Princess of North Sudan: “Why are you people so offended? It’s just a daddy’s love!”

Heaton-Sudan-FacebookSo an American (who else) dad’s little 7-year old girl turned to him and – probably fresh from a heavy diet of Disney princess movies – asked him if she’d ever be a real princess. Naturally. We consume the world. We are entitled to whatever our hearts desire, no? So 38-year old Jeremiah Heaton was, apparently, “faced with a dilemma.” Is she going to be a princess? No. Dammit. That’s going to screw up her life entirely. If she can’t be a princess and rule a country, that’s going to break her precious heart. What shall I do? I’ll make her a princess and serve her up some land to rule and own.

So he did some research. Unfortunately he can’t own Antarctica because of a treaty. So he found Bir Tawil between Egypt and Africa, and decided it was his because he said so. Princess Emily gets the worst birthday present ever: “officially the most undesired territory in the world.”

Jeremiah Heaton is not some ignorant racist, he protests: “What I am doing is the exact opposite of colonialism,” he says. “The dictionary defines colonialism as one country taking control of another to exploit its resources or people. Bir Tawil is not a country, it does not have a population, and I don’t represent the United States or a corporation. I’m an individual, and I’m not going to dig for diamonds or drill for oil or build a pipeline. What we’re doing is designed to improve people’s lives.”

sex-and-the-city-2-desktop-wallpapers030Right. Because the East India Company went in to India announcing: ‘Listen up, Hindoos. We’re here now. We’re going to grab all your pepper and sandalwood, and leave you with nothing because, as bandits, that’s what we do.”

Heaton says his endeavor has been actually completely misinterpreted. He’s not trying to grab a land and make his daughter a princess. No, not really. “I’m not trying to entitle them [my children]. I’m trying to teach them about how to help others, and work in the service of others. If anything, I believe it will help them to be more humble.”

You’re going to hear it soon enough from those who really get Heaton’s burning love. So hear it from me. “Why does the Princess of North Sudan get y’all so riled up? It’s just a symbolic act of love. Isn’t a daddy’s love for his little princess universal? Wouldn’t all of y’all want to offer up a real tiara to your little princesses? Why does it have to be so goddam political? Why don’t you all just calm down and wipe a tear for little Emily and her love-crazed dad?”

cruiseWell, here’s a question for you: why does all of your human drama have to use our lands as backdrop? Why does your courage, covert intelligence, adventure, military power, ingenuity, resistance, liberal generosity, romance, all have to play out with a wise black man servilely admiring your fortitude or a mysterious Japanese woman (to be bedded of course) looking on in fascination? If we figure in your narratives, why do we always have to serve your fatherly love? Why are we the land, the backdrop, the sidekick, the servant, the ally, the enemy? Why are you always the subject and why must we always figure as the exotic furniture in your tale? Why must we – most insulting of all – serve as a means to bring out your “altruism” and “humility”? How about practicing your altruism and your passion for humanity in Baltimore? How about feeding the 20% of American children who live in poverty? California needs your help, Heaton: take your plans to the 23.5% of Californians who live in poverty. Take your plans and your crowdfunding home. The world has had enough of serving as a stage for your claims, your flags, and your human-interest drama.

Empathy Cards for cancer survivors

150506_EYE_EmpathyCards4.jpg.CROP.original-originalEmily McDowell, cancer survivor, designed a “series of Empathy Cards—emotionally direct greeting cards that say the things she wanted to hear when she was ill.”

Cancer terrifies people. A cancer patient terrifies others. The sight of a bald, pale, hairless person strikes fear into others’ hearts. Worse, friends and loved ones struggle to deal with the cancer patient.

So, as a cancer survivor, let me suggest a few more cards a cancer survivor could get:

  •  “I just don’t have the energy to care for you right now. I still love you.” 
  • “While you are throwing up and struggling to get through the night, I won’t judge you for not being a perfect mother, homemaker, professional …
  • “I will try not to grudge you for being in need, and I won’t keep count of how I support you.”
  • “When you are better, I won’t remind you and your friends how I supported you. I won’t evaluate how you managed the full-time Job of Receiving Support.” 
  • “I will not give you advice about what you should read, do, eat, exercise, say, pray, etc etc etc.”
  • “As your colleague, I won’t make claims about supporting you through your illness and then stab you fatally in the back as soon as your hair has grown back.”
  • “I won’t make you responsible for taking care of my feelings. It’s ok if you need to be alone with your breast prosthetic and bald eyebrows.” 

The dangers of joint appointments

One thing that this article, How Joint Appointments Stall the Careers of Ethnic Studies Professors, does not comment on is that tenure track faculty with joint appointments aren’t always seen as traditional faculty. As marginal insiders, foreigners, so to speak, they are at risk of not having the usual department protections.

