29 February 2008

The Esteemed Stew

Woah, that got awfully heavy awfully quick, didn't it? Here's a recipe for some stew I made the other night when we didn't have too much sitting around and needed something fast. I call it "esteemed" because everyone who saw it at work the next day asked for the recipe. Which I had to come up with...

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Esteemed Weeknight Stew
olive oil
1 small or 1/2 large white onion, medium dice
1 medium eggplant, peeled and medium diced
1 can (standard can size...) diced tomatoes
1 can chickpeas
1/4 cup raisins
3/4 cup of uncooked quinoa
1 to 2 TB molasses
1 TB brown mustard
juice of 1/2 lemon
salt to taste
toasted almond slivers for garnish

spices: Measurements approximate, so add "to taste"
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
1 TB paprika OR less to taste

1. in olive oil in large wide stew pot, saute onions until softened and translucent
2. add eggplant, salt mildly and saute to soften slightly
3. clear a spot in the middle of the pot that reveals the bottom. Drizzle in a little olive oil and allow to heat. Add spice mix to this oil and saute briefly to "bloom" the fragrances of the spices. Should take about 60 to 90 seconds. Then, stir all together to distribute spices throughout.
4. Add can of tomatoes followed by 2 cans of water
5. Rinse and drain chickpeas, and add to pot
6. Bring to a simmer. As you bring to a simmer, add the raisins, molasses, and mustard
7. When you've reached simmer, add quinoa and continue to simmer, covered, for 13-15 minutes
8. Quinoa is done when the the grain can be easily "popped" by the teeth and when the white germ separates from the grain--it will look like little curly springs in some places. This means your stew is done.
9. Turn off the heat, add the lemon juice, taste for salt
10. Serve with almonds on top

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Coming soon - chickpea stew in the pressure cooker, and a near home run of an improvisation: "cheat"balls of tofu, nuts, etc.

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24 February 2008

This week on White Privilege Digest

Because I recognize that my words live in the public sphere on this blog, I feel like I should elaborate a bit on white privilege and my thoughts on it. This is precipitated by a small dust-up over my quoting of an alumnus from my college, who, you'll recall, did not believe in white privilege. He contacted me and, in the resulting minor dust-up, I was able to articulate more of my feelings about the unearned, often unquestioned, power of whiteness. I'm sharing them here, with the full disclosure that I did not change the mind of my interlocutor and I doubt I would be able to: we were at loggerheads at the end of the discussion, with me believing that white privilege exists and him believing that all inequity could be accounted for by racism, and believing, in fact, that the idea of white privilege itself was racist (because it ascribes a characteristic--power--to a race) and appealed to "some people, most of whom have a sheltered, self-absorbed, self-centered view of the world."

Needless to say, I do not* agree with this at all. (*edited 2/29 for oops of "do/do not")

We spoke specifically about jobs--employment being one of those places where I feel like white privilege is very often in play and very infrequently questioned. Given the whiteness of board rooms, my interlocutor offered, "Perhaps there are more white people applying for a job than their(sic) are non-white people....". I ask: if one asked WHY more white people might apply for a job than would non-white people, what would that answer reflect? The simple racism of a landlord of a building in the area of the job, who did not want to rent to a non-white person, thereby keeping the person less conveniently near the job site? The simple racism of the corporation, putting forth a front (spoken or not--and if it is unspoken, what might lead one to hear it? You know my answer to that last bit...) that non-whites need not apply? The simple racism of an individual college admissions board member who didn't want to let a black student into a school that might have given that student an alumnus connection to someone who works at the corporation? Possibly even the simple racism of a non-white applicant who sees a white possible HR manager, a white possible boss, a coterie of white possible coworkers, and decides not to put in for a job because she doesn't want to work with white people?

My interlocutor offers this defense: that if 3 of 4 candidates for a job are white, all else being equal, there's a 75% chance that the hiree will be white if no acts of racism occur. And I say that "all else" will *not* be equal even if no overt, concerted racism is exercised because white privilege pervades the backstories and operational realities of all of the candidates. Ask the deeper questions, get the deeper answers.

I see an undercurrent that defines WHITE as the default, WHITE as the norm, WHITE as the prevalent racio-cultural experience, WHITE as the assumption in places as varied as the board room and the grocery store (where a another friend reports that a Mexican-American friend once went looking for a brown man's food and the white clerk did not recognize that food).

I do not understand how one can believe that there is racism in the world but deny that whiteness has advantages that are owed only to whiteness. I don't mean to put forth that white privilege is a *special kind* of racism. It's certainly tied up with racism. But my view and experience of the world has white privilege operating alongside racism as a force of continuing, behind-the-scenes empowerment of one group, by its own hand, over others.

