The Vulnerable Are Expendable in the Free Market

…[T]hey all understand that their happiness, the beauty of their city, the tenderness of their friendships, the health of their children, the wisdom of their scholars, the skill of their makers, even the abundance of their harvest and the kindly weathers of their skies, depend wholly on this child’s abominable misery.

“The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” Ursula K. Le Guin (p. 282)

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Luke 10:25-37

I am driving my deceased father’s truck, the bed loaded with toys and my grandson in the extended cab, to Goodwill before dropping off my grandson to be watched while I go to my mother’s former assisted living facility to remove all of her things, mostly clothes and her recliner.

My mother is lying in the hospital oncology wing with, as we are just informed, hours or days to live.

Since my one sudden hard cry the morning the doctor told me on the phone about my mother’s cancer, I have been mostly numb, or empty, functioning through, along with my nephews, the necessary burden of managing my mother’s affairs as her body gradually shuts down.

As I leave her things crammed into two large black trash bags beside the recliner separated into two parts, I have a near-moment of tears as I pause to look into the living area of her house, the home I lived in from the age of 10 into my early 20s. My nephews have cleaned the area to an eerie tidiness that never existed when the house was lived in.

The finality of that tidiness, that emptiness, that none of us would ever live there again—this rekindled the sadness that has been resting beneath the necessary resignation that allows the living to navigate the dying.

My mother actually left us when she suffered a stroke about six months ago—with this day just one week from my mother’s birthday, a woman born on Friday the 13th.

Over that half year, she has been nearly in constant poor health, in and out of hospitals. And if possible, our experiences with the current healthcare system and the inexcusably inadequate Medicare, Medicaid, and insurance charade have been nearly as low a level of hell as being told my mother has stage 4, incurable, cancer.

To add insult to injury, these experiences with my parents’ failing health and their dying has coincided with a Republican-led federal government working furiously to dismantle the anemic Affordable Care Act, demonized as Obamacare, mostly with claims that the free market would be better suited to care for the vulnerable in our country that shamelessly waves flags and calls itself a Christian nation.

Of course, those making these claims and creating laws and policy all are wealthy and have all the essentials that their laws and policies deny everyone else, especially the vulnerable:

[M[ore than 80% of the officially poor are either children, elderly, disabled, students, or the involuntarily unemployed (while the majority of the remaining officially poor are carers or working people who didn’t face an unemployment spell). I bring up these 80%+ because these are the classic categories of people that are considered vulnerable populations in capitalist economies. These are the categories of people that all welfare states target resources to in one form or another, the good ones very heavily.

I believe my parents represent a fair claim that in the free market, being sick and dying are extremely (and unnecessarily) expensive, and if you happen to not have the capital, being sick and dying are incredibly undignified experiences no person really deserves.

To survive her stroke, my mother was airlifted to a nearby larger hospital, a life-saving transfer costing tens of thousands of dollars. That life-and-death moment involved doctors and family having to discuss and calculate the insurance implications, ones that linger for months since the second hospital, unlike the first, no longer accepts my mother’s supplemental policy.

That hellish (and unnecessary) scenario has repeated itself multiple times since then: my father’s death beside my mother in a rehabilitation facility, my mother being forcibly discharged from that facility and denied the high-level rehab her doctors requested, my mother being placed in assisted living, and then the multiple hospital stays leading up to her now lying in Hospice.

My mother’s death will come similar to my father’s—with only a few thousand dollars to her name.

White and working class, my parents grew up and graduated in the idealized 1950s, married in 1960, and gave birth to their obligatory two children in 1961 and 1962. They were the embodiment of aspirational, reaching hard and often for the white-washed American Dream without a hint of skepticism, without any recognition that promise was never really being extended to people not like them.

Dad worked his ass off, and mom raised me and my sister until we were in elementary school, when she re-entered the work force herself. All of that good old American work ethic was aimed at buying the largest lot at a new golf course just north of my hometown where they eventually built their dream home; it cost less in 1971 than the first Honda Accord I bought new, but that house also has more square footage than the home I own now—although my annual salary among the professional class my parents only dreamed about (and lived vicariously through) is many times more than my father’s best annual income.

My parents were politically conservative like much of the South in the latter half of the twentieth century, and therefore, I lived through Watergate, for example, in a household where my parents routinely ranted against the liberal media and felt compassion for the Dan Rather-crucified Richard Nixon.

And for all of their adult and married lives, my parents worked, my father grinding himself into an early grave, I believe. Both also smoked, as people did then, and for my mother, those 3+-packs a day were certainly the root of her dying breaths being taken in the coming days.

And what have my parents reaped for being obedient soldiers for the free market and the American Way? Truly awful final days on this planet because healthcare is a nightmare and the insurance maze is worse than anything Dante could have imagined.

