Monday, June 27, 2005

Re-Cognition/De-Conocido; Or, Whose Poetry Is it Anyway?

"I often think that my interest in autobiography and memoir stems from the ways that the self, my self-fashioned “I,” must continually re-invent a story so as to make a metaphor out of U.S. brutal literalism."

Dang. The World's Smartest Woman, Claudia Milian is at it again.

Here's an article I read last fall while I was in the thick of it. And, sick of it. Literally sick to my stomach. Thank the goddesses, these days, I can 'sup again on the Whole Enchilada—thanks to the petals of poetry.

Back to the books I hope to send off today.

Meanwhile, Happy belated birthday, Peter! "Estas son las mañanitas. . ."

And, thanks, de nuevo, Claudia.
See my comment & stab at translating Dario on Out of the Woodwork today. I'm way behind on putting up new links.
Some blogs off the top of my bloghead I'd like to roll: Lit Windowpane, Therapist With A Dream Inside, 666Poetry-Not Ms Finch's Blog (when I first stumbled on this, as I do any bird-referenced anything, I thought this was a Lorna Dee parody), Land Mammal, Sisyphus Walking, Poetry Hut, Eileen Tabios, Rebecca Louden, Home Schooled By A Cackling Jackal, Dialogic, Bill Allegrezza, Pelican Dreaming (more birds), 13 Ways of looking At a BlackBird, Box of Birds, Wood's Lot (for the birds), A Burning Patience, Radical Druid, Wor(l)d Binder, Growing Nation, Fait Acompli, Stephen Vincent, Joseph Beuy's Hat, Save Cow Pastor (Tom Raworth for Kamau Brathwaite), Margaret Cho (who just rescued a new pup, too, who looks just like mine!), Never Neutral, Ironic Points of Light, Emily Lloyd, the world a letter, Gila Monster, and Didi Menendez who just invited me to join Café Café. . . just off the top of my block. (I can't believe I just did that, but I did, so now here's some for me to click 'til I get 'em up in their rooms.)
P.S. Re: Oprah in Hermes—NOT
It's not the price of the bag that counts, it's who's in it. Or, who it is.
What it is, poets.

(better go now before my publisher gets mad at me) Poetry On!
Elizabeth A. Reyes is a staff psychologist and the coordinator of multicultural student programs and services at Pennsylvania State University at University Park.

The Chronicle of Higher Education
The Chronicle Review

From the issue dated September 17, 2004


Whose Culture Is It, Anyway?


Even with increased awareness of diversity throughout our society, we academic professionals of color often find that our white counterparts treat us differently from the way they do other whites. Not long ago, I was invited to give a guest lecture on working with diverse ethnic groups to students in a course on counseling psychology. As part of my job as multicultural coordinator at the university's counseling center, I train counseling supervisors and provide therapy, so the lecture topic obviously fit my areas of expertise. After my talk, the professor asked if I could share with the students something about the development of my ethnic identity as a Latina. I felt that I was being asked to sum up what it was like to be Mexican. Because my presentation had not covered Latino psychology or working with the Latino population per se, I was caught off guard. I asked the professor to repeat the question, just to give myself time to think. Was I really supposed to share, on demand, personal experiences that had shaped me?

I found myself wondering whether one of my white colleagues would ever hear: "In the time we have left, I wonder if you could tell us a bit about when you came to grips with your white privilege or racism?" My first thought was to observe that asking the question exemplified white privilege. But even as I searched for a more appropriate response, I knew that the question was a wake-up call about what I may expect as a professional of color. I realized that my continuing education of
others did not end last year when I left graduate school -- another setting in which I was one of too few voices representing diversity. Moreover, the question alerted me once again to the deceptively benign nature of white privilege, even in academe.

