Winter Musings


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[neoliberalism // february 5, 2018 + february 28, 2018]

Ever since I first learned about neoliberalism, I instinctively (for lack of a better word) correlated it to capitalism. There exist plenty of parallels between capitalism and neoliberalism, both direct and underlying.

Neoliberalism, defined loosely by author Wendy Brown, is the “ ‘economization’ of political life and of other heretofore noneconomic spheres and activities.” In other words, neoliberal ideology upholds the privatization of public structure by framing political concepts, but also personal existence, within a relentless equation of profit.

I often think about private prisons and privatized education – specifically charter schools – as prime examples of neoliberalism. I remember my teacher Mr. Talarico, who led a discussion about neoliberalism in class, asking a series of questions that related freedom with neoliberalism: Who wins under neoliberalism? What does freedom look like in neoliberalism? Who does neoliberalism privilege and dispose of?

After all, as our structures become privatized, personal and societal existence becomes centered around profit or deficit, winning or losing. All throughout the lesson, I was puzzled by that paradigm; “Who wins?” is a bizarre question to ask about life.

I was also stuck on the neo in neoliberalism. Hasn’t capitalism, which has existed since the formation of this country, always been predicated around “who wins?” I realize, though, that neoliberalism is an adaptation of capitalism – a reworking, I venture to say – that polarizes capitalist characteristics.

American capitalism, or at least my understanding of American capitalism, revolves around the idea that every American has the same opportunity to climb a proverbial ladder. But, doesn’t the mere existence of that ladder indicate that some will scramble to the top and some will be sent spiraling down the rungs? Neoliberalism takes that scene and maps it onto people, conflating ones’ personhood with the material mechanics of profit. And, all too often but undoubtedly by design, the proverbial ladder and the neoliberal question of “who wins?” become vividly tangible when analyzing in relation to natural disasters.* As Mr. Talarico talked about how neoliberalism emphasized human capital and reduced people to property, I cautiously wondered which was crueler: that someone could win at a natural disaster, or that someone could lose to one?

* I turn to natural disasters because this neoliberalism lesson took place in a class I took this winter called “The Storm,” which focuses on the various societal dynamics of natural disasters in America and around the world.

[radical classes // february 6, 2018]

In high school, during history classes and in elective classes, we should be learning about radicality. We only learn about radicals and revolutionaries when they uphold our power structure. I’ve been in high school for almost four full years now, yet I feel like my only images of revolution and radicalism has been either of white revolutions (American revolution, French revolution, etc.) or of demonized representations of subversive revolutionaries.

I’m not gonna be naive — it makes sense why we don’t truly learn about radicalism in American schools. I’m not surprised at all that America doesn’t teach us about radicality. Would it really be a system of power if it introduced youth to examples of resistance?

Still, though, that reality doesn’t stop me from wondering and wishing. Why don’t we learn about subversive radicalism — radicalism aimed against the power structure? Why do I have to learn about these figures on my own?

As a result of this educational situation, we grow up predisposed to:
– Blindly dismiss radical politics,
– Drastically misunderstand radical politics,
– Demonize, ostracize, and stratify our relationship to radicality.

All of these things work together, and they all uphold — and work in favor of — our current power structure. It is unfortunate that, as a result, many of my peers view radicalism and revolution as abhorrent and ignore them as such, even as the same people struggle to merely explain the very concepts they have been taught to despise. Because we never learn fully about radicalism and revolutionary politics, we grow up conditioned to stigmatize anti-capitalist thought, anti-prison thought, anti-military thought, anti-oppressive thought. Without even understanding the components of socialism or communism or prison abolition, we internalize the idea that those strains of thought are ridiculous and impractical. But, we’ve been taught so little about these concepts — and shown so few examples — that we can barely explain what they mean. Yet, we blindly believe they’re inadequate.

We need accessible education about radicalism and revolution.

A concept: I’m challenging myself to work with other black and brown students and create something. We should have a discussion & reading club, where each week we engage with text from a radical black or brown activist and discuss.

[black music //  february 7, 2018]

Today in my African-American Literature class, one of my classmates said something resonated with me instantly — mainly because of its simplicity.

We were using Ralph Ellison’s critique of Amiri Baraka’s “Blues People” to talk about the composition of Black American music: Where it originates from, what it contains, who it is for, why it is made. As a class, we interrogated this idea of Black music, exploring whether the music is inherently political and how it may reflect the (oppressive) societal location of Black people in America. In other words, what is Black music?

Matter of expression born of repression,” my classmate said. And, she was really accurate. Black people in America exist in an oppressed location within society, so Black music can be viewed as expression created from that location. Because of that fixed reality, black expression (almost inherently) reflects the oppressive location in society, yet it’s also interconnected to that location.

I was intrigued by that association. Can black music be de-politicized? What if a black artist is “colorblind” or reluctant to talk about race in their music?

How does this relate (or compare, possibly) to the male gaze’s impact on women? I especially think about this in relation to women rappers, who’s music — because of the societal pressures of capitalism and the patriarchal male gaze — can always be objectified, exploited, and contorted by society, regardless of the rapper’s initial attempt.