Tag Archives: hegemony

Questioning the Status Quo

Carol A. Hand

I do try to look at the lighter side these days, but that doesn’t always work. Life intervenes in the oddest ways at inconvenient times. Recently I received an email from a Euro-American Dean at the college where I teach as an adjunct. Her email informed me that I was REQUIRED to take an online training on diversity. My response to her was honest and direct. “I have no intention of participating in this training.”

That doesn’t mean I think I know all there is to know about diversity. Living all my life in the liminal space between Anglo-American and Ojibwe cultures taught me a great deal, as did my interest in taking every chance I could to learn about diverse cultures and people. Mostly, I learned not to accept simplistic stereotypes that supposedly fit all. There is always more to learn about the rich diversity of people who share the earth – but standardized online trainings are definitely not the best way to do so. Learning for me only comes through leaving my relative comfort zone, if such a place exists for those of us who live between cultures, to enter the spaces where others live, to listen deeply with an open mind and heart, to view the world as they see it, and to care.

As a serious scholar, I have studied cultures and histories from many perspectives. Not surprisingly, I discovered how biased so many accounts of “others” are. I wonder how many Euro-Americans have had the same opportunity to see their cultures and themselves through other lenses.

Thinking about the Dean’s email, I remembered an amusing article I read as a young person in an introductory anthropology class, Body Ritual among the Nacirema by Horace Miner (1956). (Links to the full public domain article can be found here and here.)

Wikipedia provides the following overview:

“In the paper, Miner describes the Nacirema, a little-known tribe living in North America. The way in which he writes about the curious practices that this group performs distances readers from the fact that the North American group described actually corresponds to modern-day Americans of the mid-1950s.”

By the way, did you notice that “Nacirema” is “American” spelled backwards?

The Dean’s email also brought to mind a book that a friend gave me years ago, Basic Skills Caucasian Americans Workbook, by Beverly Slapin and Annie Esposito (1990). Miner’s article and Slapin and Esposito’s book remind me how often I have read ethnographies that describe Ojibwe people in my mother and grandmother’s generations as “children of savages,” or make sweeping generalizations about Ojibwe people on the basis of limited samples superficially portrayed through colonizers’ lenses.

I wonder if the Dean has ever seen her culture described through different lenses. Here are a few excerpts from Slapin and Esposito’s satirical work that provide an example of what that looks like.

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Illustration by Annie Esposito, from Basic Skills Caucasian Americans Workbook

“Forward

“…. This book leads us along a fascinating trail. Its pages are alive with the tang of smoke-filled caucus rooms, the sound of beat boxes, and the swift flight of Stealth bombers. In it, Beverly Slapin has caught the magic of the Caucasian. May her “talking leaves” add to your store of knowledge and take you into the Caucasian world of mystery and beauty.” (Doris Seale, Curator, Museum of the American Caucasian) ….

Caucasian American Education

“The way Caucasians prepared their youth for adulthood (a-dult’-hud) was by educating (ed’-yew-ka-ting) them. The education rites were held in cavernous gray temples call schools (skoolz), which often resembled cavernous gray temples called prisons (pri’-zonz). Both kinds of temples were used for similar purposes. These rites began when the youth were quite young, often as young as five years old, and continued until the children reached adulthood! Imagine how long schooling must have seemed to them!

“In school, the youth learned such important customs as standing in line (stan’-ding-in-lyn), raising a hand (ra’-zing-uh-hand) when they wanted to speak, holding bodily functions (hol’-ding-bod’-uh-lee-func’-shunz) until a certain time called recess (ree’-cess), ceasing all thought (cee’-sing-awl-thawt) when a bell rang at certain intervals (in’-ter’vulz), and learning the right answers (rite’-an’-serz) in order to pass tests (tests)….

“The right answers were inscribed in textbooks, which were considered sacred, and contained all the answers the Caucasians thought necessary to succeed in life. One of the most important lessons in life for Caucasian children was to learn never to question the veracity (ver-a’-ci-tee) of the teacher or the textbooks….