My parents voted solidly Republican their entire lives, and were very much like the white majority that elected Trump. Like those deplorables, that ideological commitment eroded virtually every aspect of their dignity as their grew old and unhealthy.

Yet, this government that they hated, voted against, is all that sustained them toward the end, through publicly funded programs—Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid.

My nephews and I have been scrambling over these six months to protect and preserve their dignity, if not their lives, but it has been an exhausting fight—one that people in the medical field shake their heads about, powerless it seems, and one that people in the insurance game on the distant other ends of phone calls simply just don’t give a damn about.

For all my parents’ faults, and there were many, I can’t imagine they deserve this, being among the vulnerable in the U.S. who are expendable in the free market because they passed their time to be productive.

The vulnerable, you see, in a free market always become the faces of takers, and no market likes takers who no longer produce.

That market was free, in fact, to squeeze the lives out of my parents and then toss them aside when nothing was left.

It is here I must add—imagine how this is amplified, magnified for others among the vulnerable who do not enjoy the privileges my parents had, being white and achieving a pretty solid middle-class living during the golden years of their productive lives.

Yes, my parents suffered the Libertarian delusion that their material achievements were mostly their hard work and solid character, but despite that delusion, they did work hard, and they did deserve better at the end.

Because almost everyone deserves better than the Social Darwinism of the free market; children do, the infirm do, the elderly do, carers do, the working poor do, and even the lazy and the meek do simply by being human.

The problem? This is the sentiment of a socialist, a humanist, and (here is the Big Reveal) Jesus Christ himself.

Here in the good ol’ U.S. of A. we won’t be having any of that bullshit; you know, respecting the basic human dignity of every living being.

Nope, we are all about the middle finger to the vulnerable who don’t have the common decency to pull on their bootstraps and all that.

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A New American Revolution Requires Empathy: Equity for All Means Loss of Privilege for Some

The Women’s March over inauguration weekend in 2017 spurred a great deal of activism across the U.S. and throughout the world.

However, similar to Bernie Sander’s campaign, the Women’s March exposed a problem since data on Trump’s election show that white women, who seemed to constitute the bulk of the march, voted for Trump in a majority:

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Throughout my social media feeds, black women scholars and activists noted that if white women had voted as black women did, there would be no need for the march:

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As well, if anyone is willing to listen and to listen seriously, racially marginalized groups have explained that this new normal under Trump is a multiple generations long reality for them; see Paul Beatty: ‘For me, Trump’s America has always existed.’

The question before us: Is the current move to resist Trump the result of a privileged class responding only when consequences affect them?

More evidence of this disturbing probability has been revealed when Trump voters continue to rail against Obamacare (assumed that is for the Others) and simultaneously embrace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), under which they are covered.

Now consider Donald Trump’s Authoritarian Politics of Memory in which Ruth Ben-Ghiat offers another incredibly damning observation:

The founding moment of this era came one year ago, when Trump declared at a rally, “I could stand on Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and not lose any voters.” Trump signaled that rhetorical and actual violence might have a different place in America of the future, perhaps becoming something ordinary or unmemorable. During 2016, public hatred became part of everyday reality for many Americans: those who identify with the white supremacist alt-right like Richard Spencer openly hold rallies; elected officials feel emboldened to call for political opponents to be shot (as did New Hampshire and Oklahoma State Representatives Al Baldasaro and John Bennett, among others); journalists reporting on Trump and hijab-wearing women seek protection protocols and escorts. The bureaucratic-sounding term many use for this, “normalization,” does not fully render the operations of memory that make it possible. Driven by opportunism, pragmatism, or fear, many begin to forget that they used to think certain things were unacceptable.

Trump’s pronouncement may have seemed extreme, but it has mostly proven to be accurate.

At the core of this disturbing reality may be several factors: a cultural norm of self-first thinking, a garbled understanding of government and public institutions, and thus a poorly steered democracy that fails to function as a democracy for the equity of all.

If we return to considering who and why protests emerged after Trump’s election, and factor in how misinformed many Trump supporters have proven to be, we can conclude that being misinformed and self-first is a tragic combination.

However, the U.S. breeds self-first (and self-only) thinking by falsely claiming the country is already a meritocracy (it isn’t), and combining that with a blind commitment to competition, a society grinding up its citizens in Social Darwinism.

To view life as a competition is antithetical to democracy and equity for all.

The dirty little secret of social justice and fighting for equity is that those with privilege (and all the power) will necessarily lose their advantages when equity is achieved; in other words, there is no way to avoid the “winners” (who now believe they win because of their effort and not their privilege) viewing equity for all as a loss for them.

Therefore, the current winners-from-privilege are the most vocal proponents of universal competition and the eradication of government as intrusive and totalitarian.

The racial tension spurred by the Women’s March highlights how we have yet found a common ground to honor the plights of the marginalized, to fore-front those historically ignored voices, and then to behave with empathy for anyone, regardless of the consequences to the self.

