College & Education

Some Notes on the TKE MLK Party, My Fraternity Experience, and General Racism-Related Stuff

I found this picture on the wall of one of the guys in the infamous MLK Day Party. Now, If I "assumed" this guy, or the organization publishing this kind of content was probably not sensitive to the "interests of black people," many would say I was jumping to conclusions.

I found this picture on the wall of one of the guys in the infamous MLK Day Party.
Now, If I “assumed” this guy, or the organization publishing this kind of content was probably not sensitive to the “interests of black people,” many would say I was jumping to conclusions.

-Facebook Chat-RE: TKE MLK Black-out Party:“Do you think it was racist?”

Define “it.”

“You know, the party.”

Like the idea behind the party?

“Yeah, and the racist frat bros who threw it.”

But those are two different things, right?

“Sort of.”

Sort of. Yeah, that’s my opinion.

“Your opinion is ‘sort of.'”

Yes.

“Stop being a smartass. Should these racist bros be expelled, or not?

Why on earth do you care about that? What difference does it make if they’re expelled?“It sets an example so people will think twice before being racist.”

No, it will stop them from broadcasting “stuff that makes liberals mad” on Instagram.It will force them to repress the overt expression of their prejudices.

They will become birthers.
They will champion “state’s rights.”
They will become paranoid about “voter fraud.”
They will call their negro co-workers “brotha” and spontaneously expect a kind of high-five-to-handshake from them, instead of a standard handshake.
They will enjoy Daniel Tosh, more than they already do.

How the partiers and the frat are disposed of matters to ASU’s PR team and the outside institutional forces with whom they play symbolic power games for the entertainment of the public and the placation of their key donors. That’s not to say none of it matters; it’s to say none of that matters to me.

Quite honestly, I’m glad they were proud to party like it was 1969.
 

“Glad? You’re glad these kids celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 21st century-style blackface?”

I’m glad they took pictures.
I’m glad they hashtagged them.
I’m glad they made it impossible to question the exact intention behind their event.
I’m glad we have a screenshot of how many ‘likes’ they got on instagram.
I’m glad I could lurk their Facebook profiles (before they deleted them) and try to guess how often I passed them on campus.
I’m glad I could see just how many ‘mutual friends’ we had between us.
I’m glad I could see their majors on the ASU directory.
I’m glad I could see their career aspirations on LinkedIn.

Most of all, I’m glad I could see just how absolutely normal, mundane, and boring they all were.

I could imagine working with them on a group assignment having no idea what they thought about me or (if they decided my dress and standard dialect put me in an-“other” category) what they imagined my family members must be like.

I got to imagine being their co-worker in a marketing firm, or worse, one of them my superior.

I’m glad because I don’t feel like I’m being paranoid when I get the “racism chills” from an occasional economics major in deck shoes when he asks me how I feel when he says nigger “like, when it comes up in a song, you know?”

Yeah, bro. I know.

I saw the pictures.

II.

FULL DISCLOSURE:
I pledged a fraternity my freshman year at ASU.

I didn’t make it into the brotherhood–I [was] dropped just before initiation week because 1. was a not very fratty, by any reliable metric developed up to that point, and 2. because I stopped showing up for pledge process-related events, at which my pledge bothers and I were totally, most definitely, honestly (not-)hazed.

We were totally, most definitely, honestly (not) “coerced” into clearing frat complex hallways of beer cans and (presumably-used) condoms. We (never) excavated disposable shot cups from the tar-like composites of vodka, Tampico, Arizona dirt, and watery anorexic vomit that lined the facility’s corridors like a stubborn film–the nearly bio-luminescent traces of a long night-to-be-forgotten and repeated a thousand times over into infinity, crudely scored by the dubstep playlists of yesteryear.

There were definitely (not) enough illicit drugs entering and exiting “frat row”–as it was called then–to sentence an entire Chicago block of black males to multiple life sentences, each.

There was definitely (not) that guy everyone suspected of being a date rapist, against whom no effective claim could be made due to a surprising lack of sufficient evidence and/or outspoken victims of his vaguely suspected improprieties.

There was definitely (not) not a single valuable academic achievement made within the confines of that building that wasn’t a direct result of amphetamine ingestion.

