, and Genre: Syracuse

In the last two years, as I’ve revised my pedagogy to center writing studies content in my composition classrooms, there have repeatedly been words–terms, concepts, really–that I joke with students they’ll be sick of by the end of a unit or semester. Last fall, in my freshman 105 class, they were: literacy, discourse, and composition.

This term it was all genre. Genre, genre, genre, genre, genre.

Yes, I took my department’s challenge to use genre as the lens through which we approached all assignments and concepts, using genre to access the same concepts of students’ literacies (what genres do they write in?), discourse (what are the discursive demands of different genres?) and even, yes of course, hiphop. (Who knew sampling was a discursive practice with its roots in African-American rhetorical practice? Oh, ok. We did. But my frosh didn’t. But now they do!)

I want to take this opportunity to reflect about how this went.

First of all, my successes. And there’s one I’m really proud of: this is the best I’ve ever done at convincing my non-humanities students–and in today’s preprofessional university, this is most of them–that writing will matter for them in their major and their career. The engine of this recognition was their third unit assignment, which asked them to research a genre they expect to write in in their major or career and interview at least one person who writes in it regularly. My students researched press releases, sports play-by-plays, children’s books, spoken word poetry, medical textbook chapters, biomedical research articles, engineering field reports, event planning proposals, movie reviews, lab reports, health and safety plans, and more. And beyond recognizing about the real audiences, exigencies, and discourses engaged by these genres, they also repeatedly noted and reflected upon the fact that writing was going to follow them into their futures, a reality many had not accepted when they first entered my class.

Without a doubt, this is my greatest success this semester and the biggest boost I got from the genre-centered approach, because I have been trying for my five years as a composition instructor to communicate to my students that there is no person in the 21st century who does not have to write on the job, and who is not more successful when they can do so with a clear sense of message and proof.  I was finally able to achieve this pedagogical goal by deputizing my students to go out on their own and seek out the genres they would need in their own lives.

Now my failings. To be fair to myself, I’ll note that most of them were curricular snafus borne from this being my first time teaching this version of the course. I note them here mostly for my future self, for when I teach this class again.

First of all, and it’s a biggie, I need to teach visual and multimodal rhetoric more explicitly, more smartly, and with better readings. I gestured at it in class but in my putting off the reading assignments to find something good to assign, I ended up forgetting to assign a reading and that let to my students giving really boring, ugly powerpoints.

Second: if I assign presentations again, no powerpoints allowed.

Third: if I require students to bring in a 3D object again, we need to have some make art time in class together. A lot of students brought in, like, a handout or a cookie. No shade to cookies, but, ya know.

Four: always build in drafting. I didn’t for the first unit blog post, and there wasn’t much time for student discussion after presentations, and that was bad. More feedback from the class always. Also, this reminds me that I really want to do full-class workshops in the future and center student writing as course texts more. The challenge for me here is that it is always so hard to cut down the assigned readings to make space for this. But I just have to do it.

FIve: I had students tweet and take images of each other in media groups so they could respect each other’s privacy wishes about sharing content on the web, but then other students could also share as well. I should have just had everyone live tweet everyone and have each student start their presentation with a statement of how they wanted their content shared or not and their privacy protected.

Six: I had a students make a Storify but I didn’t have them comment on each other’s Storifys using the little built-in comment thing. So I should do that!

Ok enough with those quibbles. I want to close by brainstorming about next semester, when I teach 205, the required critical research course for second-semester sophomores.

The version I taught last spring and summer moves through three units: an opening critical reading unit, where I give the students a bunch of articles about hiphop, discourse, literacy and education; a research unit, where they identify a research question and pursue it independently; and a paper-writing unit, where they write the paper. Also usually I make them reflect at the end, because I❤ reflective writing.

Mostly I need an excuse to teach this article, a lawyer’s inquiry into the traffic stop scene in “99 Problems.”

I wonder what would happen if I made them research method, genres, and research questions in their fields, design a project for that field, and then execute it? I like that idea. I also like the idea of them keeping a blog all semester and I ALSO like the idea of having a class blog where one student is responsible for writing a course recap every week and then we workshop it in class the next week. What do y’all think of that? TB, out.

Paean to the South Bay


The South Bay doesn’t get a lot of love. People call the Peninsula Silicon Valley—and culturally, these days, it is—but Silicon Valley proper, the geographical valley that led to the naming of the tech boom’s place-space—is really the Santa Clara Valley, the low-lying land at the southern base of the San Francisco Bay, a dry, flat expanse crisscrossed by expressways where fruit orchards used to be, now studded with shining buildings crowned in the recognizable neon logos of Intel, Dell, Tivo, Linkedin, Motorola, Samsung, Symantec, Norton, and more.

