I was sent this by a colleague- it’s correspondence regarding the cultural resources review for Keystone XL pipeline. Wanted to disseminate it, and perhaps will write a bit about it soon.
I was sent this by a colleague- it’s correspondence regarding the cultural resources review for Keystone XL pipeline. Wanted to disseminate it, and perhaps will write a bit about it soon.
Horlings, Rachel (2011)_Of His Bones are Coral Made: Submerged Cultural Resources, Site Formation Processes, and Multiple Scales of Interpretation in Coastal Ghana. Unpublished Dissertation, Syracuse University.
This page will change as the pain, which is very raw at the moment, ebbs and flows. In the tradition of academia, of producing knowledge that we hope will be larger than ourselves, here is the knowledge that Rachel gave us, the insights that she had. It seems hard to believe that those years we spent together, researching, reading, editing, bitching, are distilled down to these few pages. I saw this from the beginning, scrawled remarks across the rough first pages as she was busy doing so to my own dissertation. And, of course, it such a small facet of an amazing human being.
The family has a memorial page that they have invited all who loved and knew her to visit and share their thoughts. As many of you know, Rachel passed away while doing field work in Ghana. The family needs help bringing her home. While visiting her memorial page, please consider donating at the link they have set up.
Thank you all so much.
Once a taboo topic, discussions of slavery seem to be everywhere right now, in movies, packaged into neat sound bites by politicians, and as justifications for political dogmatism. So far all of these discussions get slavery wrong. Not just a little wrong, or a point of differing interpretations by disagreeing but well meaning individuals wrong. Many of the depictions and opinions of slavery that have been bandied about are so wrong that it goes beyond the territory of misinformed into the territory of willful and malicious ignorance. While this topic- historical illiteracy particularly in regards to the slave exploiting past of the United States- deserves its own post, this post addresses a particular fallacy that has come to light recently: the supposition that if slaves had guns they could have ended slavery. These recent comments by some gun-advocates have not caused the concern in the main-stream media that such ignorant comments should arouse.
Let’s start with the subject of slave rebellions. As I have pointed out elsewhere, and to anyone who will stand still long enough for me to extol the virtues of my research, armed insurrections were a frequent occurrence in all New World slave societies, including the United States. Every year that slavery existed as an institution slave rebellions occurred somewhere in the hemisphere, and every country and colony experienced at least one. Slave rebellions were a fact of life, and responding to the constant threat of slave rebellions was one of the greatest forces shaping slave societies. Many of the myths and demonizations of African-Americans, particularly African-American men, that persist today are drawn from anti-slave rebellion rhetoric. Armed insurrections were undertaken in a number of ways, and many slaves had firearms which they used against planters and other free men, both black and white, who sought to uphold the status quo.
It was not only during armed insurrections that enslaved people had access to fire-arms. Slaves used guns as part of their daily routines. Guns were used by enslaved African-Americans for hunting and subsistence, for scaring birds away from crops, and for protecting livestock from predators. Enslaved people even used guns against other enslaved people at the behest of free Planters. A number of historical archaeologists and historians have identified evidence of the use of firearms by enslaved people, even in direct violation of laws.
It was not the gun- either access to or restrictions from- that created conditions of enslavement in the United States. It was not the gun- either access to or restrictions from- that created conditions of freedom in the United States. It is not a question of whether, in hindsight, guns would have put an end to the peculiar institution. It is a fact that guns did not put an end to the peculiar institution. What actually put an end to slavery in the United States were political machinations by a government fighting a war that was peripherally related to slavery.
Enslaved people in the United States and elsewhere used a variety of methods to fight oppression. Some of these methods were overt acts of collective violence. Some of these methods were more subtle and private means of resistance. What should never be doubted is that slavery- the ability to legally own another human being as chattel- was a violent and brutal process of complete control through dehumanization. Africans and African descended peoples were not enslaved because they were weak, lacked agency, or were apathetic to their conditions. African-Americans weren’t exploited for hundreds of years on this continent as enslaved people because they lacked firearms. They were enslaved because people with economic and political power created a complicated structural system that first stripped enslaved people of their citizenship and legal rights, then purposely thwarted any mechanism for enslaved to gain rights. These institutions were so ingrained in white America that even after emancipation free blacks were denied basic rights, marginalized from economic and political opportunities, and terrorized with violence. As guns have always been available in American society- for hunting and sport shooting- I’m sure that many of the thousands of people who met violent deaths under Jim Crow also had access to firearms. The reality of preventing tyranny goes well beyond the sophomoric day-dream of simply pulling a trigger.