Illustration by Annie Esposito, from Basic Skills Caucasian Americans Workbook

Caucasian American Government

“Caucasian Americans had a very strange way of choosing their leaders. Their main leader was usually chosen by the people in a strange ritual called an election (e-lek’-shun). In order to be a leader, a person had to have three qualities (kwal-it-eez): he had to be a man, he had to be Caucasian (kaw-kā’-shun), and he had to have rich family connections (kun-nex’-shunz). If he had those qualities, he would ask a council of old trusted men to sponsor (spon’sor) him. These men were called bankers and businessmen (bank’-erz and biz’-ness-men). If the council decided that he was suited to lead the people, he would promise to obey (o-bay’) them, and they would campaign (kam-pāyn’) for him by paying great amounts of money (muh’-nee) to the media (mee’-dee-a) to buy advertisements (ad-ver-tiz’-mentz) to convince people that he was the one they wanted to lead them. The leader would make lots of promises (prom’-is-ez) to the people, and then the people would vote (vot) for him. Once he was elected, he was called the president (prez’-ih-dent) and lived in the White House. His house was called the White House because all of its inhabitants (in-hab’-i-tents) were white.

“Once the leader became president, he would go back on his promises and tell lots of lies to the people. Sometimes the people would find out about these lies, and they would be angry….

The president almost always consulted with the council before making a decision that concerned the whole tribe. But sometimes he didn’t. Sometimes he would just talk with another council of powerful war chiefs called generals (jen’-er-ellz), and he would make war, often without telling the people. The only people who knew about many wars were the young men who were sent to fight in them.

“Making war on other people would make the president feel good and strong, even though he didn’t do any of the fighting. It would also make the bankers and businessmen feel good because it would bring them great amounts of money. These war chiefs were very strange people, indeed, and their system of government was very strange.

Caucasian American Leaders
(keep in mind that this book was published in 1990!)

….

“Probably the greatest Caucasian American leader of all time was Donald Trump. Donald Trump’s father, also chief of the Great Council of Bankers and Businessmen, taught his son all the qualities he would need to become a leader of his people: extreme self-confidence (self-kon’-fi-dens), greed, lust, and delusions of grandeur (de-looz’-unz-of-grand’-ur). As he grew up, Trump became a great admirer of the Mogul Empire (mō’-gul-m-pīr), and when he became an adult, named one of his commercial palaces (kom-mer’-shul-pal’-u-sez) after their famous shrine, the Taj Mahal (tadj’-ma’hal’). Trump fought well in battles against other business chiefs, and soon became a famous warrior and the most important Caucasian leader in New York (noo-york’). He was savage in battle, and believed in the common Caucasian practice of putting prisoners to death. Although many considered him a ruthless (rūth’-less) leader, Donald Trump provided many jobs by keeping the scandal mills (skan’-dul-millz) going.”

Illustration by Annie Esposito, from Basic Skills Caucasian Americans Workbook

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I hesitate to share satire because it stereotypes and often pokes fun at or demeans groups of people despite the tremendous diversity within any “group.” Rarely do I find it funny. I know what it feels like to be on the receiving end and we have more than enough meanness in the world today.

Yet I often learn from the wisdom of my students. One of my Ojibwe students asked me how they could be expected to imagine something different than what they had always known. A profound question, isn’t it, that gets to the heart of diversity.

How can a Euro-American Dean in a Euro-American-led institution in a predominantly Euro-American culture know what it feels like for people who have lived their difference every day to be told that they don’t know enough about diversity? That decades of study and work with diverse groups on program, policy, and curricular innovation mean nothing? That sitting alone staring at a computer screen wearing headphones is the right way to learn what diversity means?

Some battles are just not worth my time, though. I’ve said all I have to say on this topic to those in power who believe their comfortable versions of truth are the only ones that matter. There are many far more important issues to focus on these days.

