What I’m Reading this Week: 15 September 2016

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So in my haste to return to blogging, I consumed a lot of press this week. Some of it is older, but still important.

Vincennes, France holds a festival about American culture and literature, and has been since 2008. This year’s was held from the 8-11 of September. The festival chatted with 15 authors and Libération posted excerpts from their chat, which centered around the authors’ ideas and impressions of their personal vision of America. Fascinating stuff. Des écrivains racont leur Amérique [Authors talk about their America] — the original article is in French.

Going on at the same time, in Paris, was la fête de l’Humanité [The Humanity Festival], which is the French Communist Party’s annual festival. It still happens, though the party is apparently unpopular. This isn’t an article; it’s a video with a small report attached, but it’s interesting. France : la fête de l’Humanité, entre évènement populaire et vitrine politique [The Humanity Festival: popular event and political display– report and article in French].

Think Progress reports on several scientific studies about the mental health of Black people in the United States, especially battling the daily micro-aggressions and constant onslaught of race-based discrimination. It’s a glancing read, but each study is probably worth a look. Being Black in America is a heavy burden, one that many people are either blind to or deny.

Swinging back out to Europe, Arstechnica reports on Denmark’s move to pay for the leaked documents, in a bid to research Danish tax evasion (‘Panama Papers: Denmark to pay $1.3M-plus for leaked data to probe tax evasion‘). I usually read Arstechnica for technical news, but when tech and government mix, it can only be a good or bad thing. I appreciate Denmark’s willingness to investigate tax dodgers, instead of letting them run for high office.

Speaking of running for high office, two articles about the American presidential campaign, obviously. The Economist discusses the similarities and differences between the war-hawk policies of Clinton and Trump. American foreign policy is unattractive and scary thing to me, but there you go.

And finally, the Washington Post‘s 18 August report about Trump’s not-so-charitable giving is incredibly detailed and incredibly disheartening. I’m so bewildered by Trump’s continued existence. I’m very glad there’s only eight weeks until the election, but I have no idea what’s going to happen then. Nobody does, it feels like.

That’s all from me this week! Until next time. – SDM

photo by David Mark.

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#atozchallenge – Xenophobia: What it Looks Like Around the World

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America has always been seen as a refuge for the disenfranchised. The Statue of Liberty states:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

We should be as welcoming as we promise, but of course we are not. We still struggle with issues of integration and hatred of the unknown. It is not surprising that we have issues with Muslim refugees; though we are loathe to say it, we have been fighting in mostly Muslim regions for a very long time. Mostly, however, America still struggles with race relations: Syrian refugees have the ire of some people now, but it is Black people (and sometimes Latino and Asian people) who have it very difficult.

In Germany, it is the Turkish population that faces daily difficulties with integration. Germany is in the forefront of the current refugee crisis, but its past problems have come back to haunt it. Without better integration, disenfranchised people will turn to the haven of a promised land.

In France, being a person of colour is difficult. Though it is strictly forbidden to ask about race, ethnicity and religion for any national census, France is socially divided by race anyway. I wrote about my issues with France in a previous post.

Personally, I have dealt with discrimination in all three of these countries, but on a much lower scale than recent immigrants. I’m not sure what integration will look like as we continue, especially with the continuing refugee crises from Syria, Eritrea and countries in Northern Africa. However, I hope that we can turn our attentions to the plights of minority without ire. – SDM

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If you’d like to read my other posts in this year’s A to Z challenge, check them out here.

Photo by David Mark. Poem excerpt from ‘The New Colossus’ by Emma Lazarus.

#atoz: Something Rotten in these United States

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Change and innovation are part of the historical meme. Better, newer, faster is the constant drumbeat of American society. I am addicted to technology; I enjoy using it, and I’m sure that it would be hard readjusting to not having it. But I also enjoy preserving the connexions to our past. Just as people in Europe live in flats built in the 17th and 18th century and walk streets set down even further in the past, I want to be able to say my flat was built in the antebellum period, or that our library was built in the 1920s. However, historical preservation is on a local level, and it would not be an exaggeration to say that it is just not a priority.