A gun alone does not create freedom. Often, guns in the hands of certain groups destroy freedom. Regardless of where one stands on the gun-control debate, using erroneous historical arguments to bolster ones political position is simply dangerous. Arguments that elevate the gun beyond a tool for committing violence- regardless of the motive behind the act- illustrate a profound ignorance of political structures in our society. It is necessary to understand the role that various types of violence play in political systems. A good first step toward that understanding is to engaging with the realities of our collective past.
The academic blogosphere is all a flutter because Shaefer Riley* recently wrote a short piece criticizing recent research that has come out of Black Studies Departments in the United States. Regardless of one’s opinion about Black Studies or the qualities of the dissertations that were directly named in her piece, The Chronicle of Higher Education should be defended for having the courage to publish op-ed pieces that challenge the east-coast elite liberal-college establishment. Not only did The Chronicle do this once, but twice, when they posted her rebuttal to the criticism from the group of “scholars”, who probably spent tax payer dollars, talking about how they are proud to have spent the last several years of their lives thinking, not producing anything of commercial value. Not even a blog.
In particular, I herald both Shaefer Riley and The Chronicle for publishing an article for which no research was conducted. None was, in fact, needed. In Riley’s own words: “I’ll forgive the commenters for not understanding that it is not my job to read entire dissertations before I write a 500-word piece about them.” Indeed, why would one have to read a document on which one is commenting? If the graduate students in question could not provide accurate titles to describe their research that most likely runs into hundreds of pages, then they probably don’t deserve the PhD’s that these out of touch ivory towers bestowed on them. And if the titles were accurate, then Riley was correct in her assessment. I don’t see the problem.
Shaefer Riley’s article, as harsh as it may have seemed to the individuals named, should be seen instead as an opportunity for these students to learn what life is like in the real world. In the real world one doesn’t waste years studying one stupid topic. You have to be able to make quick opinions about anything, and verbally bludgeon anyone who disagrees with you, regardless of why. That is a true sign of intelligence and strength in our society. And if your opponent whines that you’re a bully, well, then you must be doing something right.
The commentators who have criticized Shaefer Riley for lacking a coherent, logical argument and for simply resorting to personal insults just don’t get it. But The Chronicle does. The Chronicle obviously understands that in the real world, with its twenty-four hour news cycles and intense competition for market dollars, that printing shocking opinions- particularly ones that are offensive- are the best way to get hits and likes, regardless of the quality of the writing. Any opinion matters, and the more blustery the better. In fact, all graduate students have been done a service by being shown that there are faster, simpler ways than conducting research to get your name in print. And a real paycheck in your pocket. Perhaps someday all academics will drop their boring discourse bullshit and peer-review nonsense to join the rest of the adults. Because Shaefer Riley is right- very few people will read these, or any, dissertations, no matter how relevant, thoroughly researched, or well written. But many, many people are reading her infantile rants on her blog. Thanks, Chronicle, for proving to us once and for all that measured, considered analysis is a waste of all of our time.
* I also won’t link to SR. Instead, I’ll link to this brilliant blog who first brought this issue to my attention. Despite the admonishments of the Editor of the “Brain Storm” blog over at CHE, this is not a teaching moment. Not everyone deserves to be debated.
Last week the House convened a special panel to investigate the portion of the Affordable Healthcare Act that requires all employers to provide access to contraceptives for female employees. This came after an inane and archaic tantrum by members of the Catholic Church, and the sophomoric adoption of the cause of “religious liberty” by GOP candidates vying to be the decider of the United States. The committee, chaired by Darrell Issa, a republican from California, invited five men to testify. All were, apparently, religious authorities, and all were opposed to birth control.