This is where I live, during the few months a year when I leave my graduate school semester in Syracuse and stay with my boyfriend, who works in tech. We live in Sunnyvale, a municipality bounded by Mountain View to the northwest, the Bay to the northeast, Santa Clara to the southeast, and Cupertino to the southwest. We’re in a tenuous position as far as Bay Area sectionalities go, constantly having to click through listings in “The Peninsula” and “South Bay”—even sometimes “Santa Cruz”—anytime we look for restaurant listings, through Craigslist ads, and the like.

As I said, we don’t get a lot of love down here. Everyone knows San Francisco and Sausalito, Oakland and Berkeley, and these days even Palo Alto and Mountain View are tech-white-hot. I think of the Valley as the overachieving kid who never gets much attention because they always seem to succeed, they don’t need the help. The South Bay has powered the Bay Area’s explosion in real, cultural, and political capital, but I don’t see that acknowledged so much. Everyone talks about the Google buses but no one thinks about where they’re going to, these arbitrary town suburb things delimited from one another by signs and zoning, the ephemera of cartographers with no real geographical correlates here on the flat, open ground.

The houses are Eichlers or Eichler-style, flat square single-family homes built in the 50s over razed orchards with a handful of trees left for fun. Closed to the front, wide open in the back, private which also means isolating, no front-porch banter between neighbors, not even a stoop to squat on.


last summer’s tomato plants in our backyard

No culture to speak of, if by culture you mean theater, dancing, public art or museums worth a visit. In Sunnyvale our downtown is the one-block “Historic Murphy Street,” an Epcot facsimile of urban life with large parking lots behind the two rows of restaurants on either side of the street, and an enormous Target and Macy’s just beyond.

The real life down here lives in the strip malls, a strange reality that I’ve begrudgingly come to love. Our favorite Japanese restaurant, Hoshi, an izakaya joint in Santa Clara, is in a large strip mall, next to a liquor store and a Safeway. In Sunnyvale, the best imported foods are all to be found at Felipe’s and there’s free pool and darts at Beefy’s Cabin, in a tiny strip just across the street—just don’t go on Thursdays unless you want to join the darts tournament.

For great Vietnamese food we slide over to Milpitas, on the eastern side of San Jose. If you want to buy clothing or books, you have to go to the mall.

In Cupertino and all around us there are huge Asian malls with Ranch 99 supermarkets, Chinese restaurants, filled with Asian nationals speaking in foreign tongues. I love it there. On Yelp we found a Hunanese place called Chef Ma’s, in the back of a mall where even the waiter didn’t speak English.



In every strip mall there is a Kumon and a martial art’s place, for the kids, and along historic El Camino Real, the big box stores repeat themselves: CVS, Safeway, Sprouts, Trader Joe’s, Verizon, Rite-Aid, rinse, repeat.

We want to leave this place, this desolate suburbia where I speak to no one all day and have to get in my car to go anywhere, and yet the thought of leaving gives me pause. I’ve come to love this weird, quiet place, the smell of the salty marshes at the base of the bay, the ghostlike boathouse in Alviso, the quiet determination of Alum Rock. I feel protective of this place, like I want to warn it of the gentrification sweeping down the Peninsula like a wave, even as I know that my white boyfriend and I are the gentrifiers, the people brought here to work in tech, displacing the working class Latinos who are our neighbors, who speak in our local taqueria and laundromat in Spanish, then switch into English for me.

my man at Lick Observatory on Mt. Hamilton

my man at Lick Observatory, on Mt. Hamilton

At dusk the South Bay turns colors, the sky glows iridescent like gold, and on the other side of the mountains are the ocean and in those mountains are deep ravines filled with redwoods and swimming holes. My boyfriend is a biker and it takes half an our to slide out of the valley and onto Mt. Hamilton sat staunchly behind Alum Rock. The Junction, a dusty biker bar with Sierra Nevadas and pulled pork sandwiches, and above it, domed and white, Lick Observatory, what I call the Sacre Coeur of San Jose. Sunnyvale is an hour to SF, an hour to Oakland, fifty minutes to the coast on the Peninsula or down in Santa Cruz. The center of the wheel never gets the glory. No one talks about reinventing the hub.

Y’all down with the Dao De Jing? I’ll leave you with sutra 11:

We join spokes together in a wheel,
but it is the center hole
that makes the wagon move.

We shape clay into a pot,
but it is the emptiness inside
that holds whatever we want.

We hammer wood for a house,
but it is the inner space that makes it liveable.

We work with being,
but non-being is what we use.

Anthony Bourdain, Shmageggy

still from "Parts Unknown"

still from “Parts Unknown”

Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown could really be something special if Bourdain wasn’t such a schmuck. I know, I know, his shtick is shmuck—and yet I still hoped beyond hope, as I watched the second season of his show which begins in Israel/Palestine and ends in Detroit, that the brave progressivism he shows in his first episode would extend through the end.