There is a reason the powerful elites vilify communism, socialism, and Marxism—all of which are grounded in ethical pursuits of equity, all of which call for revolution based on the exact empathy competition destroys—and conflate “government” with totalitarianism to mask the potential for public institutions to ensure equity:

I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free. (Eugene V. Debs: Statement September 18, 1918)

A new American revolution requires empathy, a groundswell of people who believe and act as Debs expresses above.

If any white people, including the uprise of white women marching, fear the specter of Trump’s administration, they have now experienced the fact of life for many “deliberately silenced [and] preferably unheard”—black, brown, poor, born outside of the U.S., LGBTQ+, Muslim, etc.

A people dedicated to community and collaboration, and not competition, a people grounded in empathy and not “me first” or “me only”—these are the soldiers ready for a new revolution in which equity for all can be realized.

 

The Big Lie about the Left in the U.S.

The Big Lie about the Left in the U.S. is that the Left exists in some substantial and influential way in the country.

The Truth about the Left in the U.S. is that the Left does not exist in some substantial and influential way in the country. Period.

The little lies that feed into the Big Lie include that universities and professors, K-12 public schools, the mainstream media, and Hollywood are all powerful instruments of liberal propaganda.

These little lies have cousins in the annual shouting about the “war on Christmas” and hand wringing by Christians that they are somehow the oppressed peoples of the U.S.

These lies little and Big are a scale problem in that the U.S. is now and has always been a country whose center is well to the right, grounded as we are in capitalism more so than democracy.

The U.S. is a rightwing country that pays lip service to progressivism and democracy; we have a vibrant and powerful Right and an anemic, fawning Middle.

Wealth, corporatism, consumerism, and power are inseparable in the U.S.—pervading the entire culture including every aspect of government and popular culture.

The Left in the U.S. is a fabricated boogeyman, designed and perpetuated by the Right to keep the general public distracted. Written as dark satire, Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle now serves as a manual for understanding how power uses false enemies to maintain power and control.

Notably during the past 30-plus decades, conservative politics have dominated the country, creating for Republicans a huge problem in terms of bashing “big government.”

But dog-whistle politics grounded in race and racism benefitting the Right and Republicans have a long history.

In 1964, Martin Luther King Jr. confronted Barry Goldwater’s tactics foreshadowing Trump’s strategies and rise:

The Republican Party geared its appeal and program to racism, reaction, and extremism…On the urgent issue of civil rights, Senator Goldwater represents a philosophy that is morally indefensible and socially suicidal. While not himself a racist, Mr. Goldwater articulates a philosophy which gives aid and comfort to the racist. His candidacy and philosophy would serve as an umbrella under which extremists of all stripes would stand. In the light of these facts and because of my love for America, I have no alternative but to urge every Negro and white person of goodwill to vote against Mr. Goldwater and to withdraw support from any Republican candidate that does not publicly disassociate himself from Senator Goldwater and his philosophy.

Malcolm X held forth in more pointed fashion, but with the same focus:

Well if Goldwater ever becomes president one thing his presence in the White House will do, it will make black people in America have to face up the facts probably for the first time in many many years,” Malcolm X said. 

“This in itself is good in that Goldwater is a man who’s not capable of hiding his racist tendencies,” he added. “And at the same time he’s not even capable of pretending to Negroes that he’s their friend.” 

The Civil Rights icon concluded that should Goldwater be elected, he would inspire black people to fully reckon with “whites who pose as liberals only for the purpose of getting the support of the Negro.”

“So in one sense Goldwater’s coming in will awaken the Negro and will probably awaken the entire world more so than the world has been awakened since Hitler,” he said.

Mentioned above, the annual panic over the “war on Christmas” is a distraction from the fact that Christmas serves consumerism, the Right, and not religion—keeping in mind that Jesus and his ideology rejected materialism and espoused moral and ethical codes in line with socialism and communism/Marxism.

What remains mostly unexamined is that all structures are essentially conservative—seeking to continue to exist. Power, then, is always resistant to change, what should be at the core of progressivism and leftwing ideology.

Marxism is about power and revolution (drastic change, and thus a grand threat to power), but suffers in the U.S. from the cartoonish mischaracterization from the Right that it is totalitarianism.

So as we drift toward the crowning of the greatest buffoon ever to sit at the throne of the U.S. as a consumerocracy posing as a democracy, Education Week has decided to launch into the hackneyed “academics are too liberal and higher education is unfair to conservatives” ploy.