Though I was in jointAnthropology/Sociology and Global Studies and not Ethnic Studies as such, I experienced this at Millikin University. I do ethnic studies, and I am ethnic, so in a heavily-white faculty, I’m practically Ethnic Studies.

Since I was escaping a situation where I had felt incredibly vulnerable to vipers and suchlike, I desperately desired safety. I had thought that being part-General Education Coordinator and part-faculty would mean additional layers of protection. Instead, Arts & Sciences appeared miffed that “their” position was “taken” by Academic Affairs. The Dean refused to properly process my annual evaluation paperwork until the Faculty Council pressured him to do so – after a year of me asking politely and wondering what was happening.

Joint appointments can work but, given academic politics, they follow Murphy’s law.

Florida spring break gang rape: hedonism, misogyny, and objectification

The gang rape of a young woman on a crowded Florida beach within feet of hundreds of spring breakers should be a surprise only to those who are completely out of touch with a) the misogyny and sexism in our culture and b) the rampant hedonism of youth culture. While we hold the perpetrators responsible, let us hold ourselves responsible, too, for marketing and for consuming wanton misogyny and for perpetuating the same. Let us also hold responsible the hedonism market that freely and viciously exploits youthful appetites and objectifies women’s bodies for the sole purpose of making profits.

Since the late 1960s, when universities relinquished the in loco parentis role, sociability and hedonism have grown ubiquitous in higher education … Sociability and hedonism, which play central roles in the marketing of college brands, are manufactured and indulged in by college undergraduates.

In American popular culture, college—at the corner of adolescence and adulthood—represents a selective mimicry of “adult” hedonistic behaviors combined with youthful imprudence. Undergraduates are customarily described as being frivolous, “‘drowning’ in a campus sea of secularism, hedonism, and materialism” (Magolda and Gross 2009: 315), and immersed in an “anti-intellectual student ethos” (Renn and Arnold 2003: 263). Getting trashed, flirting with abandon, (aspiring to) wild promiscuity, cutting classes—these are all familiar tropes that popularly represent the college years in the popular imagination (CoEd Staff 2008).

Peer culture constitutes marginality for many who are ugly, uncool, frumpy, unpopular, nonwhite, foreign, or poor. With important regional and rural-urban variations, “cool” students are (or seem) mellow or blasé in relation to, well, everything: academic work, sex, religion, morality, politics, and regulations—everything except having a good time. Nothing is supposed to faze normal youth, and certainly not a judicious measure of debauchery. If you were significantly disengaged from such “normal” youth behaviors, you would be marked as “different.”  

-Excerpt from Muslim American Women on Campus: Undergraduate Social Life & Identitychapter 2.

An explanatory footnote to my blog post on ‘Unmosqued’

I hate defensive writing. I hate saying, I didn’t mean this and I didn’t mean that. But that’s what I’m going to do today.

First, my last blog post on the Unmosqued discussion was heartfelt, the product of almost two decades of work with the Muslim American community.

Second, that selfsame blog post was not primarily a reflection on or analysis of CIMIC, the Central Illinois Mosque and Islamic Center. I was not being insincere when I said that CIMIC is head and shoulders above the other mosque and community experiences I have had. We have here people who are genuinely interested in the community, in being inclusive, and in being egalitarian.

But CIMIC, like (let’s pull a number out of a hat) 90% of mosques in the United States, works within a particular format, and that format is what I spoke of in my last blog post.

The fact that a mosque arranges a viewing of Unmosqued speaks volumes for the secret desire for change among even gatekeepers.

One thing is certain: when I demand change, for me, for my daughter, for my sisters who have never been to the mosque, I am doing so because we all need that change. We are trapped within a format, a methodology, and it’s not working for almost all of us (I could pull out another percentage from my hat here).

One of the problems is, in most communities, we are too busy reacting to ongoing challenges to think about that change.

One of these challenges that I have seen decent, well-intentioned mosque folks deal with is this: the salafi Islamists at the gate, pushing for control, more control.

If you’ve lived through the 1990s, you’ll wonder why they’re still trying to get control, but they are. And when they get a khutbah in, you hear their views on gender and politics, and you respond with NO MORE.

No more authoritarian, foreign, sexist religious ideology. It was dominant during the 1990s here, and we have no nostalgia for it.

In the words of the dating website: It’s Our Time.

The ‘Unmosqued’ discussion

photo-mainWe had a viewing of the documentary Unmosqued at our Islamic Center tonight.

It resulted in, on the one hand, the release of pent-up energy and input that I have never seen here (and long-standing members said they hadn’t seen in ages). On the other hand, the rather negative note on which the documentary concludes – with rather sparse indication of possible routes to the future – meant that the viewing also resulted in a sense of despair and a sense of unresolved polarization.

