Friday, March 14, 2008

Ann Soetaro and anthropology in Hawaii

The NYT of March 14, 2008, has this article about Ann Soetoro, now famous as the mother of presidential candidate Barack Obama.

I meet Ann when we were both graduate students at the University of Hawaii. In the summer of 1986, I was writing my Master's Thesis and she was working on her Doctoral Dissertation. Years later, writing my own dissertation, I thought often of a conversation we had about how different writing a thesis or dissertation was from writing reports on development projects. Both of us were used to writing under a deadline for a project, but this thesis thing was different. As Ann put it, every sentence had to be considered, all facts in that sentence proved - it took a lot longer than either of us anticipated!

She was respected in the Anthropology Department at the University of Hawaii. She was both highly creative and deeply meticulous. She was an excellent scholar and a socially involved human being. I really admired her. This article does a nice job of capturing who she was -- in just three short pages.

I also remember her talking very proudly of her son. Who could imagine I'd be hearing so much about him years later!

I also enjoyed this article because of the quotes from lots of old colleagues, friends, and teachers.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Race as a Cover for Class

Look at these popular websites:

I first learned of these on an mp3 blog, The Music Slut. It's a place to hear the newest in alt-indie music.

These "white people" web sites are funny as commentary on the habits of young people in the upper middle classes rather than Whiteness per se. The targets are yuppies or yuppies-to-be (as are the authors, although I'm quite sure they'd disagree).

What is a yuppie, you ask? I know when I first heard of yuppies -- it was in a Zippy the Pinhead comic around 1981-1982 about how hippies and yippies had transmogrified into totally goal-oriented, ambitious, driven, and materialistic young adults, a comment on the ways in which the free-spirited, anarchistic ideals of the hippies had disappeared. Thus, yuppie, a play on hippy or yippie, meaning young upwardly-mobile professionals. I was struck by this as I had left the U.S. in 1979 and returned in the early 1980s to a fundamentally different world from the one I'd left.

But that's not how it's used today. Today, it is a way to talk about well-to-do white people in non-racial terms. And now, in keeping with post-modern ironic humor, it's become humorous to talk directly about these same sociocultural traits in terms of whiteness. It's the white version of David Chappelle without the anger and the self-critical awareness.

And yet it all still dances around the core issues of who has power and who doesn't have power. It's a way to talk about the wealthy without acknowledging class. Because, you know, "we don't have class in America" and "we're all middle class" (cf. the great PBS documentary by Louis Alvarez, People Like Us).

In fact, it serves to further mystify privilege because if you can make these kinds of jokes about the wealthy dominant group in America, you can't be one of them, so no one can hold you responsible for the system of power from which you benefit.

Initial Post

I'm not really blogging, so sorry to disappoint anyone. I mean, I'd like to, but I'm not one of those keep-up-the-news-every-week kind of people.

Really, I want a spot to occasionally publish things I'm writing so that I can direct people to it and get their feedback. Beats clogging up everyone's email boxes with attachments.

And, as I develop online courses for my university, this ought to be useful.

So, later.