Is This Progress? This Is Progress.

What Is Kaputall?

Oxford defines Kaput as "broken and useless; no longer working or effective" - similar to our unbalanced economic system. This is a page dedicated to the intersection of capitalism and social, political, and environmental problems.

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

On Standing Up: 2014 in Review

Reviewing the year that was has become the major tradition on this blog. Last year I wrote about the fact that sexism and feminism had become a critical flashpoint in the West. In 2012 I highlighted the ubiquity of violence around the world. This year, my review deals again with similar threads: oppression and violence. However, the spin this time is more positive. This year I wanna talk about something that I'm seeing that is actually positive - standing up.

To set the definition here, I mean to say that there have been sustained efforts to hold perpetrators of the egregious accountable. 2014 was, without a doubt, full of horrible news - as we are about to recall. Sexism and racism were rampant this past year, but thankfully there has also been a mobilisation, both online and in person. I have selected three stories from 2014 that I feel really illustrate my argument.

I'll start with the most clear example: Ferguson. I've already written about the shooting of Michael Brown, pointing out that institutional racism in the United States is at the root of this, and numerous other, tragedies of late. It's unsurprising that this type of violence is occuring - we can think back to the Trayvon Martin shooting in 2012. However, what's really impressive is that the reaction to the shooting was so massive. Protests started in August and continued through the fall as the grand jury deliberated an indictment. There was support throughout the state as well as around the world. Campaigns online led to the creation of numerous successful hashtags like #blacklivesmatter, #handsupdontshoot, and #millionsmarch. While there was some violence, often prompted by the presence of militarised police, these protests highlighted a non-violent response to the institutional problem of police brutality and racism. Also, as I'm writing this today there are reports that citizens are peacefully taking over the police station in Missouri following another tragic shooting of a young black man.

The next issue is the recent Twitter explosion surrounding Iggy Azalea. Azalea is a hip-hop artist from Australia who has experienced incredible success in worldwide this year. She also happens to be white. Much of her success has come from co-opting black hip-hop culture (much in the same way the other forms of music like jazz, rock, and blues have been appropriated by whites). She is unapologetic about her success, seemingly unaware of her white privilege and the fact that she is making hip-hop more accessible on account of her race and class. Moreover, she's made uniformed comments about slavery and the history of black resistance. Azalia Banks, a black hip-hop artist has led the charge to expose this cultural appropriation as well as the incredible ignorance of Iggy Azalea. This, naturally, exploded on Twitter. Other artists and celebrities joined in, creating a chorus of voices promoting the reality of co-optation in hip hop music.

One of the other major items in the news this year was a series of high-profile rape and sexual assault allegations. I wrote about the case surrounding Jian Ghomeshi, but this is merely one of many stories. Most people have likely heard about victims coming forward with claims against Bill Cosby and . In a newly released video Rape in the Time of Celebrity a character exclaims: "they're impossible to touch, but they'll touch you". For numerous reasons, many of which I've articulated in my previous post about Ghomeshi, the victims, even when they are numerous, are not taken seriously. But the problem goes much beyond these sensational tabloid stories: rape on college campuses has reached a flashpoint. This has spilled over at Dalhousie in Halifax, York in Toronto, or the University of Virginia. With numerous clever social media campaigns, women in colleges around North America have stood up and fought back against university administrations that have pretended that sexual assault is not a campus issue. I'd argue, as many others have, that 2014 was a pivotal year in turning the tide against rape apologists.

It's nice to see that, even though hatred, oppression, and violence are seemingly alive and well, so too is the will to stand up against injustice. It's worthwhile, however, pointing out that our interest in solidarity only goes so far. Take for example the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which for the record is ongoing as I write this.  The international response was painfully slow and poorly organised. Media coverage was focused on the few westerners who contracted the virus or on spreading fear and paranoia. It's my hope that in 2015 people continue to stand up for themselves and others. Here's to the end of 2014.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

The War on Christmas

It's that time of year again. The holidays. The end of the calendar year is so overwhelming that it's hard to really talk about it in a global sense. We're all so immersed in the world of festivities that it can be tricky to take a step back and talk about the season more generally. That is, of course, unless you are levying the charge that there is a "War on Christmas".

It's a term I remember distinctly arguing about during the holidays in 2008. So I performed a Google Trends search and discovered that the use of this term peaked in 2007. That said, it's made a marked appearance, of roughly the same intensity, every year since.

