Category Archives: Discourse Studies

Critique of Professional

Warning: This blog post is not professional. But it is real. Can you deal with it?

You say I’m “not professional enough.” I hear “you are not white enough.”

Profession-al. It’s such a capitalist word, imbued in the disciplining of our bodies, the appropriation of our words and time for a singular purpose. It’s a “civilizational discourse.”

Professional is the customer service representative who has to sound like an empty drone over the phone. Professional is the white executive of a multi-billion dollar company who lies under oath after wrecking our homes and gets a big holiday bonus at the end of the year. Professional is to hold in your true feelings and emotions, to not scream when you will be justified in your anger, to not cry when you need to cry. Professional is repressed. Professional is closeted. Professional is desexualized.

Pro-fessional is a constructed linguistic and cultural representation grounded in racist and sexist stereotypes in order to keep certain people in check or in line, while truncating our truths, marginalizing our histories and erasing our expressions of identity.

A dress pants (suit) is professional attire for an interview in America. A sari or salwaar kameez (suit) isn’t. And a hijab or burkha certainly isn’t. They call this unprofessional person a terrorist.

A “kid” or “petulant child” cannot become a “professional” without papers. Unprofessional becomes a slur that serves as reminder for the many ways in which this country truncates our growth. They call this unprofessional person an illegal. And they tell this “illegal” to keep her/his experiences as a janitor off the professional law school resume.

I’m unprofessional. It means I disrupt hegemonic universalizing narratives. It means I fight the injustice of disciplining and conditioning our minds to certain terrors and violence in our daily lives. It means I don’t conform to labels placed on my body. It means I don’t care if my truth is beyond your comprehension because I will still speak it. And it certainly means I dump the “model minority” stereotype in the dustbin only to reclaim it when I need to show whose the smarter one here.

Keep the violence and colonialism of “professional” off my words and body.

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Filed under Discourse Studies, Law school, Neo-Liberalism

It Gets Better: Sanctioning Routine Violence

365.282 - it gets better

Image by nettsu via Flickr

Between the movement for marriage equality and the It Gets Better campaign, I’m just about ready to give up my membership in the LGBT community.

But I checked, and it turns out that I don’t have a membership card.

It’s not even about the smiling white faces inundating us with the message that all shall be well one day. That’s certainly annoying but it is the message that is dangerous. It serves to normalize political violence by telling us that it goes away as we get older.

Violence isn’t just a physical act. It is present in our cultures, institutions and meanings. Violence is political and politics is war by other means. Violence constitutes white privilege, unjust and unfair laws that target minorities, an immigration system that rips families apart, an economy where the rich get richer and poor get poorer, and every instance that the state creates and sustains categories of people. These are all acts of violence — violence sanctioned by the state through systemic racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism and colonialism.

Violence is another site where we see the production and reproduction of power. This violence is the power to omit historical narratives of the Other from state archives. It includes the construction of the subject / object, self / other, us / them that creates majorities and minorities, and subsequently omits dissenting voices and counter-narratives from official History. Violence is then, the entire disciplining and normalization of social behavior and existence legitimated by the hegemonic state.

It’s no wonder that the head of the state has his own it gets better video. Big Gay just came out in support of Obama and his re-election campaign, while he smiles and keeps waging war against our families en route his European pub crawl. I’m also sure Big Gay has absolutely no idea what I’m talking about.

It is simple. It actually doesn’t get better for a vast majority of people. Lets start from there . You’ll learn to like it.*

*Shamelessly borrowing the quote from my new friend with the Montana Human Rights Network.

 

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Filed under Discourse Studies, Nationalism

DeCentering Citizenship

I always find it amusing that our great President chooses to enforce harsh immigration laws, deporting record numbers of people from the United States to appease the same people that question his own citizenship.

Then again, Barack Obama is head of state and immigration and customs enforcement serves a vital state function. It is part of the discourse of civilization that produces and reproduces the binary between white and brown/black, strong and weak states, us and them.

Citizenship was constructed by the Westphalian nation-state for the purpose of advancing nationalism. It demarcates an inside/outside marker of sovereignty centered around the inviolability of borders. It separates a more civilized “us” from a more rogue “them.” Over time, the construction has metamorphosed to deny certain inalienable rights to women, blacks, gheys, and immigrants who were designated unfit for citizenship.