Much has been written about the lack of women on a panel that ultimately was convened to discuss women’s health (see LA Times and Erin Gloria Ryan of Jezebel to get caught up on the controversy). When women came to the hearing ready to testify on the benefits of preventive medicine to women’s health, Issa blocked them from participating, stating that they weren’t “religious experts” and members of the clergy, the way that his five hand-chosen panelists were. Women, and men, have been up in arms about the exclusion of a female voice from the proceedings, as they rightfully should be. But much of the outrage has been focused on the medical arguments, or claims of individual and privacy rights. Issa’s claims for male religious authority sent chills down my spine, and has implications beyond state control of my uterus.
Implicit in this hearing, and the larger debate surrounding female reproductive rights, is that women are always part of a secular world. It is men who understand, define, and apply the word of god for women to follow. Issa’s failure, or Freudian slip, in convening his panel was not that he failed to bring in women’s health experts. If we accept Issa at his word that this hearing was about religious freedoms, then his failure was that women were excluded from determining the role of religion and the character of religious freedom in the United States.
We are seeing this same mindset in most of the main-stream discussions about the role of religion in American life, particularly as the presidential primary grinds on and candidates vie for the support of the most conservative votes in their claim for authenticity. In these discussions, women are not seen as holding religious views in and of themselves, but instead should live under a particular religious doctrine imposed on them by a male hierarchy. As one friend so succinctly stated, these “ sects not only frame women as subordinate to men, but basically as weed-prone domesticates in need of cultivation.” This ideology is one that generally elevates the female ability to reproduce (preferably male children) over our abilities to produce intellectual and physical things of value to society. By being relegated to such a status strips women of any moral arguments that can be made on their own behalf, or the behalf of others.
John Stoehr wrote earlier this week in AJE that the Catholic Church’s new found crusade against the mandate for women to have access to preventive reproductive related medications is not about birth control itself, but about consolidating the Church’s power. The same process of consolidating power is seen in other denominations, and by politicians who stand on a platform of “traditional values.” Women are given a choice to either follow religious dogma, or be labeled anti-church, anti-tradition. That is not an acceptable dichotomy. While men seek control of women’s bodies through the apparatus of the state while claiming religious liberties, the religious convictions of women are also being circumvented, and institutionally defined. As humans equal under the law, women need to have the final word over our own bodies. There is no moral, ethical, or legal argument that can justify the splintering of basic rights for an individual to have complete control over their own person. As humans equal under the eyes of God, however one may define it, we also need to have the final word over our own belief systems. Women can decide how our faith intersects with our daily lives, including our reproductive health. The war being fought on this front by self-appointed religious experts is not just about the separation of church and state, it is about the separation of women from both church and state, and our relegation to second-class status.
When I moved to New Orleans in July 2011, the place was welcome if not new to me. I had traveled to the city before, not only as a tourist but also as a partisan of its beauty and recovery. While living in Western New York and on the Gulf Coast of Florida, my partner and I found ourselves arranging more and more time in New Orleans; it no longer seemed like vacation, but like coming home. The time spent in the places we lived seemed like exile; I say this in solidarity with people who are still far from their own homes, displaced by Hurricane Katrina. I do not mean to co-opt their longing, only to note that it will always have a defender in my hearing. I moved to New Orleans prepared to love it and to aid in its repair, with hopes that other partisans would soon return.
What I was less prepared for was the frank, sexualized hostility of the streets in which I am an avid cyclist. From the bustling streets of the French Quarter to the city’s emptiest neighborhoods (smelling like mold, and looking like the water receded moments before my arrival), from the former plantation grounds Uptown to the gas stations in my neighborhood, I have been the target of street harassment from men of every imaginable position in life. The shouts have ranged – with perfect symmetry – from “I wish I was that bike” on Elysian Fields Avenue to “I feel sorry for that bike” on Burgundy Street. In the aching heat of a New Orleans August, I have been cat-called while wearing shorts and tank tops. In its winters – which can have a nigh-Scottish damp intensity – I have been cat-called dressed in a sweatsuit, raincoat, two scarves, and a top hat. On my way to and from the city’s famous restaurants, I have been cat-called in fancy dress, one arm linked in my partner’s. Walking along congested Freret Street to lecture across campus, I have been cat-called while wearing a suit. Once, I was nearly home when I realized that my shirt had come unbuttoned to the waist during strenuous, rush-hour cycling. It was the only time that week I wasn’t cat-called on either leg of my trip. If there was a uniform that guaranteed the absence of street harassment, I would wash-and-wear mine every day of the week. If these shouts were designed in a laboratory to give me some snapshot of the range of heterosexual male desire and the perniciousness of an entitlement that enables even the most unspectacular man to evaluate any and every woman in his eyeline, they could scarcely have been more effective.