Work Cited:

Beverly Slapin & Annie Esposito (1990). Basic Skills Caucasian Americans Workbook. Berkeley, CA: Oyate. (a joint project of Oyate and the Teaching Peace with Justice Task Force)

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The Problem with Paradigms – Day Three

Carol A. Hand

Once again I begin with gratitude to Rosaliene Bacchus for nominating me to participate in a challenge: “Three Quotes for Three Days.” Rosaliene, who can be found at Three Worlds One Vision, has a fascinating background. She was born in Guyana, later migrated to Brazil where she worked as an international trade professional, and then moved to Los Angeles where she completed her first novel and began work on her second.

The rules of the challenge are:

1. Three quotes for three days. (Done for Day One and Two. See below.)
2. Three nominees each day (no repetition). (Well – this is a problem of paradigms. I much prefer volunteers. No one volunteered on Days One or Two, so I hope that Day Three will garner more interest.)
3. Thank the person who nominated you. (Done.)
4. Inform the nominees. (See # 2 above.)
5. And it doesn’t have to be three successive days. (Thankfully!)

On Day One of the three quotes challenge, I focused on Urie Bronfenbrenner’s (1979) work.

“Bronfenbrenner’s description of individuals embedded within ever larger systems of relationships made sense to me, but I wondered how many people in the tribal communities I worked with at the time had heard of him or his theories. My life had opened up possibilities that many others were denied.”

Day Two quotes were drawn from Thomas Kuhn’s (1970) important theories about the challenges involved in shifting paradigms.

“Paradigms, those taken-for-granted ways we analyze problems and identify solutions, provide blueprints for action that we have been dressaged to perform without thinking…. According to Kuhn, change comes from those who have not yet been completely socialized into the paradigms of a discipline, sometimes leading to a long struggle he refers to as a scientific revolution. He uses a comparison with political revolutions to illustrate the process of change.”

Today, Day Three of the Three Quote Challenge, focuses on Michel Foucault’s work. His ideas address a central question that has routinely surfaced during my life as someone who has never really fit into socially constructed categories. Some by choice, like refusing to learn how to cook or type or avoid studying science because that’s what was expected of women. Others emerged by virtue of birth as a person of mixed ancestry exposed to different cultural paradigms from an early age, who was later exposed to experiences and education that provided opportunities to think critically about those differences.

I encountered Michel Foucault’s work in a rather round-about way. It wasn’t in a classroom. It was after I agreed to be part of a University Medical School team evaluating a rural health education project. In the process of negotiating how to focus the evaluation with the educational partnership institutions overseeing the project, the principal investigator of the evaluation team asked agency staff what they wanted us to explore. He encouraged them to think carefully about their goals and identify which ones they wanted us to highlight. We would tailor our evaluation to their unique approach to explore information that would be the most helpful to them. Then, he shared a slide included in Foucault’s (1979) work.

Photo Source: Drawing by Carol A. Hand (based on an adaptation of N. Andry (1749), Orthopaedrics or the art of preventing and correcting deformities of the body in children, cited in Foucault, 1979, inset # 10 between pp. 169-170)
Drawing by Carol A. Hand
(based on an adaptation of N. Andry (1749), Orthopaedrics or the art of preventing and correcting deformities of the body in children, cited in Foucault, 1979, inset # 10 between pp. 169-170)

The drawing above is my attempt to capture the symbol that sparked an epiphany for me that day. Suddenly I had an image that helped me understand my experiences as someone on the margins. Up to that point, I had almost always felt judged by “straight” standards of normality that didn’t fit with someone who was quite different.

It’s an image that resembles my life experiences. Although ongoing attempts to constrain me by trying to force me to accept universal standards of artificial “normalcy” were ultimately unsuccessful, they were often painful and scarring experiences. Oddly, Foucault’s message brought me a sense of peace – it defined being different as an admirable quality and inspired me to undertake the long challenging process to learn more about his ideas.

Unlike the other two essays in this challenge, I decided to describe Foucault’s message about power in a poem. If you’re interested, you can find a more scholarly approach in an older post: Differential Power and Indian Child Welfare – Part Two.

The Problem with Paradigms

Legitimate authority

What is it?

Where does it come from?

That is, who has the power to define it?

How is it conferred?