It doesn’t.

Over the course of the season it becomes clear that while it’s in vogue to support Palestinian liberation and tresspass to the other side of the wall—so cool, I guess, that CNN is ok with it—it’s still acceptable in the same moral and televised universe to visit South Africa without having researched it first, to romanticize the diversity of not just South Africa but also New Mexico, erasing the history of colonialism, to visit Japan and only talk about sex work, and to spend an entire hour-long episode on Detroit not only framing it in the way that the characters in the episode directly ask him not to, but also resist showing a single stable business in the entire city.

Ok, dude.

What kills me is that the episode on Jerusalem was really, really great. He gives the history of the place, uses dynamic maps to show the history of the land, who owned and conquered what, where, and when. I wished he had repeated this use of maps in each episode, especially in New Mexico, where the complex history of colonialism in that state—the Spanish conquering native Pueblos, the Spanish-Mexicans being taken over by the Anglo-Americans coming from the north and east—gets totally romanticized in this multiculti American fantasyland.

And in South Africa, Bourdain actually turns to his table of hosts and asks, “To what extent—is it really a rainbow nation? are things getting mixed?” Then the camera cuts away from the horrified diners to a swarthy white guy who looks like all those almost-white men who populate Motorola commercials now.

cut to....Motorola commercial guy. from "Parts Unknown"

cut to….Motorola commercial guy. from “Parts Unknown”

The episode about Japan is just violently irresponsible, like CNN deserves a censure from Edward Said himself and I recommend it to anyone teaching the concept of Orientalism, ever. Bourdain spends the entire episode—in Japan! Japan!—talking about sex work and porn, going to far as to eschew actually speaking with chefs and foodies and instead going out to eat with a Shibari artist and the woman he ties up. They don’t have much to say about the food, but that’s ok, because Bourdain doesn’t want to talk about it! Speaking with an artist who draws fantastical pornographic anime, Bourdain comments, “Chefs I know all want to die here. Because we don’t understand anything…I don’t understand the porn here. How is it, you can’t fuck someone with a penis, but you can fuck him with an octopus tentacle?” His host just looks uncomfortable, like he was hoping they could finally just talk about the food.

Shibari, from "Parts Unknown"

Shibari, from “Parts Unknown”

Bourdain’s refusal to listen, to be educated, to hear the people he is speaking to, is most spectacularly evident in the season’s final episode, about Detroit. The phrase “ruin porn” was invented for this episode, with its long, lingering shots of tall grass foregrounding bombed out buildings, and tracking shots down graffitied factory walls. no sign of the kids who bombed the place.

I’ll grant Anthony Bourdain this: his cinematographers, and possibly himself, understand that graffiti is free artwork that is magnificent for everyone to see. This may be the most progressive element of his show, this acknowledgment of graffiti’s terrific and unarguable artistry.

But Bourdain refuses to listen.

“You wanna take pictures here,” he says of an emptied old auto factory he’s touring. “The place, like so much of Detroit, invites it.” But “the locals hate it: wallowing, like we are, in ruin porn.”

Screen Shot 2014-12-02 at 5.37.20 PM

said ruin porn. From “Parts Unknown”

I was struck by Bourdain’s apparent lack of cognitive dissonance, as he describes himself doing the thing a whole city of people has asked him not to do. That is the definition of chauvinism, right? Looking people straight in the face as you talk over them, defining them as they cry out for you not to?

Bourdain calls the people who live in Detroit “survivors” and “refugees” and at one point compares it to Chernobyl.

Finally near the end of the episode a young white chef yells at Bourdain for fetishizing him, for his utter inability to understand why, as he puts it, a hot young chef would leave New York to go to this wasteland, Detroit. “No! Not going to Detroit!” the chef screams, slapping his chest. “Coming home to Detroit!”

But acknowledging Detroit as anyone’s home would entail affirming that people actually live there, and that is too much for Bourdain to do.


On Saturday night I was groped in a club in Chicago. When I whipped my head around to see who had done it, I thought I could identify my assailant by the way he was furiously speeding away, not looking back. A run-by grabbing. By the time I turned around he was well away from me but I thought that was him, anyway, speedwalking through a crowd of people chatting and standing mostly still.

I brought the water I was ordering to my boyfriend on a nearby couch, told him what happened, and then watched as the man emerged from around the corner and stood by the ping pong tables, taking pictures. I told my beau I was going to go yell at him.

We walked over and I said something like hey you just grabbed my ass and what the hell, not even sure it was him, expecting him to deny. But instead he gave us this blank stare, touched his chest, shrugged, said sorry, said, What do you want me to do? It was fucking creepy. I guess in the end he said he’d leave.

