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…
Cultural stagnancy is a warning bell for any company—for that matter—any person really. Thomas Jefferson had once said, “In matters of principle, stand like a rock; in matters of taste, swim with the current” . I am definitely not one to advocate for shucking off markers of a cultural past in order to make the status quo feel more comfortable. Far from it. Trust me. I know very well the dangers of being pushed in that direction—both as a small business owner and an writer.
Part of the peril that I walked into in my life was not necessarily failing to follow cultural trends but an overall failure to check my career path against industry-specific and market trends. Added to that, I wasn’t noticing how the folks around me were increasingly less racially and ethnically diverse. This was all happening, meanwhile, as the profession itself that I was seeking—being a college professor—was an economically shrinking prospect. Quite the cocktail.
A quick look at the stats: The salary of tenure-track professors has risen from about $70,000 in the year ranging from 1999-2000 to over $100,000 between the years of 2009-2010 . The amount of tenure-track positions have declined from being 78% of the available positions in 1969 to 33% of the available positions in 2009 (and only 18% of the remaining position were full-time) .
While I may have been a non-traditional professor in my use of technology, games, movies and art-making in the classroom, my cultural profession was considered Jurassic. The overall cultural trend was moving toward more STEM jobs, and there was an increasingly anti-intellectual fervor in the country. Anti-intellectual means being—anti professor.
"Cultural stagnancy is a warning bell for any company—for that matter—any person really."
The cultural innovations in my classroom were no match for the cultural stagnancy college instructors were perceived to represent. We could not out innovate out of being in a boa constrictor’s winding digestive tract.
Speaking of another s-curve shaped, winding structure, the Great Wall of China is a prime example of the complexity that befalls any noteworthy endeavor such as embarking on a career path or starting a project. By the time the project’s done, it toes the line of no longer being deemed relevant—by detractors and the larger public. Detractors aside—and their function is in their name—the relevancy of an undertaking still has to make it to some kind of market. It has to ultimately find its best fitted usage—audience.
In the section of Haiming Yan’s book World Heritage Craze in China titled “The Great Wall: From Ethnic Boundary to Cosmopolitan Memory,” Yan makes the case that what made the Wall great was also its downfall . He notes that while the Wall stood for thousands of years as a “defensive system against invasion from the outside,” particularly those thought of a barbarous, it later had been labeled as representing some kind of impediment to a narrative of cultural exchange and integration . Its singularity of use was thought to be its weakness.
The singularity of focus with which any aspiring professor has to commit herself comes head to head with the culture of first-ness in the post-digital age. Everything, it seems, has to not only be fast but great, timely and pristine, relevant with only a hint of rigor. Many scholars have risen to the challenge and many have done so to their peril.
We, as scholars, could do a better job in communicating how time intensive our work is if expected to meet the comparable levels of quality that we’re trained to and expected to provide.
The culture of first-ness can in some ways be a counterbalance for motivating scholarly writers like myself to move faster and speak more quickly to audiences. That is a way to help stave off cultural stagnancy in the digital age. Graduate students are notorious for finding ourselves studying our beloved and obscure topics. However, it is important to note that even in the scholarly realm work is judged by its timeliness and relevancy. We are just more understanding that good quality work is worth the wait—relatively so.
The race to be first in the blogosphere and in the news industry does two things: 1) It gets data to the people who need it as quickly as possible and 2) creates a culture of speed that sometimes can impede quality—quality of the work itself and the quality of life on the writer.
You can’t really argue with the relevancy aspect. We all Goggle things and have come to culturally expect Sri’s speedy and thorough replies. How many dates, job interviews or bets were won by the vastness of the Internet at our finger tips? Countless.
In “First! Cultural Circulation in the Age of Recursivity” by Devon Powers, he talks about the cultural theory of “firstness” as a “metaculture that plays a role in making culture circulation faster, more reliant on quantification, and more promotional” . Powers looks at “web-based comment threads and music blogs to showcase how the competition to be first is central to the cultural ecosystem, especially but not only online” .
This “recursivity,” as he defines it, creates a cultural mode where the condition has to be repeated over and over again—meaning that a Pulitzer doesn’t mean you’ve done something and you can somehow retire. It’s a culture where you have to keep making baskets. Your last lay-up even if done from a trampoline wearing roller skates blind-folded means little in the short-attention span of “what’s next?”
"What I hope for is a greater diversity of perspectives in what is deemed market relevant."
For academics, this “what’s next?” culture is tough but also, in a way, part of our culture, too. We are always tinkering with an idea, with a project, with an idea and several projects. There can be a now-ness to our process as well. Meaning we—because of our scholarly training—find ways to make relevant what we think is important. We’re trained to learn—incorporate new information.
