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Win Some, Lose Some

In bad news, I got called a moralistic, over-wrought navel-gazer. In good news, blog stats are up and visits have quadrupled in the past few days. I’ll take it! Welcome new readers, hope you remembered to bring your bongs.

I decided not to weigh in over there since I felt trying to defend myself or challenge interpretations of what I’d written wouldn’t add anything productive to a conversation that was about much more than my post, and which was moving along fine without me. I do want to add something about what was seen as an overly-dramatic use of the word “trauma.” I don’t have a problem being called dramatic. (I am, after all, a gay, and we take pride in our dramatics, even if, on occassion, as Danny Noriega would say, “Some people weren’t liking it.”) But I did want to say that in my use of that word, I’m drawing from a body of literature that might be of interest — in addition to Cho’s work, I’m thinking of David Eng and David Kazanjian’s Loss, Saidiya Hartman’s Lose Your Mother and E. Ann Kaplan’s Trauma Culture.  Some of these and other recent works on race and trauma draw from psychoanalytic theorists Nicholas Abraham and Maria Torok, and their notion of “transgenerational haunting,” as well as sociologist Avery Gordon’s Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination.

And, in related news, the mayor of Los Alamitos, a small city in Orange County, CA, sent an email postcard to a colleague that featured the White House lawn as a field of watermelons, with the note “No Easter Egg hunt this year.” When the recipient, an African American woman who volunteers with the city, objected, the Mayor explained he was unaware of any racialized content in the image. He stated, “Bottom line is, we laugh at things and I didn’t see this in the same light that she did. I’m sorry. It wasn’t sent to offend her personally – or anyone – from the standpoint of the African-American race.”


  1. That watermelon patch -White house lawn job was exactly the very first “Obama joke” I was told, by my cousin, at Thanksgiving.

    Posted on 26-Feb-09 at 12:23 pm | Permalink
  2. As a generally overwrought navel-gazer myself, I wondered how you were taking things over here.

    And while outside of sociology, I’d add Shoshana Felman and Dori Laub’s Testimony to the list. That book changed the way I thought about a lot of things.

    Posted on 26-Feb-09 at 12:36 pm | Permalink
  3. Nothing celebrates the genocidal conquering of the Americas like a racist joke!

    Posted on 26-Feb-09 at 1:13 pm | Permalink
  4. Eh, where’s the florid prose? Anyway, thanks for the references and for your good cheer.

    Posted on 26-Feb-09 at 1:36 pm | Permalink
  5. Thanks for the reading suggestion, and for checking up on me. I’m fine — an occupational hazard of writing online, right? Plus it inspired me to invent a new word to describe getting taken to task on the internet: flog + blog = fblog! As in, “Whoa, dude, you really got a fblogging over at Scatterplot!” I am open to suggestions regarding pronunciation.

    Posted on 26-Feb-09 at 3:45 pm | Permalink
  6. I have given up on purple prose, and taken up inventing words. See reply to Emily’s comment, above.

    Posted on 26-Feb-09 at 3:46 pm | Permalink
  7. Yeah, I got it on a listserv last summer. Flogstserved?

    (It was a battle over whether our not our identity-group conference social should be organized around the gay marriage supreme court decision in California. You can imagine what side I was on. There do now exist on the internet some rather wonderful photos of me drunkenly getting the first slice of the social’s celebratory wedding cake. Those were the days…)

    Posted on 26-Feb-09 at 4:03 pm | Permalink
  8. mt

    Is there is sufficiently reasonable non-racist interpretation of the watermelon postcard to make it analogous to the NY Post cartoon? I don’t see one.

    Posted on 26-Feb-09 at 9:04 pm | Permalink
  9. I don’t know that I had a strict 1-to-1 analogy in mind, but thinking about your comment led me to this:

    I think that both the Post cartoon and the watermelon email respond to the threat Obama’s presidency poses to the dominant racial order. I think they both do so by putting Obama/African Americans back in their “proper” racially-subordinated place. I think both do this regardless of whatever else they might do.

    Posted on 27-Feb-09 at 10:41 am | Permalink
  10. I’m one of about only four people on Scatterplot arguing that the Post’s denial of deliberate racism was plausible, but I’d agree with mt that there’s no non-racist explanation of the watermelons (why watermelons and not pumpkins or any other vegetation) and that the mayor’s denial is just a flat out lie.

    Posted on 27-Feb-09 at 11:15 am | Permalink
  11. Watermelons and chimps have racist implications with real impact for actual human beings?! I’m shocked, shocked I say.

    I like fblogging as a neologism.

    Posted on 02-Mar-09 at 7:56 pm | Permalink
  12. i got your reference to “trauma” and feel the Scatterplot reaction was indicative of the sensitive nature of the discussion prior to you. i don’t like the psychoanalytic roots of the term, but it captures the individual and collective impact of racial stratification summarily. it seems as if the Scatterplot poster took your statement to mean that you were blaming Scatterplot (as a Sociology representative) for the failures of society to address the realities and consequences of racial inequality. he/she was hurt. understandable. no one wants to be called a “racist” explicitly or implicitly, especially people who feel they themselves are well-intentioned.

    this last point leads me to an understanding that must gain currency in contemporary America if we are to move beyond ourselves as a “nation of cowards” (AG Eric Holder, Feb. 18, ’09): racism is not about intentions. in fact, the most virulent forms of racism occur invisibly, as an inert structural force. this inert structural force embodies both cultural symbolisms of whole peoples (e.g., blacks as monkeys (see Joseph Grave’s The Emperor’s New Clothing) or blacks eat watermelons or Jews are rats (see Maus)) and the context of lived realities (e.g., racial residential segregation, racial differences in the quality of educational opportunities, racial profiling).

    yes, some racism is rooted in intention, but if we narrow the definition of racism as such we miss out on the transinstitutional and multidimensional nature and consequences of race and racial hierarchy. DuBois in The Philadelphia Negro and Omi and Winant in Racial Formation in the United States are two bodies of work that use this dual structural approach (cultural symbolisms and lived experiences); although, the blame for the articulation of the approach presented here, if proven to be navel grazing, florid, and/or garbage, should be put on me.

    Posted on 09-Mar-09 at 4:01 am | Permalink
  13. LOL the last line of your comment!

    I know this is a side point, but yes I also have come to some uses of psychoanalytic theory with a good amount of trepidation. My feeling is that the ideas can be a bit mobile, and taken from their strict Freudean roots and the problems Freud brings. But nonetheless there is some kind of prescriptive feeling in any use of pscyhoanalytic theory, and that makes me nervous (or neurotic?!) as well.

    And re: intentionality. Thank you for articulating this really clearly, it’s helpful for me, as well as pointing to the possibility of theorizing a “dual structural” approach. I just found out there’s a symposium at the U of Oregon next month commemorating the 25th anniversary of Omi & Winant’s book. The line-up looks pretty stellar.

    Posted on 09-Mar-09 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

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