But it is not even the historical preservation. We are destroying community in the race for profit. Small businesses are being swallowed whole by mega-corporations, and minority communities suffer from a lack of resources for many reasons, some malicious and some just through “tradition”, which can be just as malicious. And our infrastructure is crumbling: highways, bridges and rail-lines have not been updated since the 1950s, and some even longer.

To be “American” is not defined by being beholden to a certain set of core values and beliefs. Perhaps we have become integrated, but unlike the ideal “melting pot” of immigrants living beside each other, we are a mixed salad of things that, when put together, sometimes does not pair well. We cannot bond over a common heritage and history, so we should preserve the things we can.

We should not erase heritage and history, and if we continue building new without fixing what works, our foundations shall crumble, in more ways than one. – SDM

 

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If you’d like to read my other posts in this year’s A to Z challenge, check them out here.

Photo by arutina

#atozchallenge: Liberté, égalité, fraternité

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I am stopped every time I go to France. I don’t mind; the security theatre must be played by both actors. But I am stopped every time, and questioned about my movements. I have an EU passport, so I naively thought that granted me some latitude, some freedom, but it does not.

I am asked why I speak French so well (I’m a French teacher); I am asked how long I’m planning on staying (a week, two?); I am asked where my place of birth is (yes, that is an American military base–my mother is German, hence, I have jus sanguinis, or birthright citizenship). It is a constant play. Then, they open my bag on some pretext, compliment my packing skills (almost every time) and then I am sent on my way. I am not offended or put off, but I feel that the official French line is that brown people who speak their language are suspicious. It’s ridiculous considering France’s long history of colonialism and imperialism.

Living in a militantly secular but historically Christian nation is interesting, coming from a ‘secular’ but actually quasi-Christian nation like America. Living in a militantly secular state means that ‘ostentatious’ displays of religion are offensive, and talking about Christian holidays in the classroom is verboten.

I was a senior in high school in America when France passed its law against ostentatious displays of religion. I remember being outraged and disappointed: France for me had been the bastion of culture and true liberalness of thought, society and politics. When you live in the Bible Belt, anything seems liberal. I’ve learnt since that France is still entrenched in its colonial mindset, and is still struggling (and in some senses, failing) with immigration and integration.

Being a French teacher means I not only teach language, with vocabulary and grammar structures, but also differences and similarities in culture. Most of my students think that France is a liberal bastion, just like I did, but I am slowly opening their eyes to the fact that even in la belle France, there are some ugly and deep scars. – SDM

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If you’d like to read my other posts in this year’s A to Z challenge, check them out here.

Photo by Nuno Lopes

#atozchallenge: Injustice, the American Way

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I have only been a juror once. I have been called many times, and, like voting, I believe it is a very important civic duty. However, every time I’ve been called I’ve been unavailable (usually because I’ve been abroad). I think I was chosen because I was close in age to both defendant and plaintiff and that I expressed no opinions on criminal justice one way or the other.

I’ve thought about that jury selection ever since. Because studies have shown that selection is not unbiased, and that few people get fair hearings. I think also about Grand jury selections: are these people really peers? Or are they easily persuaded, intimidated by the knowledge and seeming expertise of the prosecutor? We have seen Grand juries come on the side of the prosecutor and the state too many times to say that they are unbiased.

In America, a trial is treated like a tennis match: constant volleying of questions from either side and intervention by the lines-person (the Judge). And just like a tennis match, the stronger player wins. But of course: Roger Federer will beat the number 115 seed every time; Federer has experience and power, and a damn good coach.

The prosecutor is usually the stronger “opponent”, and when they are up against a weak opponent, like a public defender and a scared 18 year old who made a dumb choice, he will win. And society will lose, and we shall be poorer for it. – SDM

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If you’d like to read my other posts in this year’s A to Z challenge, check them out here.

Photo by Edward Lich

#atozchallenge: Ain’t I a Human, Too?