We went back to the dance floor and I felt this wave of guilt because what I should have wanted was to take his picture, to drag him to the bouncers and say, This man assaulted me—don’t let him in here ever again. Fuck, call the police! That’s illegal, right? Assault?


As a rape survivor I hate when we call rape sexual assault. Calling rape sexual assault makes both invisible. Sexual assault is this man purposefully molesting me. Sexual assault is my classmate in graduate school following me into my apartment after getting me drunk and unzipping my sweater while I cried hysterically, frozen and in shock. Sexual assault is grabbed breasts, dicks, and asses, a feel-up during a pat-down, any forced or unwanted touching, kissing, or contact. Rape is assault with penetration. Of a vagina, of an anus, of a mouth. We make all the assaults invisible when we forget the word rape, which is another, worser, thing, a thing often done also by the men and women who commit assault.


The whole night my friend kept saying that Soho House, where we were, was “the eating club of Chicago”–and now, after this dude visibly groped me in open well-lit space and no one noticed or seemed to care, I find myself remembering when I was being raped my freshman year of college in an actual eating club and one of my friends stood at the front door of the club begging the bouncers to let her in and get her friend, because someone called her and said I was in trouble. We’ve talked about it since, she and I, the useless irony of security guarding the doors but not protecting the people inside.

And I think also of the seven Syracuse University campus security guards manning the doors at occupied Crouse-Hinds Hall, getting paid the overtime the Administration has complained loudly about to eat potato chips and turn away lawyers and food deliveries at the door. Maybe, maybe, for our safety, we could have used one guard, to walk around the space regularly and make sure everyone inside was actually medically safe.


Now I have been a rape survivor for ten years and I have educated myself on sexual predators and I know, for example, that among men who rape, their average number of victims is 6. I know that not a lot of men are sexual predators but that the ones who are do it repeatedly. And I see the smug sociopathic mug of this dude who grabbed me offering with blank stare to leave and I’m kicking myself for not taking his fucking picture and showing it to the bouncers or the cops or the whole internet because he knew what he was doing well enough to leave quickly so he could do it again, and who knows what else, too. And in the rape culture we live in, the onus is on me, the victim, to make sure sex offenders don’t further offend. But I never heard of the victims of poor people’s drug use being forced to be aggressive and press charges if they wanted those poor drug addicts of color to end up in jail.


What is security? Whom does security make secure?

I have never heard of a security detail in which off-duty policemen are specifically hired and trained to walk around a space making sure sexual predators are not assaulting or raping people. Have you? If the man who groped me had thrown a punch he would’ve been out on the street immediately, but no one is looking for assault and I don’t know who would’ve cared if I’d asked them to. That’s just the price of admission, for being a woman in a bar, these days.


I want a world where security makes women more secure. Where there’s one security force to keep the bar exclusive and cool, sure, but then there are trained people inside the premises looking for vulnerable passed out women and men and going to them and finding their friends and getting them out of there safely and stopping strangers from fucking with them and arresting the people who do. I want a security guard who is scanning the bar scene and noticing when a man purposefully speeds past a woman to molest her unconsenting body as he passes by, who calls the fucking cops on him because that is sexual assault and assault is illegal and, in this imaginary world, it is recognized that sex offenders are repeat offenders and it is a legal priority to get them off the streets, because unlike nonviolent drug users, for example, they actively and inherently are a threat to those around them.

And in this imaginary world women and men who say they are assaulted are believed and not demeaned and not blamed because in this world the fact that 2% of rape accusations are false is as taken for granted as the broken window theory that sends black teenage potheads to jail and gets a man murdered for selling loosies on the street. As Lil Wayne says in “Dontgetit,” the outro to his Carter III, “we don’t have room in the jail for the real motherfuckers, the real criminals,” He describes a sex offender moving into his neighborhood. “They givin me a paper—is that a misunderstanding? ‘Cause I really don’t understand it.” But I really don’t want to know that answer.

Nothing Was the Same – part I

“So, you ask, when does the Hip-Hop Generation begin? After DJ Kool Herc and Afrika Bambaata. Whom does it include? Anyone who is down. When does it end? When the next generation tells us it’s over….It’s but one version, this dub history–a gift from those who have illuminated and inspired…”

– Jeff Chang, Can’t Stop Won’t Stop

via Wikipedia

via Wikipedia

I have been listening to Drake’s latest studio album, Nothing Was the Same, a LOT. I’ll be honest, right now NWTS is constituting a large majority of my weekly and even daily music consumption. After the first few listens, I started noticing the album’s samples of classic Golden Era hiphop songs and I began formulating my little hiphop-hypothesis (aka
hip-hop-eth-is) that Drake was tipping his hat towards the hiphop greats while simultaneously composing himself into their company, into the hiphop canon.

