504

This is a collection of essays and blog entries written for the MSW course 504: "Diversity and Social Justice" at the University of Michigan, fall of 2017.

The double edged sword of social media... we federate or we fail.

Do you remember what it was like before the internet?  If you’re reading this, I bet that there’s a pretty good chance that you don’t, and I may as well be asking, "Do you remember a Land Before Time?" I remeber a time before the internet, I remember when planning a night out with friends was a project in and of itself which required a certain level of finesse and commitment, rather than the lazy pushing of a couple of buttons. I remember a time when valuable information was available at the library, or from authoritative experts, and not just in your pocket at all times, and when media was something that you had to schedule in, not something that you had to schedule time away from. I remember when connecting to people meant that you had to know about them in advance, not just of them, and when being unplugged was the daily norm; when I left my home, I was only available to my immediate environment and peers. It was a different way of living. Now, you only hear about people living like this as some sort of bizarre social experiment, or as some strange and exotic thing.

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Identity as opression / Truth as liberation

 

Since entering the MSW program at the University of Michigan, it has become abundantly apparent that “identity” has taken stage and is the official University of Michigan School of Social Work buzzword. Students are awash with discussions and assertions regarding the need for sensitivity and awareness of intersectionality of identities, identity based oppression, identity based philanthropy, identity based safe spaces, and privileged identities, just to get started. Outside of the school as well, in the greater cultural discourse, we are seeing a surge in identity politics with the example of the Black Lives Matter movement and the alt-right’s white nationalism taking center stage; there are identity based immigration policies, the rise of populism and the political prominence of religious identity, sexual identity, and the political hackery of party based identity clinging that seems to just take bundles of these identities and create a super meta-identity out of them.

All of these phenomena certainly deserve their time in the spotlight, and need to be respected and reflected upon by all of us, not only for the social utility that an awareness and competence in these phenomena represent, but for the personally liberating insights which lay hidden within the intricacies of their reflective scope. This being the case, I cannot help but feel as if there is something lacking in this charged and emotionally raw discourse. I see all of this discussion about identity relative oppression as critical, but also as based on some pretty profound assumptions, and subsiding on some rather robust blinders, of course, this is always easiest to see when looking across the debate stage at an opponent, and difficult to see when looking inward. Blinder based dialogue, is it worth asking, is this happening?

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Stolen Generations: Violence of Cultural Conditioning

 

Reacting to "Rabbit Proof Fence"

 

Rabbit Proof Fence, a 2002 film based on actual events about the Stolen Generations of Aboriginal Australian "half-caste", or mixed race children, recounts the story of Molly Craig, Daisy Craig Kadibill, and Gracie Fields as they escape a cultural indoctrination camp and make their way back home, on foot, across a vast 1200 mile expanse. All the while they make their trek, this trio of young girls are being chased down by a skillful Aboriginal tracker, familiar with the native land, and this threat is compounded as the girls are also being simultaneously outpaced by the technology of the colonial forces that are hunting them down for their own sense of sanctimonious pride. As a true story, being recounted by the surviving Molly Craig, this story might punch the viewer in the gut, bringing into sharp focus the uncomfortable truth of violent cultural indoctrination, of young children being torn from their homes and families, of young girls being deliberately raped in order to weaken the Aboriginal bloodline and produce generations of ever lighter skin, which naturally indicates greater intelligence, according to the logic of the time, of children being forced to neglect their native tongue and beliefs, being forced to assimilate into a culture that is not their own, and of people being forced to enforce this indoctrination from within, living under threat and coercion. This is one of those "test your humanity" films, if you don't feel anything, you might consider some introspection.

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Final Project Proposal

After a careful review of the available options, and spending some time reflecting on class content thus far, I have found myself attracted to the digital story telling option for the final project. I see this as a natural extension of the opening assignment of the course, the Mo’olelo, but with the added opportunity to reflect on how I might see my own story in the light of course content. I feel as if this will foster a nice sense of continuity for the semester, and a provide a 360 degree view of the course.

The journey through my undergraduate Social Work education and training was a highly reflective exercise, as every semester presented not only opportunities to learn new content, theories, practice methods and skills, but also offered along the way insights into the social realities that I live, and have been personally conditioned by. Considering this, it might be easy to see how “yet another reflective assignment” may be a bit redundant, however, it seems apparent to me that these are not so common times that we are living. The larger events that have overshadowed all of our lives politically and socially as a nation, not only over the last few years, but even within these last few months here on campus, have most certainly left an indelible impression, for better or worse, upon the minds and hearts of us all, both personally and collectively. This project, therefore, might serve well as an opportunity to scrutinize my own lens of perception, and the attitudes and assumptions that inform it as a white male, and to hold them up to the rigor of critical analysis, yet again, and at this most interesting time in history.

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All Pervasive Conditioning: Cultural Assimilation and the Suffocation of Individuality

Culture is the context within which all human interconnectedness occurs, and the intersections of those interconnections is where we find all meaningfulness and all sense of identity. Identity is relational, and relationships necessarily happen within a cultural context; blurred lines delineate the border between the cultural context within which the relationships that shape identity occur, and where those relationships are the very culture within which identity is formed. Relational cultural context, and the actual intersections of relational being are the source of the very notion of identity, which itself needs culture like lungs require air.

Language is the vessel of culture, and culture is the context of identity, so it follows that language informs identity at a very fundamental level.

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Innate Aversion and Blind Oppression: A Buddhist approach to identity based suffering

"An injustice to one is a menace to all,"  - Montesquieu

 

This powerful quote captures a certain essence of interdependence, something almost elusive to define. It's elusive to define because it is not only a certain sort of immediate and intimate sense of a common, shared humanity that one experiences only on a felt level, almost something spiritual and transcendent, but is simultaneously also a sense of something rather grounded, an interwoven reality of causality which binds us all together like shared stakeholders in a global economy or corporation. As humanity trudges along its evolutionary journey throughout the centuries, we learn how to contend with this notion of interdependence, while confined by the notions of immediate satisfaction and self preservation.

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Mo’olelo

“We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.”  - Mahatma Gandhi

 

Our stories certainly describe the world in which we have traveled, in which we have lived and by which we have been shaped. Our stories inform us the ways in which we have been conditioned, and perhaps describe the ways in which we have transcended those conditions. These conditions and conditionings describe the outlines, are the contours and edges of our identities, both allowing us the scaffolding on which to construct meaningful lives, and also confining us to the parameters of that scaffolding. As we find the pathways of our lives' interwoven with one another, we enrich and enliven that contextual scaffolding, and so sharing stories has always been a meaningful and significant act to me. Being intentional in this endeavor, building new structures and scaffolding that I know are destined to be transcended, I hope to add to the context of the world, some richness to its texture, and not just blindly live out the momentum of my experience, merely coming and going with the wind.

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