At the center of this much-ado-about-nothing is Rick Hess playing his Bokonon and McCabe role:

I know, I know. To university-based education researchers, all this can seem innocuous, unobjectionable, and even inevitable. But this manner of thinking and talking reflects one shared worldview, to the exclusion of others. While education school scholars may almost uniformly regard a race-conscious focus on practice and policy as essential for addressing structural racism, a huge swath of the country sees instead a recipe for fostering grievance, animus, and division. What those in ed. schools see as laudable efforts to promote “equitable” school discipline or locker-room access strike millions of others as an ideological crusade to remake communities, excuse irresponsible behavior, and subject children to goofy social engineering. Many on the right experience university initiatives intended to promote “tolerance” and “diversity” as attempts to silence or delegitimize their views on immigration, criminal justice, morality, and social policy. For readers who find it hard to believe that a substantial chunk of the country sees things thusly, well, that’s kind of the issue.

Conversational and posing as a compassionate conservative, Hess sprinkles in scare quotes while completely misrepresenting everything about which he knows nothing.

This is all cartoon and theater.

The grand failure of claiming that the academy is all leftwing loonies is that is based almost entirely—see the EdWeek analysis—on noting that academics overwhelmingly identify as Democrats.

However, the Democratic Party is not in any way a substantial reflection of leftist ideology. At most, we can admit that Democrats tend to use progressive rhetoric (and this is a real characteristics of professors, scholars, and academics), but that Democratic policy remains centrist and right of center.

A powerful example of this fact is the Department of Education (DOE) and Secretary of Education (SOE) throughout George W. Bush’s and Barack Obama’s administrations.

For the past 16 years, education policy has been highly bureaucratic and grounded almost entirely in rightwing ideology—choice, competition, accountability, and high-stakes testing.

The only real difference between Bush’s SOE and Obama’s SOE has been rhetoric; yes, Duncan, for example, loved to chime in with civil rights lingo, but policy under Obama moved farther right than under Bush.

Now, let me end here by addressing the charge that college professors are a bunch of leftwing loonies.

I can do so because I am the sort of dangerous professor Hess wants everyone to believe runs our colleges and universities—poisoning the minds of young people across the U.S.

I can also add that I spent 18 years as a public school teacher before the past 15 years in higher education.

In both so-called liberal institutions—public education and higher education—as a real card-carrying Lefty, I have been in the minority, at best tolerated, but mostly ignored and even marginalized.

Public schools are extremely conservative, reflecting and perpetuating the communities they serve. In the South, my colleagues were almost all conservative in their world-views and religious practices.

My higher education experience has been somewhat different because the atmosphere has the veneer of progressivism (everyone know how to talk, what to say), but ultimately, we on the Left are powerless, unheard and often seen as a nuisance.

Colleges and universities are institutions built on and dependent on privilege and elitism. As I noted above, colleges and universities are not immune to the conservative nature of institutions; they seek ways to maintain, to conserve, to survive.

Colleges and universities are also not immune to business pressures, seeing students and their families as consumers.

Do professors push back on these tendencies and pressures? Sure.

But that dynamic remains mostly rhetorical.

The Truth is that colleges and universities are centrist organizations—not unlike the Democratic Party and their candidates, such as Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Some progressives in the U.S. play both sides to sniff at the power on the Right, and then the Right uses that rhetoric and those veneers to prove how the Left has taken over our colleges/universities, public schools, media, and Hollywood.

But that is a Big Lie about the Left in the U.S.

The Left does not exist in any substantial way, except as a boogeyman controlled by the Right in order to serve the interests of those in power.

“To be afraid is to behave as if the truth were not true,” Bayard Rustin warned.

Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle dramatizes this warning, and 50 years ago King and Malcolm X challenged us to see beyond the corrosive power of dog-whistle politics.

When the Right paints educational research as the product of corrupted leftwing scholars, you must look past the harmful foma and examine in whose interest it is that market-based education reform survives despite the evidence against it.

To paraphrase Gertrude from Hamlet, “The Right protests too much, methinks,” and we have much to fear from all these histrionics.

The Unbearable Lightness of Lying: Renaming What We Value, Fear

“Who is more to be pitied,” muses artist and main character Rabo Karabekian in Kurt Vonnegut’s Bluebeard, “a writer bound and gagged by policemen or one living in perfect freedom who has nothing more to say?”

As in most of Vonnegut’s fiction, there is a tension of tone between the narration and the weight of the circumstances—a tug-of-war between light and dark, or better phrased Light and Dark.

Karabekian’s failed autobiography is an adventure in What is art? with the specters of Nazi Germany, fascism, and World War II as well as the rise and fall of the U.S.S.R. (the novel was published in 1987) lurking forever in the background.

“The history of writers working under tyranny or in exile is long, and each example involves its own particular cruelties,” writes Nathan Scott McNamara, adding:

From 1968 until 1989, Czech writers like Milan Kundera and Bohumil Hrabal were put in a particularly impossible position. They spoke and wrote in Czech, a language limited to a very small part of Central Europe—and a language that had fallen under the control of a sensitive and authoritarian government….