The Black feminist principle of intersectionality – with its thorough adumbration of the axes of identity as mutually constitutive, rather than discrete– unfolds in my head on my long bicycle commute. I don’t mean to be facile in bringing this theoretical conception to bear on two identities – woman and cyclist – of asymmetric interest to liberation politics. But intersectionality’s greatest usefulness emerges, for me, in its attention to the concrete reality of how identity is lived within locations, a sense that is underscored by the spatial metaphor in its name.
Most days, I bike a fourteen-mile round trip from my home in the East of the city – across Canal Street, in the old Creole Quarters – to its extreme West. In between the first and second legs of the ride, I teach and learn from remarkable students at my dream job, fully cognizant of the fact that the widespread defunding of the humanities is designed to eradicate both dreams and jobs for people like me. In a city as friendly as New Orleans, I have become accustomed to – even welcoming of – a certain amount of street conversation. If you are sharing the sidewalk, you might be expected to talk. If you are passing through a neighborhood, the older residents – guardians of their streets – will anticipate a respectful “good afternoon.” These are not catcalls, not even the “morning, darling” and “pedaling fast this morning, baby” that I hear in response to my more neutral greetings. Cat-calling is, frankly, domestic terrorism – presumptions of desire, implicit and explicit threats of rape, visceral comments on one’s body (whether putatively complimentary or evidently diminishing) – for which these greetings could not be mistaken, even if one avoids “baby” and “darling” in her own life. It is not always perpetrated by men against women; recently, I was called a “fat bitch” by a woman on the sidewalk who had probably been called both terms in her life, leading me to wonder how often pain leads to an untargeted, pivoting shower of punches for which our bodies are our own likeliest targets. My partner has received verbal abuse while cycling – “buy a car, hippie!”, punctuated with a full can of beer thrown at his head – that made it clear that white male privilege could be abridged by the economic failure that a bicycle putatively communicates. (In the typically fragmented mode of American theorizations of class, anti-cyclists cannot decide if we are “losers [or] elitist, sneering yuppies.”) But these incidents of harassment were exceptional in my partner’s years of cycling; it is a lucky and rare day on which I do not receive outrageous verbal and sometimes physical intrusions against my person.
I write this essay at the end of my fifth month in New Orleans, well beyond my hundredth incident of cat-calling. I have already been told, by well-meaning people who love me and are loved in return, that I should put away my cycle and start using the car. “Life’s not fair,” I’ve been told by people disinclined to use a cliché, especially a cliché calibrated to provoke our cheerful surrender to inequality. But I purchased my bike and began a rigorous course of riding, for a variety of reasons – to improve my health, to lose weight, to learn the city with the thoroughness of the flâneur (rather than the shorthand of a driver), to save money, to reduce congestion and noxious emissions. Sadly, it has provoked noxious emissions from foolish mouths while avoiding those one more car would have added.
I continue cycling for different reasons than I began. As a teacher of Gender and Sexuality Studies, as well as English courses with specific foci on the built environment, I receive an object lesson in the robustness of patriarchy and kyriarchy, as well as the rigorous delineations of who can use space and how. I am not grateful for these lessons, but they remind me that what I teach is not an abstraction. There are days that I would happily trade these moving classrooms for the comforts of theory, but I am reminded that my subjects are more than “disciplines”: at best, they offer the material from which we craft our demands for freedom.
Even when theory and history do nothing so ambitious, they might provide the shiver of recognition I felt when reading Judith Kelleher Schafer’s Brothels, Depravity, and Abandoned Women, in which she notes that the term “public woman” became a euphemism first for prostitutes, and then for female criminals more broadly. In refusing to abandon the public in favor of the false security of private spheres – which are deeply permeable to gendered violences – I become one of their criminal number, and revel in the power that has made my presence dangerous enough to be policed by a different man every day. As I wrote this essay, a friend reminded me that you can’t “choose your publics”; ironically, I resist this choicelessness by protesting its constraints in a digital public where women are routinely threatened with rape for nothing so much as blogging about technology. But if we cannot choose our publics, we also ought not abandon them.
