Monday, October 21, 2013

Celia Cruz's Birthday Celebrated with Google Doodle

By Carlos M. Camacho (crossposted from Tumblr)

Happy Birthday Celia Cruz.
Google celebrates Celia Cruz’s birthday with latest Google Doodle. 
Born in Cuba on October 21st 1925, rose to fame and traveled the world bringing her azúcar to all who crossed her path.
Celia passed from this world on July 16th 2003 after a battle with cancer. She lives on through her music. 
Celia siempre vivirás! 

Friday, February 22, 2013

Violence, Race and Selective Sentimentality (Sociopathic Society Series)

Cross posted from Red Sociology by Carlos M. Camacho
Courtesy of Andrew Becraft
Gun violence is not new but with several recent tragedies the power of guns in the 'wrong' hands has made the news. As many in the US prepared to get ready for Christmas, a holiday celebrating the birth of Christ and considered a time of wishes for peace on Earth and goodwill towards man, we heard stories of the shots fired in Newtown, Connecticut. At the same time word came in from the Henan province of China about the violent attack there, which we briefly discussed here. Two attacks on schools, several young children killed in their prime. One always hopes that the innocence of children will be saved but in these two attacks that was not the case.
The United States, especially through the President, was devastated and the calls came for gun control which were met with calls for more guns in schools. This is a multifaceted, multi-layered problem. It is about gun control. Who is able to get guns? Mother Jones published a Guide to Mass Shootings as the story from Newtown unfolded and found that the majority of spree/mass shooting killers  got their guns legally. These mass shootings are not solely about illegal weapons and allowing the conversation to be monopolized by those voices is problematic. That said leaving it all to mental health care reform is not the solution either. Though some displayed signs of mental health issues prior to their attacks we must ask what combination of experiences and triggers continue to leave some people with mental health issues murder spree free? Patricia Hill Collins wrote about the matrix of domination where she discusses that no one can be a pure victim or a pure oppressor and that these multiple layers of a person's life affect the way they experience the world. These men, a majority of whom are white, have to deal with their whiteness, maleness, but also their mental health status, their economic situation, their political affiliations, their sexuality, all these aspects of these men and more affect them and these multiple factors need to be addressed. Relying solely on discussions of mental health cannot address the central issues of these attacks because not all of them have mental issues but the majority of people with mental issues are not committing acts of mass murder.
Courtesy of Mother Jones
That said we cannot ignore the racial implications. What is it about whiteness, especially male whiteness that allows these tragedies to occur and then end in suicide or suicide by cop? A majority of mass shootings in the US are performed by white men. Part of the discussion is rarely about race or about masculinity. Professor Thomas Keith in his documentary the Bro Code talks in depth about how society creates sexist men. He argues this happens in 4 ways: Train Men to Womanize, Immerse Men in Porn, Make Rape Jokes, and Obey the Masculinity Cops. He argues that not only white men are victims of this media bombardment but all men face this training in the ways of sexism. The construction of masculinity varies by culture. White masculinity is struggling and to ignore how this manifests itself through this mass violent attacks is a problem.  Further exploration of the intricacies of white masculinity and violence must occur especially in regards to mass shootings but the main purpose of this piece is to draw links from William Richardson's discussion of the sociopathic society to these violent attacks and our responses to them vis-a-vis other atrocities especially against children.
"If you look at these traits [listed traits associated with sociopathy or more accurately antisocial personality disorder] and then look at the values that leaders of our society hold, values that we hold up in business, and how we often see people act towards each other we can see a resemblance to the logic behind the profit motive. Capitalism in our opinion creates conditions where having these sorts of personality traits are not only tolerated but encouraged and rewarded. We call this  "The Sociopathic Society”.  The sociopathic society not only serves as fertile grounds for sociopaths (who are born the way they are) but forces the rest of us to begin to use the logic of sociopathy in our everyday lives."
The film, the Corporation, that William discusses finds corporations to be pure sociopaths if we think of them as persons (which they are, but not entirely, based on court precedence under the 14th Amendment) based on criteria in the DSM. Capitalism facilitates this through a reckless drive for profits above all else, including care and safety of workers and the environment. It begs discussion, in what other arenas is this sociopathy manifesting itself?