There was also not (no parentheses) a single instance in which I was called “a nigger.” At no point did I find myself dealing with any more “racial insensitivity” than one comes to expect to encounter after being a black male for 19 or so years.It just never happened.

In terms of diversity the frat I pledged was–despite being made up largely of super-privileged, (from what I can tell) mostly right-leaning, and fairly “fratty” individuals–just as, if not more, ethnically heterogeneous than any other organization I could expect to find at ASU.

Hedonism, homophobia, chauvinism, and isolated cases of anabolic steroid abuse aside–when considered exclusively in terms of how racist they were on average–they were generally pretty OK bros, when considered in aggregate, and in consideration of how not-OK  they could’ve been.

What do I mean by “could’ve” been?

There were three or four black guys living in the house of the fraternity I pledged.Next door, was either Sigma Chi (or Sigma Nu, I don’t remember. I was drunk.), and I’ll be damned if I ever saw anyone darker than a buttermilk waffle walk in or out of their doors.

What does that say about frats in general?

Nothing.

Why so much time has been dedicated this one characteristic of the MLK party kids is beyond me.

III.

I was at Casey Moore’s Oyster Pub about a month ago, and a lot of times after that, and a lot of times before that.

One of those times, I was working there as a host/bus boy.

I was collecting glasses from abandoned tables and constructing growing kaleidoscope of dirty pint glasses which were visibly difficult-to-manage with one hand whilst navigating a crowd of Saturday college drunks.

I felt a tap on my shoulder.”Hey, brotha,” he said, “You got a second?”

My face said, “fuck yourself, no,” but I think he drunkenly read my eye-contact as “yes, please interrupt my work to ask me a stupid, obviously racist question.”

“Do you–” he laughed, “and I don’t mean this to be racist–” he stammers, possibly thrown off-guard the Zulu war gaze making its way across my face, onto his blurry retinal screen, and only recently being registered somewhere in his brain-area.

“Do you…like…OK..my friends and I are having this debate,” he says, as his acquaintances grow pale and shrink into their mixed drinks.

“Do I what?”

“Do you like fried chicken? I don’t mean this in a racist way, everyone likes fried chicken…right?

IV.

I went to a community meeting organized by a group of concerned Arizona citizens who wanted to institute stricter regulations on assault rifles.

The organization was formed by white, middle class, liberal, college-educated people who wear Birkenstocks, in response to the Sandy Hook and Aurora, Colorado massacres.

The people were very nice.

The cookies and the water were free.

The fact the group was not pushing legislation that would make it more difficult to acquire handguns was a point they seemed to stress among one another.”We are focusing on assault rifles, because they are more dangerous–they are made for attacking people.”

I understood their message.

I also understood why they never brought up handgun homicide statistics from the inner-city.

Those were minority problems.

Also, if you ban handguns, how will you defend yourself from minorities who walk around in your neighborhood wearing hoodies?

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An Education in the Humanities in the 21st Century: Proper Suffering 101

"Adderall is a vitamin."

“Adderall is a vitamin.”

I’m going to get a lot of hate for this. No death threats, because that’s just not how liberal[ arts major]s are.
See how I pigeon-holed you there? I know you’re a liberal. I know that, and you don’t like that.
“No, baby. I’m an anarchist.”
You voted for Obama and own a MacBook. Choke on freegan kale.
I know you.

Please, just listen. I know why you’re here, Neo. I know

what you’ve been doing. I know why you hardly sleep, and why

night after night you sit at your computer. 

A wise [wo]man[?] once said, “If you’re reading it, it’s for you.”
I work in marketing, and those words are truer now, in the 21st century, the age of limitless customizable individuality and expression (aka, social network-based personal branding), the age of the infinite subculture, the age of you, you, you (trans: me, me, me) more than ever.

1101061225_400

TIME magazine understands Lacan’s Mirror Stage

Today, in America, you can literally pretty much do whatever you want to do, as a young person.