In fact, he doesn’t really do this. Or rather, he is largely saluting the Wu-Tang Clan. All three samples of rap songs from the mid-90s are from Wu-Tang’s first two albums, and two of the three are actually samples of the same song, Wu-Tang’s 1997 “It’s Yourz,” which appears in Drake’s “Wu-Tang Forever” and then again in the immediately following “Own It” as tracks 4 and 5. Turns out my hypothesis was based on a faulty aural ID of the sample–probably from both songs–as the sample of T la Rock and Jazzy J’s “It’s Yours” (1984) that turns up on Nas’s 1994 “The World Is Yours.” (Put simply, I thought Drake’s producers were sampling Nas, not Wu-Tang. Guess I wasn’t looking at the track listing.)

Here is where my research falters. I didn’t research deeply into these songs’ producers to see where they were or whether they worked together or what they were thinking. I use “Drake” as a synechdoche for all of the people who collectively create the music called Drake’s. But neither Wikipedia nor WhoSampled had any indication that Wu-Tang’s use of the shouted phrase “it’s yours!” which constitutes the chorus on “It’s Yourz,” released in 1997 in New York City, referenced or had any legal relationship to the shouted “it’s yours!” on Nas’s track from three years prior, which came out on his debut Illmatic in 1994, also in New York. I find this strange.

On NWST I also recognized the sample of Wu-Tang’s C.R.E.A.M. in “Pound Cake/Paris Morton Music 2,” and that makes 3 samples of Wu-Tang, among the album’s other assorted samples of pop, soul, and hiphop tracks. Not the broad Golden Era homage I had in mind.

And yet, it’s still noteworthy that Drake et al is sampling rap from the ’90s, including Nas or not. As Tricia Rose writes in Black Noise, “sampling in rap is a process of cultural literacy and intertextual reference” (89). Of course sampling “is about paying homage” (79), but it also “locates these ‘past’ sounds in the ‘present’” (89), allowing an artist like Drake to position himself in music history and highlight how earlier music circulates in the lives and musics of contemporary artists. In this way rap artists arrange for themselves their own portraits of musical history, the history of themselves. Drake arrays himself alongside contemporaries and predecessors, a group that has included Whitney Houston, Aaliyah, Kendrick Lamar, Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, Wu-Tang Clan, Curtis Mayfield, 2-Chainz, and Timbaland.

Rappers sampling rappers is noteworthy because early rap couldn’t sample rap–there wasn’t any yet. Bambaata sampled Kraftwerk; “The Message” boasts a funk bass line under a disco beat. Sampling has always been one method by which hiphop artists intertextually situate themselves within living traditions of American, African-American, and world musics.

Three-and-a-half decades on, contemporary rappers have a rich repository of hiphop musics, including rap and R&B, to sample from, besides earlier and other contemporary forms. So Drake’s opener on NWTS, “Tuscan Leather,” can sample Whitney Houston alongside Curtis Mayfield–nodding both to the music that was on the radio when Drake and in fact I were kids, as well as the music our parents’ generation heard. Mayfield joins other soul and funk greats like James Brown and Otis Redding, along with so many other artists from the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s, in forming the backbone of hiphop beats.

In more recent rap, hiphop’s traditional sample base has expanded to include more contemporary references. Mayfield is sampled heavily on Kanye West’s debut The College Dropout, released in 2004, an album which also references Lauryn HIll, and that was already 10 years ago. Now, in 2014, we’re into the generation where J. Cole samples a track from West’s debut, West’s “The New Workout Plan,” on Cole’s “Work Out” from 2011. My 18-year-old students from a few years ago knew who Aaliyah from Drake’s 2010 “Unforgettable,” which samples Aaliyah off of her 1994 R. Kelly-produced Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number, whose title track is sampled in Outkast’s “May-December,” off of their 2004 Speakerboxxx/The Love Below–or maybe my students never noticed the sample but recognized Aaliyah’s name from Kendrick’s line on Drake’s “Buried Alive Interlude” that, “Only that nigga was missing was Aaliyah,”  or Drake’s quick eulogy–“Since I saw Aaliyah’s precious life go too soon”–on “We’ll Be Fine,” both off Drake’s 2011 Take Care.

