Sunday, November 20, 2005

Political correctness run amuk (2)

It's been a while since I've checked out the Women's Studies List. (I subscribe but do not receive the messages in my mailbox; some things go beyond the call of duty.) It does not disappoint.

In a thread called "Teaching Baghdad Burning," a University of Central Florida professor posts to ask:

Has anyone taught _Baghdad Burning: Girl Blog from Iraq_ by Riverbend (Feminist Press)? I'm planning to use it for several of our sections of the Intro course next semester and wonder what kind of strategies you all have used. I'm a little concerned about students' negative responses to what they will surely see as "Bush bashing," but not enough to use another text. Thanks.

There follows this reply from Chithra KarunaKaran, co-chair of the "Anti-White Supremacy Task Force" in the National Women's Studies Association:

I have not included the girl blog to which you refer in my courses (yet!), but it seems to me important to contextualize and historicize both Iraq and the US so that the blog -- and Bush's "shock and awe" -- may be appropriately situated. When that is done, your students might be less likely to see see either the Iraqi girl or Goerge Bush as merely individual actors, stripped of their history and their divergent racial/ethnic identities. Aren't the Iraqis being referred to as 'sand niggers' deserving of dehumanization?

I would go so far as to state that your students need some framing theoretical discussion of marcostructure/microstructure, the politics of partiarchy-driven whiteness in the US instance, and colonial domination and the multiple trajectories of postcolonial nation-states, in the instance of Iraq.

I also wanted to offer a example from one of my courses. Last week, in my beginning PSY 100 course, in a discussion of Personality, I utilized trait theory and humanistic theory, in particular the 5 Factor Personality Model and the concept of self-actualization respectively to illustrate trait attributes of one of their own fellow students at The City University of New York (where I teach). This student, Miguel Malo, an Ecuadoran immigrant and young father, was arrested by campus police to one of our community colleges, because he protested the rise in biligual education tuition fees. Four years later, he has now appeared 36 times in Bronx criminal court because CUNY took him to court. Can I also , in addition to making extremely relevant personality theory, observe that CUNY at the microstructure, reflects the US Whiteness macrostructure of dominant, coercive power? Both Miguel Malo and the Iraqi girl are victims of the same macrostructure.

I became very familiar with Miguel Malo's case, because I was one of eight faculty that undertook a 4 day hunger strike at CUNY to protest the arrest of students and a staff member who nonviolently contested the presence of military recruiters on one of our campuses during a college career fair. For me the university's repressive policies, once again illustrated the coercive, dominant power of US macrostructure/microstructure Whiteness and the global threat of that patriarchy driven Whiteness. I think Women Studies throughout the US has an opportunity to teach resistance to Whiteness.

There are, it should be noted, two dissenting voices. Daphne Patai, a frequent critic of Women's Studies whose postings on WMST-L are usually either attacked or ignored, posts this:

Is "resistance to whiteness" the current aim of women's studies courses? or "the politics of patriarchy-driven whiteness"? Do you as teachers seriously believe these categories explain the problems of the world and that evil and good are so easily meted out?

I should think teaching about the middle east (like teaching about any other part of the world) might offer some other lessons -- such as what happens in societies in which resistance to power is simply obliterated by fear and torture, or how non-whites are equally capable of oppressing people, or even how the world's problems are not reducible to awful whiteness and patriarchy and its sequelae.

When did women's studies turn into this simplistic, tendentious, field totally committed to those supposed demolished binaries (white/non-white; oppressor/oppressed; evil/good, etc., etc.? I certainly hope students have the good sense and gumption to have serious reservations about this sort of teaching, and to see it for what it is. A frightening degradation of education is going on before our very eyes.

Another poster, who is not a professor but apparently works for a consulting firm, writes:

I completely agree with Daphne....Women's Studies in the 1980s when I was a student took on all angles of women's lives (and all cultures). Since I have been on this list, I have been very discouraged by the monovision of who's important to study, what's important to examine, what "ideology" should be adopted. What happened to independent scholarly pursuit? What happened to scrutinizing our own biases/blindspots? As women writing, studying and teaching about women's lives/thoughts, why be narrow in our pursuit of knowledge???

KarunaKaran, meanwhile, retorts that "Patai's position reinforces Whiteness."

It is interesting to note that Riverbend's book is criticized even in the not-exactly-conservative San Francisco Chronicle for its sunny view of life under Saddam.


Anonymous said...

I was under the impression that the more suffocating versions of PC pedagogy were falling by the wayside, but perhaps the last holdouts are getting even more dogmatic in their final days. I'm teaching a course on contemporary culture that attempts to look at a broad spectrum of contemporary views, and I stress the importance of understanding the reasoning and aims of different views even when (especially when) one violently disagrees with them--that's where the most intelletual growth tends to happen. What are other educators and their students doing? I would love to hear about what worked for others. How would others approach a course like this?

thecobrasnose said...

I would approach it with garlic in one hand and stake in the other.

Cathy Young said...

jess --

I was under the impression that the more suffocating versions of PC pedagogy were falling by the wayside

Really? That's not what I'm hearing, but it may depend on the school.


I would approach it with garlic in one hand and stake in the other.

And failing that, a silver bullet just might do the trick.

Anonymous said...

Really? That's not what I'm hearing, but it may depend on the school.

Cathy, of course we're not going to hear about the sensible moderates--it's generally the outrageous radicals who get the attention. Which is why, IMO, many of the latter make a career for themselves by being controversial. If we want to encourage the former, we need to start speaking up more about what they're doing that's effective, and get out the war zone.

I think it's also important to distinguish between PC dogma and cultural studies as a whole. A multicultural curriculum has the potential at least to be an important part of a nuanced, critical understanding of what we're dealing with on a national and global level. As we see in France, denial of other views doesn't work so well in the long run. So rather than dismiss the whole project, why not propose some ways to do it better?

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