And why shouldn't it? It has all the elements to make for a great story. There's nothing black and white about it and everyone can weigh in. Depending on where your values are regarding religious expression, community, identity, or respect for diversity has a massive impact on how we approach this so-called controversy.

The notions of Christmas as ubiquitous or monolithic are pervasive and harmful. Christmas, and the holidays in general, are multi-faceted cultural institutions and they aren't going away. Despite the fact that I am not a Christian, Christmas has always been important to me. And this will continue because I can define it for myself. It's a cultural holiday that I associate with family, the celebration of winter, good food, taking a break from work, and giving. I also get a say in the traditions that I choose to support, critique, or reject. I won't force them on others, and in my position (teacher in a public board) I know that I need to be careful how I talk about the holidays. I've managed to get by without wishing anyone I don't know very well "Merry Christmas" and it hasn't been difficult. When people say "happy holidays", "seasons greetings", or anything else to me, I give them my best wishes in return. Shouldn't that goodwill be at the heart of the holidays?

When it comes down to it, I don't perceive Christmas as a holiday to be under attack. What I do notice, though, is how the meaning of Christmas has changed dramatically. The holidays have sadly become more about money, transforming the holiday season into a cultural festival revolving around economics. If there's a War on Christmas, it's my belief that it has manifested itself by way of co-opting the spirit of Christmas in order to advance the interests of the economy

To be fair, that's just my read of the holidays. But it's controversial and there's no right answer. However you slice it, the holidays will continue to be a great mixed bag: a time of love, hope, wonder, hostility, stress, and controversy. I wish everyone the best during the holidays, however you intend to spend them. Seasons greetings!

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Chronicles of Sarnia - Pt I

It's December and despite my best intentions I haven't sat down to write about my experiences living in Sarnia. I'm going to take some time now to talk about what it's been like relocating again.

For one, this move marks the fifth time I've moved in the past two years. The nature of my work is such that steady employment is hard to find. Moreover, the school boards I've worked in have all been territorially extensive, necessitating a move every time I have a new post. Since March of last year I've been fortunate to have contracts in the French language public board, le Conseil scolaire Viamonde.

As difficult as I found the transition to teaching in French (both professionally and personally), I've been really proud of my achievements and I have only strengthened my resolve. I'm lucky to have employment as a teacher in Ontario, but I also know this was the result of a lot of hard work and some rather challenging decisions.

That brings me to moving to Sarnia. The decision that I had to make this spring was challenging, and in the spirit of the past few years it was nothing new. I had two offers in June: a semester-long position in Sarnia or a year-long position in Trois-Rivières. I contemplated and negotiated, hoping that I would end up with a clear plan and a good deal. When the end of August approached I was off to Sarnia.

I remember the day I had to move to Sarnia. I felt defeated. I had blogged only months before that I was coming to and end to transplanting. How little I knew. I had a lot of anxiety coming to Sarnia. I was afraid of the life transition and I also had my doubts about my abilities to be the great teacher I wanted to be if it meant teaching in French. Thankfully, in the time since I've only gone on to feel like an active member of the francophone community.

On Labour Day I set off to Sarnia. It took some time to settle into my new environment. It was very difficult at first. A new apartment, a new school, new students, new colleagues, new courses, new friends. I buried myself in my work and in building a robust social life around me, including taking up some new activities. I joined the bridge association, formed a games night group, and signed up for dodgeball. I kept my days and nights full so that I wouldn't have time to think about how miserable I was having to move to Sarnia.

Interestingly enough, despite my great unhappiness moving to Sarnia, I suddenly began to enjoy my new home. I've never, to clarify, moved somewhere that I didn't want to live. That is until Sarnia. I was deadset against it, for some obvious and not-so-obvious reasons. While it was difficult, I found that overcoming my mindset - my prejudice - was ultimately the true struggle.

I've never had a more enjoyable work environment in life. I have the best students I could ask for (and that's saying a lot given how amazing my students were in Shawinigan). I have great support from my coworkers. I love the courses that I'm teaching. I'm excited to be involved in the social activities I have here. I've loved going to United States. I enjoy biking in the region. I've gone to the beach every week.

That said, it hasn't all been rainbows. I moved to Sarnia during a period of great turmoil and personal change. Suffice to say, I wasn't feeling brave, but I had to forge on.

And I did. In the months since I've rebuilt. I'm feeling stronger, safer, and happier than I have in a very long time. It feels good to fluorish.