The Case for Reparations in Digital Spaces

These are my remarks as part of the MLA 16 roundtable: Repair and Reparations in Digital Public Spaces.

As I begin to pull together my thoughts on the subject of repair and reparations, I find the ideas I had in January 2015 when Adeline and I, over plates of Korean fried chicken first began discussing the subject of reparations in digital spaces are not the same as they are today in January 2016.

Originally, and in keeping with our Texas location, I was most concerned with issues of how digital tools, themselves at best neutral, are used and abused to re-enforce and expand the hegemonic imperial nation state, to militarize and police the US Mexican border against and at the expense of economically and politically colonized bodies.

I’m still concerned with this, but I want to focus my remarks this afternoon on issues of repair versus reparation. Much has been discussed recently on care and repair practices. So why then use the term “reparation”? Repair can be a positive thing. The term denotes fixing, making something that doesn’t work or properly function or function better. But repair is also utilitarian and philosophically neutral. Repair is not revolutionary. Physical repairs, as Gloria Anzaldúa discusses in Borderlands, are forever being made to the border wall, the 1,950 mile open wound, where the ocean meets the shore, where Tijuana touches San Diego. This decade has seen much fence and wall building and repair. Yet no one, I believe, would call these repairs “reparations.”

“Reparation” is not neutral term. It has revolutionary resonances. Reparations speak not simply to fixing something that’s broken, but of making something or someone who was harmed whole. Reparations demand acknowledging responsibility for past injustices and active resistance to their replication. Reparations are not simply repairs but compensation. Reparation judges. It is repeatedly returned to in critical race theory, post-colonial and ethnic studies. To deny reparation is to ignore that theory, history and philosophy. Reparations, the current and past border situation would suggest acknowledging and teaching the history of Operation Wetback, of the braceros. Of resisting the militarized wall. Of, as Homi Bhaba wrote and as my fellow panelist Linda Garcia Merchant does in her work, haunting the unwritten history.

As was learned through the cynical use of deconstruction of video in the Rodney King beating case, when police defense lawyers used a deconstructed reading to see resistance and danger in King’s beaten body, neutral tools may not remain neutral. It is the nature of hegemony that a neutral tool will tend to work to repair and reinforce white, neoliberal capitalism. It is therefore important not only to repair and care for our digital spaces, but to construct and reconstruct them as spaces where reparations are made.

 

Disrupting DH: Lowriding Through the Digital Humanities

This was written as a position paper for MLA16’s roundtable Disrupting DH.

Note: The title of this piece is shamelessly borrowed from Barbara Noda’s “Lowriding Through the Women’s Movement,” a piece which creatively addresses the power a group made up of women of color could have on individuals during the women’s movement. It was published in the classic, This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color.

There has been wonderful work recently on #TransformDH by the TransformDH collective discussing how racial / gender / sexual / disabled bodies in the academy are and always have been doing digital humanities work. Nevertheless, because hegemony constantly replicates the dominant discourse, there needs to be a consistent and constant engagement with issues of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class and able-bodiedness as its counter. To discuss this hegemony, I’m going to fall back on Chicana feminist praxis, which means locating myself and speaking from that position, with the hope that from that self-situated ethnography some insight into my concerns may come. This piece uses autoethnography to specifically discuss issues and effects of racial absence in the digital humanities community and what the costs of that may be. It begins to discuss how the discourse surrounding racial bodies and there absence in DH spaces replicates the discourse surrounding the invisibility / absence of women of color from second wave feminism.

Those who think Twitter is a waste of time, as opposed to it being a time-waster, are failing to see its potential. Or maybe they’re not following the right people. Twitter is the main way I keep up on what’s going on in two areas: digital humanities and ethnic studies, especially Chicana/o and Latina/o studies. My point of entry into both of these online communities is through Twitter, though in the case of ethnic studies, it also reflects my disciplinary background and my areas of research. Both Twitter streams are very active, some days more than others, but even so, more than I can read most days. Both use hashtags to discuss important issues, though Chicana/o studies somewhat less often than DH.

