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

Your Uterus...Male Rules: Your Uterus...Male Rules: Abortion, Sexism, Birth Control and Why Feminism Matters

By Carlos M. Camacho

Courtesy of Dave Bledsoe

Welcome to the United States. Land of liberty and justice for all...unless you happen to be a female. The attack on women and women's rights is not new. Men have been trying to limit women's rights for years and women and their allies have continued to fight for them. If this is news, I recommend that you read several books or watch films on the subject.

"I always feel I have to take a stand, and there's always someone on hand to hate me for standing there" -Ani DiFranco 

The recent attacks on women comes from several places and it is hard to place, but one thing is certain: This is a sexist attack on women. Why? There are various attempts to legislate women's health and bodies. Determining what medicine women should take, the hoops they have to jump through to get those drugs or any medical procedures and the shame women are made to feel for wanting medicine while men are given a free pass when it comes to medicine for them which has a very different function than the one women want to take. I think the blatant sexism here is pretty evident. If it's unclear above that's because I left out the terms we are bombarded with. We hear birth control, emergency contraception and abortion and get so charged up rather than thinking of them as necessary medicines and medical procedures but the treatment is not the same for Viagra and similar medicines for men. We also tend to lose perspective on important issues, especially when we are uninformed and are removed from the issues like most men are because the birth control issue does not directly affect us. 
Some may ask at this point: why are you talking about this? I have a simple answer. Many of the strongest opponents to women's rights are men (also see below)so I, as a man, am taking a stand and hoping that my brothers may do the same. I also feel that there is a need for more men to speak up in support of women, instead of continuing to degrade, shame, and oppress women of all walks of life.

The push against birth control in its current form has been seen as a rebellion against Obamacare with states wanting to limit birth control growing from a concern with religious institutions having to break from their religious rules and moral codes. This push goes beyond mere protection for religious institutions. Bills have been introduced in Idaho, Missouri and Arizona that include secular insurers and businesses as well as religious groups that object to contraception, abortion, and sterilization. What about Viagra? Surely if we are stopping women from getting birth control/contraception we are stopping men from getting Viagra and other ED drugs right? Wrong, which adds another dimension to the problem. Clearly, regulating one's menstrual cycle (one of the uses of birth control) is not seen as important as men getting an erection.

These initiatives are coming from men in the Grand Old Party in several states including those running for the nation's highest office. What exactly is it at hand? There are anti-abortion laws in Kansas, for example. Abortion is one of those things that gets people angry and some people can hardly discuss it civilly, if at all. Women should have the right to abort. No counseling beforehand, no waiting periods, nothing. If a woman wants an abortion she should have a right to get one in a safe environment that is sanitary and does not shame her. Having the option does not mean one will use it. Many people do not marry even though they have the right to (if they're heterosexual) so abortion should be allowed especially since it is legal (Roe. V. Wade). Quick note: there is no such thing as partial birth abortion. It is a term used to attempt to ban all abortions while not speaking of a specific procedure (intact dilation and extraction), which some seek to ban.
Courtesy of Barbara Fister
Heading east we find the regurgitation of tired old lies claiming that abortion causes breast cancer and if that's not enough, birth control causes prostate cancer in male children. There is no proven link between abortion and cancer according to the World Health Organization and the American Cancer Society. Lying. They are resorting to lies to stop women from getting abortions. Fear mongering. It is disgusting. To add insult to injury we are putting so much in the way to abortions if you can get past the lies. There was a bill being pushed in Alabama that wanted women to get a trans-vaginal ultrasound but now, apparently, Sen Scofield is back peddling because of the protests that have arisen. It is beyond unnecessary and it is invasive. Why is it that we had to get to this point?

This is about more than just abortion and the right to choose. This is also a fight for equality. HB2625, in Arizona, would allow employers to fire women who use birth control. Yes, in the United States. In 2012. Arizona is no stranger to controversy as of late, passing a "papers please" law and banning ethnic studies and now, women using birth control could be fired (if this passes). The same would not happen for men taking Viagra. It is sexist to the core.