As a post-30 millennial (half-luddite and half-Internet native), I am not making any argument for going back to the time before technology dominated our lives. I am a both-and kind of person. There are merits both to the pre-Internet and post-Internet cultures. What I am bothered by is the health impact that this culture of first-ness creates for the writer, the blogger, the scholar. Writing is extremely labor intensive. My neck and shoulders are witness.
Yes, I can write the length of a blog post in two hours. Yet, would it be any good or near the quality that either I or my readers have come to expect? No. I have trained myself to do a couple of blog posts a week. More than that, performing at the scholarly, rigorous level physically hurts. It’s a sacrifice. And we all make sacrifices for the things we love.
What I hope for is a greater diversity of perspectives in what is deemed market relevant.
If scholars are not at the table for some of these business and higher up decisions, how can we make the case for greater compassion regarding the physical and emotional costs of our profession? Diversity is, yes, very much about ethnicity and race. Importantly so. It is also about a diversity of mind.
At the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Ed, in 2012, I was part of the founding team of a school group called WSDM (We Support Diversity of Mind)—the acronym phonetically sounds like “Wisdom.” The premise behind it was and still is “to enhance the overall community for students of color at Penn GSE” through community engagement and academic and social events . As students of color in a predominately white institution (PWI), we had to create spaces to reaffirm our identity, connect with shared experiences and build bridges to alumni of color. This was not to the exclusion of participating in the larger majority culture. It better enabled it.
At WSDM, we argued that diversity is not just based on skin color or ethnic background. It has to do with diversity of perspectives and mindsets.
Women in Silicon Valley are making the same argument.
In Jessica Powell’s latest book The Big Disruption, she talks about the insular, zany monoculture of tech hubs. Farhad Manjoo reviews the book in his “State of the Art” column for the New York Times titled “Inside Silicon Valley’s Bubble: A Monotonous Monoculture.”
Powell, former head of public relations for Google, in her interview with Manjoo said about the Silicon Valley culture, “I don’t think that everyone has an equal voice…Even putting aside broader issues around gender diversity, ethnic diversity or class diversity, there’s also an issue around people’s educational backgrounds. If you have a hierarchy where engineers are at the very top and people who are interfacing with the outside world are a couple rungs below that, you really miss something when those people don’t have an equal voice at the table” .
In a knowledge economy—we need knowledge, and for that matter, we need knowledges. There are multiple intelligences that are to be found in a large swath of varied communities, whether they be rural, from Ivy League schools, multi-ethnic, multi-racial or even multi-gendered.
We as a society could do better to listen—without an air of threat—to people who look differently or even act differently than us. When we listen we can add more information and solutions to the problems we are trying to solve.
Techie culture has a need for speed. That, in part, has infused the culture with a rush to “first-ness.”
Manjoo writes that it “is hardly breaking news. Google and its rivals have published annual diversity reports for years, yet their overall statistics have barely budged” . “A lack of diversity plagues an industry that talks only to itself,” he notes . Both Powell and Majoo remark on the cultural stagnancy of Silicon Valley. In that, is concern that if we are either crowding out or not including marginal voices, we risk losing crucial insights in solving the increasingly complex and multi-faceted problems to come such as climate change.
Diversity is not a benefit. Ask mother nature. It is a need.
Deep Working Relationships: How to Our EQ Matters as Much as Our IQ at the "Office" by Shayna S. Israel
Name a time when you felt a sense of comradery in the workplace. Now, name an emotion from that time.
For me, it was working as developmental specialist for the ODASIS (Office of Diversity and Academic Success in the Sciences) program at Rutgers University—and not for all the reasons you might expect. It was a time where the majority of my co-workers were millennials like myself. We were hard working, passionate about social justice, pained and longing for work-life balance—really an opportunity to be healthier so that we could give more of ourselves to the work we love. I felt helpful.
Millennials—mistakenly—get pegged as lazy, uninvolved, flaky, flighty and lacking discipline. On the contrary, in a section titled “Millennials are Entitled AND Hardworking,” the Center for Creative Leadership notes, “Millennials want to have a say and contribute their ideas. They resist doing repetitive or boring work…But entitled doesn’t mean lazy. Millennials work long hours, don’t expect work to stop when they leave the office and are quite motivated. They want to contribute beyond their job descriptions and move up in the organization” .