Power in capitalist societies is economical

Because it is like a capillary system

Interwoven throughout all of a society’s institutions, values, assumptions

It’s programmed into all citizens

generation after generation, though ever-finer capillary-like vessels

It’s what Bronfenbrenner’s (1970) ecosystem is comprised of

What every professional discipline dressages its candidates to unquestioningly adopt

It’s the legitimate “scientific” paradigms Kuhn highlights –

standards for identifying, labeling and solving problems

We never need to experience a questioning moment or try innovative approaches

It’s not the theory or intervention that fails when our science goes awry –

it’s the people or phenomena we were trying to control that failed to perform as expected

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Thanks to Foucault (and many others)

I always think about creeping charlie when I’m dealing with bureaucracies

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By Rasbak - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikipedia
By Rasbak – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikipedia

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Like the fine root systems that spread everywhere

lockstep groupthink is finely woven throughout every policy and procedure and staff member

Each new member who joins is already dressaged to follow procedures without question

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Have you ever tried to keep creeping charlie from choking out everything else in a garden?

I suspect it’s impossible

even if you resort to poison and kill everything else

even the smallest segment of adventitious root can survive and grow a new plant on its own –

it’s internally programmed with the ability to replicate for species survival

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Creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea), Public Domain via Wikipedia
Creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea), Public Domain via Wikipedia

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Now I finally understand why titles and degrees got me in the door of bureaucracies

Allowing me the momentary illusion that socially constructed credentials mattered

And then failed to be legitimate enough to awaken others to question, take initiative, and resist

Because the mechanisms of preserving the existing order are programed within us all

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Foucault’s view of power is not easy to describe

and it’s not possible for me to do so in three quotes

But I do think his work remains relevant and important.

I leave you with some quotes and hope they encourage you to read his work.

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The economy of this new power technique could not be matched by older technologies.

“There is no need for arms, physical violence, material constraints. Just a gaze. An inspecting gaze, a gaze which each individual under its weight will end by interiorising [sic] to the point that he is his own overseer, each individual thus exercising this surveillance over and against himself. A superb formula: power exercised continuously and for what turns out to be a minimal cost.” Foucault, 1980b, p. 155)

By means of surveillance techniques, disciplinary power pervaded all aspects of the capitalistic society.

“The workshop, the school, the army were subject to a whole micro-penality of time (lateness, absences, interruptions of tasks), of activity (inattention, negligence, lack of zeal), of behaviour (impoliteness, disobedience), of speech (idle chatter, insolence), of the body (‘incorrect’ attitudes, irregular gestures, lack of cleanliness), of sexuality (impurity, indecency). At the same time, by way of punishment, a whole series of subtle pressures was used, from light punishment to minor deprivations and petty humiliations” (Foucault, 1979, p. 178).

The application of these disciplinary measures was referred to by Foucault as “dressage,” translated from French as “taming” or “breaking in” (Atkins et al., 1987, p. 232), or in English usage, “the art or method of training a horse in obedience and precision of movement” (Webster’s Dictionary, 1989, p. 435).

“What developed, then, was a whole technique of human dressage by location, confinement, surveillance, the perpetual supervision of behavior and tasks, in short, a whole technique of ‘management’ of which the prison was merely one manifestation or its transposition into the penal domain.” (Foucault, 1988, p. 105)

Disciplinary techniques and differential power are interwoven throughout the institutions and organizations of politics, law, production, education, and social welfare.

“The judges of normality are present everywhere. We are in the society of the teacher-judge, the doctor-judge, the educator-judge, the ‘social worker’-judge; it is on them that the universal reign of the normative is based; and each individual, wherever he may find himself, subjects to it his body, his gestures, his behavior, his aptitudes, his achievements. This carceral network, in its compact or disseminated forms, with its systems of insertion, distribution, surveillance, observations, has been the greatest support, in modern society, of normalizing power.” (Foucault, 1979, p. 304)

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Note – A little background about Creeping Charlie.

