The automated post about robot labor that published itself.

Whenever I see an automated lawn mower my first is often: lonely. it’s as if I want to ascribe feelings to this free range device which performs this sisyphean service by only cutting millimetres of grass at a time. The device is in nearly constant motion except when it stops to recharge itself. It’s an interesting and peculiar thing to want to have such a visible convenience. How nice to have the lawn in a consistently manicured state without the bother of physical effort. To maintain a mowed lawn becomes a task we can leave to this single device that requires nothing of us beyond it’s charging station and grass to cut.

The device cannot be lonely. It is created to neither feel nor emote. It has its task, its energy source, a program of operation and not more. That is both the point and the dream.

One thought I have about the rise of robots and AI powered service devices is how they are marketed to us as harbingers of freedom and ease. We receive the impression that all we will need to have our wishes fulfilled will be the sound of our voices and an ever receptive personal assistant named Alexa or Siri that will then set the logistical wheels in motion to trigger the necessary steps of wish fulfillment. In this way, we are told, we shall be freed.

It dawned on me, however, that perhaps the fascination of having an Alexa at hand or being able to bark commands at Siri may have less to do with actual freedom and much more to do with the joys of a sleek and modernized subjugation; the satisfaction of the command and control of our surroundings through machines that we appear to boss around.

Slavery is out(dated), automation is our present and future.

Think about who most ardently supports increased automation and the necessary 24/7 surveillance that feeds its learning database.

*Note: this untitled post was in my files unpublished. Until June 21, 2019, that is. I got updates on my phone that 3 such posts were released. I have no explanation. I trashed the other two. I drafted it some time last Fall I think.

What The Elementary Students Said About Art

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Our school celebrated the opening of the Elementary Art Show for grades 1 – 5 on Friday. Positioned along a main corridor of the school, students and their families were able to feast their eyes on over 300 distinct pieces of artwork, selected by each student to be included in the display. Because I travel this hallway several times a day on my way to and from the gyms, I had multiple opportunities to glance at a few pieces each time through. What really caught my attention, though, were the artists’ statements. Alongside each artwork, my colleague, Sabina Trombetta, posted the artist’s name with a statement. I was struck by these honest testaments to students’ relationships to their effort, their craft, their enjoyment and their understanding. Here’s a sample of what some of them said: (The number refers to the grade level of the student)

Art makes me feel happy. 1

I am an artist because my teacher taught me how to be an artist. I like to do different things. 1

I am an artist because I can turn everything into art. 1

I am an artist because it is my thing. 1

I have learned that not all artworks have to be perfect and how you want. 2

I like art because it’s fun seeing new stuff, looking in a different way, and exploring. 2

I love art so much. It is my favorite subject. Art makes me feel happy and loved. I love art so much I even drew with my left hand when I had a broken arm. 2

I have learned feelings in color. 2

Art is very calm. It makes me smile. 2

Art can be a dream.  You can fly or visit outer space.   But most of all art is from the heart. 3

Art can be a great inspiration. I have learned art takes time. 3

Art can be good and normal. Everybody does different art. 3

Art is good. But it’s challenging. 3

Art is so fun even if it’s boring. I always find some way to make it fun. 3

I love art. Art is my life. On the first day of school I was like “Is there art?” 3

To me, art is anything you want it to be. 4

This artwork is a musical country. My inspiration came from Motown.  I ran wild with my imagination making it. 3

Art is something everyone can do. 4

When I create art it makes me feel relief. 4

When I create art I think that I’m in the picture. 4

I have learned that if you want something to go your way you have to work for it. 3

I have learned that art is everywhere. 4

Without art I wouldn’t have done this beautiful piece. I would have some boring blank spots. 4

Art makes me feel free. My inspiration for this artwork is reality. 5

I think art is important for me because you can be creative. 5

The experience draws the art. 5

I have learned many things, but art is a gift granted on all. Some big, some small, art is everywhere waiting to be found. 5

My inspiration comes from the things around me. 4

I love art because when I’m mad at my brother or I’m sad, art always calms me down. 3

I wish I could share more of their insights and ideas. Reading each one gave me a fresh view of each child. Again, I am humbled by what children will tell us if we would simply listen.