I can hear you boiling with rage. “That’s white privilege speaking. What about poor black and undocumented Mexican kids? What about–” Slow down, compadre. Read that again. It says “you.” Are you poor and black? Are you sweating bullets anxiously fearing the day la migra sends your mother back to Chihuahua, Chihuahua because some scumbag politician needs to convince his red state constituents he’s identified and is addressing “the true source” of their economic woes? The word is italicized for good measure in an attempt to stave off your rage. It’s cheap. It’s an attempt I knew would fail, but it had to fail to prove a point:

You have been programmed to respond to things in specific ways as part of a personal branding campaign you were tricked into initiating between the ages of 11 and 25, depending on how long it took for you to hit puberty. If you grew up in Canada, Germany, Austria, the UK, Japan, Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Luxembourg, Belgium, Netherlands, or Australia, then you grew up in the same country I did–America.

In America, we push branding and public image over everything. The Christians like to think this is a Christian nation or, at the very least, a country founded on monotheistic religious tradition. It was really founded on the relative value of imported slave meat vs. domestic, but that’s another conversation. The unofficial American state religion more closely resembles a kind of Greek mythological tradition than it does anything any Catholic pretends to believe–we subscribe to PC (Apollo) or Mac (Dionysus); Adidas (Aries) or Nike (Nike).

1683438-slide-s-12-unbranding-project

“For Jobbs so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in It shall still eventually perish, but have eternal apps.”

If you’re following along, you felt the rage of the gods channel its way into your heart when you read “in America, you can do whatever you want,” because it’s part of your personal brand to resist anything vaguely patriotic. It’s only coincidental that the statement is untrue to some extent. That’s a secondary issue.

“Who are you to tell me what I’m thinking?”

Obama is the same as Bush, except for the whole gay marriage thing. You critique Obama only once per week, whereas you woke up every morning hating Bush before 2008. Bush was a prick, but it’s coincidental that he was actually kind of a bad guy–the enjoyment comes from being the kind of person who hates Bush. Sit down. Breathe. Chill. I know you. Have some tea.

You’re predictable, and it’s not your fault.

You were taught to be this way by a system that’s way bigger and way smarter than any one person could possibly be. The system taught you how to think. The system even gave you cataloged binders of strawmen at which you could direct hate so you wouldn’t have to do the work of traversing the fantasy– so, the system meets you halfway:

You get to think your life has meaning within the system. You get to think there are actual ideological wars happening, and the world is just waiting for you jump in the fight as part of the dialectic of history. You get to think your vote counts. You get to buy Tom’s shoes. You get to choke on Kale. You get to major in Women’s Studies; you get to play deconstructionist and bitch about the name, and bitch about my saying “bitch.” And it feels great. Absolutely invigorating. Because you get an opportunity to suffer and fight back against [insert anything], while believing you’re beating the system.

In an absurd world, you need to pick a backdrop against which to write and perform the script of your existence. What Camus didn’t see coming was the branding and commodification of the spirit and frame of rebellion itself.

“You’re getting a little abstract, now.” Let’s bring it back to earth.

The main thesis here is consumer capitalism has you by whatever set of genitalia you identify with, ESPECIALLY if you’re paying for a college degree geared toward educating you in ways to transcend or undermine it. Either way they’re getting your money, your dad’s money, or government money that could’ve been spent on poor black kids, or bombs to keep gasoline at a price affordable to the parents of poor black kids.

The liberal arts major is intended to help you stave off depression while plugging your body into the consumer matrix, or doing whatever you end up doing instead of inciting revolutions and defeating the bourgeoisie. Readers like concrete examples, and I like you, so here we go:

Sociology — While you’re working as a guidance counselor at a public middle school in Marshalltown, IA, you’ll find pleasure in knowing that Starbucks’s Cinnamon Dolce Latte is available even in places where stunna-shades are still “what the cool kids wear.” You’ll be able to use your understanding of the migratory patterns cultural values contemplate that as you slowly settle down with the idea of yourself settling down in a place like Marshalltown, IA.

Psychology — You’ll know what that feeling you’re going to have when you tell your kid to follow her dreams in a depressed economy is called. C) Cognitive Dissonance.

Philosophy — (I apply for a job) ⊃ (I will be rejected in favor of a bright-eyed business major who thinks Wittgenstein makes bagels). The only serious philosophical question is suicide.

Film Studies — “So, Mr. Interviewer, as you can see, I’m good at watching movies and pontification–I’m sorry, why are you handing me a mop?”

