Laboring Verbs as Testimonio: How the Subaltern Speak—the Symbolism of Birth and Sacrifice (Part II) by Shayna S. Israel
Many theorists have queried as to whether the subaltern speaks (Nance, Beverley, Spivak, etc). I argue that the question is not whether the subaltern speaks but how they speak? Embed in the prevailing theories on testimonio is the false presumption that subaltern human bodies are speechless. I posit that the subaltern are already speaking. It is up to us to discern—how. Human bodies as illuminated life forms are imbued with inherent dignity. Further, I posit that the subaltern speaks through speech acts, namely that of labor—both in birthing and in midwifing a nation and its rationale—El Futuro. This paper posits genealogical legacy as a speech act.
This paper explores the connection between the female body as bundle or bill of rights and that of children as symbolic harbingers of a nationhood—futuro. What perceived threat is the woman with child for the wealthy landowner, the patriarchal figure or the presence of machismo? It is one of several stemming issues: Lack of access to the wealth of a nation—its laborers and their yield; foreign actors that seek the dissolution of the family, the national structure, the culture or tradition; and the changing social position of women as higher order citizens.
For paternal figures who are guardians of justice, a woman with child is a blessing rather than a problem. For masculine figures disconnected from their traditionally prescribed role as guardian of the protectorate—the woman, the nation— they frequently seek to insight terror often in the form of state-issued violence, domestic violence or psycho-social speeh act violence such as found in racist microaggressions, false classroom gentility, gender disparagement, classist speech act positioning or cyberbullying.
The laborer, both woman or man, has as its lexicon, the visual rhetoric of the body and the performativity of work. The subaltern speaks in speech acts—the physiological speech act of the body, the body in labor and the body torn from labor. Birthing—midwifing dreams, a woman in labor and in the raising up of a child—is how the subaltern speak—how they testify.
The double layer of proof, the second more transportable form of documenting the exploitation/theft of labor—outside of the body—is the testimonio narrative. Testimonio, itself, is a kind a labor. The tension in testimonio is negotiating the spiritual truth of immaterial becoming material and a world hardened to the laboring body as anything other than ripe for abuse. For the Latinx worker, laboring is universal citizenship—and thus, freedom.
The tension for the subaltern whose speech is labor is that to argue for the perception of trustworthiness, enough so to be perceived worthy enough to enter across the boundary required to work or—in other words, become a citizen. (Of course, for certain groups that means “productive citizen,” which then engenders debate as to what is or is not productive to what economy). That struggle is particularly precarious for a man, who in his solitariness is more likely to be attributed with criminality (illegality)—which some may define as the aim or intention to escape work or societal responsibility. The threat to the male migrant presence of a woman with a child is that she is more readily read as more trustworthy and, thus, needing of work than the man since the reason, the rationale for working, is present before her in her belly or cradled in her arms.
The Latinx woman, especially one with a child, more than the man, is able to hurdle the question of trustworthiness and, thus, believability in the test of the testimonio’s truth effect. The truth effect of the testimonio, then, is the skill in being able to perform the faithfulness of worthy worker.
The interesting thing here to mention is that—if the aim of testimonio is to nation build, the woman figure and the generalismo, the compassionate masculine figure, are both ripe for performing a sacrificial offering for a nation awaiting birth, realization. That performance of sacrifice for the just gatekeeper of national or familial borders signals that one—the appealing laborer—is seeking to bolster a nation still in formation such as the United States.
Motherhood is a bundle of rights, a representation of the divine transference from immaterial to materialization. The mother with the child represents a promise to a given society, the continuance of willing laborers who labor to keep the promise—the child—alive. The mother and/or mothering carries the promise to term—whether it be nine month, eighteen years or longer. The goal is to get it to safe haven. Good soil.
“Midwifing the dream” is a common colloquialism that is akin to this notion of divine transference of rights and freedoms—as seen in the work of Jesus Christ on the Cross as understood by Catholics and as seen in the religious references throughout testimonio texts and Danticat’s works. Is Danticat’s text testimonio given her Haitian background and the context of the narrative? Well, we have to examine to what testimonio is appealing and for whom. One thing for certain is that testimonio is imbued with Biblical references.
Danticat’s choice of language shows how the essential structure of society is organized birthing work, and is organized around the birthing of a child, the (re)making of the family unit, what some consider the essential form of life grouping. Emile Durkhiem in the Division of Labor in Society (1893) writes,
Although the division of labour is not of recent origin, it was only at the end of the last century that societies began to become aware of this law, to which up to then they had submitted almost unwittingly…Yet the division of labour is not peculiar to economic life. We can observe its increasing influence in the most diverse sectors of society…It has become fragmented into a host of special disciplines, each having its purpose, method and ethos…It is no longer a mere social institution whose roots lie in the intelligence and the will of men…[;] the conditions for which must seemingly be sought in the essential properties of organized matter. The division of labour in society appears no more than a special form of this general development. In conforming to this law societies apparently yield to a movement that arose long before they existed and which sweeps along in the same direction the whole of the living world. (Durkhiem 2-3)
Traditionally, in many cultures, the mothering role goes to the women and the fathering role goes to the men. What is the mothering role? What is the fathering role? In many societies it was sacrilegious to confer the mothering title to anyone other than the female. However, there has been recent challenge to that notion. It is not to say that those roles are or are not based in biology—for some they are deeply biologically-based and considered given as sacred categorization from on High. To say that there has been challenge to the female’s role as mother, is to say that society is facing a real existential challenge.
One way to respond to that challenge is to look at how Danticat talks about the protagonist’s, Amabelle’s, parents’ function—both male and female—as procurers and greeters. In a scene right after Amabelle delivers Senora Valencia’s twins, Doctor Javier asks, “Amabelle, were you a midwife all this time and you never told us? (Danticat 18). Amabelle replies, “I don’t think myself a midwife, Doctor” (Danticat 19). Then the doctor retorts, “How did you know how to birth those children,” to which Amabelle follows, “’My mother and father were herb healers in Haiti. When it was called for, they birthed a child,’ Amabelle said, wanting to be modest on behalf of my parents, who had always been modest themselves’” (ibid). Growing up, Amabelle remembers her parents rushing about, paired, when there was a birthing, at the news of an emerging child. It appears as if the practicing of healing and homeopathic care was something that united the mother and the father in the birthing process beyond the bounds of biology, although their own child’s birthing had its basis in biology—had its basis in the womb.
Herein, in Danticat’s Farming of Bones, do we have the post-queer politics response that unites the sacredness of the womb, with biological grounding and Durkhiem’s consideration in the Division of Labor. Amabelle’s mother and father were healers. The baby, the child and the spiritual keeping ends up representing the process of societal healing and remediation, renewed structure, a welcoming. The mothering of the child is— at times dangerously so—or can be argued after passing through some test of socio-biology. There is further possible contention for a kind of mothering that is a fathering that looks like—a keeping, preparing well…stewardship. “Such a fact clearly cannot manifest itself without affecting profoundly our moral constitution for the evolution of mankind,” (Durkeim 3) according to Durkheim. What that means is there is at least a double-binding that upholds the sanctity of life in the keeping of it from womb to tomb and every healing space in between.