In 2011, as I struggled with the final revisions of my dissertation between adjuncting gigs, feeling the absence of intellectual community, I found academic Twitter. Although I had been active in online communities going back to Usenet alt.* groups in the mid-late 1990, except for a little work on a department lists erve, my online communities never intersected with my academic ones. Questions of why should probably be reserved for the digital equivalent of psychoanalysis (would that be blogging?).  By the end 2011 however, I’d been online as a Chicana doctoral student / recent Ph.D. for more than a year. I had engaged with an online community of Chicanos, of other academics, of Doctor Who fans (communities that frequently overlapped). And I’d participated in having a hashtag (#AztlanReads — a response to the general lack of knowledge about Chicana/o authors and books) become a small but vocal movement as a website and then an anthology. Being part of this made me imagine how the fields of digital humanities and digital pedagogy was intersecting with Chicana/o studies specifically and ethnic studies / critical race theory more generally.

Because of this experience engaging with and in technology with my digital community, I attended the 2012 MLA convention in Seattle with plans of branching out from attending mainly Chicana/o panels and into this DH community I’d grown to (virtually) know through social media. I’m taking a long time telling this. It is because the memory is painful. The panels and workshops I attended were a shock. Not only because the work was so exciting, especially, for me, the pedagogy, the mapping and time lining and other amazing projects. But because even at MLA, even at a literature conference, I had never experienced a stronger sense of being racially / ethnically other. The rooms, crowded to bursting were visibly, notably white spaces. This was a bit jarring, but what was even more so was that no one was taking about this. No one was asking where the brown people were. The absence of racialized bodies was un-noted.

The degree to which I was unnerved is hard to overstate. On the one hand, here were all these wonderful ideas, ways of thinking about literature and community and its intersection — merger even– with the digital that I had never considered. On the other there was a seemingly lack of awareness of the hegemonic replication of whiteness. I left with nothing to say, something that’s unusual as I’m generally a loud mouthed sort of woman. Yet I was unnerved and had felt a fear of participating. Most people, understand that it’s hard being the only woman in a room of 50 to 100 men. For people of color most of us know, it’s just as hard to be the lonely only. That’s how I felt. Alone and painfully self-conscious. When I’m one of the onlys, however kind and welcoming the environment, I experience stress. There’s a fear of asking questions lest I be seen as speaking for my race / culture and somehow reinforcing biases. I left those DH sessions with the thought of attending the Chicana/o Latina/o / Asian American / African American literature sessions.

On the way, I went and found coffee, sat in the hotel lobby and tried to sort out my thoughts and emotions.  On a personal level the moment was hard. After enduring the alienating damage of being one of a very few graduate students of color in my Ph.D. program, I had been enfolded, and to an extent, healed by MALCS, a Chicana / Latina community of scholars and community activists. Did I want to leap back into the world of unthinking micro and macro racial aggressions? As a scholar of color, there are few things as rare and wonderful as getting to be in a room with a multitude of scholars of color. For me, there’s a feeling of intellectual safety, of being able to take risks without risking being found intellectually naive, or worse still, reflecting badly on all Chicana/os. I feel I can be wrong, that we can build theoretical castles in the air, find their flaws, send them crashing down.

Alexis Lothian, someone I knew from graduate school, came into view and kindly came over. I poured out what I had seen and felt at my somewhat limited exposure to the digital humanities at MLA. She affirmed what I’d seen and felt and we began discussing issues of racial, gender and sexuality hegemony within the DH community. It seems this feeling was something of the zeitgeist of the moment and soon tweets began to appear with the #TransformDH hashtag.

There was and continues to be pushback, a sense that DH is welcoming to all and has no need to transform itself or to be transformed. In the four years since the Seattle MLA, I have witnessed the hostility and impatience that seems to greet discussions of how DH could / should imbue itself with critical race theory and feminist praxis. Enumerating DH projects by or about communities of color or women seems to substitute for engaging with the white male hegemony being reproduced from our academic institutions into DH structures and communities, for me, reproducing the experience of women of color with second wave feminism. Yet at the same time, the potential for change, the excitement for the field continues. If DH can learn from cultural studies and feminism to recognize and unsettle its privilege, to demand diversity of itself and its communities, that would go a long way in bridging these discourses. It means not waiting for scholars of color to find DH and ask us about it, but going to them, understanding and listening to their theories and practices and discussing with them how the digital works in connection with the work they’re already doing. We need to understand what it costs for a scholar of color to admit to not knowing or “getting” something and don’t take it lightly. Meanwhile, I know I speak English only. My code is as stumbling and ungraceful as my Spanish. I feel like Cherrie Moraga, trying to find a way to be a bridge and not being adequate to the task.


