White

In the writing center where I used to work, I helped a white student with an anthropology personal statement for graduate school. During our session, as the student was explaining their choice to focus their studies in anthropology–instead of sociology–they said, “Sociology is Anthropology for white people.”

At the time, I chuckled and continued to talk about passive verbs and abstract ideas, but in truth, the student’s complete misunderstanding of their field really bothered me. My discomfort worsened as the student detailed their research within an “intentional community” of hippies, freegans, and artists.

Later, I stumbled upon some photos of the student with another friend of mine at their Arabic dance class. The two of them sported heavy eye makeup, gossamer scarves, bangles, and jewels fastened to belly buttons, eyebrows, and cleavage. They were posed in artificial, exoticized positions, their white skin dusted with powder to make them glimmer under stage lights.

If Anthropology is not for white people, then who is cultural appropriation for? Was this just another research method to justify the scientific and cultural othering of non-white people? Or was this student caught in the delusion that their neoliberal multiculturalism benefited their scholarship?

Hippies don’t see color, which allows them to appropriate indiscriminately: dreadlocks are fine if your own thick hair dreads itself “naturally”; belly dancing is feminist and body-positive; the only non-white cultures worth studying are “exotic” cultures and their “mystical” religions, not the cultures of the neighborhoods hippies’ intentional communities have gentrified.

While I don’t have a problem with Anthropology, I do have a problem with white scholars saying shit like “Sociology is for white people.” Set down your Sanskrit dictionary and get a clue.

Post

Reid and Leah have left Seattle, as have the hordes of writers from all over. I could act like it was thrilling to see folks from NC–and it was–but I’ve ensured that I am never without access to liberal Southerners, even here in WA state.

AWP was much sillier than I anticipated; the longer I spend away from writers, the easier it is to forget that so many of them are comfortable in their cushions of class/race/cisgender privilege and choose to disregard the political nature of work such as teaching, creating worlds & stories, and, you know, working in contemporary capitalist frameworks.

Folks seemed content to pat themselves on the back for achieving PhDs–no small feat, to be sure–and for challenging their undergraduate students to adhere to the rigid, objective aesthetics of “good” writing that they soaked up in their various MFA programs.

Few people even mentioned that these same aesthetics have fostered an exclusionary, classist, racist, and sexist literary community since ancient times, fetishizing Western aesthetics as superior, and in fact, “civilized,” while relegating non-white authors to the status of “other.” This is still the case: Women’s Fiction, Asian-American poetry, LGBT/Special Interest.

I guess this is partially my own fault for insisting on attending the writing pedagogy panels, answering such banal questions as “how do we teach writing?” I care because I’m a professional writing tutor, but I also care because I acknowledge the political implications of literacy and language fluency. This is not a prerequisite for teachers of composition, either creative or academic.

On the bright side, the panels that I more or less stumbled upon in search of my friends ended up counteracting the cluelessness of the pedagogy panels: unlikeable women characters, queer literary communities, and publishing politics were all represented–if not always well-attended.

There has to be a formula for successful conference attendance, a code written into panel descriptions to clue attendees into the actual usefulness or self-awareness of each event. This may be something that I myself have to devise through trial and error–and the input of my fellow critical readers & writers.

Communication

I’ve learned some valuable things in the past few weeks. The most resounding of these is that the immense value that I place on communication does not seem to be valued equally by other people. While acquaintance-social relationships can thrive on the abandonment of serious emotional conversations–and are often actually a relief for those of us prone to “processing”–workplace-management relationships cannot function without clarity and assertiveness.

Anyone who knows me knows how I feel about assertive communication–I have conducted professional development about its importance for goodness sake!–but you may not know how I feel about unassertive communication. I am trying to be better about offering my unsolicited advice to everyone–even when I know for a fact that my advice would be beneficial; I have found that most folks don’t want to learn anything new or question their own methods. Thus, I’ve backed off. But I have learned that I can still be made to suffer for someone else’s lack of communication skills.

Enter: the internship. Now defunct. Thank goodness. There were so many problems:

  1. Me being overqualified beyond belief; qualified past the point of every staff member there, including the CEO
  2. Misunderstandings regarding content and expectations of the internship, e.g. a start-up is not the same as a mini-wannabe-corporation
  3. Misunderstandings about what communication means; buying folks coffee once a month to ask how things are going and then rushing back to the computer does not foster straightforwardness
  4. Sheer boredom

I could go on. Needless to say, my creative and critical approach to–you know–everything was being sufficiently stifled to where I was exhausted, miserable, and regularly sick. (Maybe you Western medicine junkies haven’t heard of this, but fatigue, illness, and pain are all results of stress. Horrific, sitting-at-a-desk-all-day-for-below-minimum-wage stress.)

Oh I forgot that part!

5. Money. Or the lack thereof. I put in as much work as $7.50/hr earns from me; which is to say, not much.

So, lessons learned:

  1. If you’re qualified to not be an intern, don’t be an intern. Actually, even if you’re not qualified for entry-level, don’t be an intern. Do your own thing: start a cooking blog, volunteer for a free tutoring service, research topics that get you all hot and bothered and write articles about them. Put these things on your resume; your self-motivation speaks more about your abilities than your proficiency at sitting at a desk answering phones in business-casual and learning how to use the office Keurig.
  2. Don’t believe what they tell you. I signed up for this internship long before I got to Seattle, and when I arrived–womp womp–I was cooler than everyone by a billion light years. They had no interest in developing their skills; they encouraged dumbness and placidity rather than fiery rapport; they had no sense of humor and only talked about what chain fast food places they liked (this was the biggest red alert ever).
  3. If you’re stuck, find an ally. I have neglected talking about the one person in the tiny office whose attitude I liked–partially anyway. They were at least open to jokes and, you know, fun. This helped the days be a little bit less draining.

I’m very lucky to be out of that situation; it’s difficult for me to leave any job that pays me. I do not have the luxury of financial support from a third party, and I must work to pay for my apartment and internet (not optional!). However, the opportunity cost of working at a job that made me into a miserable wretch was simply not worth it.

I’m very lucky to have a partner who will enthusiastically pay for groceries and my bus fare while I piece things together. After leaving the internship for the final time, I promptly sauntered into the office of the tutoring coordinator at the community college behind my apartment and secured a part-time writing consultant position there.

Since then, I have had several successful interviews and am lucky enough that I can afford to be a bit picky and not accept the awkward Amazon customer service rep job that I have been recruited for. (Thank goodness.)

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There are vegan popcorn crumbs all over my couch, I spent yesterday recovering from recovering, and I still think most writers are silly, apolitical plebes. All in all, a great AWP weekend.