To accomplish this, there has to be a raising of consciousness—comparatively. What is meant by this is a comparative person-to-person, being-to-being through a common—if not universal understanding of laboring as noble work.
In do such, we’d need to acknowledge a protector of work—since it is, next to love (capital “L”), the primary unit of life. In the passage on page 43 where Papi is looming over a painting of Generalissimo, we see a “coat of arms and the shield: Dios, Patria, Libertad. God, Country, Liberty” (Danticat 1998). The connection between birthing—calling in the “Sacred Immaterial” to a prepared destination such as fertile soil or, our lovely planet called Earth—and the connection to preparing for it is the scurrying of Amabelle’s parents on page seven.
Healing and the keeping of children within the bounds of a country, or the family unit, seems to be the way Amabelle and her mother and father organize their living. As a unit they each have their separate yet interconnected roles in midwifing, protected by their way of life—service—how they refer and speak about and to one another and in the way they honor each other’s unique roles. This precarious balance is done conjunctively with a respecting of the distinction between sex and gender and divine responsibility.
The second chapter of One Day of Life begins with the early risings of Lupe, the central figure in the text and the grandmother of Adolfina—this time at 6am (Argueta 19). Her early rising is connected with the sun rising—is connected to Lupe’s relationship with her faith and her ability to work as a “keeping by the Lord.”
Lupe recounts, “I always cross myself in the presence of the morning star. With the Lord I go to sleep, with the Lord I awake” (Argueta 8). This relationship—the rising fullness of this beam of warmth and the rising fullness of a child in a mother’s womb could be another extension of keeping—the way a mother, or the Earth itself, keeps her children, labors for her children. The fullness of a mother’s stomach could be seen as a harbinger of new work and, thus, the conference of a new deed, title and/or rights.
Another symbol of the laboring woman as harbinger is the child in the mother’s tired arms. On the road to Chalate, Adolfina is sitting next to a woman carrying a child. The sun is scorching. Without looking at the gender of the child, Adolfina zeros in to the fact that it is a girl. The way that she is both cooed at and chastised. The girl being carried says, “I’m thirsty,” and the mother replies, “Be quiet, dear, we’re almost there” (Argueta 79). It is as if Aldofina could sense that a girl-child allows the mother to speak both to herself and the public in a search for empathy and the ability to publicly lament—since the mother herself has to display a courageousness above complaint. Like the Latinx man who only could complain via throwing a fight in a bar about the burden of his racialized masculinity—a migrant woman-mother can only complain with a child in her arms, with the weight of her burden before her.
Yet and still, the mother, it appears, speaks about the child as if she is a chore. The habitualness of work is a kind of music staff onto which to hinge the collective happening of the trauma of family separation and death. For the migrant in a strange land, work becomes a well-spring of common pain and relief from which to draw in order to feel less alone, targeted or vulnerable.
The habitualness, however, with which grandmother Lupe references her faith practices dovetails from the ability to lament about the conditions underneath the sun.
It appears as if Lupe is seeking to be the kiskadee. Lupe is expressed through her work ethic. She moves as if she is not seeking relief from hounded existence but to walk right into it as a kiskadee—as Christ would—as a kiskadee into a fight with a hawk.
Argueta writes of the kiskadee, “It is the only brave bird—it even fights hawks. It gets on top of them and rides their backs, and no matter how the hawk flips and turns, the kiskadee sticks to it” (Argueta 78). That is same kind of courageousness that is presented in how the rancheras and rancheros exist and think about Kilometer. “The people here like to sing. And laugh over nothing. Almost all of us are poor but we don’t consider it a disgrace. Nor something to be proud of” (Argueta 19). Part of the access to work, then, for the broken body is access to the ability to “courage up” to display or perform resilience.
In resiliency for the migrant or ranchera or laborer or mother is the ability—the proof of concept—to argue for a vital function in the larger social group. The laborer identity, particularly that of the mother, is an identification card beyond the limitation of borders, time or space—yet, like a song where the staff is made up of the same five lines—laboring for the stranger in a strange land has to be re-packaged such that it is palatable to the populous within whom the labor seeks refuge.
So, I was watching Anderson Cooper last night interviewing James Comey about his time at the White House, his new book A Higher Loyalty, and the amount of showers he had to take after leaving each day; [ that last piece was my interpretation by way of Kellyanne Conway not Comey's].
Comey spoke of what it was to be washed in a bed of lies. Typical of the President, he said, was speaking ad nauseam and at length in factual inaccuracies. Comey wondered if by remaining silent, was he as complicit as those lauding the President with praise--as was common at committee meetings.
In the Anderson Cooper interview, Comey also spoke on Rod Rosenstein, saying that Trump chooses people who are highly accomplished and accredited but who are morally vulnerable--and then ends up corrupting their good name.
At this time as the college semester comes to a close and students are headed on summer break, summer jobs, internships or headed out into the work world, it is crucial that they take heed to what happens to a guy like Rosenstein or Comey, for that matter, in a country where the top officially forsake's almost daily his oath to protect constitution and country. Our moral bedrock is founded on our constitution and the co-equal branches of government respecting the tried and true principle that no one is above the law--not even the law, its lawmakers, adjudicators and executor.
I once heard on some Kansan radio station after a long drive to campus: "The Bible will keep you from sin. And sin will keep you from the Bible." Take a look at Proverbs 17. I feel that it is the shorthand version of Comey's book. May we all remember and continually point to-- a higher loyalty.
Proverbs 17 New International Version (NIV)
1 Better a dry crust with peace and quiet
than a house full of feasting, with strife.
2 A prudent servant will rule over a disgraceful son
and will share the inheritance as one of the family.
3 The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold,
but the Lord tests the heart.
4 A wicked person listens to deceitful lips;
a liar pays attention to a destructive tongue.
5 Whoever mocks the poor shows contempt for their Maker;
whoever gloats over disaster will not go unpunished.
6 Children’s children are a crown to the aged,
and parents are the pride of their children.
7 Eloquent lips are unsuited to a godless fool--
how much worse lying lips to a ruler!
8 A bribe is seen as a charm by the one who gives it;
they think success will come at every turn.
9 Whoever would foster love covers over an offense,
but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.
10 A rebuke impresses a discerning person
more than a hundred lashes a fool.
11 Evildoers foster rebellion against God;
the messenger of death will be sent against them.
12 Better to meet a bear robbed of her cubs
than a fool bent on folly.
13 Evil will never leave the house
of one who pays back evil for good.
14 Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam;
so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out.
15 Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent--
the Lord detests them both.
16 Why should fools have money in hand to buy wisdom,
when they are not able to understand it?
17 A friend loves at all times,
and a brother is born for a time of adversity.
18 One who has no sense shakes hands in pledge
and puts up security for a neighbor.