 

November 3 – It’s #DigiWriMo!

Late to the party…

November is Digital Writing Month, which you can read all about at the website.   Lots of great people are doing lots of amazing and innovative things.  However, this people (me!) is going to work on updating this blog with a few goals.

  • Run all the updates needed on WordPress for the sites’ themes DONE!
  • (possibly) Move my site over to my new domain, annemarieperez.com at ReclaimHosting.
  • Update site information.
  • Redecorate here — the place is looking kinda dated
  • Blog some content

I’d say “watch this space,” but honestly you’d need to be pretty bored.

Teaching: Crowdsourcing Assignment

I was talking on Facebook today about this assignment, one I use across courses, but especially at the start of courses where we as a class are trying to define contested terms. The term “Chicana/o,” for example, has been defined a number of ways without having any one definitive meaning.

Here’s an example of it in action. Last Spring, when I taught a course on the Chicana/o Gothic, I asked my students to crowdsource definitions of Chicana/o and gothic the first week of classes. To do this, the students can search any sources, on or offline, to come up with the definition, citing their source. The catch is that each source can appear only once. If a previous student has used a source, they have to find another one. When we meet in class, these definitions become the basis for discussion and understanding how these terms are contested and what definitions would be most useful for us individually and collectively.

Image Credit: David Ludwig

Teaching – Spring 2015

I have my schedule for Spring 2015. I’m teaching three classes at Loyola Marymount — two sections of Rhetorical Arts on Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons and one section of Intro to Chicana/o Studies on Thursday evenings. I may also be teaching an online or weekend course on American Ethnic Literature at CSU-Dominguez Hills, we’ll see how that goes.

I taught Rhetorical Arts with the theme of “Digital Divides” last year. It worked well, but I’d like to spend more time studying rhetorical theory. I’m torn about what rhetoric book to use. I liked the book we used, Jason del Gandio’s Rhetoric for Radicals, but the university program is centering itself around The Rhetorical Act: Thinking, Speaking and Writing Critically by Karlyn Kohrs Campbell and Susan Schultz Huxman. On the one hand, The Rhetorical Act is clearly set up as a course book, which could make it easier to use. On the other hand, Rhetoric for Radicals deals a with digital rhetoric and the construction and influence of movements in a way that’s great for my topic. There’s also a huge price difference. The one the university is recommending is $172, whereas Rhetoric for Radicals is $16. Actually, as I write this, I’ve realized I want to stick with Rhetoric for Radicals, but I suspect I’m going to have to make a case for going against the rest of the program.

The Intro to Chicana/o Studies is a new prep for me. The people I teach with at LMU have been great about sharing their syllabi, but I want to put my own stamp on it. What I’ve realized though is that I need to get a better sense of what I think Chicana/o studies is. I’m tempted to start with Elizabeth Martinez’s “A Word about the Great Terminology Question” and have the students crowd source definitions of Chicana/o, Latina/o and Hispanic. I also want them to try writing their own version of El Plan de Aztlan. But mostly I’m feeling the pressure of teaching a class that only meets once a week. I want to make sure there’s enough variety of activities going on each week so we get enough done and it isn’t boring. One nice thing about the large chunk of time is that I’ll be able to show some films.

Every Day in November – Week 1

Since today is November 9 it’s been a little more than a week since I started my commitment to write 30 minutes a day, every day this month. Not, as I planned, 30 minutes a day first thing — though I did do that 7 of the 9 days, stumbling to my desk with only a cup of coffee and light box between me and the early morning. But for the last two days, having stayed out late at the ASA conference, I’ve slept in meaning I had to write in the evenings. Last night, though I didn’t get home until after 11, and ended up writing until 1am. Today was a little more sane, with my 30 minutes happening in the early evening.

What’s it been like?

First, it’s been liberating. 30 minutes feels like nothing, too little to worry about getting done (and, in the beginning, too little to accomplish anything). On Tuesday, a teaching day, I woke up later than I meant to (sleeping is something of an obsession clearly) and my first thought was “clearly I can’t write this morning.” But then I felt afraid of putting other things before this writing time. So I sat down and did the 30 minutes. It did mean I ended up arriving at school 20 minutes before I had to teach, with my hair still damp, but the writing was done. Each day the writing has gotten done.