If trans-vaginal ultrasounds, firing women for taking medicine, and stopping abortion is not enough, the GOP frontrunners are putting the war against women on the front page. The U.S. has a struggling economy, war overseas, and many domestic problems, but we are talking about something that should have been decided and done with long ago. Please, don't take my word for it. Over at women were able to comment and share their voices, often ignored by the GOP talking heads [emphasis from Lori (the post's author)]:
Trillion said, “There were times that I did go without birth control because I could not afford it…. It wasn’t that the price of them were high, 20 dollars for a month supply through the Planned Parenthood flex plan, it was more so the fact that my job was low paying at the time…20 dollars can be a lot when you are working minimum wage and trying out yourself through school.”
On the flip side, Elle describes the perks of universal access. “I owe SO MUCH to free contraception. I take it for granted far too often, but my adult life would have been radically poorer (socially, sexually, physically, intellectually, financially, everything-ly) without it. What else can I say? It should be a fundamental human right for all of us, not just the privileged Euro-few.”
It disgusts me that we even have to talk about birth control access in 2012,” writes KittehWhiskas. [A sentiment some of my friends and I share]
Letha Colleen Myers writes “Without PP I would have had nothing. (I get teary eyed just thinking about it. No matter how much money I make in my life I always give them some of it.)”
And Caitlin estimates “that in the last calendar year, I’ve spent at least $600 on birth control and birth control-related doctor’s visits. And that’s with one of the most kickass health insurance plans, in a liberal state with easy access to contraception and a Planned Parenthood literally right around the corner. I should not be the exception. Everyone should have access to affordable reproductive healthcare.” Word.
Copyright Carlos M. Camacho
These are the voices that need to be heard. Must be heard. This is why feminism matters. As seen above, women support Planned Parenthood and that does not matter at all to Mitt Romney. He splits no hairs either saying outright "Planned Parenthood, we’re going to get rid of that." Just like that. Rick Santorum is "reflecting the views of the church I believe in" in his disapproval of birth control as morally wrong even though 99% of sexually active women have used it at some point. Newt Gingrich is very problematic approving of personhood bills, and sees the President's plan to allow women to get birth control without a copay as an attack on religion. In Texas, the de-funding of Planned Parenthood (PP) led to Texas's losing all funding for medicaid for breaking their contract (caused by the de-funding of PP. Apparently poor women's overall health doesn't matter as long as you're stopping PP. The part that makes it worse is that the discourse is out of touch. According to Julie Davis at Bloomberg:
"Americans overwhelmingly regard the debate over President Barack Obama’s policy on employer-provided contraceptive coverage as a matter of women’s health, not religious freedom, rejecting Republicans’ rationale for opposing the rule. More than three-quarters say the topic shouldn’t even be a part of the U.S. political debate."

Courtesy of Dave Bledsoe
What a perfect time to discuss women's oppression and why feminism matters; it is women's history month as well, which is the kicker. Feminism is a movement organized around the belief in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes. Equality is more than just saying men and women are equal because that is not and never was enough. It it believing it and living it out on a daily basis. This means honoring everyone's bodies. I am not an expert on feminism and some feminists would say that as a man I have no right discussing it. Jessica Valenti had this to say about it in her book Full Frontal Feminism (a MUST READ):
"As far as I'm concerned, [men] can call themselves whatever they want, so long as they're down to do the feminist work."
I respect the right of women to have a choice in what happens to and with their bodies. Whether this is contraception, abortion, birth control or the right to go out on a date without a fear of rape. We have allowed society to blame, oppress, and take away women's rights for years and it is time that we listen to women. Honor their innate rights as Americans and as humans. As a man, I hope that I can inspire other men to respect women and women's rights. Feminism will challenge how we live as men but that should be a sacrifice that we are all willing to make to have a better future. With more women participating and being respected for it we can forge a better future.

"I am not an angry girl/but it seems like I've got everyone fooled/every time I say something they find hard to hear/they chalk it up to my anger/and never to their own fear
and imagine you're a girl/just trying to finally come clean/knowing full well they'd prefer you/were dirty and smiling" - Ani DiFranco

For more information about birth control, emergency contraception, abortion and feminism see below:

Feministing.Com -Feminist Blog founded by @JessicaValenti 
NARAL Pro-Choice America
National Abortion Federation
National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health
Planned Parenthood
Pro-Choice Public Education Project 
Feminist Majority Foundation
National Organization for Women
National Organization for Men Against Sexism
Men Can Stop Rape
Women's Voices. Women Vote. (The Voter Participation Center)

Cross-posted from the Rogue Scholars Society