Monday, March 18, 2013

Are You Talking About Me Behind In Front of My Back?

Dear Class of 2013,

Almost none of you will hear what I have to say here, but I just wanted to let you know that I heard you...all week long, all month, for six quarters. But you probably didn't even realize I was there, did you?

I beg your pardon, fellow students in this esteemed institution of higher learning. For six quarters I heard you endlessly complaining about the treatment of this minority and that minority; I heard you rail self-righteously against the White Man and the military; I heard you blame nearly every flaw of modern humanity on capitalism and corporations (which apparently are "people"); I heard your fits of indignation when education funding is cut, and while speaking out  the other side of your mouth, I heard resentment and constant snubs at those who, despite the stereotyping and the blatant ignorance and the prejudice against all things Christian, ironically deny the representation and the voice of certain minorities.
 But I can rest assured, even after the Hispanic population becomes the majority in the U.S., you will tirelessly defend their rights as an oppressed minority, while you consistently deny any rights to the unborn, the unseen, the unprotected. Dear class of 2013, I know you will not defend me either. At least not for a long while.

In other words, you are talking behind in front of my back. My mother used to say this all the time--it's an old idiom, freshly painted with irony and thrown out in good humor to let us all know when we are stepping in to represent her with a "she'll just say" here, or a "she won't" there, leaving her no room to represent herself. But this clever turn of phrase is also an apt description for what happens in the classroom of the typical university, and, I imagine, in most public schools. Ironically I can't tell you for sure, because I am that irritating minority that just didn't go to school.

Did you really not see me there? Are the currents of power and dominance so strong that no fish can
  possibly swim against them? Yet seemingly suspended beneath the reflective, rippling surface of the river, a few of us still try to do that. Perhaps it is because our movement is so restricted in this direction that you cannot notice us there with you, in the row behind you, inthe corner, even front and center--although you might cast your net over Red Square to drag in the braver ones who make little leaps forward above the water.

I am a tired fish. For six quarters I beat my tail against the current, my little thought bubbles promptly swept away from my mouth unnoticed. Feeling entirely able to articulate my opinions, yet deprived of voice, there in the corner. Even when I wasn't in the corner, I felt like I was. To all you grad students, I might as well have been a housefly, a mere nuisance buzzing around your heads, or a biting mosquito who does little more than make you scratch the back of your neck.

Classmates of '13, I am a tired fish. I leave the university feeling like I've made very little impact on anybody there. Zero progress. Of course, I can't blame it all on the current. Perhaps I could have done more, I could have fought harder and made those brave leaps. I felt like I was swimming alone though; I belonged to no organization, no support group, and I had precious few classmates who would ever be willing to back me up. In my discipline of Anthropology it was particularly hard. Anthropologists are an irreligious bunch, all urgently seeking to rectify the atrocities of the field's colonial past. It's not that I disagree with this goal, or that their irreligiosity disturbs me, but rather these facts tend to fill the whole disciplinary view, obscuring many ideas and institutions that have a major impact on millions of people, but nevertheless are too uncomfortable and too close to home to really treat with any serious critical thinking--in the anthropology of Christianity (a minuscule sub-field, and possibly my future career), we call it the "familiar Other". Christianity, as with alternative educational backgrounds such as homeschooling, is ignored by most anthropologists because it so rubs against the ideological grain, and, so they claim, it's "such a part of our culture", that why should we bother with it?

So, fellow consumers in the so-called "marketplace of ideas", you can see that given the prevailing disciplinary attitude toward my upbringing and values, actually having to hear about them in class, first-hand, and take unwelcome criticism about ideas seen as given and true, would be rather uncomfortable.

Please, don't even speak to me about being uncomfortable. Although in many ways beneficial, I have been pushed so far out of my comfort zone that I nearly fell off the periphery. I clung to cliffs of overlapping belief, my only sure footing where I took shelter from avalanches and the talons of predatory birds. But of course, if I actually said what made me so squeamish, I would be castigated. So, fellow graduates, I will mercifully spare you, and give you the accommodation that I never received.

There is no middle ground between accommodation and discrimination, as I've recently realized through some Supreme Court cases. This is true in every institution, even those that champion freedom of conscience, radical ideas, and expression. It is indisputable that if one is not granted sufficient ideological freedom to express their beliefs, they are denied self-representation--that precious right of the individual that those who swim with the current take for granted.

They say that the first step toward change (that concept that the University of Washington is so enamored with) is acknowledging that there is a problem.

Dear class of 2013, we have a problem. We have a crisis of representation generated by the long-standing mechanisms of discrimination and relations of power, in some departments more than others. When you've gone out and experienced life outside of academia, and you've gained some perspective from a marketplace that is much freer, come back and fix it. I will be there, waiting.

Addressing You Directly,
                 G. B. Boorman

1 comment:

  1. Georgi - I'm so torn over your blog! No - not the content - the sheer desire to ruminate, contemplate, and otherwise reason through the relevant points you have brought up throughout. Frankly, I'll have to go back and read it again just to savor it some more. There are so many emotions at play in this (from the reader, but surely from the author as well) it is hard to know where to start. I realize that sounds like a bit of a cop-out, but the simple fact is it deserves intelligent discussion- sadly lacking from today's academic institution fodder - and that takes time. The passion? It's there. Reasoning? There. You have managed to hold a fine line of exasperation without losing your cool - anger is an ally of your enemy. And it reads with a flow and understanding which belies your years. I'm proud of you, yet have no right to be. Sometimes we see hope in the future generations when we look close enough, I just wish it was more frequent. I have to go read some more now.