By now you have either quit Twitter or heard about Rachel Dolezal, the president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP who identifies as black but whose parents insist she is white. It’s not my job to say what races people are, but Ma and Pa Dolezal sure seem to be right. A professor of Africana Studies at Eastern Washington University, Dolezal says in her faculty bio that she received an MFA from Howard and has been the victim of “at least eight documented hate crimes.” That’s a weird item to put in your CV. But everything about the Rachel Dolezal story is weird, from her parents’ estrangement from more than one of their children to her refusal to simply say she is black. Again, it looks like she isn’t. But who gets to decide?
Last week, University of Iowa professor and former New Jersey resident Stephen G. Bloom published this essay in The Atlantic, in which he argues that Iowa maybe should not be the political bellwether it is. At least, that’s what he promises to argue. The impending Republican caucuses are the occasion for Bloom’s remarks, but the execution is a series of anecdotes indicting his adopted state and the grim hicks who populate it. An example:
Rural America has always been homogenous, as white as the milk the millions of Holstein cows here produce. Many towns are so insular that farmers from another county are strangers.
Can you imagine living in a town so insular that the people who don’t live in the town are strangers to you? It’s inconceivable, but that’s the kind of uniquely absurd place Iowa is. I should know. Like Bloom, I lived in Iowa for about 20 years, starting around age zero. Those who know me know that I am no booster, and Iowa remains the only place I have ever lived that I didn’t like. I like honesty and clear thinking, though, which is where Mr. Bloom and I diverge. His observations about the state where I grew up paint a startling picture of resentment, provincialism and proud ignorance. Unfortunately, it is a portrait of Stephen G. Bloom. It’s useless as a landscape, since Bloom’s rendering of Iowa oscillates between nonsensical and untrue. First of many after the jump.
Oh, irony. You are everywhere, according to certain people and pop songs, and yet you are so little known. While the strict definitions of irony remain cleanly delineated, popular usage now refers to any experience of bitter recognition as “ironic.” The expansion of the term tells us much about contemporary America, or maybe contemporary Americans. Like its mildly retarded cousin “sarcastic,” “ironic” has become a mode of being, a way of protecting oneself from the absurdity of This Modern World via a general disdain. That’s great for the lady in your office who just discovered Failblog. For those of us who are lifelong, committed ironists, however, the expansion of “ironic” is an infuriating appropriation. It’s like how Chuck D felt about Vanilla Ice. This Friday, we present the thin edge of the wedge: stories and situations that seem almost ironic but not quite, whose categorization as “irony” moves us one step closer to the dream of considering everything ironic and thereby eliminating irony altogether. Won’t you turn human experience into a uniform putty of bland derision with me?
Combat! blog is hustling to make its train this morning—trains! east coast! food that employs seasonings!—so I have to use one half of my ass to pack. But don’t worry—the other half is completely devoted to this post. Those of us who have spent the weekend with Iowans were thrilled* at the news that Ellen Lewin, anthropology professor at our beloved U of I, responded to a campus-wide email from college Republicans with an outburst of profanity. In case you’re wondering, A) “F*** you!” means “Fuck you!” and B) I know because I was somehow able to crack Raw Story’s complex cipher and C) “responded to a campus-wide email” means “hit reply all.” Ellen Lewin is fifty. She is also in trouble, despite having issued the world’s most petulant non-apology.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the partisan anger of contemporary politics that we sometimes forget what we all have in common: fear. Why spend hours debating things like whether and how to be afraid of gay people when we all agree that we’re terrified of the Chinese? Fact: Chinese people live all over Asia. Fact: they are readily identifiable via their dextrous hands and constant smoking. Fact: their atonal yowling makes them utterly dependent on US supplies of pop music. And once I get my shirts back, they will have nothing that we truly need. My point is that we can still reverse current trends, which will lead to Chinese nationals riding us around sand tracks for sport, and return China to a manageable position in which they can only poison our children via lead toys. During this time of national crisis, our xenophobic resentment can bring us together. We just have to take a hard look at the Americans we currently have and make them more like the Americans we once did. First, though, we must identify the problem.