19 Whoever loves a quarrel loves sin;
whoever builds a high gate invites destruction.
20 One whose heart is corrupt does not prosper;
one whose tongue is perverse falls into trouble.
21 To have a fool for a child brings grief;
there is no joy for the parent of a godless fool.
22 A cheerful heart is good medicine,
but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.
23 The wicked accept bribes in secret
to pervert the course of justice.
24 A discerning person keeps wisdom in view,
but a fool’s eyes wander to the ends of the earth.
25 A foolish son brings grief to his father
and bitterness to the mother who bore him.
26 If imposing a fine on the innocent is not good,
surely to flog honest officials is not right.
27 The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint,
and whoever has understanding is even-tempered.
28 Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent,
and discerning if they hold their tongues.
Due to the expediency of the issue at hand, here is my response to Representative Ilhan Omar’s comments and the milieu surrounding them. In a following blog post I will elaborate further. While I am the great grandchild of a White Jewish man and a Black Southern woman, my response is primarily pointing out the implications of Rep. Omar’s statements.
1. G_d bless Japan. There is less contention about the relationship between Japan and the U.S. than there is contention about the long-standing relationship between Israel and the U.S. Why is that? Respectfully, Japan has bombed us at Pearl Harbor. Japan has led the way in peaceable relations and demilitarization efforts as a result. We have also worked to atone for our atrocities at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The U.S. has helped rebuild the factories in Japan and paid reparations .
2. G_d bless Germany. There is less contention about the relationship between Germany and the United States than there is contention about the relationship between Israel and the United States. I want to say enough said...but I will continue. Germany has been atoning for its past and, as a result, has helped to stabilize Europe--due to the economic foreign assistance we helped provide them post-WWII .
At the hands of the Nazis, millions of lives were lost: The tortuous treatment of Jews, the horror of mass genocide, the tearing up of families, not to mention the countless lives sacrificed by American and Allied Forces. Added to this is the plunder of our socio-cultural wealth, precious artworks and heirlooms to fuel their war machines. Let it also be known that African countries in the 20th century were the testing ground for German genocide—the Herero and the Nama people, namely . As a Black Israelite on this side of the Atlantic, if I can forgive and move forward with the promise of a better tomorrow, we all can. If we can do business with, trade with and support Germany, we can do business with, trade with and support Israel—America.
A peaceful country is a country that can maintain responsible business interests and the well-being of its people . Peaceful alliances between countries are the groundwork for a world that can maintain economic activities and support the well-being of the planet. America, we want countries to petition each other for greater peace. We are global citizens!
"We have to be able to extrapolate the geo-politics from the race-politics."
3. By equating pro-Israel lobbying to the fossil fuel Industry’s lobbying, Rep. Omar is making a false analogy between a country and an industry, a country and a company. That, in its implication, is nominally diminishing the sovereignty and self-determination of a nation in traversing for its national interests.
Since many Democrats seek campaign finance reform challenging the overabundance of corporate dollars in the political arena would be an extension of campaign finance reform. Thus, that means Rep. Omar most likely would not be for the Citizens United Supreme Court decision that conferred personhood onto corporations—which meant that companies would fall under the First Amendment protections by arguing that monetary contributions function as personal speech. That essentially, removed the cap on monetary contributions used in political expenditures. Thus, Rep. Omar’s comments work to counter her party’s platforms by equating lobbying for a country’s interest with a corporation's interest.
By equating the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) activities with the lobbying done by the National Rifle Association (NRA), that positions Rep. Omar categorically with groups conflating countries and corporations.
4. By nominally attempting to conscript a nation in its attempts to garner vital needs for its people, a speaker’s words act as a form of nominal sanctions. Through advocacy of such commentary, any such speaker might be construed as attempting nominal conscription around a freely-allowed association’s ability to carry out its non-profit duties. The AIPAC is a non-profit. Read more here.
OK, to catch what I am saying here, think of our former ban on traveling to Cuba. A document said we, Americans, could not go; and, thus, that limited Cuba’s ability to garner economic resources via the tourism industry. A document of words by a politician with larger legitimated support can, in effect, stop a flow of resources to a country. Words matter. Words—especially decreed from a legitimated authority—matter.
Is it right what Israel is doing to Palestine by blocking certain vital resources from coming into the country? By harming children and babies? No. It is also not right for Egypt to do that either. Egypt is a Muslim country. According to Human Rights Watch, “Israel continued to maintain its more than decade-long effective closure of Gaza, exacerbated by Egyptian restrictions on its own border with Gaza, limiting access to water and electricity” . Who knows what geo-political issues would cause another Muslim country to constrict another Muslim countries resources. While there are spiritual arguments that are made on both sides, which law does one group support versus the other, the same geo-political activity done by one actors gets more press and attention than the other. If Israel restricts resources in the Gaza strip and points to Egypt restricting resources in the Gaza strip, does that justify anything? This is a long and mired conflict. We have to be able to extrapolate the geo-politics from the race-politics.
5. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with President Donald Trump July 2018 to renegotiate NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) during Trump’s travel to Quebec. That was a form a “lobbying”—a country’s official petitioning for its interests to another country’s official. Countries visit each other on diplomatic missions and other trips to petition for their interests all the time. It’s called trade talks. We cannot equate a country acting out its interest with oil companies acting out their interests. It is incorrectly elevating companies above countries.
Two subsequent meetings between Canada and the U.S. were canceled due to political disagreements before a renewed agreement ultimately was signed in November 2018 with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto in Argentina. According to the Human Rights Watch “between December 2012 and January 2018, the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) received more than 4,600 complaints regarding alleged abuses by the [Mexican] military” . It shows that countries can have acrimonious talks, disagree with each other’s policies--and, yet and still, do something peaceable for their citizens toward the greater good
6. On September 11th, 2001, there were 15 Saudi nationals listed with ties to Al-Qaeda on the planes that hit the towers. A Washington Post journalist—Jamal Ahmad Khashoggi—a Saudi Arabian dissident, was kidnapped, murdered and mutilated in Saudi Arabia . Yet, we have no issue with trading with a country with human rights abuses. As a Black woman, I have no pretensions about the human rights abuses in the U.S. Yet, we have an economy. Meaning Black citizens trade with White citizens and have petitioned for equal rights and extended freedoms. That is a country trading with and advocate for itself, despite the abuses suffered. Nothing is inherently wrong with petitioning or lobbying. When I worked at the Collegiate Science and Technology and Entry Program (CSTEP), we lobbied Albany for increased funding for STEM education for Black and Latino students. Lobbying helps people of color and educational institutions get on the agenda when they otherwise might be forgotten. Let’s get passionate about corporate interest lobbying for policies that harm the environment and our principles. However, let’s also get passionate about arguing the logical conclusions to statements by politicians who traffic in false equivalencies.
