The Fire Next Time

Part of my mission civilisatrice with the young Dinos is teaching them about privilege. White privilege, male privilege, class privilege, ableist privilege – they has it. We have it, minus the male part for Mouse and me, and it is our bounden duty to name it honestly and not treat it as the natural order of things or a reflection of any merit on our parts.

I try to fill the holes in my knowledge of history, philosophy, religion, and literature so I’m working from a more complete perspective than the canon I grew up with gave me. Most of my reading to this end winds up being whatever the “new books” section of the Alexandria City Library yields in the way of books about the history of social and economic policies in the US and books on African-American history, culture, and literary traditions. Luckily the library has been celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Alexandria Library Sit-In, so it’s been Black History Month all year and the pickings are rich. A few weeks ago, I found Negroes and The Gun: The Black Tradition of Arms and Lift Every Voice: The NAACP and the Making of the Civil Rights Movement. My haul from Thursday night included The Other Blacklist: The African-American Cultural Left of the 1950’s by Mary Helen Washington.

(Long-time paleontologists will know that I have been moving steadily toward the left of the political spectrum over the last couple of decades.  I started out as a mainstream liberal with some libertarian/populist tendencies, so I was already left of center to begin with. I do not discuss my political party affiliation online, but I do feel comfortable saying that I consider the two major political parties in the US interchangeable and almost equally conservative in their platforms. Anything with “cultural left” in the title is like catnip for me.)

Reader, The Other Blacklist has an academic feel to it, with lots of citations and thesis statements. It is not a speedy read. But it made my brain explode. Until Professor Washington explicitly linked Cold War anti-communist political philosophy (self-reliance, salvation by individual works, and refusal to recognize systemic bias or systems of oppression as anything other than individual psychological aberrations) with the FBI’s well-known surveillance and harassment of civil rights activists, it never dawned on me that our current political landscape is dominated by that same philosophy. I was reminded of an Alternet article about how the self-help industry thrives in a cultural climate where individuals have ever fewer guarantees of their rights while corporations are treated as persons.

Remember the 1990’s when we talked about how Yugoslavia exploded into civil war because their strong central government and relative consumer freedoms weren’t accompanied by actual self-determination or free speech? I feel kind of sick now.


Hate The Game

The Dave Chappelle marathon on Comedy Central last Sunday was infinitely preferable to the default Sunday TV option in our house, the weekly “Snapped” marathon on Oxygen. I was cruising the recent wealth of public rumination on work-life balance when a skit came on about the “Player Haters’ Ball.”

The timing was perfect. My inner Hater starts revving every time I read an op-ed or feature in a major publication on the topic of Leaning In, Opting Out, Having It All, or Wearing The Pants. There were two new entries in this category that I was trying to read: Tara Sonenshine’s February 13 WaPo Op-Ed and Rosa Brooks’ “Recline!” at Foreign Policy. The franchise was resurrected yet again on GovExec yesterday by Olga Khazan.

Let me say right up front that I am jealous. I admit it. No major publications are asking for my opinions on these or any other topics. The authors of at least the first two pieces appear to have enviable pedigrees and/or advanced degrees, plus prestigious jobs, nice duds, and high-option childcare. My life isn’t chopped liver, but just looking at their author blurbs reminds me that I will never become a child prodigy. I hate that.

But the other reason I’m primed for hatin’ is because, 40 years after women started entering the professional work force in numbers, we are still being steered into the same conversations about the same bogus “choices.” All the authors cited above acknowledge en passant that the ability to lean out is predicated on a level of privilege that most people don’t have and that work-life balance is not merely an issue for women. Unfortunately, invoking the tired question of whether women should lean in or out of the workplace obscures the underlying problem: our major public and private institutions and employers ignore the effort that goes into the “unskilled” but essential activities that sustain human lives. We need to find a way to make that effort visible instead of stumbling into another argument about whether we ladies should be bringing home more bacon, frying it up more frequently in the pan, or both.

Employers persist in behaving as if completely different sets of people were responsible for one or the other, as if cooking and cleaning and child-rearing were all optional activities while the main thing was to go earn a paycheck. Sure, individuals may choose to reproduce or not, but people as a whole seem pretty committed to the activity. Once the progeny are there, providing for them and caring for them is mandatory.

My pet peeve as a Salary Mom is the lack of synchronization between the work day and the school day or between the work calendar and the academic calendar. Instead of talking about leaning in or leaning out, how about we talk about which schedule of business hours and school hours would best serve the needs of students and parents with the least drag on the economy?

(Speaking of work, I am off today, in case you wondered why I was posting mid-afternoon. Fear not, taxpayers.)