One of the major successes of the Soviet regime’s control of Czechoslovakia was the creation of a generalized fear, making the Czech people suspicious of each other. Kundera has been largely disavowed by his native land, and in 2008, he was dubiously accused of once working with the Communist Police. Toward the end of his life, Hrabal came to see himself as a coward. At the age of 82, he jumped from the fifth story window of a hospital and died.

In the very real world, Kundera and Hrabal represent what Vonnegut fictionalizes, but struggled against in some ways himself as a writer.

Also as McNamara recognizes, the terrors found in Vonnegut’s novel as well as Kundera and Hrabal’s lives and careers are not something of history:

The survival of the writer under an unpredictable government is no less a serious concern today….

Warning flares are going up in the United States, too, where our President-elect threatens his competitors, intimidates private citizens, and warns that he’ll alter libel laws so journalists can be “sued like they’ve never been sued before.” This past week brought us another painful parallel between the 2016 US Presidential Election and the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia: the role of Russia. We don’t have tanks rolling through our streets, but a digital hack and a manipulated election nonetheless feel like a kind of 21st-century echo. It’s almost Hrabalesque in its absurdity. It’s almost darkly comic.

Yes, in some ways, Trumplandia feels too much like a black comedy penned by Vonnegut, even more absurd than the political theater and political-religious propaganda in Cat’s Cradle.

2016 in the U.S. has become not just reality TV as politics but a thin and distracting public debate about fake news and post-truth America—as Sarah Kendzior explains:

“Fake news” is a term that entered the vernacular following the election of Donald Trump. Allegedly coined to bemoan the terrible reporting that helped facilitate Mr. Trump’s rise, it actually serves to stabilize his rule. “Fake news” poses a false binary, blurring the distinction between political propaganda, intentional disinformation, attention-seeking click-bait, conspiracy theories, and sloppy reporting.

When the United States elects a man who peddles falsehoods, obfuscates critical information about his business transactions and foreign relationships, and relies on both mass media outlets and untraditional venues like conspiracy websites to maintain his power, the manifold ways he lies are as important as the lies themselves.

Kendzior recognizes, however, that naming fake news and post-truth actual works—as McNamara notes (“the creation of a generalized fear, making the Czech people suspicious of each other”)—to further solidify Trump:

However, Mr. Trump’s most powerful lies contain a grain of truth that plays to the preconceptions of his audience. When Mr. Trump lies about the conditions of inner cities, about the economy, or about Hillary Clinton, he exploits the vulnerability of some citizens while telling others what they want to hear. These lies are propaganda: false information with a political purpose, tailored to incite.

The mostly unspoken problems facing the U.S. include the fact that the country has always been post-truth, mostly mythology and narrative bluster, and has always mis-named what we value and what we fear.

For example, considered the jumbled responses to healthcare in the U.S., as unpacked by Robert H. Frank:

The same logic explains why private/government hybrid programs — like Obamacare, and its predecessor in Massachusetts, Romneycare — include an individual mandate. Opponents of the mandate argue that it limits individual freedom, which of course it does. But traffic lights and homicide laws also limit individual freedom; everyone celebrates liberty, but sometimes we must choose among competing freedoms. Failure to include a mandate would eliminate the freedom of citizens to purchase affordable health insurance. In such cases, we must decide which of the competing freedoms is more important.

If we frame the overly simplistic embracing of “individual freedom” that is central to the American Myth against McNamara’s consideration of Soviet communism as totalitarianism, there appears to be a powerful space for renaming what we value and what we fear.

And our fears, in fact, have little to do with communism or socialism—but everything to do with totalitarianism, authoritarianism, and fascism. The Soviet labeled their totalitarianism “communism,” but as critical educators know, institutions of a free people (such as formal education and the judicial system) “can operate even in the name of democracy and justice to be totalitarian and oppressive.”

Like “communism” and “socialism,” “democracy” and “capitalism” can be veneers for totalitarianism and oppression; and in the U.S., that “can be” often proves to be “is.”

The nastiness of “Make America Great Again” reflects and then seeps into the fabric of a people without real moral grounding, and with a superficial faith in freedom tinted with a cartoonish fear of the Other.

Renaming, we must call for making America great for everyone, finally.

Renaming, we must reject totalitarianism and authoritarianism.

If we return to Vonnegut-as-Karabekian, we in the U.S. are confronted with neither a formal police state nor “perfect freedom,” but none the less, we are unwilling and unable to say unvarnished what we value and what we fear so that we can gain the former and cast out the latter.

I, Too, Am a Dangerous Professor if You Covet Ignorance, Hatred

We Marxists are rightfully criticized for being idealistic, but we are unfairly demonized by those across the U.S. who wrongly associate Marxism, socialism, and communism with totalitarian governments and human oppression.

You see, Marxism as a scholarly stance is a moral stance—unlike the amoral pose of capitalism.