The point is, time flies. 2004 was 10 years ago and 1994 was 20. In 1994, I was 8. So was Drake. Aaliyah was 16 (ergo the statutory-rape-ness of her relationship with producer R. Kelly). Kendrick Lamar was 7. Nas’s Illmatic, Biggie’s Ready to Die, Outkast’s Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, and Common’s Resurrection all came out that year–that’s why Nas and Outkast had twentieth reunion tours this year: nostalgia. Nostalgia sells. These cycles put us in rap’s third or fourth generation, if such distinctions aren’t the fictions Jeff Chang warns us they are. Christopher Wallace would’ve been 42 this year and Aaliyah would be 36. Nas is 41 and Andre 3000 is 39, even if he plays a 24-year old Jimi Hendrix in the new biopic All Is By My Side. History is more like a circle than a line, or a rhythm that you hear in the corner of your mind, still echoing from the tape deck long shut off in the dash of the quiet, waiting car. “[T]he thing (the ritual, the dance, the beat) is there for you to pick up when you come back to get it,” that is, when it “‘cuts’ back to the start” (Snead qtd. in Rose 69). Hiphop history lives in the cut.


via Wikipedia


Wikipedia: “Nothing Was The Same,” “Tuscan Leather,” “Wu-Tang Forever [Drake album],” “Own It,” “Connect,” “Poundcake/Paris Morton Music 2,” “Wu-Tang Forever [Wu-Tang Clan album],” and more.

WhoSampled.com: “Drake ft. PARTYNEXTDOOR Own It samples Wu-Tang Clan Its Yours,” “Nas The World Is Yours samples T La Rock and Jazzy Jay It’s Yours,” “Drake feat. Young Jeezy Unforgettable samples Aaliyah feat R. Kelly At Your Best (You Are Love),” “Wu Tang Clan Its Yourz,” and more.

WhoSampled.com Blog. “Drake–Nothing Was The Same: The Samples.”

Andrew Martin, “A History of Drake’s Obsession with Aaliyah.” Complex.com.


Chang, Jeff. Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation. Picador (2005): New York.

Rose, Tricia. Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America. Middletown (1994): Wesleyan University Press.

Homely Genres and the Michael Brown Autopsy Report

first page of the Michael Brown autopsy report, via St. Louis Post-Dispatch

first page of the Michael Brown autopsy report, via St. Louis Post-Dispatch

On Tuesday night, as I was checking my Twitter feed just before sleep, the autopsy report on Darren Wilson’s shooting of Michael Brown was released. How strange, to see this boy’s death described in the vague and also explicit detail of a bureaucratic, quasi-medical discourse. Someone had sat down and written this. I wondered who.

Now that I look at it again I see it was written by Wendell Payne, Medicological Investigator. Oddly, it does not seem to be dated, even though the first words of the prose narrative are “At 1330 hours.”

My immediate response was to screenshot each page, because, as Kanye once said, “They gonna take this off the internet real quick.”

The document contains a lot of information that we already knew, that Michael Brown lay in the street for hours while the crowds gathered, the panic rising—but here they are conveyed in the clear, firm language of the government:

There I was met by numerous officers of the St. Louis County Police Department and they directed my attention to the deceased who was located in the middle of the roadway with his head pointed west and his feet east….The deceased was lying in the prone position.

The deceased was cool to the touch. Rigor mortis was slightly felt in his extremities.

In the freshman composition class I teach we are researching “homely” genres, those genres people write in every day without even thinking about it as writing: e-mails, text messages, facebook posts, but also professional genres like case files, medical reports, and broadcast scripts, not to mention application forms and essays, tax forms, letters to contest parking tickets, and so forth.

What homely genres have you written in lately?

The term “homely” comes from Carolyn Miller’s seminal 1984 article “Genre as Social Action,” in which Miller consolidates previous rhetorical and discursive study of genre and lays the foundation for a given genre to be analyzed, beyond its language, format, or situation, “on the action it is used to accomplish.”

To consider as potential genres such homely discourse as the letter of recommendation, the user manual, the progress report, the ransom note, the lecture, and the white paper, as well as the euology the apologia, the inaugural, the public proceeding, and the sermon, is not to trivialize the study of genres; it is to take seriously the rhetoric in which we are immersed and the situations in which we find ourselves. (Miller)

After the release of the autopsy report that night, the tweets came out fast and furious. Was the report fabricated? Lying? Was the medical examiner biased?

These questions matter, but they won’t be answered by this report. But this report is important: very, very important. Miller writes that “as a recurrent, significant action, a genre embodies an aspect of cultural rationality.”

That is: this autopsy report tells us about the logics and movements of our culture. It gives a text, an example of a genre–that is, the medical autopsy report produced by a police force–what is natively labeled “Narrative Report of Investigation”–an artifact about which we can ask, “Who wrote you, and for what audience? How were you circulated? Who typed you, printed you, held you, e-mailed you, handed you off? Who leaked you? And, in your original function, what were you supposed to accomplish?”