Historically, encounters along the border both contest and reproduce a tortured collective identity defined in opposition of the Other. For the United States in particular, citizenship serves to mask the violent and genocidal origin of the country. Notice how American citizens are now referred to as “native-born” citizens in several different forums. This constant denial maintains order and legitimacy in a system that is inherently disorderly and predicated on a set of colonial assumptions about the order of things.

As part of the enterprise of nation-building, the state constructs and labels some immigrants as unsuitable for citizenship. Perhaps, nowhere is this more apparent today than calls by Republicans to eliminate birthright citizenship. Many others have to wait in line decade-long lines for an arbitrarily designated priority date. The state constructs and reconstructs these categories as it sees fit, marking  and containing migrant bodies within a temporal space and time.

Dreamers and long-time undocumented residents are among the current wave of Americans in the waiting lines for inclusion into the statecraft of citizenship. Sometimes lines are drawn not only between countries but within families, hence the terms mixed-immigration status families and same-sex bi-national couples. It’s harsh and repugnant but also doomed to fall apart as soon as the disenfranchised peoples are perceived and accepted as part of the fabric of America. And that is how the concept of citizenship serves nationalism and the nation-state.

Immigration reform advocates have long approached the problem of a broken immigration system by buying into the state discourse of citizenship. Movements have centered around inclusion into the system. After years of dialectic and non-dialetic struggle, political violence and trauma, new arrivals are assimilated into the system.

But maybe  there is some need for a truly progressive immigrant rights struggle that focuses on decentering the relevance of citizenship as it pertains to human rights. True liberation may just mean denationalizing and seizing the concept of citizenship from the enterprise of nationalism. It sounds complicated but it is rather simple to envision a world where your rights as a human being don’t disappear at an arbitrary border simply because you don’t have papers.

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Filed under Discourse Studies, Immigration

Fort Hood Sparks Muslim Bashing in Mainstream Media

Media Bias on Fort Hood Tragedy

This isn’t particularly surprising.

American civil liberties get massacred during such crises. Instead of calling Major Hasan an ‘alleged’ shooter till he is confirmed guilty by a court of law (Fifth Amendment), speculators have already gone judge, jury and executioner on him.

What’s despicable is that allegations of Islamic terrorism are already in the media spin and public discourse over this gruesome incident. The mainstream media wasted no time in linking a minority religion to a mass murder simply due to our preconceived notions of who commits ‘terrorism’ or ‘jihad’ for that matter. As a response to this unjust heterogenous racial interpellation, Muslim organizations were quick to come out and condemn the attacks. As a response to backlash, many will back away from the interpellation (I am not a Muslim) rather than condemn all violence.

United States national identity has always predicated on a phantasmic threat of an internal or external Other, from indigenous peoples to slaves to USSR during the Cold War to immigrants and anyone that can be marked with an old Orientalist trope. Often, labels create a self-fulfilling prophecy that reinforces a bi-polar world-view. The case of Major Hasan might just be one of those self-fulfilling prophecies hidden beneath moral panic.

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Filed under Discourse Studies, Ethnic Studies, Racism

Bainimarama: I Staged Coup to Stop Terrorists

While Lasenia Qarase and his corrupt government was nothing to extol and praise, Bainimarama labeled them as ‘terrorists’ at the United Nations General Assembly, in order to legitimise his reign:

I believe that these critics are largely unaware of the extent to which politicians, in league with those who employ terror as a tactic to push a racial supremacy and corrupt agenda, had become a threat to the safety and security of our people. Terrorism has become a global issue and it impacts Fiji as well. We are fully cooperating in the international effort to control and contain this scourge.

The full speech is here, courtesy Coup 4.5

Commodore, you are reigning over Fiji with the military, using force and terror tactics. What does that make your regime?

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Filed under Discourse Studies, Moron of the Week

North Korea Is Not a Threat – Unveiling Hegemonic Discourses

That security is socially constructed does not mean that there are not to be found real, material conditions that help to create particular interpretations of threats, or that such conditions are irrelevant to either the creation or undermining of the assumptions underlying security policy. Enemies, in part, “create” each other, via the projections of their worst fears onto the other; in this respect, their relationship is intersubjective. To the extent that they act on these projections, threats to each other acquire a material character.
-Ronnie Lipschutz, UCSC

Kim Jong-Il wants attention. And now he has it. He won’t go in our ‘Morons of the Week’ column and certainly scores points for knowing how to misuse national resources to get international attention.