We Marxist academics and scholars are all about the good, the right, and the equitable—including creating intellectually challenging classrooms in which every student feels physically and psychologically safe.

But this is 2016 Trumplandia, a sort of Bizarro World in which reality TV has become a real-life nightmare, including a professor watch list promoted by an Orwellian right-wing organization that claims to be protecting free speech and academic freedom by identifying dangerous professors.

George Yancy, professor of philosophy at Emory University, has responded with the powerful I Am a Dangerous Professor, and my home state of South Carolina has had three professors included on the list.

The responses to the list have run a range from fear (because professors have received very serious threats) to bemusement to anger about not being included.

I am a white male full professor with tenure, but I teach in the South—where before I joined a university faculty, I was an intellectually closeted public school teacher for 18 stressful years.

As a leftist and atheist, I was constantly vigilant to mask who I was, what I believe and live, because I was fearful of losing my job and career (SC is an Orwellian-named “right to work” state) that I dearly love.

When I interviewed for my current position, I was about as naive and idealistic as a person could be about the golden fields of higher education.

During my model lesson for my day-long interview, I explained to the class I was a critical pedagogue, and thus offering a Marxist perspective on literacy and power.

Later in the day, at the debriefing and in hushed tones, I was told I may want to not share the whole Marxist thing if hired at the university.

I was hired—although my being a critical educator, scholar, and public intellectual have all been problematic throughout my second career as a professor.

And I have bull-headedly remained true to my ethics as both a professor/teacher and a critical pedagogue, best expressed by my dear friend and mentor Joe Kincheloe:

Thus, proponents of critical pedagogy understand that every dimension of schooling and every form of educational practice are politically contested spaces. Shaped by history and challenged by a wide range of interest groups, educational practice is a fuzzy concept as it takes place in numerous settings, is shaped by a plethora of often-invisible forces, and can operate even in the name of democracy and justice to be totalitarian and oppressive. (p. 2)

Recognition of these educational politics suggests that teachers take a position and make it understandable to their students. They do not, however, have the right to impose these positions on their students [emphasis in original]….

In this context it is not the advocates of critical pedagogy who are most often guilty of impositional teaching but many of the mainstream critics themselves. When mainstream opponents of critical pedagogy promote the notion that all language and political behavior that oppose the dominant ideology are forms of indoctrination, they forget how experience is shaped by unequal forms of power. To refuse to name the forces that produce human suffering and exploitation is to take a position that supports oppression and powers that perpetuate it. The argument that any position opposing the actions of dominant power wielders is problematic. It is tantamount to saying that one who admits her oppositional political sentiments and makes them known to students is guilty of indoctrination, while one who hides her consent to dominant power and the status quo it has produced from her students is operating in an objective and neutral manner. Critical pedagogy wants to know who’s indoctrinating whom. (p. 11)

In fact, yesterday in my foundations of education course, I reiterated to the class that as a Marxist I often seem obnoxious, even dogmatic because I teach and speak with a moral imperative, an impassioned moral imperative—seeking that which is right, good, and equitable.

About this watch list, then, I am torn, struggling between embracing Yancy’s brilliant rebuttal and my own belief that I am in fact not the dangerous one because the dangerous thing about this world is to remain both ignorant and without a moral grounding.

As a Marxist educator and scholar/public intellectual, as a critical pedagogue, I am not the person hiding who I am or what I am seeking.

The dishonest are those who claim to be objective when in fact they are endorsing uncritically an inequitable status quo.

The dishonest are those claiming a non-political pose that is itself a political pose.

The dishonest are waving flags and chanting the entirely dishonest “Make America Great Again.”

That is dangerous stuff—endangering the faint promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that I, in fact, hold sacred.

So I am left with this paradox: I, too, am a dangerous professor if you covet ignorance, hatred.

If you are seeking the Truth, however, as well as the right, the good, and the equitable, please call me comrade because I am no danger to you at all.

O Captain America! Our Captain America!

Every woman adores a Fascist,
The boot in the face, the brute
Brute heart of a brute like you.

“Daddy,” Sylvia Plath

Camille Paglia has confronted her own prescience about the direct line from Arnold Schwarzenegger being elected governor or California to Donald Trump now being a serious candidate for president: “This is how fascism is born.”

And while these political realities—possibly catastrophic to a people clinging to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—will likely not receive very much attention by the mainstream public, please don’t **** with an iconic comic book superhero:

The goal, of course, is to shock readers into buying the next issue, and presumably that’s what comics scribe Nick Spencer and his colleagues at Marvel Comics hoped to do when they executed a final-page revelation in last Wednesday’s Captain America: Steve Rogers No. 1: We learned that Cap is actually … evil? The Star-Spangled Avenger uttered the words, “Hail Hydra,” the fascistic slogan of longtime villain collective Hydra. Say it ain’t so!