Creeping Charlie, Glechoma hederacea, is a perennial creeper of the mint family commonly known by many other names – ground-ivy, gill-over-the-ground, alehoof, tunhoof, catsfoot, field balm, and run-away-robin. It is native to Europe and southwestern Asia and was carried around the world by European settlers. It is now common in most regions of North America other than the Rocky Mountains. (Wikipedia)

Creeping Charlie in the snow - December 18, 2016
Creeping Charlie in the snow – December 18, 2016

“Creeping charlie plant is most easily identified by its growth habit. It is a vine that grows close to the ground and will form a mat-like ground cover if allowed to. The vines have nodes at each of the places where leaves grow and these nodes will form roots if they come in contact with the soil. This is part of the reason that creeping charlie weed is so frustrating, as you cannot simply pull it up. Every rooted node can turn into a new plant if left behind.” (Gardening Know How)

Creeping Charlie in the snow - December 18, 2016
Creeping Charlie in the snow – December 18, 2016

The above-ground runners are stems, known as stolons in botany. Creeping charlie stolons have many nodes, each of which can form new plants when they come into contract with moist ground. A stolon is a plant propagation strategy. The complex of individuals formed by a mother plant and all its clones produced from stolons form a single genetic individual, a genet, or a colonal colony that originates from a single ancestor. (Wikipedia – Stolons and Genet)

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Works Cited:

Atkins, B.T., Duval, A., Milne, R.C., Lewis, H.M.A., Sinclair, L., & Birks, R. (Eds.) (1990). Harper Collins Robert French Dictionary (2nd ed.). Glasgow, GB: HarperCollins Publishers.

Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The ecology of human development: Experiments by nature and design. Cambridge, MS: Harvard University Press.

Foucault, M. (1979). Discipline & punish: The birth of the prison. (A. Sheridan, Trans.). New York: Vintage Books. (Original work published 1975)

Foucault, M. (1980). The politics of health in the eighteenth century. In C. Gordon (ed.) Power/knowledge: Selected interviews and other writing 1972-1977 by Michel Foucault (C. Gordon, L. Marshall, J. Mepham, & K. Soper, Trans.), pp. 166-182. New York: Pantheon Books. (Original work published 1976)

Foucault, M. (1988). On power. In L.D. Kritzman (ed.), Michel Foucault: Politics, philosophy, culture: Interviews and other writings 1977-1984 (A. Sheridan & Others, Trans.), pp. 96-109. New York: Routledge. (Original work published 1984)

Kuhn, T. S. (1970). The structure of scientific revolutions, 2nd edition. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

Webster’s encyclopedic unabridged dictionary of the English language (1989). New York: Gramercy Books.

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I am truly grateful to Rosaliene for her thoughtfulness. But I am also grateful that my part of this challenge is now complete.

I do encourage volunteers to carry on the challenge, each a node in the propagation of knowledge, beauty, peace, solidarity, and joy. Please consider volunteering and exploring Rosaliene’s important work.

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Living in the Space Between Cultures – Part 2

Carol A. Hand

Sometimes, living between cultures means looking at the world in different ways. As someone who doesn’t look “Indian,” I have experienced how much easier it is to live with white skin privilege. I blend in, at least outwardly, and feel invisible. Yet when I have lived and traveled throughout northern Wisconsin, I noticed that residents in communities that border reservations have a more finely attuned skill at discerning physical differences. I didn’t feel invisible when I walked into a business or restaurant. The scrutiny didn’t feel welcoming or friendly, nor was the treatment I sometimes experienced. “You can’t cash your check here,” said the teller at the bank I had used for years in the White border community. “We don’t know who you are. You need to go to the branch on the reservation.” Nor was the store cashier welcoming when she greeted me loudly so everyone can hear, “You can’t come in here with that bag on your shoulder (a laptop that I couldn’t leave while I waited for my car to be serviced). “It’s too big. You might steal something.” Or the more subtle forms of discrimination. Sitting in a restaurant for 45 minutes watching as all of the new White arrivals are served and finally realizing that my wait will be infinite. Sometimes I confronted it, but sometimes I felt shamed, angered, or both by the treatment. (It reminds me of how exposed I felt during the years I lived on the flat farmlands of central Illinois without the presence of trees to shelter me from the elements.)