So here's my thesis: White privilege is not something that non-white people hand over to white people, it is something that white people (that is to say, those "raced as white," which has not always been the same group it might be today) have had, historically, the luxury of benefiting from through other white peoples' own political, social, and cultural systems that have been--yes--racist. White privilege is the societal child of institutionalized racism let lose in the day care center of a wider world.

In conclusion, there once were three fish. One swam by the other two and said "mornin' y'all, how's the water?" and the other two looked at each other and one said to the other, "what's water?"


16 February 2008

Can You Build a Life from $25**

I want you to read this article from the Christian Science Monitor before we go on. It's the prerequisite before today's session of "Nora's Bile: Let Me Show You It."

It's short, and I can wait.

Done? How interesting, right? In the vein of Nickel and Dimed--with its renunciation of one's so-called station to explore how another group lives (or struggles to live)--a young man named Adam Shepard decides to take twenty-five bucks, a rucksack of physical things, and nothing else; leave his home with his parents; and step to "the wrong side of the tracks" in Charleston and "[start] his life from scratch" (sort of) as a homeless man to "test the vivacity of the American Dream."


The conceit that Adam brought "little else" with him than $25 and the clothes on his back reflects a willful blindness to so much about Adam as a person and American society in general that I don't even know where to begin picking this bit of indulgence apart. It is so full of unacknowledged advantages and self-satisfied "discoveries" about self and life and America that a cranky cultural critic and feminist such as myself feels like a kid in a veritable candy store. A candy store of assumptions.

So I'll start at one of my favorite jumping-in points: white privilege. Recently on an alumni network to which I belong, a white man put forth that he didn't believe in it and that it didn't matter if he believed in it or not, it didn't have any effect on him. And it is indeed difficult to convince someone dead-set against acknowledging something troubling to their personal position of power that there is an unseen aspect of their power. But in my view of the world, white privilege exists whether you want it to or not, and that's all I'm going to say in response to someone who said something ignorant a few months back.


The article/interview doesn't really bring up race at all, but the interviewer does skim the issue of Adam being white, asking "what if you were on probation?" I don't think one can ask this question without the weight of the imprisonment rate of black males in America behind it. The astonishing disparity between white incarceration and black incarceration means that any discussion of Adam's 'ability' to 'succeed' after 'starting' with 'nothing' must acknowledge that not being a black man on probation factors into his success rate. But no such acknowledgment comes. Adam's answer to the interviewer is revealing (emphasis mine): "The question isn't whether I would have been able to succeed. I think it's the attitude that I take in: 'I've got child care. I've got a probation officer. I've got all these bills. Now what am I going to do? Am I going to continue to go out to eat and put rims on my Cadillac? Or am I going to make some things happen in my life...?'" In other words, Adam seems to think that just thinking that he had impediments was enough to give him the psychological burden of those limitations--a burden he shouldered by thinking positively and 'making things happen' for himself. He also puts forth a false dilemma, establishing that his basic choice as he scraped together his earning and made budgets (and therefore the choices of the homeless people around him) was either to eat out and pimp his car or to save money. This is not just reductionist, it's willfully blind. It's blind to the fact that Adam is coming from a socioeconomic world that teaches its children--its college educated children, no less--how to see money and how to consider a future in which success is so likely that it is a sure thing. It's blind to the fact that he had the advantage of lacking certain expenses, including but by no means limited to critical medicine.

Also, what kind of jackass actually says that one of the biggest changes from living home'd to living in the continuum of homeless-to-merely-poor was no longer going out to eat? My rent, student loan bills, and utility bills currently equal just over half of my monthly earnings after tax, and I also pretty much no longer go out to eat. It stopped being a sacrifice or change and started being the way I live now a long, long time ago--before I even had a paycheck in Boston, in fact.

An additional shockingly naive story Adam relates in his interview is that he made up "this great back story" of how he ended up where he 'was.' His excitingly tragic tale is a little flight of fancy, a little indulgent method acting: my mom drugs, my dad booze, me leave her for him and here I am. He takes pride, it seems, in having a "great" story, but his great story is not given the kind of praise or even attention from his 'fellow' homeless people that he seems to feel it warrants (emphasis mine): "The interesting thing is that nobody really cared.... It wasn't so much as where we were coming from, it was where we were going." This is remarkably self-centered. Did it ever occur to him that his story was not interesting to others he met not because they were each so focused on adjusting their individual attitudes to ensure future success ("...but where we were going.") but because, well, his story is real for some and might be seen, by others, as no big fucking deal compared to their problems?

