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Towards Day 12 (Mon, Mar. 3): "The Danger of a Single Story"

Anne Dalke's picture

I. Coursekeeping
* I've responded to your second set of papers on-line;
after break, i'll ask each of you to read several others,
which we'll discuss in small groups in class --
but this week we're going to do some other stuff!

* Tomorrow @ 4, in the Ely Room @ Wyndham
, there will be a talk by Jonathan Miller,
an investigative reporter and director of Homelands Productions (including Food for 9 Billion)--
aware of this mostly because of scheduling Dorceta's visit around this talk (!), but it looks
like a great opportunity to learn about how to present env'l issues to a huge public audience.

Our own special guest, Dorceta Taylor, will (hopefully!) be arriving on campus soon
(posters to Agatha, Jenna to distribute...)
your instructors are having supper with her tonight,
to plan the workshops we'll be holding in Jody's and my classes on Wednesday.
In preparation, please read her 20-pp. essay, The Evolution of Environmental Justice
Activism, Research, and Scholarship (2011).
  Once we've met w/ her, I may write and
ask you to do a little more targeted prep for talking w/ her...

Her article is a pretty amazing weaving-together of social justice and environmental concern:
she reviews contemporary activism and scholarship on toxic food consumption,
occupational safety, land use, corporate behavior, sustainability, climate justice, community
organizing, diversity views and international dimensions of env'l justice.

What was most striking to me, however, was the way she reorganized some of the
categories I have for thinking about history. For example, she presents
Harriet Tubman as a leading environmental justice activist of her time
(who calmed her fears, before a raid, by spending the night in the woods, could read nature's signals--
predict the weather, imitate bird calls, interpret the river currents,and all the signs "north");
Dorceta also re-reads WEBDuBois' 1899 study of The Philadelphia Negro,
well known as a sociological text, as "one of the earliest systematic environmental justice studies,"
examining the conditions where a Black community "lives, works, and plays,"
how much worse their health, living and employment conditions were, than for White slum dwellers.
I think she is going to be a great resource for us!

After meeting w/ our Ed and Engl classes on Wed. afternoon,
Dorceta will be giving a public talk on "Race, Class, Gender and the Environment:
The Role of Scholarship and Activism
," in Dalton 300 @4:30.
We expect you to attend;
I know Kelsey has rugby, Jessica & aphorisnt track practice, so will have to miss it--
here is the handout of resources that we'll distribute @ the talk;
if anyone else has an unavoidable commitment, you should let me know.

Dorceta is having supper after the talk with faculty and staff
interested in issues of sustainability on campus;
There is room for a couple of students....
let me know if you would like to join us?

Questions about any of this?

II. I asked you to read/view a range of things for class today,
and to post a response on-line.
The first of these was the profile of Waterfront South,
which was one of your week one assignments for David
(before you go...!
can you tell/remind us/explain to Jody and me

how you were using it/what you all did w/ it?)

That was part of a comparison with a wealthier community
(West Nottingham Township, where David lives);
today I wanted us to compare several "profiles" of a single site.

Our topic today is "the danger of a single story"--

and the open question is the possibility of creating a (more?) accurate one.

I want us to think/talk together about
how does the profile differs from/resemble the Rolling Stone article, Apocalypse, New Jersey;
how well does either one reflects your own experiences in Camden;
if you were going to write a letter (as Ari did), what would you say:
how responsibly write "the" story of Camden?

What context does the title evoke?
Cf. Apocalypse Now--> Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 movie, Vietnam-era adaptation of
Joseph Conrad's 1899 novella, "Heart of Darkness"-->
Chinua Achebe's 1977 essay, An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's "Heart of Darkness"
(on his narrator Marlowe, enlightened "witness of truth")

Your postings reflected this context:
aphorisnt evoked the film in her title:
I hear and see a fierce tenacity in the fighting spirit
of each Camdenite...I simply cannot believe that Camden is the city Taibbi makes it out to be.

"If Camden was overseas, we'd have sent troops and foreign aid”….Matt Taibbi has no right to talk about Camden the way he does….he gives Camden no hope, he gives its people, its families and children no respect.

Lisa: I was also taken aback….Taibbi painted an extremely dark and negative picture of Camden…"an un-fantasy Island of extreme poverty and violence”…. Taibbi continually others Camden, comparing its violence and crime rates to…Somalia, Honduras, and Iraq….

Jenna: I was somewhat shocked when I read Apocalypse, New Jersey…I don’t see the violence….Taibbi made Camden seem like a terrifying community to go to....

Sophia: How can the home of the CfET and the official "most dangerous place in America" be the same city?...I feel defensive of a city that I barely know…. the determination of the people we met to change their city's trajectory in a positive direction. … "No jobs, no hope". How does this single story help anyone?

Simona: how hopeful, joyful, and warm the folks in Camden were the other day. But this article portrayed
nothing but hopelessness, anger, and violence. Such contradictory impressions…a hard balance to find….
if you’re only ever told you are a dangerous person and you live in a dangerous hopeless place, will you
ever grow up feeling like you can achieve? Will the kids we worked with the other day get caught
in this system of oppression?

This was a keynote/question for many of you:
what is the effect of such a story on the people whose lives are described here?

And what to do with this sense of contradiction?

We've read memoirs (bell hooks, eli clare): folks telling their own stories;
and fictional texts (Ursula LeGuin, Ruth Ozeki): folks "making up" stories.
But what about the challenge of telling another's story?
Ethnographic, sociological, economic, journalistic reports?
What are the rationales for writing in this way?
What are the guidelines for doing this responsibly?
Is it possible to do it @ all?

I and Sara are reading Rena Fraden's Imaging Medea: Rhodessa
Jones and
Theater for Incarcerated Women, which says,
"I took time to figure out how to write in my own voice about the voices of others.
There is a delicate balance between critical distance and passionate advocacy,
as there is between writing of and about without wanting to write for or instead of someone else..."

A couple of you spoke to this challenge:

: It's not my place, not my right, to tell a story about a place I don't know….
Ari's letter….reads like a white savior complex mentality in a way that makes me very
uncomfortable…she's just providing another single story that fails to incorporate the
voices and lived experiences of Camden residents. 

I’ve grown to be afraid of strong language, strong opinions, and strong, passionate declarations….the sensationalist writing style that began “Apocalypse, New Jersey”… But I’m also wary of jumping immediately to…dismissing everything this article stated…because my very limited, single story of my experience in Camden didn’t reflect what I read here….there is never a whole, full story….I’m also…scared of announcing my own optimism...I have absolutely no no way of knowing the extent to which it may be justified…in my visits and personal interactions with the select few residents of Camden, I didn't sense any feelings of defeat....I'm speaking with the fear of having an angled voice and of hearing angled voices.…

I have a question. If there exists a problem, but no body is bothered or no body claims there is a problem, does the problem still exist? And if there is no problem, but every body claims to be affected by a problem, does an actual problem exist?


III. let me know, before you go, re: dinner w/ Dorceta....?