7. Israel has its human rights abuses against Palestinians. Palestine has its human rights abuses against Israelis. There is a total imbalance of force here, I know...A Molotov cocktail and slingshot is in no way comparable to rocket launchers and automatic weapons. All life is imbued with inherent dignity. I am not for the abuse of power in any form. My people can attest to that. I find it especially repugnant when under the pretext of peace countries trade with another country to test out their weaponry and military industrial complexes’ arsenal. The U.S. and Israel have done this. Read more here. Those haven’t been our finest days.
No business should be made--I repeat, no business should be made, by the drumming up of unnecessary wars--especially when and if there are diplomatic options available. Two egregious wrongs don’t make a right. Two negatives do not equal a positive anywhere outside of the unrealistic, sterile operations of mathematical systems. We are not neat and pristine. No country is without sin.
As a woman of color, who is queer dating cisgender men, currently, and who is also an Israelite, American and Christian, I know what it is like to live with, at least, a double consciousness, two warring selves, as W.E.B. Du Bois outlines in The Souls of Black Folks. We are still better served by taking, in the present moment, the higher ground while healing from the past and building toward a more just society.
The United States is based on Judeo-Christian principles. Those principles have given us the freest nation—albeit inherently problematic—in the modern world. I can write this blog post without fear for my life. That is due to a long-standing, principle-based connection between Israel and America.
It is hard for me, a PhD candidate, not to have all the citations and elucidations I would prefer to have in this list or all the substantiations I would like to have in this blog post. However, what I do know is that our silences will not protects us. Audre Lorde taught me that. I am compelled to speak from my heart and intellect when there is discord in discourse as well as discord in my nation. I am pro-peace, if I am “pro” anything. For, I know that democracy dies in the dark. If they come for your neighbor by day, if we don’t condemn anti-Semitic speech but only condemn anti-Muslim speech, they will come for us at night. Shalom (שׁלום).
Ken Ferlic, an energy physicist and former acting director of the U.S. Department of Energy, writes about the nature of seeding dreams and the conditions that best support realizing them. Ferlic writes, “Our creative endeavors, the intentions, the dreams, and the desires we carry need to be allowed to live and follow their own nature into manifestation. Any creative endeavor can be seen as creating a seed condition which when planted in a fertile space grows and bears fruit” .
One of the biggest frustrations for visionaries and creative professionals has to do with the first laws of motion: Energy in motion tends to want to stay in motion . The whole process from hunch to dream, from sketch to construction requires a lot of forward progress each step of the way. It’s a relay. One phase both passes and creates the baton to the next. One of the most painful, energy-draining things that could happen for a creative is something or someone that seeks to interrupt active energy.
A creative’s biggest fear is that of a grinding halt. Worse than a wrench in the system, which after a good yanking, allows everything to start up again—is a deliberate slow-walking made to look like activity but really is death by another name.
Here’s where politics enters in, and not just “big government” politics, but local and organizational politics.
A creative’s biggest fear is that of a grinding halt.
For example, you have a business idea, but the town clerk in your area doesn’t fancy much your projects. How would you feel if you went down to the town hall to put in an application for a permit on time with full payment in hand, having previously timed how long the approval process takes, and set up product sales to begin once the permit is cleared—but the town clerk starts to, you later realize under the guise of assistance, slow walk you—popping up with arcane statutes to hurdle at every turn?
Town Clerk says, “Fantastic, thanks for bringing in your application.” He takes a good and long look at it and says, “You know, by the way, you listed the county on the wrong spot on your application. The people up at the State Capitol are really particular about these things. You wrote the county in when all you had to do was circle it, so you will have to start the process all over from the beginning. They don’t like to see too many mistakes on an application. Make sure to issue a new check or money order for the date signed on the new application once you have filled it out.”
The four-page application takes a half-hour to fill out. You offer to fill out a new one right there on the spot. Town Clerk tells you that he’s the only one there that day that can accept the special permit you requested and that he was on his way out for the day, saying you’d have to come back the next Tuesday when he’s back in to do special permits.
You’re eager to make nice with the local officials and to start your business off with a good name. You tell your crew waiting for you that they are going to have to wait a little longer, no more than a week for the application to be submitted but that all the needed documentation is all there. You have a client waiting on an order once the permit is approved and reassure her that all will soon be in order.
Next, Tuesday, you get back to the town clerk, Town Clerk takes a long look at your application and accepts all your documentation. He gets ready to give you a receipt but, oh, suddenly a notification popped up on his screen. He begins reading to you some archaic provision that says applications submitted after the date you first visited will have to wait until the new submission cycle begins at the start of the upcoming fiscal year—six months away.
You go back to your Jeep or bike or hybrid and hold onto the steering wheel for a good 10 minutes before leaving the parking lot—just to feel what it is like to sit in a stalled dream.
The pain that creatives face is not the heft required to pull wrenches out the system or the long hours it takes to see a project through to completion, to midwife a dream. Creatives aren’t afraid of labor pains. Their greatest heartbreak is a deliberate and calculated slow down.
Creatives aren’t afraid of labor pains.
Unfortunately, business people often view bureaucracy that way—when at least at the federal level there are guidelines in place for consumer and citizenry protections. Governments that function well want to issue out as many licenses and permits as they can within because it helps get more business ideas up and running, creates more jobs and gets more money circulating in the economy.
As a small business owner, I am actually thankful when notified about a new compliance rule or filing requirement. I am appreciative because that means there is a watchdog looking out for me—making sure I don’t get tangled inadvertently in a statue I need to be aware of. I am appreciative because it also means there is a watchdog group looking out for my employee(s), making sure they hold me accountable to fair and equitable business practices.
The danger that I’ve faced is not the regulatory aspect of running a business. In fact the IRS has been helpful to me. The most damaging thing that happened to me in any business endeavor is in the bottlenecking of the production process.
Sometimes intra- and inter-organizational politics are far more damaging than the straightforward compliance requirements from state and federal agencies.
I was taught you work and you go home—that work is left at work. That’s easiest to do that when you believe your work aligns with a what you hope betters the world. It’s most terrifying when you feel you are just following orders. Worst if you believe that the hope you've cast into what you do, will be cast into a future that will distort it.
Today is election day—the 2018 Midterms. People all over the country have cast their votes…People all over the country are voting for our future together.
While there are many issues galvanizing people to the polls this day, they all are casting their votes for a world they already believe has been compromised. They are voting, already, from a distorted dream.
Millennials stand a 50-50 chance as to whether they are going to fare better than their parents. (See an earlier blog post with the stats on this: here). The new tax bill limits the deductions first-time homebuyers can make in writing-off their mortgage interest rates and property taxes—which historically have been there to add a couple of extra bucks to their already squeezed budgets . While unemployment is low, wages have not caught up to inflation and the average worker has far less purchasing power than they did 40 years ago—meaning that people are working harder to get less . Do we even have to mention the dizzying, vitriolic speech that floods onto people’s phones and into their TVs by the hour?
The dystopia is here. This is why, I believe, more segments of the population are increasing their civic participation. They are seeing that the poetry of the policies and poetry from the politicians they believe in have left them in a prose of woe.
They are voting, already, from a distorted dream.