Interrupting Sense of Entitlement

Dr. Robin DiAngelo explains “identity politics” at the beginning of her landmark book, White Fragility:

“The term identity politics refers to the focus on the barriers specific groups face in their struggle for equality. We have yet to achieve our founding principle, but any gains we have made thus far have come through identity politics.

The identities of those sitting at the tables of power in this country have remained remarkably similar: white, male, middle- and upper-class, able bodied. Acknowledging this fact may be dismissed as political correctness, but it is still a fact. The decisions made at those tables affect the lives of those not at the tables. Exclusion by those at the table doesn’t depend on willful intent; we don’t have to intend to exclude for the results of our actions to be exclusion. While implicit bias is always at play because all humans have bias, inequity can occur simply through homogeneity; if I am not aware of the barriers you face, then I won’t see them, much less be motivated to remove them. Nor will I be motivated to remove the barriers if they provide an advantage to which I feel entitled.” (p. xiii)

I turned to DiAngelo because a friend described a situation in which someone exhibited behaviors I would associate with White fragility although the topic in question was not race related. I was looking for a way to understand this person’s reactions which included extreme defensiveness, a focus on her own feelings and sense of being wronged, concern that her authority was being undermined by my friend. I wondered: Is it possible to demonstrate white fragility even if race is not the source of the inflammation?

I don’t have a definitive answer for myself but I do believe the same symptoms may be typical when someone’s sense of entitlement is threatened. A sense of entitlement is defined here as “[a]n unrealistic, unmerited or inappropriate expectation of favorable living conditions and favorable treatment at the hands of others.” Given this, a sense of entitlement might emerge from seniority in a position, elevated status in a hierarchy, deep identification with the status quo, being a member of the in-group. When a power structure is inhabited and led solely by members of the in-group, it’s no wonder that an awareness of the struggles faced by out-group members is diminished. As DiAngelo suggests, “inequity can occur simply through homogeneity.”

My big questions remain: What motivates people to become more careful and critical observers of self? What motivates people to reflect on and correct problematic behaviors?

I often express the wish for others to be and become more reflective. I want that for myself, too. I want to be a better listener, negotiator, coach. And I want others to join me in these pursuits. But it seems harder to do if you are holding onto a sense of entitlement that blinds you to the need for more than surface reflection. Entitlement will always prefer comfort and ease. Deep, consequential reflection promises the opposite. It’s no surprise that more of the privileged and seriously entitled are not jumping on the bandwagon of reflective discomfort.

I’m thinking about my friend and her situation and how it’s part of a larger pattern of power relations stories being told the world over: folks in power feeling threatened by those laboring under them expressing dissatisfaction with their working conditions. Instead of asking, “what can we do to better meet your needs?” power holders seem more likely to embrace defensiveness and denial. When do power holders recognize the need to do things differently?

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Image by Jerry Coli from Pixabay

Usually crisis. Something needs to seriously break down, go awry, come to an irreversible head. Reflection becomes a survival necessity. Change is made. Not always dramatically better but often in the direction of improvement.

How can I help people see this process more clearly? What can I do to increase the likelihood that those who hold power will develop eyes, ears and speech for equity?

I’m scratching my head over this one. In the meantime, I’ll be listening to my friend, offering support where I can and continue to mull over the questions that need big and generous answers.

Quiet Times

I took a mental health day today.

It was not my first and will not be my last

and it helped.

If felt wise to claim it when I did

at 6am

underslept, overwhelmed, stretched thin.

To recognize that my mental equilibrium

may require down time

in the midst of everything.

It’s time to restart. Shut down,

wait,

begin again.

There, that’s better.