Second, doing 30 minutes of work on my manuscript every day has helped keep my job market anxiety in perspective. It’s so massively out of my control that having this one thing that’s completely mine has been great. Doing the writing reminds me every day how much I love this work and connect with causes and writings of the people I’m researching.

It would be great, in the tradition of the NaNoWriMo to be able to end this by giving some impressive word count. But in line with #AcWri and #GetYourManuscriptOut, the writing that’s needed to be done this week is editing a book chapter on Elizabeth Martinez’s writings as Elizabeth Sutherland. 30 minutes a day has made a huge difference in the state of the manuscript and my responses to the editors. When I was asked two weeks ago if I could get the edits in by November 15, my response was very unsure. I have so little time right now, I thought. It seemed impossible. After the past nine days, while it still doesn’t seem exactly likely, it seems possible. While I may not hit that deadline, I’m sure I’ll have the revisions to the editors before Thanksgiving.

On to Week 2.

Battling the ‘Bots (Part 2)

A couple weeks ago I wrote about attacks by spammers on this domain. They’re generating so much traffic that I’m having to pay my domain host extra. The Bad Behavior software has helped, but caused it’s own problem. The spam traffic is so high that the log Bad Behavior keeps was filling up my disk space, even though the log purges itself every seven days.

Unable to solve the problem, I went back to P for help. Looking at the logs (so thank you Bad Behavior) he pointed out that a lot of the ‘bot traffic was directed at my login page. With his help I found a plugin Rename wp-login.php which does just what it said, helped me rename my login page so it’s not the WordPress default.

I know rationally there’s no point in being angry about this. Spammers spam. They do it for the money. It’s nothing personal. But I can’t help it, I’m angry my completely non-commercial domain is being attacked. I resent having to spend my time and P’s time in this arms race. I just want me and my students to have a nice space for our writing.

There, I’m done whining for today.

AcWrit – Every Day in November Plans

clockI’m making a commitment for November to write 30 minutes a day, every day (that’s 7 days a week). Right now my plan is to do this writing first thing — even before I check my email — though not before I make coffee. We’ll see how that goes. I’m talking about it in public because I want to accountability, plus I want to explore though weekly blogging about the practice of writing every day. Because my blogging also doesn’t get the time and attention it deserves.

This goes against the way I’ve generally written. I’ve always been something of a binge writer, writing in intense bursts when either inspiration struck or deadlines loomed. Yet I know that’s not the most productive or healthy way to write. One of my Twitter compadres, Raul Pacheco-Vega writes every morning for 2 hours. His daily discipline inspires me.

My other thought is that by writing first thing in the morning, I’m paying myself first. That is, I’m putting my research and writing ahead of everything else, from grading to job search work. This relates to some of the advice Wendy Belcher gives in Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks — that the grading will get done, but for many of us our writing gets a lower priority and ultimately never gets our time.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while, but the plan crystalized as I read Ryan Cordell’s “Writing 20 Minutes Every. Single. Day.” and the more recent “Scholarly Writing Hacks: 5 Lessons I Learned Writing Every Day in June” by Jennifer Ahern-Dodson. The fact is, there’s too much going on right now to have the luxury of writing binges. Even if I had the time to write like that, I wouldn’t have the time to recover.

I was incredibly pleased to mention my plan on Twitter and get responses from a variety of scholars who want to make the writing daily in November commitment too. I’m asking permission this afternoon to put their names (or whatever names they want to use) and links to their blogs (if they have them) here so we will have made a public commitment.

What I’ve been working on this week is getting my writing spaces organized so once this starts I can just sit down to write without having to first clear my desk.

If you want to join, leave a message in the comments, tweet me @anneperez or get in touch somehow. I’d love to see what we can do in November.

Who’s committed?

@santaperversa: Finding Self, Finding Love & It’s Always Summer in LA

Nikolai Garcia: @hellokommie

Annemarie Perez: @anneperez & Cited at the Crossroads

Liana M. Silvia Ford: @lianamsilviaford & Words Are My Game

Battling the ‘Bots

Not a video game.

This is a busy time for me. Yeah, yeah, Annemarie, I hear you say. We’re all busy. And I’m sure you are. But right now I’ve got three huge piles of grading nagging at me, job application deadlines and revisions to an article on Betita Martinez that need to be done.

So what has sucked up 6 hours since Friday? Trying to find a way to deal with spam traffic on this domain.