When a phenomenon occurs that is outside of our expectations, we experience minor shell shock—there’s a small tear in our country’s consciousness. If our brains could talk, they’d say we all looked like Swiss cheese.
Our collective fragmented minds are seeking a new patchwork, paradigm. We are seeking to refashion our democracy, again, toward its highest ideals. When we vote, we are trying to vote our way through to a renewed land. And, I don’t only mean by what we do at the polls—although that is a crucial and sacred place to stake our claim in the change that we want to see—we are also voting in how we are living with, Tweeting at and talking to one another.
If what’s going on in the country as a whole, at the macro level, could apply to the personal level, I’d ask this question: What does it look like to remake oneself after one’s life has been shattered? For, a country is made up of individuals like the day is made up of the minutes within it. There might be some things we can glean—in this new dystopian reality—from a more personal struggle of resurgence, of reemerging from a life torn apart.
This is what the new Netflix series “Homecoming” with Julia Roberts explores. Robert’s plays Heidi Bergman, a novice psychologist, who “works to help transition military veterans back into civilian life—at least in flashbacks,” writes Karen Han in a review for Vox.com .
The veterans with whom Roberts’ character works struggle with survivor’s guilt and what it means to piece their lives back together. Ironically, after working as a psychologist at a highly controversial veteran treatment facility, as it is later revealed, Roberts’ character finds herself working a low-wage job as a waitress just a few years later .
In the present, Roberts’ character while working the waitress job is approached by Shea Whigham, who plays a Defense Department auditor, about her time working with her former employer. During that point “her new life starts to fragment” and she embarks upon the “thorny detangling process” of coming to terms with a tragic life event that she can barely remember.
At the Homecoming treatment facility where Robert’s character worked, the executive for the Geist Group, Bobby Cannavale, played by Colin Belfast, seems to have been “more interested in extracting ‘data’ from the vets, for some unknown purpose, than helping them” . James Poniewozik in his article, “The Machinery of Corruption,” so deftly encapsulates what “Homecoming” is about, “Part of what ‘Homecoming’ asks is: How responsible do you have to be for a thing before you’re morally responsible for it? How high up in an organization” .
We solve for other people's weaknesses.
For all of what Robert’s character has seemed to learn reintegrating soldiers back into civilian life, she is having trouble herself metabolizing what it means to simply make a living after her world has been torn asunder. Slowly the reality hits her that she may have been performing a noble service for a nefarious company. This is all the while, while the Defense Department auditor who Whigham plays, at each inquiry, shakes the thin and fragile fabric she’s called her “new life.”
Her own mind seems to have been Swiss-cheesed in a way.
A fraying life is not some stigma to avoid. It is the realization that the entire world is a network of fallibility. We solve for other people's weaknesses. They solve for our own. When people say, "Have faith," what they mean is that we cannot rely on our own strengths. We work in agreement with others toward a goal.
The unfortunate aspect of this is that throughout history—when we have sought something upon which to stake our faith, our claim—humans have tended to blindly trust leaders who have mismanaged that faith; the same way Belfast’s character mismanages the psychologist’s talents and the recovery space of the veterans themselves.
Han describes "Homecoming" as having an “aura of unsolvability” . What is more unsolvable than the work we do? The more we build. The more things break. We may build a new life. Yet, as spiritual financial guru Dave Ramsey says, “Murphy and his cousins move in” .
We may rebuild our minds, set them on a course, let them alone and are later astonished at the wake of calamity they leave behind. Like our minds, we have to when we see ourselves slipping, get up, dust off the cobwebs and keep it sharp so that we wrangle this flesh of life we call a body--and get to where we planned on going.
Our minds are like our country. We have to fashion it, to check on each other and our leaders—and vote at each cycle of life in order to wrangle our actions toward the arc of justice.
Otherwise--it will slip from any iota of recognizability.
The new persona is the person. The new icon is #nofilter.
Like many of Xillenials (millennials between 31 and 41), I graduated college in 2008 with all of this social capital from a small Ivy college experience. The message: My new identity—college graduate—would confer onto me a number of really special things—namely opportunity. It has.
As I searched the work world, I amassed opportunities that turned into experiences—being an after school instructor, a program coordinator, a developmental specialist, and so forth. Building from my college experiences, I generously added to that initial pile of social capital along the way. As I piled on the roles and positions, the center of gravity that anchored me, with each piling on, shifted. I became a heap of persons. Underneath, I was peering out for moments where the fullness of who I am could emerge.
When we are in the fullness of ourselves, the world that we meet resonates with our being-ness. The opportunities and jobs that we find, really—find us. Necessity is the mother of invention. The work world is really synonymous with a bunch of bundled up needs packaged in reputations. There are needs looking for people to fill them, otherwise known as jobs.
When we are in the fullness of ourselves, the world that we meet resonates with our being-ness.
My 2017/2018 period in a #microblogpost nutshell: Marianne Williamson said that our playing small never served anyone. That’s true because the magnanimity of you—your self—has a need bundle to meet, a door for which you are the key.
It is hard to hear your calling with 50lbs of identities on you. Identities are the “Idea Entities” that either we formulate to help us adapt to who we think others want us to be—including your potential employers, family, lovers and so forth, that helps us adapt to who the grand marketspace that is the game of life. They are the idea entities we create based on what popular media is telling us to be or how we think we need to be. They are the entities we form to shield ourselves from the turbulent world itself.
The best guard is the gut of who you are. For all the calamity, that being our idiosyncratic selves may bring, it sure protects you from a whole heap of other competing selves seeking to draw your attention away from your calling, away from being your magnanimous self. For instance, if I fail at a job, that is a pretty hefty price to bear but recoverable. If I fail at being true to myself—that is a cost almost beyond repair.
Two comedians, Busy Philipps and Jerry Seinfeld give us a clue in their recent interviews with the New York Times as to what it means to stay relevant in this new hyper-connected world. Hint: The strategy is—to be yourself.
In the article “Unabashedly Herself, and Thriving,” Busy Philipps describes her own “human sparkly" theory and the highs and lows of her Hollywood acting career. Her first major role, she recounts, was as the tough “freak” Kim Kelly on “Freaks and Geeks,” followed by a successful six-year run on “Cougar Town” . Although having an award-winning list of credentials on her resume, including “Dawson’s Creek” and “ER,” Philipps experienced bouts on unemployment and deep debt—so much so that one week after giving birth she auditioned for a spot on “Glee” .
Even with all of those accolades under her belt, she credits her biggest breakthrough to what she calls “her own personal sitcom on Instagram” . “When you live truly and when you speak your truth, only positive things will happen,” she says, quoting Oprah Winfrey . That unvarnished self is what media consumers are looking for these days. In an overly manufactured world, people, I believe, are hungering for an oasis of authenticity. They want to move themselves out from under a blanket of wrongness.