When I read the report last night, I gasped. I covered my mouth. I was horrified. But that is not the report’s intention, because I am not its audience. This genre wants everything to seem normal–or at least, accounted for. And it is, accounted for, for the most part. The report describes how Michael Brown was arrayed in the street according to the compass rose, it describes what he was wearing and what he objects were near him, like his flip-flops, and it describes his nine (9) gunshot wounds, and his “abrasions.”

detail from Michael Brown autopsy report, via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

detail from Michael Brown autopsy report, via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Stamped below this description, in the bottom margin of the page, in red ink: NOT FOR SECONDARY RELEASE.

What is not known is how exactly Officer Wilson’s weapon discharged nine times into the dead man’s body, only that “during the struggle the Officers weapon was un-holstered. The weapon discharged during the struggle.” The report continues:

The deceased the ran down the roadway. Officer WILSON then began to chase the deceased. As he was giving chase to the deceased, the deceased turned around and ran towards Officer WILSON. Officer WILSON had his service weapon drawn, as the deceased began to run towards him, he discharged his service weapon several times.

As this is preliminary information it was not known in which order or how many time the officer fired his weapon during the confrontation.

Let’s pause with the language. Officer WILSON has a name, but Michael Brown does not. In this report, Michael Brown is a zombie, a “deceased” who can run away from a skirmish and then run back towards the officer who has already discharged his weapon at least once. He must be a zombie, this deceased, because what kind of person charges a police officer whose weapon is drawn and which weapon has already fired at least once, when they were tussling while the officer was still inside his squad car?

This is genre functioning, that tiny, crucial decision to call the dead person not by their name but by “the deceased.” A question for further research might be whether medical examiner reports of people who were not shot by police officers are also called “the deceased.”

last page of the Michael Brown autopsy report, via St. Louis Post-Dispatch

last page of the Michael Brown autopsy report, via St. Louis Post-Dispatch

The last line of the report notes, “Any additional information will follow in the usual supplemental manner.”

The usual manner. This is the power of this genre: to usher its subject matter, that is the state-sanctioned murder of an unarmed teenage boy, into a file in a filing cabinet to which other documents can be added and consulted and called forth and held secret from the press and marked “Not for Secondary Release,” this stream of documentation and memo and language and mostly correct spelling and grammar and headers and signatures and case numbers that say everything is accounted for and is being handled and nothing is wrong in the universe where the correct papers have been filed.

Of course, everything is wrong. Everything is wrong! I can use all caps and expletives and images and links and embedded tweets all day long, but nothing in this blog post can make that report seem as abnormal as it makes itself, its own existence and the “preliminary information” it contains normal, filed, stamped, sealed, delivered, accounted for.

Last class I asked my students to read a blog post and then copied them my own homework by mistake, and none of them e-mailed me to say the link seemed weird. Only when I went into our discussion board and saw student after student comment how confusing it was, did I check the link and see I’d had them read about ancient greek rhetorician Aspasia of Miletus by accident, that the title was not the title on the syllabus or even on the link, let alone that the content was nonsensical in the context of our class. But words pass by our eyes and we are so used to them being there we don’t even ask what they are or why they’re there or who wrote them or what they are supposed to do, we just accept that this is the language that fills the homework and these are the papers in the Brown, Michael file.

These papers, this stream of memos, this is the stuff of colonial land treaties and apartheid laws and illegal wars and vast coverups of abuse: a series of memos pushed by paper pushers, filed by paper filers, read but not really read, injustice furthered again in that “genteel bureaucratic way” that injustice has of reinstantiating itself.

There is more to say, there always is, but this is a blog post, and blog posts are supposed to be short. Til soon.

Put Tupac on the SAT Exam

Tupac's handwritten poem "The Rose that Grew From Concrete," via cleeclothing.com

Tupac’s handwritten poem “The Rose that Grew From Concrete,” via cleeclothing.com

Imagine what would happen if Tupac’s “Changes” appeared on the SAT Reading exam:

  • Every high school in the country would scramble to start teaching its students to close-read rap songs
  • Rappers would suddenly be acknowledged as writers of poetry, whose lyrics contain the same poetic, narrative, and rhetorical devices–metaphor, irony, anaphora, character, apostrophe, setting, motifs, anecdote, allusion–as other canonized literary texts
  • The SAT would have to acknowledge dialect diversity, preface its “Complete these sentences correctly” section with “Using Standard English…,” and critical language awareness would suddenly appear in high school English curricula
  • Curriculum planners and students would see contemporary writing as worthy of study 

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Shame and Shamelessness: What I’ve Been Reading This Week

In National Journal, NPR’s Michel Martin brings race to the gendered discussion of “having it all” in her nuanced “What I’ve Left Unsaid.”

On her tumblr Rebgold, my day school classmate Rebecca’s beautiful images and words about the current crisis in Gaza, centering on the universal image of “Mayim-Agua-Water-Wasser.”

In the New York Times Magazine, Nicola Twilley’s fun and thoughtful “What do Chinese Dumplings Have to Do with Global Warming?”