Comic books (and more recently graphic novels and the film adaptation of superhero comic books) have always been both a reflection of and fuel for pop culture in the U.S.

And the primary subgenre of comic books, superhero narratives, has done far more to perpetuate the very worst of our society than to confront or seek to rise above xenophobia, racism, sexism, homophobia, and warmongering.

Marvel Comics claimed the comic book throne in the 1960s—over long-time powerhouse DC—but has since experienced a renaissance through film adaptations.

Iron Man and Captain America, for example, have recaptured the public’s imagination—but only a few have offered that their appeal is strongly grounded in our militarism, our patriotism that is strongly tainted with nationalism and even jingoism.

These film adaptations have carried on a tradition of the comic book industry—one that is primarily market driven: the reboot.

Now, however, pop culture has two competing set of fans, clashing nerdoms—those who worship at the alter of the comic book universe(s) and those who worship at the alter of the film universe(s).

Captain America being outed as a life-long fascist, then, in the pages of the comic book reboot of Steve Rogers as Captain America along side Sam Wilson as the replacement Captain America (see below) has drawn the ire of fans.

However, that anger lacks a grasp of both the history of Captain America and that Captain America has always been our fascist.

The general public in the U.S. suffers under a lazy understanding of terminology—such as “communism,” “socialism,” and “fascism”—and under the weight of an idealized (and misleading) faith in capitalism, one that confuses the “free market” with freedom, liberty.

The horrors of fascism include its embracing totalitarianism and militarism in order to sustain corporatism. It is fascism, in fact, that is perfectly reflected in Captain America.

In a chapter I recently completed and is now in publication, I examine race in superhero comic books, and focus on the ascension of Sam Wilson, black and formerly The Falcon, to being Captain America. In that discussion, I researched and unpacked the history of Captain America.

Here is an excerpt of that unpacking from the section subhead “Comic Book Superheroes: From Gods to White Knights”:

While gaining a much larger cultural status because of the rise of Marvel films, Captain America may best represent how superhero comics represent race and racism—as the ultimate White Knight. “Captain America, an obviously Aryan ideal,” McWilliams (2009) poses, “has always had a curious relationship with racial ideals” (p. 66) [emphasis added]. In fact, Golden Age (from the 1940s), Silver Age (later mid-twentieth century), and contemporary Captain America each represents well the comic book industry (and Marvel Comics specifically) as well as how popular culture reflects/perpetuates and confronts race and racial stereotypes.

As superhero archetype, Captain America embodies the masked duality (Brown, 1999), the white ideal, the masculine norm, and the periodic rebooting of superhero origins as part marketing strategy and part recalibration that helps mend the tear between the official canon of the comic book universe with the changing real world. The rebooted origin stories of Captain America/Steve Rogers are powerful lessons in race and the comic book industry (Hack, 2009; McWilliams, 2009).

The 1940s Captain America arrived in the wake of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman from the minds and pencil of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. Uber-patriotic, these foundational stories, including the original origin of Steve Rogers’ transformation into Captain America, are xenophobic and perversely fueled by eugenics (Hack, 2009). Somehow the medically altered superhuman maneuvers in the U.S. were morally superior to Hitler’s parallel ethnic cleansing [emphasis added]. The 1970s Marvel recasting of Captain America by Kirby and Stan Lee reflected the changing social mood about war (Vietnam)[i], and laid the foundation for coming face-to-face with race and civil rights with the addition of Sam Wilson/The Falcon (to be explored in detail below). Although this new Captain America in the Silver Age incorporated the best and worst of Blaxploitation conventions found in films of the era (McWilliams, 2009; Nama, 2011), this new origin sought to erase traces of eugenics from the Captain America mythos (Hack).

From the 1980s (a hot decade for rebooting origins, highlighted by Frank Miller’s Batman) and into the early 2000s, Captain America’s origin continued to be reshaped. Notable for a consideration of race is Truth: Red, White and Black from 2003, which details a remarkable alternate origin as a medical experiment on black men (echoing Tuskegee), resulting in Isaiah Bradley ascension as the actual first Captain America (Connors, 2013; Hack, 2009; McWilliams, 2009; Nama, 2011). While the Truth/Bradley side-narrative is important in an investigation of race in comic books, Captain America provides an even more important entry point into race and superhero comic books through the 1970s teaming with Sam Wilson/The Falcon, and then the more recent and new origin story in which Wilson becomes the new (and black) Captain America (see below). However, the entire Captain America mythos, as Hack (2009) concludes, “begs the question as to whether comics such as CA [Captain America] knowingly presented a different America from the one that actually existed [and exists], or if the creators of these books believed a version of reality in which eugenics was a boon to civic virtue and in which no American would knowingly profit from Nazism. …Good and evil were [and are] presented in reductionist terms, and offered little of what contemporary conservatives decry as moral relativism; yet these distinctions were no less blurry in pre-war America as they are today: war, as always, is business” (p. 88).