Mostly I don’t think a lot about spam. In fact, thanks to the ease of using WordPress and the general greatness of my host, Laughing Squid (how can you not want to host with a place called Laughing Squid?), I don’t think much about my multi domain install. It does what I need it to do, which is let me set up blogs for my classes and accounts for my students and then we do our thing. Askimet does its thing and, when I think about it, I empty the spam and delete the crap that hasn’t already been filtered.

I didn’t think I was in an arms race. I didn’t notice my numbers creeping up across all my archived course blogs. Then on Friday afternoon I got an email from the Squid help desk saying that since my domain was using close to three times the allowed “compute cycles” my hosting plan allows that they were moving me up to the more expensive plan. But even that wasn’t going to be enough. In addition to Mega Squid hosting, I was going to need two tacked on packages.

What? I was out cafe writing when I got the email, but when I got home (after Squid help hours) I spent an hour trying to figure out what the hell was going on. For starters, I didn’t even know what a compute cycle was. I’m still a bit blurry, but whatever they are I’m using lots. Were Stephen Fry and Neil Gaiman blogging about the Chicana/o Gothic? What the hell?

As I was trying to figure out what was going on with the traffic across my sites, I unthinkingly deleted the filtered spam, noticing with half my mind that the emptying was taking a little longer than usual.

P got home and I showed him the mail. We looked at the control panel stats. Compared them with his domain. According to the numbers, I was using a 30 times more cycles than him. So I went back again to look at my stats. As I did, I noticed that each blog already had more than 100 spam comments since they’d been emptied an hour earlier. I mentioned this to P.

P is a web programmer. Among his many jobs, he battles comment spam on his university department’s websites. At his advice I started looking closer at my spam numbers. Just because the spam wasn’t getting through didn’t mean it wasn’t causing havoc to my page loads. The deeper we looked, and without more detailed information from Squid, the more it looked like this was the problem.

So I closed comments on all the blogs and put a “moderated” message up so that searching ‘bots might see the moderated warning and not bother trying my site. But the thing is, I don’t want the comments to be closed. Not at all. One of the reasons for archiving my students blogging, especially in Chicana/o and Latina/o studies is that there’s so little of this on the ‘net. I want people to be able to find the content and comment on it. Just in sifting through this spam deluge I found a comment about a poet we read made by her daughter. I don’t want to eliminate those moments of contact.

My other alternatives aren’t very attractive either. I don’t want to use free wordpress.com blog sites for my classes. I like the control of knowing they’re on the domain I host and that I never have to worry about ads. I don’t want to put my classes’ work behind the Blackboard wall.

So this morning I found a plugin, Bad Behavior, that claims to block ‘bots. So far it’s working — it claims to have blocked a thousand so far across my sites. Hopefully it’s enough. Then tomorrow I’ll call the people at Squid and see if they have any more ideas.

Spammers. They’re why my blogs can’t have nice things.

Saying Goodbye to LinkedIn

This morning on yet another one of my social media spaces, a friend commented that as much as Facebook is creepy, LinkedIn is even creepier in its suggestions of people users may know or want to comment on. Her comments reminded me how annoying I find that that LinkedIn is always trying to get into my address books, making it much harder to say no than yes.

Then I started wondering, why do I even have LinkedIn?

Basically I have it because LinkedIn tricked my mother. One day I opened an email that said “Rita Perez wants to connect with you on LinkedIn.” This seemed possible or even probable. My mother works in the business community so her using LinkedIn seemed reasonable. I pictured her at her desk using the business acceptable social media time waster. It could be fun, thought me and so I opened an account.

Once I did, I realized my mother did have a LinkedIn profile, but that she didn’t use it, that it had harvested her Gmail account and emailed (or emauled) everyone in her address book. We never exchanged a word on LinkedIn, though I think we endorsed each other.

But now my account was set up. Trickles of notifications started coming in from former editing clients and students wanting to connect. I was pleased — I’m always pleased to see my former students and their endorsements were like little pats on the back, especially when they endorsed me for skills I didn’t know I had. Too, it was great to see what they were doing in their own careers.

Mostly though, I ignored it in favor of my other networks, especially Twitter. Except as LinkedIn kept trying to get into my address book. No means no means let me ask you again. And again.

As of today, LinkedIn has asked me questions for the last time. That account is closed. My address book is safe.

Safe-ish.