Big Pharma’s business model is structured such that they create pathologies for which they only, purportedly, have the cure. They are the arsons and the self-appointed firemen. So much of the advertisements, up until recently, have been focused on a deficit-model: Making someone intensely aware of their lack. That triggers the pain sensors of our consciousness to go out and seek the thing to fill it—whether it is a pill, a person or a position.
When people are told what they have already in hand at whatever amount or level they have it is valuable and enough, Big Pharm loses those eyes. They lose a captivated audience. They lose attention on what their selling. Why? Because people then turn their eyes inward unto their everyday blessings.
In the fleetingness of their 15-minutes of fame, in many cases, 15-seconds, an artists’ or actors’ “big moment” tumbles on and off stage. Philipps highlights that not if but when the Hollywood cameras find their next shiny object, she has her million+ social media following. “I’ve just been around for so long, seeing so many people that are having their big moments that are so quickly not a big moment at all…It’s really flattering that people have responded so strongly to me, Busy Philipps, as opposed to a character” . With 1.3 million followers, Philipps is part of the celebrated cast of “media influencers” .
When we feel the need to be “this person” or “that person” on social media, or in our own intimate lives, for that matter, it is encumbering. It knocks the life out of who we are stuck under those “idea entities”—the true person underneath the storehouse of masks shifts. Because carrying something you are not is weighty.
Busy Philipps describes her own “human sparkly" theory and the highs and lows of her Hollywood acting career.
When we place on our shoulders who we have to be rather than who we are, we are doing a job far worse than what Big Pharma is doing. Instead of hearing an ad for some new magic pill or cream that is going to take away some defect or blemish, we are acting like our own pharmaceutical company’s marketing department.
Tony Robbins said that words are really biochemical signals. Words are essentially the deliver mechanism for biochemical signals that tells our bodies to release more endorphins or cortisol. Have you ever heard something on the news that made your heart sink? There is a real physiological effect to the stories that we hear. What stories are we telling ourselves? What stories are we allowing others to tell to us, onto our bodies?
Marketing is not something relegated to the Internet or TV or the radio, it is the messaging that we receive from the environment, from the people around us as well. There was a study done where teachers were told that a group of students selected at random, unbeknownst to the teachers, were about to have an intellectual bloom and that a special Harvard designed test would predict those destined to succeed. The social scientist for whom future studies were eponymously dubbed, was Robert Rosenthal. Conducting the study in 1964 in a San Francisco elementary school, “the idea was to figure out what would happen if teachers were told that certain kids in their class were destined to succeed” . The result: "If teachers had been led to expect greater gains in IQ, then increasingly, those kids gained more IQ," says Rosenthal .
The Rosenthal effect essentially is the rule of expectation: More often than not, students tend rise to meet the level of the bar placed before them. High expectations means that students rise to meet them. There is also the inverse, what is called the Golem effect. The Golem effect says that “negative or low expectation is believed to yield low performance. The expectation in this case work[s] as self-fulfilling prophecy that can lead to negative results” .
When we hear messages that we are not good enough, ugly, unintelligent, incorrigible, and when begin to absorb and repeat them to ourselves, more often than not we become what we most hear. It is part of the observer-expectancy effect. Those words hurled at you become self-realizing. The large, magnanimous self, without a counter from a good word or two, begins to shrink to fit into a box.
In subsuming to the tongue lashing of advertisers, a hate group, a Twitter troll, we shrink down to their size—small. We lease the most powerful possession we have—who we are—to the whims of fear.
The often cited Marianne Williamson quote in its fullest version goes something like this: “Our deepest fear is not that we are weak. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world ... As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others” .
One comedian who knows a lot about being himself, in the painfully and hilariously mundane reality of living, is Jerry Seinfeld. In an interview with Seinfeld, New York Times reporter Dave Itzkoff writes that even in a tumultuous cultural climate, “In some ways, the world of Jerry Seinfeld is the same as it ever was” .
It seems that the way to handle the ups and downs of life is to fiercely be your mundane self—with a little humor…ok, maybe a lot. Whomever, we believe ourselves to be will be ripped a part in the vicissitudes of living. For, the only thing that is constant is change. Seinfeld, when other comedians have either been embroiled in scandal (i.e. Bill Cosby, Roseanne Barr & Louis C. K.) or gone the political commentator route, he stuck with what made his show’s nine-year run a success: Making the utterly benign and the utterly everyday hilarious.
When Itzkoff asked about whether he was grateful that his “comedic muse” did not lead him down a more political path Seinfeld replies, “I like to pursue my own idiosyncratic avenues…I watch Bill Maher or Seth Meyers and I go, I can’t do that well with that; they’re great at it. But I can talk about raisins in ways other people can’t” .
The idiosyncratic is based on emotional logic—and, guess what, so is life.
Step by step, the mystery of living unfolds. Making due with what comes while holding to the center of who you are seemed to have worked for both Busy Philipps and Jerry Seinfeld. In this cultural moment where so much is in flux, Seinfeld writes, “We’re figuring it out as we go along…And there’s something very stimulating and empowering about that” .
One things that comedians do is turn their darkest moments into the delight of nations.
While we are not in anyone of ourselves a nation, we are part of a vibrant existence looking for light and laughter in our darkest hour. That joyous place glows within.
What does it mean to change is a question of what does it mean to risk? We are attracted to daring displays because they call out something in us—of what we remember—taking a chance feels like. We have all heard that life is a succession of choices. We talk less of all that we, inside ourselves, have to surmount in order to make just one choice. To choose that job that you always wanted but no one else understands. To choose that lover that everyone tells you that you shouldn’t. To choose to face the same crowd after dismal disappointment.
When I first learned about the caravan of migrants arriving from Central America to Mexico, on their way to the United States, I thought about all that they had to risk—in leaving everything they’ve built their entire lives—to choose what they believe is a surer day.
How can our hearts not go out to them? I’m not talking about the politics of it just yet. I first want to acknowledge on a human level, what it means to see an estimated 6,000 people march along on a mission to simply live safer lives.
Along their trek, in Mexico, the Caravan has been met with food, water, offers for rides as well as a barrage of concerns about criminal elements and job scarcity . It is hard to separate out the politics from the story. For some, it may be hard to just focus for a second on what it means to not feel safe in one’s own country—to feel so unsafe that you’d risk travelling several marathons on foot to another place you may not be even certain will accept you.
...An estimated 6,000 people march along on a mission to simply live safer lives.
A country is defined by its borders. It is also defined by access to and through its borders: That’s what economists call free market trade. Import and exports, in the modern world, are central to sustaining a country’s economy. It’s not only goods and information that cross borders but people as well.
In the “Open Economy Macroeconomics” section of Toppr.com, the balance of imports and exports was described as such: “A healthy balance of trade plays an important role in sustaining the economy of a country…But there are times when the balance of trade tilts towards a trade surplus or a deficit. A trade deficit occurs when a country’s total imports exceed its exports. A trade surplus, on the other hand, occurs when a country’s total exports outweigh its imports” .
The United States has to do a cost benefit analysis on the merits of its stance on immigration. Do we want to be an inclusionary country? Or do we want to tilt toward an exclusionary or nationalist stance?