It is in that broader context, I believe, that the Falcon and Wilson’s donning the cowl of Captain America are central pieces of the complex puzzle revealing how comic books address race.

So Captain America has always been a fascist. But we actually didn’t need Marvel’s newest reveal to know that.

Captain America has always been our fascist, and that is all that matters.


See Also

Hydra the Beautiful: The American Roots of Captain America’s Quasi-Nazi Revelation, Noah Berlatsky

Having the good guys turn out to be bad guys is fun as a plot device. But, as Truth shows, the actual implications aren’t fun at all. When Captain America beats up Hitler, it’s a blow against white supremacy. But given the twisted origin and development of the protagonist, it can also be seen as a blow for white supremacy, Jim Crow, segregation, racism and the eugenic fantasies that helped inspire Hitler to begin with. Hate’s a big part of what made Captain America into Captain America, with his blonde hair and perfect muscles. “Hail Hydra” is as American as apple pie, or superheroes.

LGBT Visibility: This Fucking Week, Matt Santori-Griffith

Oyola, O. (2015, November 3). The Captain white America needs [Web log]. The Middle Spaces. Retrieved from https://themiddlespaces.wordpress.com/2015/11/03/the-captain-white-america-needs/

References

Brown, J.A. (1999, Spring). Comic book masculinity and the new black superhero. African American Review, 33(1), 25-42.

Connors, S.P. (2013). “It’s a bird … It’s a plane … It’s … a comic book in the
classroom?”: Truth: Red, white, and black as test case for teaching superhero comics. In P.L. Thomas (Ed.), Science fiction and speculative fiction: Challenging genres (pp. 165-184). Boston, Ma: Sense Publishers.

Hack, B.E. (2009). Weakness is a crime: Captain America and the Eugenic ideal in early twentieth-century America. In R.G. Weiner (Ed.), Captain America and the struggle of the superhero: Critical essays (pp. 79-89). Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, Inc.

McWilliams, O.C. (2009). Not just another racist honkey: A history of racial representation in Captain America and related publications. In R.G. Weiner (Ed.), Captain America and the struggle of the superhero: Critical essays (pp. 66-78). Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, Inc.

Nama, A. (2011). Super black: American pop culture and black superheroes. Austin: University of Texas Press.

[i] Corresponding as well with Dennis O’Neil and Neil Adam’s Green Lantern Co-Starring Green Arrow, DC, 1970-1972, identified by most comic books scholars as a key moment in the cultural awareness of the medium.

Cinco de Mayo 2016: A Reader

Let us hope we can resist the urge to trivialize and appropriate the wonderful history, traditions, and people of Mexico because of the silliness that is making a holiday another way to churn up crass commercialism (a redundant term). [Also, lost in the shuffle, today is the birthday of Karl Marx.]

So below, please read a gathering of important articles, somewhat loosely connected because they have crossed my path.

First, let me note that since I have relentlessly criticized edujournalism of late (and it is well deserved criticism), I start with an edujournalism unicorn—a very good piece on NAEP.

Read on:

The simple truth is that NAEP is not designed to provide causal explanations. It’s a test given every two years to a representative sample of students who happen to be in fourth, eighth, or twelfth grade that particular year. It does not follow students over time, so it’s impossible to say that a policy or practice “caused” the results….

Put together, the findings paint a picture of unequal opportunities to learn challenging content. Low-performing students spend less time explaining their reading or doing projects, and more time on test prep. Once again, these are correlations: they do not suggest that these patterns caused the low performance. But why do they exist? What can be done about them? That’s the challenge for educators and policy makers.

Clinton has been a card-carrying feminist for decades, she started her career doing advocacy for children and women, she’s famous for her UN speech about women’s rights are human rights, she’s been reliably pro-choice and so on. So if that all fits into this sort of recognition side, she’s been there, and in a more explicit, and front-and-center way than Sanders. But, on the other hand, What kind of feminism is this? Clinton embodies a certain kind of neoliberal feminism that is focused on cracking the glass ceiling, leaning in. That means removing barriers that would prevent rather privileged, highly educated women who already have a high amount of cultural and other forms of capital to rise in the hierarchies of government and business. This is a feminism whose main beneficiaries are rather privileged women, whose ability to rise in a sense relies on this huge pool of very low-paid precarious, often racialized precarious service work, which is also very feminized that provide all the care work

It’s called the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it.

Black students will always underachieve when they are perceived as needing fixing.

The irony is that black students aren’t the ones who need fixing.

Deficit thinking corrupts the potential effectiveness of even the most competent teachers.

White folk must unlearn their negative expectations. That’s the only way we’re ever going to change the structures that really hold students back.

And now, a musical extra: