justice

I am learning that most of us hold different meanings for social justice, and that is why nothing gets better. Yesterday I overheard an educator/administrator explain that what “we” do in rhetoric and composition is prepare people for the professional world because, historically, rising up the ladder has been racist, sexist, and only open to privilege (classist). Therefore, those of us in rhet/comp have been working tirelessly and thanklessly often enough to help people gain access to the privileged spaces in careers.

My problem is that I do not view this as social justice. It neither works for everyone, nor does it challenge the hierarchies in place that keep privilege alive and well.

I have to face it: I am bad at capitalism.

Now this statement is something my lover and partner has said to me over the last 2 years about himself. I am coming to realize that I, too, feel the same. But for my own reasons.

My reasons are completely ideological—and, in the spirit of feminism, personal. Growing up, I watched my dad lose everything in pursuit of the American dream because of financial ruin (thanks to the government), and then, after a decade of destitution, instantaneously rise to riches thanks to a legal settlement that brought him “social justice.”

My mother, on the other hand, worked as a nurse until an accident made her incapable of working. To support her two children, she chose to make love to meth cookers, turning our house into a lab and illegal drug ring. Good times. Fun times. Poverty. Police raids. Homelessness.

After my mother quit speed cold turkey when I was 17, she re-educated herself and became a caretaker for the elderly. I watched a woman who had ruined my childhood due to “social justice” reform herself into a person who woke up every morning happy and in love with her job because she made people’s lives better. Justice justice.

This teaches me that I am bad at capitalism. I do not wake up every day in love with my job. I do not believe that preparing people to do well in capitalism is social justice. I am living a lie where I am teaching lies. And I cannot wake from this because this is reality.

Some part of me knew this going in, coming here. As I travelled halfway across the country in a U-Haul for a job that would finally give me “social justice” in the way of a comfortable, secure financial job, my internal ability to function slowly collapsed.

These last few weeks have been some of the lowest in my life. My ptsd has returned making it difficult for me to process the stress of living these lies for capitalist security. I began taking it out on my brother, my son, and my lover. Luckily, my brother understands my pain and knew I was not myself. He holds no grudges. I made amends with my son in the best of ways; we are working hard at trying to figure out what it means to be a family here in a place neither one of us wants to be. My lover? Yep, question marks.

I worked so hard for this place in my life. I sacrificed eating food, healthcare, and sanity to arrive at this career destination. And I hate myself for it. All the money I could need to live, and I am lying to people to get it.

And I am losing people.

My friends are far away. Texts with my best friend only hurt both of us because the absence is all there is. I see my mentors from grad school in a new light: how they supported me, and know what this world really is. I yearn for a short walk to their offices for a healthy, invigorating chat—a reminder why I am doing this rhet/comp thing.

The truth is that I don’t know anymore. I don’t know if I can work in academia by violating my ethical constitution. I don’t know if I can work any job in this world for its paycheck. I don’t know if I can sleep at night without someone who will understand that this is hurting me, and that I am trying to find a way to be okay with it.

I am trying. So hard.

That is the one thing with me, though. I will never stop trying and I will never stop finding a way to make a place in this world for people who aren’t good at capitalism. I’d love it if you joined me.

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A secret always makes you tremble. ~ Derrida

I write to you today about the Shibboleth. For many of you, this might be a term representative of a secret—a whisper hinting toward the unknown. Others might know the way this word signifies a keeping out—a way to prevent a group of people (or a person) from affiliating with another.

The shibboleth is a reminder of our humanity. It takes from us everything sacred and unspeakable, and reaffirms itself in the other. Without getting too abstract and philosophically convoluted, I’ll give you a reference:

Herein lies what Derrida calls a secret that is meta-rhetorical (Gift of Death, 77). Hanks’s character must use a shared, yet secret language to connect himself to his friend when expected identity-markers have gone. Without this shibboleth, Josh would have suffered unduly. Without this shibboleth, we would have no movie. The secret keeps the narrative alive.

It can be important to remember that Derrida asks us, “How would you justify your presence here speaking one particular language, rather than there speaking to others in another language? And yet we also do our duty by behaving thus” (71).

We do, don’t we? Secrets we keep. Secrets we tell. Secrets that hold us together. Secrets that drive us apart.

When we set out to determine a person’s affiliation in our group by way of the shibboleth, we envelope ourselves in a secret so mysterious, we do not even know why it matters. We only know that it does.

Here someone can die by “not knowing the code.” This situation forces us to realize that language is more than words. It is dress, knowledge of cultural references, race, ethnicity, gender, and social attachments.

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“The silhouette of a content haunts this response” (75).

The shibboleth of the angry mob of women who judge me for not wearing a wedding band. The hungry eyes of the men who think that means I am unowned property awaiting a price. The prize of my heart locked in a cavern.

“Speaking in order not to say anything or to say something other than what one thinks, speaking in such a way as to intrigue, disconcert, question, or have someone or something else speak (the law, the lawyer), means speaking ironically” (76).

When we let someone else speak for us—speak on our behalf—irony takes the form of the secret. It points to the hush without a visual of the finger. The shibboleth is in the transference of speech, but the meaning always lies connected between those two people. The “lawyer” will only be a third party holding power, but owning no meaning.

Before I go, I want to recall a series of tweets @x7o wrote yesterday. He talked of courage and its meaning. And it felt all too familiar to me. The secret of sacrifice; the shibboleth of courage.

“But besides that, mustn’t responsibility always be expressed in a language that is foreign to what the community can already hear or understand only too well? ‘So he does not speak an untruth but neither does he say anything, for he is speaking in a strange tongue’ ([Kierkegaard] 119)” (74).

Rather than hating, or judging, or leaving someone to wander alone for speaking in a strange tongue, it is, perhaps, more moving to remember that a person speaks with a hope of being understood. A person speaks, and to speak is courageous.

And it hurts everyone when we don’t listen.