I am hopeful that we will have more community discussions similar to the one we had today.

The brief ensuing discussion (cut short by ‘isha prayer and the lateness of the hour) revealed a polarization around a) a profound sense of pain, alienation, and disconnect and b) the reaction of gatekeepers (which is a relative term), one of resentment toward the negative emotions (see a). We didn’t have the opportunity or the leadership to resolve this polarization either.

I am left, wistful, with one of the last comments in the documentary – a young man who said that the current mosque culture would not change or shift but simply die, and be replaced by something different.

Rather optimistically, I thought, another young man said that Muslim Americans would be leading and creating the mosques of the future. Yes, I thought, but only if  those mosques are very different creatures. I certainly can’t see a lot of young Muslim Americans of the future sidle politely into the back of the congregation, to listen quietly to some man (week after week, some man) rehearse his oddball views on life and Islam. They will either depart, or (if we are lucky) they will become part of a very different mosque.

One thing is certain:

The defensive reaction of the “choir” is not going to help resolve the polarization. If someone has been hurting, who has been urged and yelled at to be invisible and inaudible for years in this space, you cannot scold them for being in pain. You cannot scold them for being absent at the meetings (where their views are shrugged off anyway). You cannot judge them for being uninvolved in the mosque when the cultural setting of the mosque, the cultural language or style of the mosque is alien to them. It is a man’s space. It is a middle-aged man’s space. The unconventionally religious, the female, the youthful, the Black, the convert, etc. have been excluded and marginalized a long, long time. So don’t tell women (for instance) that it’s their own fault for not charging into the man-dominated crowd and making their mark on the mosque. I will not have it. I have served, I have worked, I have represented, I have smiled through the pain a million times, and I am the community. I will not be scolded for not doing enough. I will not be told off for having been thrown out of this space years ago.

imageAnd one more polarization:

Some women do feel a part of the mosque community and they are happy to serve (or be permitted to serve in subsidiary roles). I understand. But I do not wish to help my husband with his mosque work. I wish to have my own role in the mosque. I do not wish to cook or serve food. It’s not one of my talents. Gardening and lifting heavy objects are not my talents either. But I can lead discussions. I can teach. I can evaluate the Sunday School. Oh, and I can write khutbahs and deliver them. [Do I hear terrified silence?]

Also, ladies, I do not want to hear the words “Sisters’ Representative” ever again. No. You are not my representative to the Men. Thank you, but no. It is 2015. No more of that rubbish please.

So with all love and respect to those who are content with the status quo as well as to those who offer cultural spaces in the existing mosque – it’s just not enough. I want more. And I am not alone. I am the majority – the absent majority. If I am to contribute (as opposed to just show up for the occasional Friday congregation, gripe about the irrelevance of the sermon, and leave), I must have more. I will not settle for less.

Call me impious, call me a discontented shrew if you will, criticize me for my clothing if you want. I am hardened from years of practice. But for my daughter’s tomorrow, because I know she will flee the mosque if it is anything less, I will continue to show up in my own clothes, in my own style, and I will continue to demand MORE.

*******************************

Update, March 1: OK. It seems that this post really spoke to some people. I want to add a couple of things:

First, I think our local mosque and Islamic Center is head and shoulders above the dreadful experiences I’ve had before. But as I said (repeatedly), we need MORE. The choir is happy or content with what we have. But they are unaware of the crowds that, unlike even me, are completely disconnected from the mosque.

Second, in case anyone got the wrong impression, I think the documentary is excellent. It is the perfect catalyst to break through smooth exteriors beneath which there lurks turmoil. But once people have got back in touch with their pain, they must have leadership and facilitation.

With polarized perspectives, that is one thing that we must have: facilitation. I wish I’d been It at our discussion, but there just wasn’t enough time.

OK, I was also simmering in my pain.

That pain. The moment I saw those images of barriers, walls, dividers, and CCTV. It all came back to me. Hours of service, immersed in the mosque community, running over to the mosque -like a mother hen – the day it was vandalized, iftar dinners in the freezing women’s space during winter Ramadans … And hours of argumentation, men saying (in various accents) that women didn’t belong in the main space, in the executive committee, anywhere except the women’s prayer space, the fury, the impotent fury and disbelief that this was happening in my beloved mosque space.

So excuse me for being in pain, and for my tone being a little unbalanced. I promise, next time, I will be a calm and empathic facilitator. Give me a chance. Another discussion, okay? A second viewing of Unmosqued and I will be better.

Because I really, truly believe that at our mosque, Unmosqued allowed for the best, most powerful, most energetic flow of ideas I have EVER seen.