Thinking back, very little mainstream media coverage discussed Newtown in connection with the Henan Province attack (also in a school), which was a stabbing not a shooting, which makes sense because in the US the mainstream rarely cares about the global but what was shocking and at the same time not at all surprising was the disconnect  from the highly public story of Trayvon Martin. For those who don't remember, Trayvon Martin was a young man who was shot by George Zimmerman. Trayvon was unarmed and in possession of Skittles and Ice Tea and re-sparked a conversation about gun violence and violence overall against Black America (not that it ever stopped being a conversation) because young Trayvon is Black and his killer, George Zimmerman was believed to be white (turns out he's Hispanic). The story of Trayvon is not an isolated one. The context and descriptors may be different but the story is the same. Many were hurt, and angered by the way things unfolded and still are at this time. Not just for Trayvon Martin either. Every 36 hours a Black person is killed extrajudicially by police, security guards or like Mr. Zimmerman self appointed law enforcers [PDF]. What further complicates this is that 3/4 of this nation's police force is white. Did the President cry for Trayvon? Or for the countless others murdered? How can we be so cold and emotionless when countless numbers of people are being murdered in cold blood? Does the fact that they were killed by authority figures (cops, security guards, self-appointed law enforcers) make their deaths justified? Does their Blackness prevent us from feeling? Let us leave the US then. Why don't we care about the Chinese youth? Does the President not think that their lives are valuable? Is China a bad example? What about the Middle East, where drone attacks authorized by the President have killed at least 100 children? Are they not worthy of tears?
Courtesy of Jill Greenberg
Going back to Sandy Hook, it is sad. I was moved and called my mother. She is a teacher in WNY and I figured she was fine but I needed to tell her A) that I love her and B) inform her of what happened in New Town. If it was my family that lost loved ones I would be devastated. I hope that point is not lost. All of these deaths are sad and disheartening. That said, why do we, as US Americans, not feel moved by the problems facing Black America (that we have seen for far too long), China or the ones we are causing in the Middle East? Because we are living in a sociopathic society and are displaying what I call selective sentimentality. We selectively respect life. White life is extremely valued so we select to care about that. We give it front page status in the news and we are all expected to feel sad, despise the shooter (while not necessarily putting the onus on him), and have a conversation.
The arguments thus far have been about gun control and mental health. Several aspects of the sociopathy are relevant here. The main is the lack of remorse and indifference to the hurt of others. This permeates our society. We also claim no responsibility for these attacks within our borders or those done in our names abroad (whether we agree with them or not). We are angry and lash out when someone brings up a point that puts the onus on us as a people, and even though these attacks continue to happen, we as a society are refusing to plan ahead for an end to our involvement in the Middle East nor protecting our citizens and residents with the exception of attempting to arm more people.
Courtesy of Official One Voice Radio
After the events of Newtown the NRA proposed to have armed guards in schools as a preventative measure against future attacks while others argued for arming teachers. After a tragic event where several young people were gunned down, people are advocating for more guns. It's hard for us to support teachers' salaries, we are continuously cutting funding to education and other community organizations, and still arguing about healthcare for all people  but lets spend money providing guns for teachers or a new staff member whose sole purpose is to carry a gun. Are we just funding guns and training for elementary schools? What about college and high schools? Are going to give these guns only to suburban schools? What about inner city schools? Would each teacher carry or would they be in a locked safe in the main office?  Why are we having this discussion with such vitriol post Sandy Hook? Is it because we care about young people? What about Trayvon? Why weren't we talking about arming POC of color since so many are killed every year? Probably because we don't care about Black people or other people of color and we didn't like it too much when Black people were arming themselves in the 60s.
Courtesy of the Black Panther
There are a lot of questions left unanswered and so many to answer and to consider. What we know is that there is a racist component to this. We, as a  nation, feel more sorrow for whites than for POC who are being killed by police and vigilantes. We are self centered and do not care about the things occurring abroad (except when it comes to the gas pump). We need to move beyond selective sentimentality and work to cure the sociopathy of our society. Part of that comes from a respect for human life whether it is Black or Brown or Asian, young or old and that when violence and death takes one of us we can all pause and shed a tear for that loss and then work to stop all violence. With some much hurt and trauma in the world it can be overwhelming but shouldn't that increase the urgency of our work. Part of our work is in challenging our privilege and working not just individually but structurally to change the way we interact and maintain our social systems. Utopian as it sounds, perhaps one day we will change and evolve beyond the point of hurting each other where we can live and support each other as siblings in humanity.

Friday, February 15, 2013

NYCC: Defying the Stereotypes and Having Fun

Copyright Carlos M. Camacho

Comic Con: refuge of nerds of various fandoms. In recent years, cons have gotten more popular with mainstream audiences. This happened because shows like Glee, and others, not traditionally part of the con scene have come to be included. I recently attended New York Comic Con (NYCC) and it was one of the best weekends of my life. I met cosplayers (costume players, see above and below), fans, editors, artists, writers, business people, and more. The experience was priceless. I had expectations, some of which were met, for better or worse, and I also found myself pleasantly surprised.
Copyright Carlos M. Camacho
What is a con? NYCC’s website gives a definition that I have adapted here: “Comic Con is [an] exciting popular culture convention. Our show floor plays host to the latest and greatest in comics, graphic novels, anime, manga, video games, toys, movies, and a market place, bringing together the major players in the entertainment industry.” This is similar to academic conferences, which I have attended several times, especially since beginning my life as a PhD student. The biggest difference, aside from subject, was the dress code and the amount of stuff for sale. You may not find PhDs and grad students selling drafts of papers, but artists at comic con will sell sketches. Conferences have a dress code and comic con does not, though if you dress up it is a serious venture.

Before attending NYCC I had my worries. The comic industry has a reputation of being a boys club; from some of the ‘best’ superheroes being men, the hypersexualization of women’s bodies, the tropes used over and over again, and men dominating every aspect of the industry from creation to production and distribution. This also doesn’t begin to discuss the presence of other marginalized people within comics and other mediums. The rise of webcomics and independent publishers has given way to more variety in genre and increased character diversity, but we still have a long way to go. As a comic fan, as well as a video game, movie and pop culture fan, I think that part of changing things is understanding where we are.
Copyright by Carlos M. Camacho

At NYCC, I attended three workshops, two of which I will discuss briefly. The first was called Gay Marriage in Comics: Revolutionary or a Step BackwardsI didn't think Comic Con would host an event like this, so needless to say I had to go. When I arrived, there was standing room only. I was standing against the wall and I listened intently. The conversation was about the recent, very public Archie Comics wedding, as well as, the big X-Men wedding (both between men). I was under the impression that the conversation was going to be one-sided, so I was ready to instigate, but as I heard what was being discussed and looked into the crowd, I realized I was mistaken. The conversation was less about whether gays and lesbians had a place in comics, but about whether conforming to heterosexist norms was the way to go or simply a starting place, and how we proceed from there. The conversation was not always LG focused either, which pleased me. Once we got into the Q&A section the ideas were flowing to repair the invisibilities of marginalized people, and left me feeling hopeful.
Copyright Carlos M. Camacho
That hope was further increased as a man with a feminist bend to him, and also a Marvel fan, when I heard about the Marvel: Women of Marvel panel. The panel was comprised of several editors, writers, and a colorist, who all share their experiences as women in a (mostly) man's world. After the panel I went up to speak with a couple of the writers about breaking into comics, how stories about marginalized groups are treated, and more. Anyone who picks up a comic book or a video game will notice that it is not a perfect world for women, LGBT people, people of color, and religious minorities, from hypersexualization and violence to invisibility. These women working within the industry were able to provide insights on how the industry is changing and encouraged the women in the crowd to connect and not to give up.

Like I said, I had worries going in, and these two workshops, as part of a small group, helped me to feel better. Looking around at comic con outside of these workshops, I saw that there was a lot more diversity than I anticipated, though it was still male dominated, as well as, White dominated. Cosplayers ran the gamut from the serious to the profane, provocative to conservative, but there was an air of fun. As I walked around, even cosplaying myself as Mystique on Sunday, I could not help but think about the attacks on Anita Sarkeesian and the backlash against her and her proposed work on video games. For those of you who are not familiar with the name, Anita operates Feminist Frequency where she discusses pop culture from a "feminist/fangirl perspective." She recently set up a Kickstarter to fund a project analyzing video games from this perspective and before the project was started she had to deal with a monsoon of hate directed at her. Surely this event, that drew people from across the country, must have had some of the people who attacked her or those who agreed in silence. How would we remedy this? How can we make comics and video games more inclusive without being stereotypical?

There are problems with comics, but as creators and fans alike intend to create and enjoy more inclusive diverse comics, and with more options for people to enter the industry than ever before, perhaps we will see more variety in the comic book universe and those ‘out’ about being part of any number of fandoms.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

[Trigger Warning] Rape is Rape and How Men Can Stop It

Crossposted from the Rogue Scholars Society
By Carlos M. Camacho

Courtesy of James Guppy

Rape is the only crime in which the victim becomes the accused.
Freda Adler

I am a feminist. This means that I believe sexism is a problem and that I am willing to work to solve it. Further it means that I support equality for women. That said I am appalled by the actions of elected officials with regards to women in particular during the past few months. Not just politicians, but men overall have been getting into trouble for doing some deplorable things. More on that later.

Nancy Campos and I have both discussed some aspects of women's oppression recently. Nancy informed us that it can "cost anywhere from $500 to $3000 a year to be a woman who takes care of her vaginal health (this does not include other important female health needs, such as mammograms, prenatal care, etc.)". Women make less than men in terms of their wages with Black and Latina women making less than white women. Women in the US hold 15% of senior management positions compared to a global average of 20%. Women perform 66% of the world’s work, receive 11% of the world’s income, and own ONLY 1% of the world’s land. Gender-based violence kills one in three women, and causes more death and disability among women aged 15-44 than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents, and war. More than 3 women and 1 man, on average, are murdered by their intimate partners in the US daily.

Courtesy of Feminists United
Clearly it is tough being a woman around the world and you may be asking what the above has to do with rape. It is the context within which rape takes place. It also begins to describe the state of women in the US. The above is not nearly a thorough discussion of women in the US and does not take into account the varying effects that race, class, sexual orientation and other intersecting identities have on the state of women today. What I will discuss in this piece is [trigger warning] rape.
Rape is rape. Rape is serious and can cause damage to someone on multiple levels. Recently a select group of US politicians have again made the news talking about a "legitimate" rape and in part as a platform leading towards further restriction of women's health and reproductive rights.

Courtesy of Feminists United
The majority of rape victims are female. This fact alone should be enough to encourage men in particular to tread lightly when discussing rape because it is highly likely they will never be raped (or sexually assaulted). Before proceeding we need to define rape. Recently the FBI updated its definition of rape from "the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will." to "Penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim." Based on the FBI's definition, men can be raped, but even taking into account men's under-reporting of rape, women are still the majority. Men will also never become pregnant, and as such do not have to deal with choosing to have an abortion or not (among other options), men deal with little to no street harassment (regardless of dress), and tend to not be afraid to walk alone. According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN):
Approximately 2/3 of rapes were committed by someone known to the victim.
Further, women have to deal with infantilization and more, that men, by virtue of being men, have the privilege of not dealing with. As men, people like Akin, Smith and others also have the privilege of not having to think about women or women's issues, but therein lies the problem (one of many actually). We, as a culture, see rape as a women's issue. We blame women for walking around at night, for drinking, for wearing "short" skirts, "revealing" shirts and more. There was recently the tragic story of [trigger warning] the gang raping of an 11 year old girl. Instead of there being a conversation about changing the way we talk about rape and reconsidering our war on women, we get this: 
"There was an article about an 11 year old girl who was gangraped in Texas by 18 young men because she was dressed like a 21-year-old prostitute," Passidomo declared.
"And her parents let her attend school like that. And I think it's incumbent upon us to create some areas where students can be safe in school and show up in proper attire so what happened in Texas doesn't happen to our students," she added.
Courtesy of Feminists United
Let that sink in for a second. 18 men rape an 11 year old and the message is that we should not have the girl dressing as a prostitute? Because 18 men lack the self control to not rape? Or that her clothing made it okay to ignore her will and the laws?

Courtesy of Feminists United

Shouldn't we be talking to men as the perpetrators? Shouldn't we allow women and girls to wear what they want? Should what they wear change their ability to consent? Shouldn't we redirect the conversation from not getting raped (directed at women) to not raping?

Courtesy of Kevin Lim

If you cannot read the text in the image above it says "you hold the power to stop rape in your hands" which got jokes on some online forums. One viewer of a similar bathroom urinal said this "I'm curious as to how exactly I can use my dick to stop rape, but I'm intrigued by the possibilities. Will it wear a cape?" Someone replied later, "The message I got was "If you see a chick getting raped, stop the rape by raping the other guy." Somehow it escaped these men and others that by holding the power to stop rape, they could do this by NOT RAPING. They are fine joking about light sabers and sword fighting, but they will probably never experience it, as previously discussed, and refuse to acknowledge that as men, they have the power to stop rape by always getting consent, and by not raping. To use the FBI definition, not putting anything or part of themselves inside another person without their consent.
We need to move our energies from don't get raped to do not rape. Men can stop rape by not raping, by getting consent and if they don't have it, stopping any sexual act they may have been trying to commit, by not taking intoxication as a yes, and the list goes on. We also need to have respect for women and see women as equals. We need to stop laughing at rape jokes and sexual assault. Women are more than just sandwich and/or baby making machines, and as we change our views of women, we will also see a change in rape and sexual assaults. When we begin to change the pervasive rape culture of the US, when we see rape for the crime it is and when men begin to have a paradigm shift away from trivializing rape, towards always getting consent and seeing women as equal, then will we be able to end rape and all violence against women and children.

Courtesy of Feminists United
For more information on rape and sexual assault:

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Colors Besides Red, White and Blue

By Carlos M. Camacho-Crossposted from the Rogue Scholars Society
Courtesy of Lester Public Library

As a budding sociologist, social justice advocate and person who wants to be in the know, I have found websites like Colorlines to be amazing resources. As a sociologist, my research interests are race and sexuality and the intersectionality of them. Colorlines follows stories along these lines and more. For the past few years my favorite posts have been the ones for the Fourth of July. For those of you outside of a US understanding of the day, it is a huge deal. The week of the fourth and the fourth of July weekend are filled with fireworks, barbeques, and swimming pools. July 4th marks the day America declared its independence but the holiday does not mean the same thing to all people across time.

Courtesy of Think-N-Evolve

Last year Colorlines told us to read Frederick Douglass as a way to celebrate the fourth and cited him saying:
Anti-slavery radicals created underground networks to steal African Americans across slavery’s borders and support them in creating new, free lives. And abolitionists on both sides of the Atlantic stood in the town square to tell the truth about this unjust, criminal economy to anyone who would listen.
Douglass was perhaps the most articulate among them. And his 1852 Independence Day address is recognized by many as among his greatest bits of oratory. In it, you see the foundations of his political philosophy. On one hand, he ridicules the hypocrisy of the U.S.’s proud celebration of liberty, a freedom that exists only through the oppression of millions of other people. His words are biting:
What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.
One cannot help but see truth in these words and what better day to remember that when we celebrate our interest in freedom. The colonies that would become the United States broke away from England for freedom and since that time (and before then) have attained freedom and liberty by stepping on and/or oppressing others. The largest stain is that of slavery which has occurred, and continues today worldwide, but American slavery was particularly harmful.

The video above is James Earl Jones reading Frederick Douglass' speech for Howard Zinn's The People Speak. Hearing the words makes them come to life. I think they ring true today as they did when he spoke them. This blog has featured pieces on immigration (reform), the war on women, international issues and more. For how many Americans will these issues be discussed or thought of during this week(end)? What actions will be taken to curb injustice in the US and abroad?