By 2020, millennials will represent 40% of the total working population . Learning how to attract and retain them is a requisite for any wise employer. Characterizing the behavior of close to half the future working population as somehow marginal or an unusual risk does one of, at least two things: 1) It forces them to create economies and jobs outside of the current market and its regulation, or 2) it engenders greater disruptions in the workplace such as high rates of turnover.
Jane Gutfreund, chief strategy officer for The Intelligence Group, agrees with me. “It’s in every organization’s interest to learn [how to] attract and reach and motivate millennials. A few do it well—but most don’t…No organization can afford not to recruit the best talent,” she says .
Millennials are in a precarious position. We grew up at a time where we watched technicolor videos of secretaries in skirt suits and workers with safety goggles on assembly lines that were supposed to teach us workplace etiquette on giant TVs rolled into our classrooms on three-foot-high wheeled stands. This, for us, was also paired with popularization of Apple and Gateway personal computers and Napster. We were between worlds and—thus, world views of workplace culture.
Millennials “tend to speak different workplace languages” than their older Generation X siblings and their Baby Boomer parents, suggests Shara Senderoff, co-founder and CEO of Intern Sushi . That means when it comes to conflict resolution, they have difficulty in areas that their expertise would belie. They are college educated and often well-traveled. They should seem to have strong conflict management skills. And they do. (Trust me, having to negotiate organizing a concert or travel logistics half-way around the world, requires much problem solving).
Millennials tend to be problem solvers. That’s the issue: Older generations don’t like people who talk about problems. Who does? Yet, the thing is—millennials tend to talk about problems they’re willing to solve.
We do have to learn, nonetheless, how to translate our idealistic notions of how labor relations in the workplace should be—in order to assist employers in responding to areas of concern, so that we all can increase workplace efficiencies and meet organizational needs. While a little perturbed (read: really hurt) that your boss is sending you angry emails during a funeral he gave you the time off to attend, we have to learn how to cool our tempers and either not check our phones 20 times a day. That means showing some grace for the irrationalities of our employers and ask that they show us some grace.
I am not saying it has to be one of those “do you want to be happy or do you want to be paid?” kind of things. Far from it. What I am saying is that I learned some hard lessons. Bringing to an employers’ attention the need for pregnancy parking, paid family leave or work hours that don’t routinely extend to 12-hours days—can be done in a way that respects our distinct values for social justice and exemplify what a safe workplace culture looks like without packing up and leaving.
Millennials “want to have a life outside of work, and expect enough flexibility to allow them to fulfill both their personal and professional commitments,” the Center for Creative Leadership goes on to say . We want to affect the world in some way or another toward the arc of justice. We want our jobs to contribute to bettering the world rather than fattening the pockets of elites. That creates a motivation in us beyond any dollar amount. That means, a dollar amount is not going to keep us if it is out of alignment with our vision of a more peaceful society.
In an article titled, “What Millennials Want in the Workplace (And Why You Should Start Giving It to Them,” Rob Asghar writes regarding millennials, “They’re not looking to fill a slot in a faceless company…They’re looking strategically at opportunities to invest in a place where they can make a difference, preferably a place that itself makes a difference” .
There is another reason why I believe, we, millennials tend to leave a job after a good 2-3 years: Economic cognitive dissonance. The fact that 20% of Millennials report having experienced depression and the American Psychiatry Association finds that millennials face some of the highest rates of anxiety—might be connected not only to economic instability but the split between what we studied about the “work world” and what we learned about the harsher power dynamic plays at the job .
We were told one thing about the economy in our utopian university experience and upon arriving, were face-to-face with a harsher, less idyllic story.
We were told: “Your degree will distinguish you,” yet bachelor’s degrees are ubiquitous and master’s degrees are increasingly commonplace. PhD graduate student instructors and adjunct professors make less than cashiers at Walmart do ($7.25/hour versus $13/hour) . Graduate student instructors make on average $15,000 a year teaching four classes of freshman composition, for example. The average full-time worker at Walmart makes on average $27,000 a year.
We were told, “Work hard, keep your head down and you will be recognized for your ingenuity and hard work.” Yet after pulling 12 – 14 hour-days, coming in on the weekends on short notice, we are either laid-off during the employee grace period or are pushed out through the “making-this-uncomfortable-for-you-so-you-leave” strategy. Reason: We “kept raising concerns about one issue or another.”
Let’s us not forget—and Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, got an earful about this when he testified before the Senate donning a thick beard and nose ring—the spoken and unspoken reason: Our look did not fit the culture of the environment. We have either heard that before or know someone who has. Yet, for millennials, that often extends to your disposition and outlook.
(And in no way am I bitter about any of the colorful millennial experiences I have had in the workplace—nor are any of the above examples directly reflective of my work history…[read: I went through the needed therapy on these issues already and am excited to be working in the capacities I currently am, dread locks and all])
The question that I am still trying to figure out is for our generation: What are the markers of trust worthiness in the workplace? Trust is foundational to any healthy relationship. There seems to be a two-way street of mistrustfulness between employers from older generations and what will be 40% of the labor market by 2020.
Yes, intellectual prowess matters on the job, but emotions are a kind of intellect in and of themselves. We need both IQ and EQ in order to manage healthy workplace relations and bridge the workplace language divide. We need to talk about our work AND speak to the fears, traumas and desires that permeate our working lives.
Memory, Trauma and Truth: How Testifying Is Wired into Our Brains and How Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s Testimony Inspired Our Hearts by Shayna S. Israel
While it contestable as to whether or not judge Kavanaugh should be nominated to the privilege of Supreme Court Justice—what is undeniable is that: The testimonies of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh are about power. The power of a nominee over an accuser. The power of a politician and the power of a professor. The power of a high school junior over a high school sophomore. The power of a man over a woman.
The long trail that Dr. Blasey Ford has traversed from the new found power of a newly minted 15-year with a driver’s license—to powerlessness, in her violent assault, to empowerment—finding the will to testify—happened, for her, in the sexual realm. Yet, her empowerment story as a survivor has tethers extending out to larger social implications, both for her and the nation.
As the multitude of protestors descending on the Capitol are showing, who are part of the #CancelKavanaugh movement, Dr. Blasey Ford’s testimony has ignited survivors across the country to make their voices and their stories heard. Dr. Blasey Ford in recounting her story, offered the nation a moment for us to examine how sexual violence permeates across the far reaches of our society and culture.
Sexual assault is about power—not sex. Sex is often, sadly, a tool for the dissemination of unreconciled, malcontented and distorted power.
Although, painfully matter-of-fact, Ms. Rachel Mitchell, the prosecutor hired by the Senate Republicans to question Dr. Blasey Ford, did an immense service by handing Kavanaugh a list of actions enumerating the spectrum of what is considered sexual violence. While Kavanaugh is still presumed innocent, it is important to make sure the accused is well informed about the range of offenses considered when an accuser of sexual assault comes forth.
Our notion of sexual violation too often has been informed by Hollywood dramatizations of it. Non-consensual sex, forcible or not, does not always happen as dramatic ruptures—although far too many of them do occur in that way. The majority of women sexually assaulted are assaulted by someone they know, either an intimate partner or family member. That means there is a gradation of possible misconduct ranging from the more egregious to the ostensibly benign.
In the Handmaid’s Tale, June Osbourne, the Handmaid of the Gileadan Commander Fred Waterford, is repeatedly raped by the Waterfords who attempt to sanitize her with religious scriptures. Many viewers cited being immensely bothered by such scenes as reasons for why they stopped watching. Ariana Romero for Refinery29.com writes on June 20th of this year, “After Wednesday’s latest episode, ‘The Last Ceremony,’ I am thankful those women, who were already deeply upset by the constant ritualized rape, which Gilead attempts to sanitize with Bible passages and protocol, left the Handmaid’s world when they did” .
Romero in her piece, “The Waterfords Can Never Come Back From That Handmaid’s Tale Assault Scene,” is aghast by the long penetrating scenes portraying the ritualized rape of June, noting that the directors went too far. “The Handmaid’s Tale doesn’t just go for tight shots of the scene, which would minimize viewing the actual assault. Instead, we’re forced to look at long shots of Fred penetrating June, whose huge pregnancy stomach leaves her looking even more vulnerable, from above, behind, and from the side. Director Jeremy Podeswa gives us a relentless 360-degree view of the violence,” Romero states .
Elizabeth Moss, the actress who plays June, sits at a roundtable of women, the likes of who include Oprah Winfrey and Nicole Kidman answering this question for HollywoodReporter.com: "If you were being sexually assaulted on a regular basis, and you knew there was nothing you could do about it, what would you do?" . Moss’ reply—“I would probably not be there.”
The dynamics between the maid and her masters are such that “not being there,” class-wise is less of an option for her. Hence—that is why there is an emphasis on the importance of talking about power when discussing sexual assault. There is a graduation of the abuse of power both in the sexual realm and the legal realm, in the upperclasses and the lower rungs of society.
The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) provides a list of behaviors that fall under the umbrella of sexual assault. As the research, development and evaluation arm of the U.S. Justice Department, the NIJ is “dedicated to improving knowledge and understanding of crime and justice issues through science” . Their listing is objective and probably as illuminating as the list Kavanaugh received from the prosecutor, Mitchell. The NIJ’s list includes,
I include such a lengthy list because what one person calls attempted rape, another person might call roughhousing.