On Open Democracy, an interview with philosopher Judith Butler about her controversial, anti-violence position on Israel-Palestine.

Shuhada Street, via theAtlantic.com (Nayef Hashlamoun/Reuters)

Shuhada Street, via theAtlantic.com (Nayef Hashlamoun/Reuters)

On BuzzFeed, Anne Helen Petersen’s “Down and Dirty History of TMZ” and its founder Harvey Levin.

In the Atlantic, Megan Garber talks the capitalistic genius of Kimmy K in “Kapitalism and Kim Kardashian”–and I’ll have more to say on this one soon, I think.

On HNN, U of M history professor Juan Cole’s post on the geopolitical history of Israel-Palestine, in response to a skirmish on theAtlantic.com between Andrew Sullivan and Jeffrey Goldberg spurred by an earlier blog post by Cole.

Also in The Atlantic, Noah Berlatsky interviews @FeministaJones on her anti-harrassment campaign #YouOkSis, which centers black women’s experiences in this conversation.

Finally, in HaAretz, Amira Hass’s “Israel’s Moral Defeat Will Haunt Us for Many Years,” and in the Atlantic, Ayelet Waldman’s “The Shame of Shuhada Street.”

These Ears Ain’t Loyal

Kanye Kendrick lookalike wannabe GGgggrrrrrrr, via theroot.com

Kanye Kendrick lookalike wannabe GGgggrrrrrrr, via theroot.com

I need to make a confession: I love the song “Loyal.” I’m thrilled every time it comes on the radio, and I don’t have to pay Chris Brown to hear it. It tastes like candy in my ear holes. I just want to listen to it on repeat, its ringtone rhythms pouring sugar down my spine.  Continue reading

YOU ARE HAIR: Pixie Cut Mania

I am SO excited to share this.

In March, I presented in the film podcast Bonnie and Maude‘s live show, YOU ARE HAIR. Yes, it was all about hair. Now you can watch the clip, interspersed with my visuals, below. (You *should* watch the whole thing. But to watch mine, select “Playlist” in the upper-left-hand corner and choose video #3.)

In my talk, I discuss the winter wave of celebrity pixie cuts, focusing specifically on Beyonce and Miley Cyrus–how they debuted their cuts, and how they were constructed in their music videos. Enjoy–and he sure to check out the rest of the night’s program here! Special thanks to Kseniya and Eleanor for hosting and producing these clips!!

Katching Up With The Kardashians…Season 1

Last night I told myself I would post every day for 10 work days, so I’ll start my POWER 10 with a confession…

I watched the first season of Keeping Up With The Kardashians last week. (They’re 21 minute episodes, in my defense!) I have become a total stan for Kimye in the last two years and thought watching Kimmy K’s show would be a fun way to indulge my new obsession even further.

via celebuzz.com

via celebuzz.com

I also imagined that the 9 seasons of KUWTK would keep me company for much of my second year of my PhD program, which starts in August–but given that I’m well into the second season now, I’ll be lucky if this lasts me through the end of 2014.

The first season was shot and debuted in 2007, right after Kim’s sex tape came out, and seems to depict a family at a crossroads: do we leverage our daughter’s smutty 15-minutes of fame into something bigger, or do we keep our heads down and try to stay “classy,” a word that hilariously and apparently earnestly recurs during the first season.

Apparent in that effort are some early fissures in Kris and Bruce Jenner’s marriage, which now seem prophetic. But who knows if they were always there or if the terms of Kardashian fame were itself the problem. In the first season, Kris lies repeatedly to Bruce, and always because of the girls’ sexualized business arrangements: once to cover their trip to Puerto Vallarta to pose for Girls Gone Wild’s swimwear line, and another time to hide that Kim may be posing for Playboy. But it’s easy to see from Kris’s goading that she knows that selling her sexuality is Kim’s only open path to fame. Kris seems like Kim’s fluffer as she encourages her to strip down for Hef.

One thing’s for sure about the first season: Kim seemed different back then. She had a sense of humor, and potentially a slightly lumpier nose.

This is the first time I’ve ever really watched a non-competition reality show, and so I find myself wracked with the question of scriptedness: did Kris and her daughters really lie to Bruce? did he really just hop on a jet and fly down to them in Mexico? Did these events happen in this order? How much did the producers say? Did they edit out the weird stuff that Khloe and Kourtney must have said to the cameramen?

I guess I”ll never know. But I can’t wait until the girls start wearing skinny jeans.

“All of us were promised a speaking part”: weeks and weeks of what I’ve been reading


In Alternet, Soraya Chemaly’s “The Words Every Woman Should Know,” on gendered speech privilege and disparity.

In Vox, Jeff Chang speaks with Kelsey McKinney on the Beats-Apple deal

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