English — “I work for the university as a researcher on the modal discourse of the Frankfurt School as interpreted through a New Historicist Lens, and I have come to the conclusion that, from a Foucauldian perspective (and, hell, even from a traditional Marxist point-of-view), I’m engaging in a kind of indentured servitude. In short: I was duped into slavery. In Hegel’s Master-Slave dialectic, is there any mention of Top Ramen? What about in the original German?”

Women’s Studies —
Lord, bless your soul.

Poli. Sci — “At least the scumbag I’m slaving for promises universal medical care.”


The system educated you because it couldn’t figure out a better way to exploit you.

The Kung Fu master doesn’t teach you the secret technique that could defeat him until he’s on his deathbed. I just saw the MTV awards. The Master is alive and well, my friend.

Pai_Mei_Sword

“The Sword of Critical Theory is no match for the Sacred Commodity Fetishism technique, grasshopper!”

On Urban Gardens in Detroit and the Zombie Apocalypse

 

You're the salad. Your future employer is hungry.

You’re the salad. Your future employer is hungry.

Rule 1: Read the footnotes.

Rule 2: If you have a “Rule 1”, you need a “Rule 2.”

If you don’t get the joke in the caption, this article is for you.

I’ll have you know this article is for me, too.

I say this because when I first noticed why the egregious branding of the chicken pasta salad was funny, I thought it was just because some writer in the “Naming-Stuff Department” of some corporate mega-store 1 thought “unapologetically gratuitous/meaningless” could maximize sales. He seriously thought that by tacking on a bunch of semantically empty modifiers to what was just chicken, pasta, veggies, and flavored mayonnaise he could change the consumptive behaviors of his customers. 2   

The joke is NOT that some vulgar marketing sleazeball actually thought calling anything you eat with a plastic fork “signature” was okay. Nor is the joke that anything bought in a supermarket, “Cafe”, or even that, for all the flashiness embedded in the name, is $5.99 per pound.

No. 

The joke is I started laughing….after I bought it. “That’s not comedy. That’s tragedy. Don’t you know anything?” But, it’s worse than that, and I’ll get to why, later. I know what you’re thinking, “Yeah, but you bought it after the fact and despite the stupid marketing gimmick.” You think you’re protecting me; you’re protecting yourself. You probably have, or are pursuing, or have pursued a college degree. If not, who the hell taught you how to read? Send me an email explaining your condition, please.

I’m serious. Here’s my email:

ADyingRamone@gmail.com 3

II.

I’m halfway through a documentary called Detropia4 and a discounted case of out-of-season beer and I can’t tell which is making my stomach hurt. 

If the title didn’t give it away, Detropia is a documentary film about the socioeconomic toxic waste quarantine zone we call, “Detroit”.  The film opens with a woman who likes wandering around Detroit’s abandoned buildings and documenting the sights on her handheld video camera. This is a great hobby for anyone in Detroit because being a video blogger for squalor in Detroit, I hear, is a lot like being a portrait artist who specializes in male-pattern baldness in Miami.

Earlier in the film, decent working-class people reminisce about the good ol’ days when America was an actual country-type looking thing. Fast forward a little, you’ll see the man who will later be a major subject of the film explaining to his fellow autoworkers that corporate will be slashing wages and that everyone in the plant that isn’t in management (read: everyone in the plant who isn’t black) is lucky corporate was merciful enough not to slash their throats with rusty old power tools collected from the scrapheap that used to be factory down the road.

Fast forward 20 minutes and you’re in a boardroom in which a largely black (and unexpectedly feminine) board of urban planners discuss “consolidation.”

Consolidation, as the documentary explains, is the act of forcibly moving a population from the totally destroyed, neglected, post-apocalyptic peripheral edge of Detroit to the Stalingrad ca. 1946-esque center of the city. What do government officials propose will happen to the space left vacated after consolidation?

Urban gardens.

No. I’m not kidding.

Seriously. Watch the documentary. 

Needless to say the peasants threatened revolt and thought it was about racism. I’m not saying it isn’t about racism. I’m saying racism is the least of their worries, at this point. Also, never mind that everyone in the boardroom was black. 5

Fast forward; “it’s all the Chinamens’ fault.”

True, but that doesn’t mean it’s not everyone else’s fault, too, and that’s not even the point.

The point is: to me, all of this sounds an awful lot like impending feudalism.

III.