On a marco-social level, when bodies travel across borders, that’s a kind of economy of trade. Our bodies, our talents, who we are, are the wealth of a nation—(a tip of the hat to Adam Smith). The American border, particularly at the Southwest, has historically been porous. In a recent article earlier this fall, “Borderlands, Balloons & Baseball,” I wrote about the border town of Laredo, Texas. In it, I showcased an example of people from both sides of the border working together—respecting the rule of law and celebrating a bi-national identity.
In the Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith wrote: “Whatever be the soil, climate, or extent of territory of any particular nation, the abundance of scantiness of its annual supply must, in that particular situation, depend upon…two circumstances…every individual who is able to work, is more or less employed in useful labour…[and] the skill, dexterity, and judgement with which labour is applied in any nation” . In other words, what’s being said here is: “Is everyone working who wants to work?” and “How is their work being applied to build the nation?”
We talk about skill or dexterity in the abstract. What we are really talking about is people, their dreams, what they want to contribute. When we speak about imports and exports, we must remember that talent is imported and exported as well.
The realities are the realities. Talking about comprehensive immigration reform implies the belief that we need to have some regulatory policies about border crossing as well as what acclimating migrants, immigrants, and soon-to-be-citizens to our country means.
There are some places in Europe, the Middle East and Northern Africa grappling with the same issue. Earlier this summer, in June, the Moroccan government—in an initial effort, as they report, to “stem the tide”—began cracking down on human trafficking and undocumented migrants in coordination with Spain and the European Union . Things escalated to including Moroccan citizens and legal residents in the round-up, according to New York Times reporter, Aida Alami .
Organizations like Amnesty International and the Moroccan Association of Human Rights are getting the story out and sharing videos that show harsh police treatment and “authorities piling black migrants into buses in Tangier, Tetuan and Nador and dropping them off in the south” . Many of the people rounded up were UN-recognized asylum-seekers, refugees and registered migrants—meaning they went through legal channels .
Our geopolitical conversation could be aided by talking about, in a world governed by the massively open World Wide Web—what does it mean to have secure borders? In a world where internet firewalls are far more porous than our land borders, and are getting breached at a rapidly increasing rate almost daily, what is our new standard of assurance and notion of collective safety?
Tech companies are seeking international talent to help fill the skills gap needed to create the computers of tomorrow. As a matter of national security, there are quantum computing systems—in theory—that “could crack the encryption that protects sensitive information inside governments and businesses around the world. If a quantum computer can be built, it will be exponentially more powerful than even today’s supercomputers” .
As Americans, we let politicians use the same old scare tactics of race-baiting and xenophobia to funnel our attention to polarizing issues that gets people “fired up” and fuming with cultural anxiety to the polls on Election Day—which is in less than 12 days away. Yet, the looming issue of foreign intelligences hacking into our daily computer-dependent lives, and potentially into our governing institutions, gets little airtime. Our borders as a democracy were already hacked in 2016. You think they aren’t coming for your smart phones, internet-connected washing machines and TVs?
The real border issue is a technological one.
We need all of the homebred and imported talent we can to help American companies build counter measures and technologies that helps America become less reactive and puts the country back into position of leading the world in science and technology. That can’t happen with rampant xenophobia.
Tech companies are feeling the border crunch in the hiring of international talent since Trump’s travel ban and the elimination of the diversity visa lottery program . Zapata founder and CEO, Christopher Savoie, “offered jobs this year to three scientists,” who specialize in quantum computing, but several months later “was still waiting for the State Department to approve visas for the specialists,” who were all born in Europe and Asia .
Harsh immigration and zero-tolerance policies are not going to prevent illegal crossings. In fact, as the Former Secretary of HUD, Julian Castro points out when interviewed by Andrea Mitchell about his new book An Unlikely Journey—wasn’t that what the family separation policy earlier this summer was suppose to prevent? Wasn’t its justification that separating migrant children from their families would serve as a deterrent? Yet, there are over 6,000 people marching to the Southwestern U.S. border.
The real border issue is a technological one.
There is safety in numbers. There is safety in believing in the same ideals, values, in the right to a decent standard of living. That is what the Caravan represents to me when I see it. When I see trucks brimming with migrants flanked by others marching, I see people who are reminding us what it means to traverse for the idea that they will meet some kind of reassurance, some place to build a precious life.
I understand that not everyone crossing a border is crossing for altruistic reasons or seeking asylum. There is always the one or two that ruin it for the bunch. It is important in such a heated climate not to paint any one group with a broad brush and to not assign nefarious reasons onto a group that looks different from us. America is still deciding who “us” is even for ourselves. A little compassion can go a long way. So can a cost-benefit analysis: How is our treatment of the Central American Caravan going to reflect our overall stance, as a country on immigration?
Mexico is dealing with this same question. For years it has critiqued the U.S. on its policies. It is faced with a similar choice: “Would Mexico agree to force such migrants to apply for asylum there, instead of letting them enter the United States,” writes reporters Azam Ahmed and Caitlin Dickerson in their article “Mexico, Overwhelmed by Surge of Migrants, Is Again in U.S. Cross Hairs” .
Immigration in a country of immigrants is never going to be an easy issue to solve—nor should it be. Any time we see waves or surges or peaks in migration to this country—let us all be reminded that surety is not promised. It is made on backs of bodies willing to risk for other bodies for some idea we call—country.
The Don of ‘Celebrityhood’: The Dynamics of Celebrity & Politics in the Kanye West & President Trump Meeting by Shayna S. Israel
Kanye West’s visit to the White House last Thursday sent shockwaves throughout the country—and not in the sudden surprise kind of way—in the wide-spread shuttering effect it produced. For some reason, although the President himself is a celebrity and businessperson, the compounding effect of two celebrities in the oval office at the same time, really cemented the fact that politics, all along is moving closer to the grand illusion we all believed it to be but hoped it would not.
Celebrity interspersed with politics is not a new phenomenon. Throughout history, the charismatic leader has always been both envied and feared by political or establishment leaders. One has risen to his status via the conventional pathway, and the other based on being who he is. A standard is easier to replicate. A way of being is gifted.
There have been many debates about whether charisma can be taught and whether it is inborn. The same thing can be said about leadership. Yet, charisma and celebrity are two separate things. Charismatic figures attract followers. Conventional leaders seek opportunities to compel people to follow. Some charismatic people may not even be aware of what they possess. Establishment leaders on the other hand, are all too aware of what (what number of followers) they do not possess.
Hence, we have Trump making up numbers about the amount of people at his inauguration. The Obama and Trump presidencies are a classic case of the charismatic leader and the leader jockeying for power. A separate dynamic between that of Kanye West and President Trump, however, exists. Theirs is of the unique phenomenon of “celebrity politicians.”
Celebrity interspersed with politics is not a new phenomenon.