Because my lecture had focused on the development of racial identity, rather than Latino values, I suspected that the professor was not asking me to talk about my culture as much as about my experience -- as a person of color -- of prejudice, shame, pain, and rage. Here was one of those cases in which members of minority groups are not treated the same as whites, who are seldom asked to bare their souls in the interest of educating people from a different ethnic group. Although I was taken aback by the question, my cultural upbringing (which emphasizes respect for my elders and authority figures) made it impossible for me to challenge the professor in front of the students. I felt compelled to say something, and something that I hoped the professor would not find disrespectful. So I began with a lie, stating that of course I am happy to share information about myself. Then I explained that such sharing can be a double-edged sword: When only members of ethnic minorities are asked to share, it reinforces the notion that whites have no culture to share. Accordingly, I gently invited the professor to share some personal experiences with the class as well.

For my part, I began with the story of my family's migration to the United States, which bought me some time to think. Then I talked about how I had learned that no matter how hard my family tried, or how equal we looked from an economic standpoint, I would often be called a spic. I described a visit I made to a friend, two weeks after I earned my doctoral degree.
When I neared the house, a stranger who was one of my friend's neighbors asked me if I was there to clean the house. "I am looking for someone to clean my house, too," she told me.

Clearly, I did not fit her model of the type of person who would live in or visit her exclusive, gated community. As a Mexican woman, I fit her idea of a housekeeper, not a houseguest. I sometimes feel that racism can be like a car that zooms past and splashes you with water from the nearest puddle, leaving your clothes soiled. Although my racist experiences were not my fault, at the end of the day, I was the one walking around with the sullied spirit, wishing I could wipe away the stains. The perpetrator goes on his or her way, often not even aware of having offended anyone.

As I shared my stories, I couldn't help wondering how it would change the students' perception of me as a professional. Would they feel pity or embarrassment when they saw me again? Or would they quickly forget what I had said? Which would be worse? I understood the professor's hope that my remarks would be educational, but it seemed to me that whatever I said
could diminish my credibility and status as a professional in the students' eyes. I left the class feeling exposed; I was also confused about how to deal with that feeling. I knew that I felt vulnerable because of what I had revealed to the students. I told myself it was not the professor's fault -- I could have decided to share less about my past. But I had barely had time to think what to say. In addition I suspected that my reaction was another facet of white privilege: People of color often react to racism by blaming themselves for being too sensitive.

The experience made me wonder when in the future I will be asked to "share my story" with predominantly white audiences or students whom I might have to supervise. How would I seize the opportunity to educate, without making myself feel vulnerable or as if I needed to prove something? I certainly would not want to discourage efforts to increase multicultural
awareness, but we too often expect people of color to do all the educating about diversity. In dialogues on race relations, many whites say that they have no culture, or that they are simply "American." Too often we fail to challenge those assertions. Though we have a growing body of literature related to white ethnic identity and white privilege, too little of it is included in education about multicultural awareness. And beyond the literature, white students and professors need to explore their own identities. It is too easy to focus on the group that we see as the other instead of exploring ourselves.

Now I need to figure out how to prepare myself for future confrontations with white privilege. How can whites become more conscious of the impact that their actions, comments, and assumptions have on people of color? How can we make whites more aware of their blind spots? Multicultural education can help enlighten professors and students by including white culture in racial dialogue: In this country, all culture and ethnicity exist within the context of white privilege. Remember the popular metaphor of looking out the window. We are so used to seeing what is outside that we don't notice how the window itself shapes our perception. Multicultural awareness means refocusing our eyes so that we see the window. Is there a
windowpane? Does the glass have a crack? Is there a screen? How do those factors influence our view of what we think we see? In order to help students see the windows of their culture, we need to engage white students in a dialogue about their culture, worldview, and privilege. It would be particularly helpful if white professors shared their own journey of self-awareness with students. That openness would make fellow professionals and students of color feel less vulnerable, and it would be a valuable example for white students -- especially if the professors described moments when they recognized their own prejudice.

In addition, graduate schools need to teach students of color how to handle racism -- both conscious and unconscious -- in academe, how to educate their future white colleagues and peers about white privilege, and how to serve as mentors for their own students of color. I wish the professor had asked me before class if I would be comfortable talking about myself to the
students. I continue to struggle with the question of how much to disclose in the future. Unfortunately, that was not on the curriculum in my graduate school.