 

A cycle of exhaustion

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I believe there may be a kind of exhaustion which cannot be cured with a few good nights’ sleep. This exhaustion leaves you largely functional and provides you with just enough energy to make it through day after day after day, but once the social demands of the workplace are shut off, so is your whole affect. It’s like you crawl into yourself but can still drive home, pick up a few groceries and be sure to check the mailbox before going upstairs. It’s an exhaustion that leaves you soggy but without the evidence of how you got that way. You feel put out because of so much physical, mental, social output. The consequence for your organizational mind is a low-level havoc: nearly missed appointments, paperwork submitted a day late, lost items that turn up a week later when they’re no longer needed. You forget to hydrate. Yet you appear fine. You teach your classes, manage groups of kids with a degree of routine and detachment that for them feels like a relief that you’re not so easily bothered by their noise or interruptions or resistance to listening. It’s an exhaustion that seems well-fed, adequately sheltered, sufficiently nondescript so that no suspicion is aroused. At home the functionality remains – it’s ok, keeps things running along. There’s food to eat; dishes and clothes get washed. The child is not left entirely to his own devices. Only when bedtime is within sight does your patience appear quite frayed at the edges. Once you’ve decided that the bed is your definite next destination you make quick dispatch of everything and anything that might stand in the way. You retreat under the covers, stretched out, still soggy-feeling yet safe. You pick up whatever book is on top of the pile and read until you stay stuck on the same sentence. You put the book down and let sleep collect you. For a few hours you’ve won. You know rest. When you wake the next morning you know that rest is only incomplete but enough to start the whole process over again. You’ll be fine. You know how this goes. It’s Tuesday then it’s Friday and then Sunday again. You’re done and you’re beginning.

image via Pixabay.com CC0

What Silence Is For

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Silence, I am told, can be useful. As a way to keep the peace, to

insure that the cat stays in the bag and does not cause a

disturbance.

Silence, I hear, has its place. It can hold things together

like marriages and friendships and abusive structures. It works

a charm at keeping people in

their place.

We don’t necessarily need to agree on silence in order to give it power.

It’s easy to learn not to say things.

to learn not to ask for things

to go without, accept this as normal

and keep on walking.

It’s not so much that we make friends with silence. Rather

we assume its presence

and make it the status quo without thinking.

Silence is great for holding things at bay

keeping stuff locked away out of reach and earshot.

Silence provides the perfect masquerade

to dress our behaviors up

as norms.

There’s a reason we say ‘break’ the silence

because it requires force

and someone is likely to be unhappy as a result.

If you happen to be holding a silence

your own or someone else’s, be careful

how tightly you grip it

I’m afraid it will break and you’ll have a mess you didn’t want but couldn’t avoid and now are to blame and the silence will get you in trouble because it’s broken and everyone knows what the silence was protecting.

Silence is golden

always in someone else’s treasure chest. They earn the

interest

while we pay fees and taxes.

Silence will make us poor before we realize everything we gave up

in the name of

saving grace.

 

Welcome, THICK!

Dr. Tressie McMillan Cottom has a new book out and I’m beyond excited to have it in my hands very soon. In THICK she offers us a collection of essays which connect the personal with the political, the theoretical with oh-my-God-that-really-happened real. I can tell you this because while I wait for my own precious copy I am reading as many tweets, excerpts, and early reviews as I can to get ready.

More than a fan of Tressie McMillan Cottom, I am a deep admirer of her writing, her wit, her generosity and leadership. If you’ve been following this blog for a while you’ll know that I reference her work often. I consider her one of my primary digital mentors who has in ways large and small helped me arrive at a form of digital presence that is meaningful, critical and increasingly bold. Her capacity to apply theoretical frameworks to illuminate the scope and scale of tragedy and treachery of modern American life, particularly for Black women, has given me pause on too many occasions to name. She is a scholar I would stay up all hours to catch an hour’s or even just a few minutes’ worth of her wisdom live.

Knowing that in this new collection of essays she tells us more about herself than ever before, I am eager and also wary of a voyeuristic impulse that occurs in any of us, I suppose, when we have a chance to gain greater access to the people we most admire. I’ve never met Tressie in person. That’s on my bucket list. But I have had the opportunity to be in conversation with her and to benefit from her generosity. Just 3 years ago, she was instrumental in helping me put my publication, Identity, Education and Power on the map by writing a wonderful opening essay.

One of the things that excites me most about Tressie’s new book is seeing how excited she seems to be about having it out in the world. I am happy that she has given us more of her delicious writing and overjoyed that she appears to be more than pleased with the outcome. She has done so much for Black women, so much for me; my greatest wish is for Tressie to be able to truly enjoy and celebrate the fruits of her labor.

Welcome THICK into the world: order it, buy it, read it, share it.