It is important to not confuse celebrity with charisma. They often are unevenly paired. Celebrity depends on cameras and huge social media followings, in this new day and age. Charisma only has to be felt by one person for it to be seen. Look at the cameras in the photo of Kanye West and Trump (See below). The entire picture itself is of them surrounded by cameras.
In an essay titled “Celebrity Politicians: Popular Culture and Political Representation” by John Street, we learn that “celebrityhood” is donned by politicians and their like. Street writes about two kinds of phenomena as examples of “celebrity politicians”—the first being “the elected politician or candidate who uses elements of ‘celebrityhood’ to establish their claim to represent a group or cause” . The second variant is the “celebrity—the star of popular culture—who uses their popularity to speak for popular opinion .
“When conventional politicians adopt the guise of celebrity, when they pose as rock stars,” Street goes on to ask, “do they appeal to images and identities that have no place in representative democratic politics?” . Specific to the Kanye West and President Trump’s meeting, Street’s question could potentially translate to: “Was either person acting in a form of minstrelsy by proximity?” Or, I would ask, “Was there something more nuanced there?” Are figures like Mr. West and Trump appealing to the fact that their realities, their positions depend on how they are representing themselves? And to whom they are representing?
On some level, ala Saturday Night Live’s rendition, the Kanye West and Trump meeting was a comedy. On another level it was speaking to the nature of politics as a form of democratic and republican representation.
Entertainment is about speaking to an audience. Who is the audience for politicians? Their constituents. Who is the audience for business people? The market. Thus, although in different sectors, Kanye West and Trump speak the same language. The question is what was the impact that each sought for their respective audiences? Constituents?
Ahead of his meeting with Trump, Mr. West went into Thursday’s meeting with the specific agenda—to talk about factory jobs, violence in Chicago and prison reform . This was days after Trump announced that he would implement a new stop-and-frisk policy in Chicago . Celebrities have a platform. They often, or more often should, use their platform to champion causes. As a Chicago native Mr. West is sensitized to the stigma that has befallen the city.
For the artist, her native land is her first audience. By announcing during that sit-down with Trump that he is moving back to Chicago, Mr. West is recognizing that his responsibilities as a “celebrity politician,” in its truest form, is to his community. It is said that a prophet is not welcomed in his hometown; yet, it seems in the fashion of a reverse migration, celebrities are.
For the artist, her native land is her first audience.
Noting the power of his platform Mr. West writes, “It’s not just about, you know, getting on stage and being an entertainer and having a monolithic voice that’s forced to be a specific party” . In moving back to his hometown, Mr. West is choosing to vote with his presence.
In meeting with Trump, Kayne West is using his voice—and his knowledge of optics—to advocate for a different approach to policing in Chicago. He sought to correct a narrative, at stereotype—although in certain ways he walked right into the trap of reproducing certain stereotypes.
Yet, in his own way, Mr. West came prepared. Aware that the shooting crime rate in Chicago, has precipitously dropped by 17% , hearing that a new discriminatory policing policy was proposed that would disproportionately affect people of color, Mr. West sprang into action. A fool’s errand for some. A noteworthy action for others.
While there are many potentially contestable statements that Mr. West made during his meeting, it is important for people to read the full transcript in context. Yes, Mr. West talked about focusing less on “the overall lack of reparations” and more on the fact that blacks were afforded the 13th amendment .
But Mr. West also spoke with the President about adding Trump factories to the Midwest and Yeezy ideation centers to promote more educational and empowerment opportunities for underserved communities . He said as follow up, “We have to bring jobs into America because our best export is entertainment and ideas” .
Kanye West also talked about the pressures that good cops are facing with having to enforce inherently discriminatory policies and the need to release, what he calls, “the love throughout the entire country and give opportunities” .
The criticism that Kanye West and Trump were met with was in response to a sense that there was no substance to their conferencing. While Mr. West had an agenda, people wondered about follow up notes and actions steps. Notable figures like Al Sharpton thought the meeting was more of a free- wheeling, freestyling masquerade of real political action.
On MSNBC with Alex Witt, Sharpton said “I think the subjects that were raised need to be raised,” citing Trump and Mr. West’s first meeting in 2016, “We were told they were going to work together on criminal justice reform, violence in Chicago, jobs…I thought we were going to hear what they had done in the almost two years President Trump has been in office…For them to go through a redo of what they did under the escalator at Trump towers right after the election, to me, was insulting to the public. There was no report of what he had done in the year and in the almost two years. There was no announcement of ‘therefore this is my program going forward’ .
John Legend, recording artist and philanthropist, said, regarding Mr. West, “I don’t think he’s done a lot of the work and research to really understand what is going on,” and “that a lot of time he presents opinions that are a little bit undercooked” . Professor Michael Eric Dyson said that the meeting was “the grand display of mass ignorance in the face of the downfall of democracy” and it was “white supremacy through ventriloquism” .
There was no announcement of ‘therefore this is my program going forward’ ~Al Sharpton
It can be argued that much of the revolutionary and political action from celebrities that the United States has seen during the 60s and 70s is seen as less prevalent in the 2000s. Yet, it can be equally argued that with the rise of social media and the everyday person becoming internet famous, we see more ordinary people being considered “local celebrity politicians.” Politics serves as a kind of communication, a signal, a representation. When the mediums of communication shift, the nature of celebrity within politics shifts as well.
Street writes, citing Paolo Mancini and David Swanson book, Politics, Media and Modern Democracy, “Celebrity politics, and the cult of the personality that it embodies, can be seen as a product of the transformation of political communication…The breakdown of traditional social structures under the strains of modernisation have created the need for a form of political communication” . For Street, that new political form of communication is one of ‘symbolic realities’ that create ‘symbolic templates of heroes and villains’ . Between Kanye West and Trump, who is consider the villain and who is the hero is as diffused of question as this one: “Who is leading the current political and social movement(s) we are hearing more and more about each week,” especially leading up to the 2018 midterm elections.
While, at some level, Mr. West’s meeting could be seen as a ventriloquism of white supremacy, at another level it is Mr. West exemplifying how in tuned he is with the new political realities of political symbology. Learning from his prior missteps and doing better research, he may be showing a new kind of artistic maturation—one of a celebrity politician.
There might be a global trend of artists rising to become elected and political figures. In countries like Uganda, for example, where nearly 80 percent of the population is under the age of 30, being savvy on social media is a currency for moving the youth vote . The Ugandan ragga singer Bobi Wine “shocked the ruling party when he went into politics and won a seat in Parliament by a landslide last year” at the age of 36 . He was catapulted into fame the year prior as a result of his song going viral, “Freedom,” which spoke out against the establishment party for atrocities perpetrated against its people.
Kanye West now is a very different artist than a Bobi Wine figure. Yet, Kanye West back in the day, was more in league with the revolutionary spirit we come to expect from rappers, master MCs. Just take a look at his song Through the Wire (2003).
By speaking truth to power, he is signifying to the Signifier-in-Chief via the language of optics and cameras that our current president understands. By advocating for Chicago, Kayne West is advocating for his native land in this new world, in this new media landscape. Let’s hope…