Our problem with MSM coverage of the North Korea ‘missile threat’ is with the purported hegemonic discourse. Hegemonic discourse does not pertain to just speech; it refers to whole narratives, with a hero and a villain, and us and them that we must defeat and overcome. The point of hegemonic discourse–in this case the discourse of the United States on demonizing North Korea and drawing attention to its nuclear activities—is to subjugate and oppress the counter-discourses of a race-war, nuclearism and anti-capitalism.

(1) Race war discourse

While this is not a clash of civilizations, it is certainly a race war in that the entire discourse revolves around preventing certain kinds of people from acquiring and using nuclear weapons.  Would the United States use the same tactics in France? Or even India? No, in fact it looked the other way on outrageous French nuclear testing in the Pacific and supports India’s nuclear program despite the fact that it is not a signatory of the NPT!

Ronnie Lipschutz has some fine lines for us in On Security:

To be sure, the United States and Russia do not launch missiles against each other because both know the result would be annihilation. But the same is true for France and Britain, or China and Israel. It was the existence of the Other that gave deterrence its power; it is the disappearance of the Other that has vanquished that power. Where Russia is now concerned, we are, paradoxically, not secure, because we see no need to be secured. In other words, as Ole Waever might put it, where there is no constructed threat, there is no security problem. France is fully capable of doing great damage to the United States, but that capability has no meaning in terms of U.S. security.

On the other hand, see the Iran nuclear ‘crisis’ as an example. The United States has demonized Ahmadinejad at every opportunity and conjured him up as an Islamic fundamentalist and nationalist who will defy non-proliferation at all costs. On the other hand, Ahmadinejad cheekily asked the United States to join the rest of civilization in worshipping God. That is the discourse of race war but it is concealed by juridical discourse—the hegemonic discourse.

To borrow from Michael Foucault, the United States is using the juridical schema of nuclear non-proliferation to conceal the war-repression schema. North Korea is the historical Other, the terrorist, the threat against whom the world must be protected in the juridical schema. Yet, under the war-repression schema, North Korea is a sovereign nation with the right to develop nuclear and communications technology. And this latest action is really nothing more than a plea for economic help.

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Filed under Discourse Studies, Political Theory, Politics

Forget Janet Napolitano; Dismantle DHS

The appointment of Janet Napolitano to the top Homeland Security post has elicited a diverse number of reactions. In a New York Times article, some immigration hardliners are calling it a travesty, NumbersUSA thinks that President-elect Barack Obama could have done worse, while ‘liberals’ think that Napolitano represents a balanced and constructive view, given that she is in favor of a comprehensive immigration reform that legalizes 12 million undocumented migrants. Conservatives in Arizona are happy that finally power might shift towards them with the election of Jan Brewer to Governorship.

Few are questioning the rise of ‘immigration’ as a matter of national security to the point where debates over the chief post of Homeland Security now include major immigration groups. Is this a failure of the imagination, ignorance or just plain historical amnesia? Discourses surrounding the appointment of Napolitano simply serve as polemical devices to achieve political ends while doing nothing to actually address the epistemological and ontological flaws in the actual nature of the Department of Homeland Security.

Writing for the Washington Post, Edward Alden is one of the few mainstream and liberal commentators who comes close to hitting the nail on the head with this statement in ‘Close Minded on the Border:

Instead of continuing to embrace the massive flow of talent, energy and initiative that the rest of the world has long offered the United States, we launched an expensive, futile experiment to see whether we could seal our borders against the ills of the world, from terrorists to drugs to illegal migrants. This effort has betrayed both our ideals and our interests.

Yet, he notes that Janet Napolitano has a rare opportunity to set the nation back on track—to improve security without sacrificing American values and ideals.

On November 25, 2002, President Bush signed into law the Homeland Security Act of 2002 which created the Department of Homeland Security that effectively took over the INS (now CIS). This reorganization blurred the line between immigration policy and terrorism policy to the detriment of many immigrants in the United States – immigration policy became an issue of national security, widening the nexus of security concerns, and hence, granting more policing power to the State.

This incorporation of immigration as national security has far-reaching implications—apart from the fact that immigration is now treated as a security concern rather than an economic and cultural benefit, the dehumanization and scapegoating of undocumented immigrants has proliferated out of control. From local enforcement and state laws to election battles, the unnamed and othered ‘illegal immigrant’ is the big bad bogeyman against whom we need protection.

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Filed under Discourse Studies, Immigration, Racism