Elizabeth A. Reyes is a staff psychologist and the coordinator of
multicultural student programs and services at Pennsylvania State
University at University


Blogger 666poetry-finchnot said...

hi lorna

just curious to know why
you thot my blog was a
lorna dee parody

i am /
very honoured you mention me
in your blog /

thank you


29/6/05 15:25  
Blogger Lorna Dee Cervantes said...

*All* of this, for one:
"good god, the poets you've driven away with this drivel. and no, her literary discoveries don't devalue the find -- but they sure as hell let the world know how ignorant she is, and her style is a tell for just how much and how little she really knows. i don't even want to get into the boundless stupidity of your own work. drink & dope & pop psychology do not a poet make, the greater the length, the less the import. you are not only the most prolific writer in the box, you're the most pretentious. face it every body left b/cause it couldn't be done doggy style anymore. tit's that simple. & am not the only anon. rarely to like finches writing it's interesting in a voyeristic kind of way, perhaps more interesting at first but maybe it's desensitisation howard stern factor. only suggustion finch please STOP the LEE thang"
LOL LEE/DEE which is how I sometimes refer to myself & my best friends call me that, I'm constantly thinking of my *self* as Lorna Dee. Also, I sometimes can't spell on the blog but let it stand, I thought that, too, was a parody of my blog. And I had mentioned in my bio that I was finishing a script. Even when you posted pics, I was still suspicious. LOL

When I found finch-not (march?) I had just found a cheat site: A poem in the style of LDC, in case some teacher assigned it. Awful in a temptingly seductive way. There was some kind of garden imagery (heck, for high school? I would have given it an A, although maybe not as good as a 10 year old—see silliman today). I was about to comment on one of the long spring poems when I stopped an read your bio. i thought I had surfed into a trap! How hilarious for some to find I had praised my own parody! I thought I was Ms. Finch as well as finchnot. People can be so mean. I quickly clicked it off. When I went back, I sometimes forget who's behind the bookmark, I found "The Earth Still Spins for Me." Much there I admire, that inspires. Looking forward to reading more; easier now with my own bulletin board in the "house."

Much love & peace to you & yours, Ms. Not Ms. Finch. Take care of yourself, "stranger-friend" as Rosie O'Donnell says. Ceremonies heal. That's what we learn from the earth.

29/6/05 17:06  
Blogger tara said...

what was the other professors story? do you remember?

5/7/05 05:33  
Blogger tara said...

apologies, you wouldn;t know, as i've just realised that it isn't actually your article nor your first hand experience.

which is sad for me as i would have liked to know the whole of the story.

experiences are good to share where it connects us more intimately to the things we learn. and in becoming aware of what we might have to share ourselves.

i think being aware and conscious of what we have to say and how we treat others is a human necessity that reaches far and wide outside of racial issues ... what is it that connects each of us? empath of joys and of sorrows... seeing our own AND seeing others'... tasting the salt, acknowledging the ocean,

from personal to political to personal to ...
reaching through mirrors to the darkness that lies behind,
it is the black coating that allows the image to be reflected . . . scrape that and there is left only glass


so who are we
beneath the identities that our thoughts and experiences shape for us . . .

still i would have liked to have heard that professor's story . . .

5/7/05 06:28  
Blogger tara said...

peace and love :)

5/7/05 06:32  
Blogger Thivai Abhor said...

Cheers Lorna... thanks for the links!

13/7/05 09:54  
Blogger Lyle Daggett said...

Lorna, I've been visiting your blog for a while, haven't gotten around to posting any comments till now. Thanks for listing my blog in your post here.

If I could, I'd like to say that I've found much life and sustenance in your poetry for many years -- as I write this, I remember one night in the early 1980's when I worked as a telephone operator, sitting at work between taking calls, reading from Emplumada.

One of the poems in the book, "For Virginia Chavez," has particularly stayed with me. Over the years I've gradually gathered a file folder (paper) of my favorite poems -- I guess it has around 60 poems in it by now -- poems that, if I were to answer the question "What kind of poetry do you want to write?", I would point to the poems in the file and say "I would like to write like that." Your poem "For Virginia Chavez" is one of the poems in the file.

Anyway thanks. -- Salud.

18/7/05 17:31  

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