The higher-education bubble popped, apparently. I don’t really know what that means, but I do know last time a bubble burst, my dad took me aside in the middle of the night to explain to me how we probably weren’t going to lose our house. My dad is a tough guy, and despite his steel-plated nerves I could still sense a bit of dread and foreboding in his voice.

I didn’t get it back then. I still don’t really “get it” now. I worry our entire generation might be getting it soon.

The last “getting it” can be read many ways here.

At any rate, I’m scared shitless. I’m scared because I have a liberal arts degree and so does everybody else, and not only is that a symptom of the bubble, it’s exactly why I may very well lose out in the collapsing pyramid scheme every college grad with a non-math-y degree bought into. Thanks to grade inflation, near-universal access to college education, and Viagra-like rises in tuition fees, nearly everyone my age has a college degree, and it often turns out to be a document that indicates a person has a lot of debt to motivate them, and/or is good at doing what they’re told to do within the boundaries of a loosely defined rubric against which a Chinese teacher’s assistant will judge their rushed, Adderall-inspired, schoolwork

Thanks to the above, the college degree is now (especially, now) an empty brand signifier.

Gen Y Hipster Graduate: I have a Justice Studies degree with a focus in Medieval Political Discursive Theology.

Employer: Can you generate and implement a social media calendar for a $10.00 hourly wage.

GYHG: Don’t you want to know what school I went to?

Employer: No. Also, the offer is now $8.75 per hour.

GYHG: I’m going to work at Cartel, you vulgar marketing pleb.

[Next day, same Employer walks into Cartel]

GYHG: Hello, sir. What can I get for you?

Employer: Dirty Chai Latte.

GYHG: I’ll have that right up for you! That’ll be $5.14.

[Transaction occurs. Employer tips $4.86. GYGH does the math, considers suicide, but goes on welfare instead.]

SPOILER ALERT: The movie ends with stupid unambitious hipsters excited to live in Detroit because “we can experiment here–if we fail, we haven’t really fallen anywhere.” This man is an 18 year-old high school nerd in an MFA’s gangly body, and somehow this is Detroit’s only hope. The funny thing is, this guy is basically America’s only hope, unless we start bringing well-paid industrial labor back to the states.

We all have our fantasies.

Also, the bailout saves the day at the end of the movie. Also, a radio personality speaks in the background of an on-the-road montage of daytime scenes in Detroit:

“…there’s much more [presumably global] competition and the burden rests on our education system. We need more education and we need better education if we want to prepare people for the 21st century.”

Cut to a scene of a teenage kid vandalizing the rubble of an abandoned building. (Hope. Change. Amirite?)

“Vandalizing? That’s not a crime. That’s the official sport of Detroit for boys and girls between the ages of 6 and 35!”

Sorry. I jumped to conclusions. I figured Mr. Yuppie Hipster-McWesanderson from earlier was just scrounging for artifacts to use in his newest ready-made artpiece he’s calling, “A Post-Phallic Critique of Industrial Imperatives”. It’s just a working title, for now.

IV.

*I’m not saying feudalism is a bad thing, or that urban gardens represent some sort malicious attempt at re-enslaving the poor.

All I’m suggesting is that if you’re living in Detroit 20 years from now, this picture might be helpful when you’re asking yourself, “what’s my place in the world?”.

Hint: if you're in the urban garden, your kid probably won't grow up to be the Duke of Flint.

Hint: if you’re in the urban garden, your kid probably won’t grow up to be the Duke of Flint, MI.

6

Listen, I don’t think this is a conspiracy and that everything is going according to plan. I think this kind of thing is being considered precisely because nothing went according to plan for American capitalism. Whoops.

V.

Does anyone else notice a strange fascination with zombie apocalypses?

Did anyone else notice America’s fascination with airborne things fucking up national architectural icons just before 9/11?

I’m being paranoid. People’s thoughts and fantasies never translate into actual behaviors, right?

I’m not a psychology major.

Also, I know a lot of people who know a lot about finance.

They’re stocking up on bullets and guns.

“I don’t get it. I don’t buy this idea that the liberal arts majors will turn their dashed hopes of attaining the American dream through education into violent outburst.” People with college degrees are of the upper crust. They’re not like the violent idiotic masses.”