I should acknowledge that Nickel and Dimed, a book I enjoyed, was also incomplete in its analysis. Based on this interview alone, I'd have to argue that that book did not wear blinders as large as Adam's. Barbara actually fights a bit with the advantages that she has whether or not she chooses to use them. Adam, on the other hand, just doesn't see that being white is an advantage in and of itself, or that having the kind of attitude that one gains just by soaking in the stew of college is a tool that you use without knowing it. He even has the gall to say that college was a disadvantage in his experiment with strife: his "thinking was inside the box." Inside the box, apparently, of knowing that saving money is a thing that one should do. It is beyond his imagination to think that there are populations out there who do not see the future the same way that he has been cultured (like a pearl in a shell) to see it. There are people whose futures in America do not have the same potentials that his future does by the simple virtue that he is white, comes from a certain background (two parents, comfort, schooling), speaks English, is male, is not unhealthy chronically or mentally ill, does not have babies. Being white, being male, being born to such parents, speaking native English, being healthy: Adam did not make these choices, yet he benefits from them every day.

(And here also, your humble narrator indulges in a little editorializing: Adam, just try being everything I've just mentioned *except* male, and see how different your experience is. If it's not different, I will eat my hat. Also your hat. Also the hats of anyone who mails me one after I return to my "real life," job, apartment, cat, family. In fact, I think I have my own book deal right there: woman attempts to duplicate success of pretend homeless book writer; finds that his rate of success cannot be duplicated simply by Attitude and Determination and may, in fact, have an element of several aspects of unacknowledged privilege to it; woman bogs down the postal system in her ZIP code with the return shipments of many, many hats sent to her by smug white dudes. But really, the story I'm telling is the story of the can-do attitudes of the mail carriers on my block...)

His book had better be more insightful than the interview he gives. Because he just sounds like a naive, ignorant Pollyanna, here--and beyond that, his uninsightful and unthinking endorsement of the whole "bootstraps" thing is very, very damaging. Forgive my failure to find citations and research to back up the following statement, but this attitude--that the poor just don't work hard enough, that the homeless just have bad attitudes (Adam, emphasis mine: "Then there was this other guy who could walk and everything was good in his life, but he was just kind of bumming around, begging on the street corner. To see the attitudes along the way, that is what my story is about."), that all it takes is just, oh I dunno, Pluck or Moxie or Whathaveyou--has been rejected pretty roundly as a valid base for making public policy.

Does Adam know that the fastest growing population of the homeless is families? Because per American Government and Politics Today, published by Thompson Learning this year and supplemented by yours damned truly, it is and they are. The implication in his interview that these families just need to make better decisions is insulting and dangerous.

It's easy and fun to poke holes in Adam's ideas--he's a regular fraking Candide up in here, except with less critical thinking. But his gloss (ha ha, get it?) can damage more than just my afternoon productivity, and that ain't right. His words live in a public sphere and will be used by readers to inform attitudes, and I wish he'd thought of that before he went out there scrounging for a book deal.

I could be wrong, of course. This interview might not actually reflect the level of insight in his book, and I haven't read the book. For all I know--or am likely to find out, since I don't think I could stand reading more tripe from an indulgent white man--his little book might start with a series of disclaimers: this is the inspirational story of me and only me; at the end of my self-imposed year of living dangerously I'd attained all of my goals and could use my magical get-out-of-homelessness free card; and your mileage may vary!

But I fucking doubt it. I do indeed doubt it.

A note: Standard double quotes in this screed indicate content I am quoting from the article. Single quotes should be read as my own 'air quotes,' implying that I, as the screed's author, find something amiss about the application of the term.

**...if you are white, are male, are in good health, and have an outlook on the proper management of money and the potential of your future that is informed by your unacknowledged class and education advantages. This headline, no doubt, was rejected by the CSM...

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My thanks go to JS for pointing out the article. My dander had been down for a few days and this puts my recent career setback into a better light: at least I'm not as ignorant as this kid! One advantage I gained just from going to college and growing up with two parents who were educated and lower middle class--even if I don't try to use it everyday--is that I know how to think critically. I hope this satisfies her wish that the young writer receive an atomic wedgie. I assure you that every time I vent my spleen, a douchebag's undies get their wings.

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Now nothing is brewing.

Without getting too indulgent, I can tell you that after two good interviews (totaling around 2 1/2 hours of face time, including 45 minutes one-on-one with the CEO) and even "knowing someone" who "knows someone," I was in fact passed over for the job.

All my weeks of chanting change my life, change my life over my email every afternoon were, shockingly, ineffective!

I was most surprised that I had to nearly drag the news of my rejection out of my interviewers, and that they invited me that Monday to "check back at the end of the week," just in case the candidate with whom they were negotiating a final hiring agreement got hit by a bus or posted something offensive on the Interweb that they hadn't seen until the "about to hire someone" cursory Googling, or something. Yeeeeah, that sounds like fun, ladies: I would LOVE to come sucking around on Friday, "just in case."


I say this now quickly, to tie up the loose ends, because I have some vitriol to put out there in the ether, but I could not do so before I gave any loyal readers an epilogue.

Consider yourself both brought up to date and also warned.

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