Lost for a way to start? The first step is to get informed. Start by reading some of the other posts on this blog and follow the links and see what interests you. There are so many things to do once you know what it is you want to work for. Two years ago Colorlines gave us 5 things to do. First was to get Obama to stop deportations which recently happened through a stopgap measure for young immigrants who would qualify the DREAM Act if it passed. They also suggested supporting the victims of the BP spill which is still relevant. Another suggestion was to support Oscar Grant, while today the Trayvon Martin case may be more relevant to many. Enjoy dissing the Last Airbender because "it was the much anticipated race movie of the summer. Anticipated because the movie’s producers took the characters who were Asian on the original TV series and made them white." And finally they suggested going to Arizona to protest, which one can still do since the US Supreme Court found that "the specifics of Arizona law SB 1070 that require local officers to seek to determine the immigration status of anyone they stop for another violation -- no matter how minor -- if they have a reasonable doubt that the person they have stopped may not be a legal resident of the United States." This is part of the law upheld by SCOTUS while other more problematic parts were deemed unconstitutional. Long charged with opening the door to racial profiling work in Arizona and other states is definitely in need of bodies. Instead of five like Colorlines, today I give you three:

  1. Get informed. We have so many local and international issues and before steps can be taken to work on them we must understand them. 
  2. Know what the candidates running for President stand for and what the role of the President is per the US Constitution (which, if you haven't read it, you should) as well as other candidates running in your area.
  3. And finally, talk. Talk about what you're reading, learning, thinking and doing. Interact with myself and fellow bloggers and news media as well as friends, family and colleagues.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Power of the Written Word: Why Books Matter

By Carlos M. Camacho
Books, and by extension, the library, have always been a place of refuge for me. I remember growing up and watching Reading Rainbow. I remember my favorite day was when I could go to the library. My neighborhood branch was right next door to my school; the Kensington Branch of the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library was always a part of my life growing up. I was friends with the staff and I was on the Battle of the Books team 2 years in a row. I was safe in a library, surrounded by voices from the most ancient times to those hot off the press. Not everyone is a fan of the library like me. I can’t help but be a fan of an institution that as a supplement to my education helped me to learn so much. I did not grow up in the 60s bu through books I discovered the words "I have a dream;" I discovered the history behind "by any means necessary" and "ain't I a woman." I also know "and on the seventh day God rested," "the boy who lived" and "workers of the world unite." While not perfect, the United States guarantees the right to free speech and this should be equally applied to books although that does not stop people from attempting to ban to succeeding in banning books
The written word is more than information; it is dangerous. Think of the documents that founded the United States, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. These are powerful words on a page. The Bible, Quran, Torah and other religious texts have gathered millions of followers around the world and have been cited as calls for peace, think Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, and to oppress, think the Religious Right. The written word is powerful. It is because of this that some would ban books.
The myths and stories of humanity were told and retold until they began to be written down as written language developed. When one needed a copy one had to rewrite it by hand. With the printing press, it became easier to reproduce works and with greater speed. Today we have books as well as e-books, blogs, screenplays, plays and more being written, and copying and sharing is so simple when saved digitally. By copying and pasting a string of letters, the URL, this post can be posted anywhere for anyone with internet access to read. The power to spread the word and in particular the written word has increased. The internet provides unprecedented access to ideas, thoughts, communities and words before unexplored or talked about en masse.

The above video is the Reading Rainbow intro and the line that rang true for me growing up and even more so today is "take a look, it's in a book." I was born in 1989 so growing up, technology was progressing rapidly. I learned to use a card catalog before it was digital and available solely online; I used dial-up before broadband, I read books to learn about the world, from encyclopedias to magazines to books. I read these before there were Kindles and WiFi. I actually used a typewriter growing up. We experienced huge technological changes and we also experienced ideological shifts. One thing that remained the same was the drive by some to stop books from exercising their power.
Courtesy of the OSU Archives

What do:  And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell; The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman; The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain; The Color Purple, by Alice Walker; I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou; The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison; The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky; The Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger; Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey; It’s So Amazing! A Book about Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families, by Robie H. Harris; Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture, by Michael A. Bellesiles; King & King, by Linda deHaan; Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck and Harry Potter, by J.K. Rowling have in common? They were some of the most challenged books from 2004-2007. What is a challenge? According to the American Libraries Association:
A challenge is defined as a formal, written complaint, filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness.
Further a challenge is different from a ban. A ban removes the material entirely, while a challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict access to a material or remove it from a curriculum or library.  I have read some of these books and I love them. Maya Angelou is a literary great and Harry Potter, from the book to the films and beyond, has had such a profound influence on the world. It is hard to understand an attempt to ban these books, or any book for that matter. Or is it? 
Books are filled with ideas. Growing up I found myself unsatisfied with my family's religion and so I explored other religions from Wicca and Buddhism to Santeria and more. I didn't personally know any believers so I went to books. Books opened my religious thinking. As a scholar I have read, and will continue to read books that expand my thinking. This semester alone I have read Mead, Parsons, Foucault and more. I am not in agreement with all of their perspectives but I read them to learn more and to challenge my perspective. If you don't want someone to think, explore, challenge or be challenged, and if you want them to remain a passive participant, then you want them to read only approved texts and nothing more. 
Even with challenges and bans sharing information, ideas, and more has become so much easier. In the past as technology was developing, people of color were facing a digital divide that separated them from whites in terms of technology but these numbers are changing. According to a 2011 report from the Pew Internet Research Center racial minorities, in particular Blacks and Latinos are seeing a new digital divide where they are dominating mobile internet use, e-mail and social media (and where we outnumber whites on Twitter as of 2010), but are still behind in terms of home use of internet.
“Yet mobile Internet access may not be the great equalizer. Aaron Smith, a Pew senior research specialist, says there are obvious limitations on what you can do on a mobile device — updating a resume being the classic example.

"Research has shown that people with an actual connection at home, the ability to go online on a computer at home, are more engaged in a lot of different things than people who rely on access from work, a friend's house, or a phone," Smith says.”
Not everyone has access immediate access to the internet or certain materials, or is encouraged to utilize them. This digital divide is changing with Blacks, for example, increasing in terms of laptop ownership from 34% to 51% in the course of one year (2009-10). While seemingly insignificant, it is a step towards equality in multiple areas. This is relevant because the internet has the capability to be a great equalizer in terms of access to information. While books are being challenged or banned we can turn to the internet and find (sometimes free) e-books, translations, news from around the world and more. If people of color are not using the internet at the same rate, they are being further disadvantaged. The internet provides a savvy user with access to the world. This blog for example follows stories about warlords and slactivism, racism in the US, sexism in the US, education, Syria, Panama and a lot more with more to come. Independent and mainstream news organizations have websites, Facebook accounts, Twitter handles and Google+ accounts. A click of a button makes information available and with that a variety of images, videos, and other visual texts with many perspectives. My information tends to come from Twitter and the friends and colleagues I follow there. Twitter leads me to blogs, current events and other information, which is great, but let’s not forget the power that books, and the stories we tell, hold.
A good biography is an adventure. Children’s books set imaginations ablaze. Fantasy and sci-fi stories let us imagine a past, present and future brighter or darker than ours. Fiction overall shows us the everyday life of people like and unlike us. How-to books help us to become do-it-yourselfers. Non-fiction shares real life issues, discusses historical events, and shares some aspect of real life. Because books open doors, encourage creative thinking and more, they are an easy target for those who wish to control what influences are affecting people’s lives and banning books is one of the easiest ways to do just that.

Schools and libraries are often the sights of these challenges and bans. Parents want to protect their children, which is difficult to argue with. The problem is that when parents work for bans to be in place, they reduce our opportunities for growth. That is one less book, one less adventure, set of ideas, one less chance to be more open minded that all children in a school or geographic area get to experience. Books can give people new ideas, new ways to deal with experiences and a creativity and critical thinking that we so desperately need in the world.

So, what happens when we do ban Tango’s story, the story of a baby penguin raised by two male penguins (one of the challenged books discussed above)? What happens when Heather doesn’t matter (Heather Has Two Mommies was challenged)? When Maya Angelou is ignored? When sex is absent? We have a perpetuation of an educational system that privileges certain ideas, thoughts, feelings, experiences and lives. This is what is hugely problematic. It is more than challenges and bans. It is the institutionalization of this thinking. That if we do not like something, if it challenges our thinking, if we do not like the portrayal of a group, or an idea we can ban it, ignore it, make it disappear and further privilege the lives and experiences of a majority to the point of ignoring minorities. It is not just about gay stories and images, nor about Black/Latino/Asian/multiracial stories and images. It’s about further marginalizing an already marginalized people, without critical information from our youth and limiting our ability to think and act as independent, critical people.

Cross-posted from the Rogue Scholars Society

Latinos in Social Media and The Bone Marrow Registry

By Carlos M. Camacho

I am proud to be Latino and have been for many years. I love who I am and where I come from. Recently I became involved with a group called Latinos in Social Media. LATISM as it is known is:
a commitment to integral action for and by Latinos. We believe in community action and our mission is the manifestation of that commitment.

LATISM seeks to equip our members with the tools they need to transform their communities by integrating community and networking resources that enable our members to make choices, take part in actions and decisions that affect their lives, and become agents for change.
Through tweet-ups and chats to actions and conferences, LATISM is working to spread awareness, education, and more. I was greatly impressed by the work they were doing and as I became involved, I began making connections but more important than that, friends. I first learned about getting involved with LATISM through their regular tweetchats (specified times where people used the hashtag #LatISM to discuss a certain topic on a given night). During one of these tweetchats, a few of us participating began to discuss the need to spread awareness about donating bone marrow. Reina Valenzuela (@Soylamar), #LATISM's Vice-Chair of Memberships, proceeded to inquire if I would write a post for a series on marrow donations discussing: the process, rationale, and other components. I agreed and began producing articles focused towards those aims. The first two can be found here and here. The third post written by me is cross-posted here with permission:

Courtesy of Latinos in Social Media
I came to join the Marrow Registry through my work with the Latin American Student Association at the University of Buffalo. Not only had the club become a home for me during my work as an undergraduate, but it also got me involved in several causes and encouraged me to think more profoundly while also providing me with avenues in which I could express myself. As a Latino club, we were an ideal target to join the registry.


People of color are not on it "en masse", which translates to people of color not being able to find matches if a situation arises when a family member cannot donate bone marrow to a relative in need.

Courtesy of the Latin American Student Association

In that moment I thought about myself, "If I needed a marrow transplant, I would hope someone who was a potential match would donate so that I may get better!"

 I decided to join. Becoming a part of the registry was simple enough. I filled out a health history form stating that I was free of certain diseases and answering the typical health questions: age, sex, weight, height, etc. Additionally, I also had to do a mouth swab; a painless procedure.

The completion of a registration does not necessarily guarantee a call-up.  It should be mentioned that some people have been on the registry for years and were never requested to donate marrow. Others, like myself, are summoned rather quickly. It was only a few months before I was first contacted as a possible donor. I was a nervous wreck. It had suddenly gotten real. I was a bit nervous but decided that it was bigger than me: this was for someone who was in dire need of bone marrow. My marrow being healthy, I felt a responsibility to share it with someone in need. The process of donating blood was not an unfamiliar one; I donate blood to the American Red Cross (sometimes more regularly than others).

This time I wasn’t filling a bag but rather, a bunch of tubes to test for several illnesses and diseases including Hepatitis and HIV/AIDS. There was also a new test they would be doing which would see how well my DNA matched that of the patient in need. This whole process takes time. Roughly 4-6 weeks of waiting before getting the call...I was a match! I would need to get a physical to make sure I was a healthy match.

The physical was normal and the Marrow Registry covered everything. I didn’t have to give insurance information or pay a dime for bloodwork, the physical, or any of the tests run. After the physical it was discovered that I have a slight abnormality in my heart. I was then promptly sent for further testing from a cardiologist to make sure I was healthy. Apart from this initial finding, I am all set to be a donor. I must say that this process has been amazing.

The Marrow Registry contacts, the staff at New York Presbyterian where I will be donating as well as at the LabCorp (where I did my bloodwork), have been so amazing throughout this process. I am still a bit nervous about my donation but I am also very hopeful. I was scheduled to donate on my birthday, Monday April 2nd but my patient was not ready so the donation has been delayed. I continue to hope for my patient’s health and hope that after the transplant he can be cured of his disease. We all have the power to take action and I encourage you to do it.

For more information please go to the National Marrow Donor Program website.

Cross-posted from the Latinos in Social Media (LatISM) Blog