As a child, I embraced my Ojibwe heritage without shame. In fact, it made me feel special. In my New Jersey community, it was seen as “cool” by my classmates. Still, I worked harder at everything I did out of a sense of responsibility to prove to my mother that being Ojibwe didn’t make us inferior. Feeling proud of my heritage also made me more likely to reach out to others who were “different.” Yet I noticed the importance of “skin-color gradients” on my mother’s reservation. When I stayed with my relatives in the summer, I saw that the cousins whose skin pigmentation was darker were treated differently, more harshly, than those with lighter colored hair and skin. In retrospect, I am grateful that my childhood spared me from that expression of internalized racism. I doubt that I would have survived it.

In school and professional arenas, I felt it was irrelevant and unnecessary to point out my cultural heritage. It didn’t prevent me from using critical thinking in school. It didn’t matter to the nursing home residents I cared for, or the people I served in restaurants. That changed, however, when I had to address the systematic discrimination and entrenched hegemony built into state policies that denied sovereign rights to tribes, or sanctioned agency practices that denied access to those who were most vulnerable.

I felt obligated to publicly disclose my cultural identity and assume a more visible advocacy role not only on behalf of tribes, but also for others who were similarly excluded due to age, class, gender, or ability. It was not a comfortable position. Doing so changed how people related to me, both Whites and Native Americans. Once again, I felt I was standing exposed on the prairie. I was “othered.” Suddenly, every word I uttered or action I took was carefully scrutinized. It seemed as though every contribution or mistake I made was publicly acclaimed and amplified well beyond their significance in ways that made me feel like a trained monkey who could talk, the personification of all the negative assumptions about Native Americans, or like a clumsy purple alien from outer space.

difference

Photo Credit: Gary Larson, The Far Side (1983 FarWorks, Inc.)

My boss introduced me to the Governor and other people in important public positions as “our well-tailored Chippewa.” She also made sure that I received a highly publicized award, not for one of the projects that I knew made a difference for elders in the state, but for a minor tribal initiative that showcased the agency’s commitment to Affirmative Action, confirming for others who were more deserving of recognition that the degrees I earned were not the reason I held my position. Although I found public scrutiny uncomfortable, I was able to maintain a sense of humor and use my position to serve as an advocate for people who would otherwise not be represented. As a state employee, my small successes to target resources to elders with the greatest needs still remained unobserved in the tedious policy documents I produced or the responses I ghost-wrote for the Department Secretary or Governor.

The opportunity to sometimes remain invisible changed, however, when I assumed the role of deputy director for an inter-tribal organization. For the executive branch administrators who were once my superiors in the hierarchy of state government, the “well-tailored Chippewa” had become a vocal advocate who would make sure that marginalized voices were heard in policy deliberations. Socially constructed beliefs about education and titles gave my comments more credibility. The inter-tribal staff who had unquestioningly imposed state and federal restrictions on tribes in the past eagerly shifted when they realized it was their job to represent tribes and question policies and procedures that created undue hardships for tribal people. University faculty who were used to exploiting tribal communities for research projects had to follow more egalitarian protocols and community direction. State funders who had once easily used “divide and conquer” strategies with tribal leaders to avoid awarding reasonable grants to address compelling needs or refused to recognize tribal sovereignty no longer found this approach effective. My Ojibwe boss loved to tease me about my feisty advocacy, asking where my white horse was parked and routinely giving me replicas of the statue of liberty.

super hero

Photo Credit: pagescoloring.net

It was exciting to watch as inter-tribal staff began to consciously challenge hegemony. Yet carrying the responsibility to transform power relations is a lonely life-style, not merely a job. It made me a target for those who wanted to resume their hegemony over tribes, as well as for tribal leaders and community members who wanted to be in the spotlight. I was grateful for an excuse to give up working 12 hour days seven days a week. Maybe, I thought, it’s time to try something new, but that’s another story…

Aadi & bubbles

Photo Credit: Aadi (my grandson) and me, blowing bubbles – 2001

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