Notes and musings
Let's start with String Theory, a somewhat unusual topic of interest for an anti-rape advocate. But I found it compelling while watching PBS late one night and contemplating the state of the world. I have always been drawn to physics in much the same way I am drawn to sociology. They both appeal to my sense of making order or at least gaining understanding of the world and or people that inhabit it.
String Theory is sometimes called the Theory of Everything. According to Brian Greene, Physicist and author of The Elegant Universe the basic premise of string theory goes something like this
(In my words)
Every particle, everything, every small piece of matter no matter how different they seem can be reduced to a string. Furthermore every theory no matter how contradictory might be able to be reconciled through the application of string theory, basically a theory to end all theories.
(In his words)
The fundamental particles of the universe that physicists have identified - electrons, neutrinos, quarks, and so on - are the "letters" of all matter. Just like their linguistic counterparts, they appear to have no further internal substructure. String theory proclaims otherwise. According to string theory, if we could examine these particles with even greater precision- a precision many orders of magnitude beyond our present technological capacity - we would find that each is not point like but instead consists of a tiny, one-dimensional loop. Like an infinitely thin rubber band, each particle contains a vibrating, oscillating, dancing filament that physicists have named a string.
For the first time in the history of physics we therefore have a framework with the capacity to explain every fundamental feature upon which the universe is constructed. For this reason string theory is sometimes described as possibly being the "theory of everything" (T.O.E.) or the "ultimate" or "final" theory. These grandiose descriptive terms are meant to signify the deepest possible theory of physics - a theory that underlies all others, one that does not require or even allow for a deeper explanatory base. 1
Okay... so what on earth could that have to do with Herman Cain?
As the sexual harassment scandal has unfolded, the question of race has arisen, as it should. Main stream pundits, politicians and advocates have been very cautious in exploring the role of racism in public perception. I say main stream because the far right has been fearless in resurrecting Herman Cain as a modern day Clarence Thomas and declaring them both victims of modern day lynching. Thomas' original statement. "A)s a black American, it is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves, to do for themselves, to have different ideas, and it is a message that unless you kowtow to an old order, this is what will happen to you. You will be lynched, destroyed, caricatured by a committee of the U.S. Senate rather than hung from a tree"2 When I hear the claims it sort of strikes me as David Duke asking us all to join hands and sing Kumbaya.
So is it possible to hold a political theory that allows all of the following to be true
- Herman Cain has exercised power inappropriately(abuse) over women though sexual harassment
- Herman Cain continues to make statements that are at the least sexist, if not misogynistic
- Racism and/or race is a component of how people view his behavior
- Racism and or race play a part in the collective dialogue around the issue.
In America race, gender, sexual orientation, class, immigration status, religion, ethnicities, disability status (list not all inclusive) make up a complex system of oppression. They never act alone. They are a complex concert. The effect on any one of us at any given time is based on series of complex equations based on agent and target status. Often when an issue such as Herman Cain sexual harassment comes to light, we are unable to provide simplistic theory that says both that Herman Cain is a target of oppression and an agent, that one thing does not negate the other. Anti-oppression theory does allow us to hold those two truths simultaneously but it awful for sound bites and dinner table debates.
What we need then is a theory of everything, a socio-political "string theory" that provides and simple and elegant answer that proves what common sense tell us, Herman Cain's (as well as Clarence Thomas') behavior is abusive and some of the nuances in the political coverage are racist... and some are not.
1 http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/physics/theory-of-everything.html downloaded 11/11/2011 11:30 PM
2 http://www.usnews.com/opinion/articles/2011/11/03/are-the-herman-cain-clarence-thomas-comparisons-fair downloaded 11/11/2011 11:30 PM
Currently, my clients include two community based programs. Both of these programs have a thirty year track history in their communities, both of them received grants to implement culturally specific sexual assault services and both of them ended up seeking my services after attempting to collaborate with a rape crisis center.
In both cases the collaboration went well as long as the services proposed and the decisions were largely directed by the rape crisis center
In both cases, the critique given by the rape crisis center was that the services proposed were not best practice
In both cases the collaboration dissolved when the community based program proposed services that were not "traditional"
In both cases, the rape crisis center declined to continue the collaboration when the community based organization decided to go forward in implementation of the strategy.
Looking at the proposed strategies, it is true they may not meet the textbook definition of best practice, but they were evidence informed. One of the reasons culturally specific funding was developed was to define what is best practice (evidence based and/or evidence informed) in historically marginalized communities. These community based organizaitons were seeking to implement strategies that were directly in line with the goal of the grant program.
The rape crisis centers were struggling.
They were struggling with the idea that culturally specific strategies would not look the same as mainstream, just dropped into a CBO.
They were struggling with the fact that someone other than a rape crisis center could decide what was programmatically appropriate.
They were struggling with how to be an "allied" organization around the issue of sexual violence.
Ultimately, in these two cases I think the rape crisis centers dropped the ball. I think they missed an opportunity to share power authentically, to work in true collaboration with communities of color, to expand the repertoire of best practice and to create innovate programs, My hope is that these two unsuccessful collaborations are an anomaly, that the majority of the rape crisis centers and community-based organizations engaged in the creation of culturally specific services are experiencing this collaboration as mutually beneficial, successful and ultimately empowering.
I grew up in south central LA (Watts) in the late sixties/early seventies. Watts at that time was a community infused with principles of community and social change, but fairly devoid of structured social programs. I have memories of sitting being a child sitting on the kitchen floor playing as the "grown folks" sat around the kitchen table discussing life, the neighborhood, the church and everything relevant to their daily existence.
At that table people took ownership of the problems within in their community and looked for solutions and resources to address them, it was an organic community process. This image came to mind when today Aimee from Close to Home http://www.c2home.org/ shared how "kitchen table leaders are critical in community centered work to prevent sexual and domestic violence in the PreventConnnect web conference today.
I was again reminded that the best resource in prevention work is people,
not even funding,
but a committed group of people taking ownership and working toward a solution.
...........................and good food doesn't hurt either