In an article titled “She Said. Then He Said. Now What Will Senators Say?,” Peter Baker writes regarding the Kavanaugh hearings that there was “a reality gulf so wide that their conflicting accounts of what happened when they were teenagers cannot be reconciled” . One person says she was in the room with two men, one of whom forcibly pushed her into the bedroom and onto the bed. Another says he was not even there on the night in question.
Two parallel lines, even in calculus, eventually meet. In this Kavanaugh hearing, between him and Dr. Blasey Ford, we many never know for certain all of what happened that night in the summer of 1982.
Nonetheless, ascertaining the truth is about reconciling accounts, creating a balance and fair elucidation of the facts on both sides.
Reconciliation is also about making a one to one: Is this what this is? When trauma occurs, it throws things off balance, “Was this a this, and was that a that? What to do with this, and what to do with that?” The brain works based on agreement. In fact, that is how any definition works, particularly the definition of reality. For societies, let alone two people, to work, to communicate, there has to be agreement that a duck is a duck.
When two teenagers whose frontal cortices are still in development and when inebriants like alcohol are involved, there is already a potential fissure in the reality checking mechanisms that our bodies have. Meaning there’s a potential fissure in the biological checks and balances, like the one’s we are currently seeing in our own political branches of government.
Our eyes confirm for our hears what we perceive and vice versa. The brain, as well as the genitals, is a sex organ. That means, unfortunately, that our bodies can participate in a sexual act even while our brains our less-than-conscious. It is not uncommon for rape victims to report lubrication during an assault even as their minds slip in and out of consciousness. Slippage is part of the array of protective mechanisms the brain employs to mitigate the receptivity impact of the body in trauma. It’s called blacking out.
There is another kind of blacking out that much more people are familiar with—and that is the drug induced kind. Trauma causes dissociation. Beer, drunken in excess, can cause dissociation. That does not mean an attacker is in any way excused from culpability—very far from it. What it does mean is that remembering all the details, on the side of the accused and the accuser is complicated by neurobiology.
Now, I, by far, am not a neurobiologist, and Dr. Blasey Ford, by far, is an expert in her own right: She has a Bachelor’s in Experimental Psychology, a Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology, a Master’s in Epidemiology and a PhD in Educational Psychology . During her testimony, Dr. Blasey Ford outlined the neurochemistry of trauma and memory. When asked by Ms. Mitchell, "how she could be certain in her recollection of what happened with Judge Kavanaugh," Dr. Blasey Ford responded :
“Just basic memory functions, and also just the level of norepinephrine and the epinephrine in the brain that, you know, encodes that neurotransmitter that codes memories into the hippocampus and so the trauma-related experience is locked there, whereas other details kind of drift” . Dr. Blasey Ford noted a typical “fight or flight” reaction and relayed, about her assault, that she “was definitely experiencing the surge of cortisol and adrenaline and epinephrine” .
In this country we are innocent until proven guilty and even then we have the right to appeal. Respecting our precious constitutional standing, I write here today not to speak conclusively about whether or not Kavanaugh is a serial attempted-rapist. I am writing to say that I can believe that both Dr. Blasey Ford and Kavanaugh were speaking their truths—as they have recalled them. I do suspect that Kavanaugh may have misled the Judiciary Committee in some of the explanations of his yearbook terminology, at the very least--at the very least.
In a testimony, as many of the federal prosecutors mentioned over and over during the hearings, the most credible thing that they look for is being up front about what you don’t remember. Commenting on the night of her sexual assault, at the beginning of Dr. Blasey Ford’s written testimony, she states, :
“I do not remember all of the details of how that gathering came together, but like many that summer, it was almost surely a spur of the moment gathering. I truly wish I could provide detailed answers to all of the questions that have been and will be asked about how I got to the party, where it took place, and so forth. I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t remember as much as I would like to. But the details about that night that bring me here today are ones I will never forget. They have been seared into my memory and have haunted me episodically as an adult” .
Who—between Dr. Blasey Ford and Judge Kavanaugh, in recounting lapses in memory—was more forthright?
When we have a president, Donald J. Trump that criticizes a survivor of sexual assault for what she does not remember (See the latest Trump rant), let’s remember why victims immediately after trauma have so much difficulty in telling their stories: They don’t want to be traumatized again.
In the spirit of the many survivors telling their stories and speaking truth to power, here is a poem I have written almost 11 years after my rape. I was gang raped at the age of 12.