While living in Western New York, I brought coffee and moral support to more than one striking union. Some lost their battles; others won. For seven years, a single clarion shout – EVERY DAY, sounding like the clanging of a bell – has remained with me. One striker, a working-class African-American woman who had been assembling windows for three decades, never insulted the scabs who crossed the picket line. She simply shouted EVERY DAY, asserting that surrender is impossible, that the indignities perpetrated that morning and the one after were recursive, if ultimately less powerful than the commitment she wielded. I take her lesson and affix her word like armor to my skin.
Suggested Resources on Intersectionality and Publics
Berlant, Lauren. The Queen of America Goes to Washington City: Essays on Sex and Citizenship. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1997.
Collins, Patricia Hill. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. New York: Routledge, 2008.
Crenshaw, Kimberle. On Intersectionality: The Essential Writings of Kimberle Crenshaw. New York: The New Press. Forthcoming 2012.
Delany, Samuel R. Times Square Red, Times Square Blue. New York: New York University Press, 2001.
Finneman, Martha Albertson. The Public Nature of Private Violence: Women and the Discovery of Abuse. New York: Routledge, 1994.
Schweik, Susan. The Ugly Laws: Disability in Public. New York: New York University Press, 2009.
An upcoming conference has recently announced that this year they would not be distributing those little books full of paper titles, abstracts, and session schedules. This year, all of that information would be placed on a USB flash drive, in an effort to go green. It was the last part that got the conversation going- was a USB flash drive really greener than a paper book that could be printed on recycled paper and then sent to the recycler again, presumably in the United States? As one person stated, “Isn’t the sourcing, production, and shipping of all that electronic ‘stuff’ pretty bad?” Another colleague concurred, offering the analysis that the conference organizers had chosen to “[export] pollution- the east Asian regions that produce the flash drives get the waste and the US gets the shiny objects.”
My first thought was not for the tiny little drives that would be in our conference bags this year, but the ones that would be there next year, and the year after that…a never ending pile, much like my enormous collection of plastic conference name-tag holders with the lanyards that is growing unwieldy in the back of my closet. The decidedly dark-grey character of the academic conferences I attend has haunted me for years, and greening them up is something I have thought about tackling in between writing the dissertation, grading papers, conducting research, looking for jobs…in other words, I hadn’t quite gotten to it yet. But this seemed like the perfect opportunity to start the conversation. While I agreed with my colleagues concerns, I didn’t actually know how green a flash drive was. So I decided to do a little research.
It was surprisingly difficult.
My questions were simple. How green are USB flashdrives? I define green not only as the environmental impact of their production, but also the potential for an item to be recycled or reused at the end of its use-life, and the social factors of labor- who is actually producing the items and under what conditions?
Don’t ever actually Google these questions unless you have a stiff drink in one hand and hours of your life you don’t need. Also, the internet will only look at you like you’re stupid. Almost no one deals with any of these questions.
What is a flash drive made from? Honestly, after 3.5 hours asking Google (and Google Scholar) this question in every derivation I could think of, all I can say is: I have no idea. And I have a head-ache. And I need another drink. What I can tell you is that my lack of answers in not from some deep, personal flaw. According to Low-Tech Magazine “A life cycle analysis of high-tech products is extremely complex and can take many years, due to the large amount of parts, materials and processing techniques involved. In the meantime, products and processing technologies keep evolving, with the result that most life cycle analyses are simply outdated when they are published” (De Decker 2009). De Decker is not kidding. In fact he, and everyone else I have found, keep referring back to a 2002 article by Ed Williams et al, where the authors discuss the “mountains of materials” that are used to create, back then, 32 MB RAM microchip. According to Williams this 2 gram piece of equipment required materials equaling 630 times its final mass to manufacture, including “1.6 kilograms of fossil fuel, 72 grams of chemicals and 32 kilograms of water.” While this analysis has not been updated, De Decker believes that it is still valid despite changes in technology and manufacturing.