ASU has a 99.99993% acceptance rate.

What’s worse than a zombie with a degree in sociology?

A zombie with a degree in sociology, an assault rifle, and no food in a crumbling economy in a city in which the urban garden hasn’t generated the expected crop yields.7

That guy’s a threat to the system. Not the sociopaths; not the terrorists–they provide the basis for government safeguards against unpredictable explosions of violence, the possibility of which scare the hell out of most people more than college debt does. That’s the point, by the way.

Consider the way you think about the zombie apocalypse and then imagine the way people in Paradise Valley, Phoenix think about it. When you’re done, ask yourself which is more likely.

In your fantasy about the zombie apocalypse, you’re not a zombie, but a lucky holdout–a lone wolf survivor in a motley crew of others like you, whose lives were spared, in an against-all-odds kind of way, by the gods whose will determine the fates of all those living in the zombie-verse.

Even within your own fantasy the odds are against you. Seriously consider that. That’s the kind of thinking that led you to believe that degree in Philosophy would earn you a spot at The New School brushing shoulders with Zizek. Stupid.

When people in gated communities think about the zombie apocalypse, they’re not actually thinking about the zombie apocalypses. They’re thinking about scoping you out and taking you down from the steel-reinforced window of their three story prefab-house-turned-paramilitary-compound. You’re not a zombie. You’re just hungry and looking for food because the financial sector collapsed under the weight 60 years of perverse political and economic conditions.

How do I know that’s what they’re really talking about?

Because I always ask.

VI.

This is getting long, so I’ll tie this together in one shot:

Over-branded pasta is like someone with a liberal arts degree. The consequence is that consumers (and employers) have little incentive for considering the branding when making hiring decisions the same way the word “Signature” isn’t really informing my purchase as far as I can tell.

Everything in the store is over-branded, and everyone has a fluffy degree in nothing.

So, I just pick based on whether or not it looks good and doesn’t have pork in it.

Employers will just pick based on who has qualifications and isn’t a minority or a woman, or worse, the descendant of a serf.

The day it becomes shameless once again to simply pass your estate and rank on to your offspring, we will be in full-scale zombie apocalypse and/or feudalism mode.8

Here’s the upside:

When this happens, you won’t notice.

Also, it’s easy to take feudalism and package it as something less evil like “communism” or something fun like “social democracy.” All you have to do is convince the slaves there is no master, and that shouldn’t be hard to do.9

I know this because I was alive in 2006 and most liberals I knew had a bone to pick with President Bush over Guantanamo and corporatism. Things are more-or-less the same, and the liberals claimed a victory in 2012.

At least Kony didn’t win.

I bought a pound of Signature Cafe Parmesan Chicken Pasta Salad.

Hopefully my noble overlords will be kind enough to consume a pound of my flesh on salary.

Oh yeah, the fact I laughed after I bought it is tragic.

The fact I can find humor in this kind of thing largely because of an overvalued hyper-brand liberal arts education is the funny part.
Enjoy feudalism. The service economy, re-imagined.

———————————————————————————————————-

Footnotes

1. I could tell you the name of the store, but it doesn’t really matter, and that’s super fucking important.

2. The proper name of “Signature Cafe Parmesan Chicken Pasta Salad” is “Chicken Pasta Salad”

3. I’m not serious. Don’t e-mail me. That is my real email though.

4. Watch it. It’s on Netflix. Subscribe to Netflix. Also, Netflix, sponsor me.

5. I understand the “black folks in the urban boardroom” scene was probably a staged dramatization, but the invisible machine of white oppression is not what you fight when someone is about to destroy your house. You fight your district representative.

6. No joke, a major advocate of urban garden initiative is called, “The Council on Agriculture, Science and Technology”, or CAST. Lawl. Get it? CAST(e)? Get it? Okay. I’m not funny.

7. At least when a clerk with a GED is put in a fiscal/existential corner, he will either 1) convince himself he deserves his poverty for making  “wrong decisions in life”, 2) collect SSDI and fade away, or 3) learn a new skill that makes him valuable in any market that pays no matter how unbecoming it would be if he had a sociology degree.

8. I heard Game of Thrones is gaining popularity these days….

9. Don’t worry, Chad. It’s not welfare; it’s “Artisan’s Relief Income.”</span