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My father is from a very small town in Georgia. That small town hosted a neighbouring county’s first desegregated prom…in 2014. So this is what he has known his whole life.

I am a bi-racial woman. My father is a Black man from Georgia and my mother is a White woman from Germany. My whole life, I have been running between the two identities, forcing myself into one ill-fitting mould or another. I speak fluent German, I have very European political views, but I have to deal with the reactions to my skin colour at every step of the way.

Many people complain about micro-aggressions, that they are not real or that they are exaggerated. I have never been the victim of overt racial violence, but there have been little things that pile up and chip away at my identity. My questions, of course, are rhetorical.

‘You’re not like those other Black people.’ What are Black people supposed to be like? What other Black people? I realise you are talking about some stereotypical Black person, and you will tell me in lurid detail all your anecdotes, but I don’t want to hear it.

‘You don’t sound Black.’ What do Black people sound like? I have had students tell me that they didn’t know Black people could have British accents. I usually show them a clip of Idris Elba.

‘You’re very smart for a Black person.’ Black people cannot be intelligent? Are Black people not seen as intelligent?

‘I didn’t know Black people could [fill in normal activity here].’ I get this a lot as I am an avid swimmer and surfer. The stereotype of Black people being unable to swim is a purely American one; I explain that Black people in America weren’t allowed into public swimming pools, and are sometimes forced out of their own neighbourhood swimming pools as well. I’ve been swimming since I was three years old.

I am very tired of hearing these; I hear it at least once a week. There is a startling ignorance of Black culture and history, of the richness of it. It depresses me, but does not surprise me. White rules without question, at least in the West. – SDM

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If you’d like to read my other posts in this year’s A to Z challenge, check them out here.

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What I’m reading this week: 11 March 2016

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I apologise for not updating my weekly reads in a week. Last week was horribly hectic and busy; this week hasn’t been much better, but I have a small collection of reads from the past fortnight.

First up, a little bit of good news from France, in honour of International Womens’ (Workers) Day. François Hollande, president of France, was profiled in the latest issue of Elle France, discussing various ‘feminist’ issues. Le Monde‘s Catherine Mallaval and Virginie Ballet summarise the article and discuss the history of French presidents and their attempts at connecting with women. France in general, in my view, still has an issue with equality amongst the sexes, but Hollande calling himself a feminist is probably better than anything we’ll get out of our male American leaders. [Article is in French.]

It’s not all good news in la belle France, though. Le Monde reports on findings from the European Council on issues of racism there, especially in the rise of harassment towards Muslims and Jews, along with general xenophobia. The council especially notes that France’s concept of la laïcité is taken to extremes very often, by banning outward expressions of religion that are deemed ‘ostentatious’. France is the very definititon of a ‘problematic fave’ as my students would say. [Article is in French.]

Coming back to America, then. The election continues apace, and now we are in an interesting place: the Republicans don’t want their winner to continue to win, and the Democrats are pushing further and further to the left. Danielle Kurtzleben writes about Tuesday’s (9 March) primaries, and what there is to learn.

Veit Medick, the Washington correspondent for Der Spiegel, writes about Donald Trump’s rise and the worry it is bringing people in the Republican party and in intellectual circles in his article Donald Trump und der Super Tuesday: Angst um Amerika. You can see my thoughts on his Super Tuesday win, and Super Tuesday in general, right here.

And finally, Emma Lindsay explains parts of the complicated history of racism tinged with classism and why it’s helping Donald Trump at the Medium. Being white and being poor, she explains, is probably still better than being black and being poor, because:

To summarize, no one wants to occupy the “last” place in society. No one wants to be the most despised. As long as racism remains intact, poor white people are guaranteed not to be “the worst.” If racism is ever truly dismantled, then poor white people will occupy the lowest rung of society, and the shame of occupying this position is very painful. This shame is so painful, that the people at risk of feeling it will vote on it above all other issues.

Whilst this is not a new argument, Lindsay’s essay is well-timed and well-written and a good look at the mindset of poor, white America.

Until next time. – SDM

Photo by Javier Rodriguez