De Decker discusses the concept of “embodied” energy in manufactured goods- what amount of energy is necessary for an item to be manufactured, as opposed to the amount of energy it consumes during its life-cycle while operating. Traditional heavy-manufacturing, say of our cars and refrigerators, is on the order of 1-2 (De Decker; Williams). This means that your car uses twice as much energy during its average lifespan than was used to manufacture it. According to De Decker, “In the case of semi-conductor manufacturing this relationship is reversed…[10 times more energy is used to manufacture a microchip than it uses in its lifetime].” Though the use-life energy consumption of modern electronics is relatively low, the embodied energy of these same gadgets has sky-rocketed compared to traditional manufacturing. De Decker notes that “A handful of microchips can have as much embodied energy as a car”, which has vast implications for energy use and policy, among other concerns. While using recycled materials in the manufacturing process, and recycling at the end of an objects life-cycle, can be a way to off-set this embodied energy that goes into manufactured items, it isn’t feasible with current Solid State Drives technology (which includes flash drives).
These items are not easily recycled. There is just too much stuff in them. De Decker points out, rather depressingly, that “Recycling is not a solution if all your energy use is concentrated in the manufacture process.” The good news is that USB flash drives have a long, long use life (as long as the technology does not become obsolete).
I did find vendors who offered “eco-friendly” flash drives, which generally meant that the casing to the electronics was manufactured out of recycled plastic or bamboo. One wholesaler also claimed to have “lead Free” flash drives that they claimed are more easily “decomposed” than traditional flash drives. Considering the high number of largely unknown gases, chemicals, and minerals that are discussed (but never directly), lead may be the least of our problems.
So who makes these USB flash drives? The same creatures who make all of our shiny electronics- magic techno-fairies in a far away land called China, although some manufacturing plants from the large companies exist in India, Taiwan, South Africa, and the United States. The conditions under which the employees of companies such as SanDisk and Kingston work is also largely unknown.
There is an 8 minute video of the production of USB flash drives in a shiny and modern Kingston factory, somewhere in Asia, made by netbooknews.com, which appears to be an industry website. The video reinforces the feeling that technology is divorced from people- shiny chips are placed in complex looking space-aged machines with darkened windows by smiling, silent people who quickly fade into the background. Computers make gadgets. It’s very simple and clean. It was people who put the labels on the finished product- two women bent over a table with a length of sticky labels and tweezers. You never see their faces.
In 2004 a short, unpublished study looked at minority workers, largely Hispanic, working at an IBM microchip manufacturing plant in Silicon Valley. The plant was also located near a minority neighborhood, where many of the employees and their families lived. Smith discusses that many of the employees were women, and were largely unskilled, lacking training even in the handling of the toxic chemicals they were exposed to on a daily basis. These included chemicals such as “xylene, epoxy resins, hydrofluoric acid, antimony, boron, and arsenic” resulting in a high volume of occupational illness which is “3 times that of any other basic industry” (pg 3-4). IBM, as well as other high-tech manufacturing plants in the Santa Clara County were cited by the EPA for numerous environmental infractions, including leaks of carcinogenic chemicals into local water supplies affecting tens of thousands of people. While it is widely accepted that the United States enjoys some of the least rigorous environmental and historic preservation laws in the developed world, it can only be assumed that the environmental injustice experienced by American citizens in places such as Silicon Valley pales in comparison with that experienced in places such as China. However, I have not been able to locate any information on the labor conditions experienced at microchip manufacturing plants in Asia.
So far, none of this discussion has even touched upon the manufacturing processes that are required prior to creating the flash drive for our conference. What about the Blood Minerals and Rare Earth Minerals, those items that fuel our gadgets, fuel the world economy, and fuel genocide, that I hear so much about? Where are those involved? These materials, including copper, tungsten, neodymium, dysprosium, coltan, and terbium are vital to high-tech manufacturing, and I assume flash drives which are in the larger family of Solid States Drives (SSD). (FYI in April of this year both Apple and Intel announced they would stopped purchasing conflict materials from DRC)
When researching this deceptively simple question- how green is a flash drive?- I am struck, ultimately, by the separation of people and technology. The discussions are centered on the aesthetics of the design and the function of the object; there is no discussion on the human cost of our technology, at least not by those manufacturing, selling, or commenting on that technology. I have been disappointed in the “tech sites” that purport to consider all aspects of technological advances and the latest gadgets. They always forget the people.