That Dark Stretch of Time, the Light at the End of the Tunnel, and the Social Justice Mega-Post

It’s been a rather long few weeks. I’m hitting that stretch between Thanksgiving and Finals when things get pretty tough.

Once-distant projects stack up and become urgent, and one’s weekend task list rapidly becomes daunting. Classes pick up speed as professors try to cram more into the last few weeks of the semester, and finals seem to approach faster than ever. In my case, most of my classes are also incorporating a lengthy research project, which makes sinking my teeth into my workload even more complex and difficult. My unmotivated wish to just cuddle up and watch a movie is getting fierce.

What’s more, the nights grow longer, the mornings grow colder, and the days grow darker. More frequently than ever, I catch myself wishing to go home, steal a nap under a warm blanket, and maybe make some soup and toast. The gloomier the days, the more pronounced this urge becomes. I find myself demanding more and more of Chris’ attention, because his hugs just feel so damn good when I’m unmotivated and cold!

Fortunately, I think I’ll be able to make it through these next few weeks just fine. Having a quick break for Thanksgiving will feel absolutely delightful and will hopefully recharge my energy. Plus, cooking warm seasonal meals and getting plenty of sleep will help connect me to what my body wants – to curl up with the ancient home and hearth.

(Speaking of Thanksgiving and seasonal meals, we’ve decided on our Thanksgiving menu!

Pork and Sage Meatballs with Lemon-Thyme Sauce

Pumpkin, Peanut, and Ginger Creamy Soup

Both recipes are from The Kitchn (featured in my links to the right). I’m really excited to spend some time with the people I love, sharing warm bowls of soup around the table. Going to sleep cuddled up with my future husband, watching the flickering firelight of the woodstove, the scent of dry pine sparking in the embers, will be exactly what this freezing little student needs!)


As much as I’d love to end this blog post on such a delicious high note, I’ve got to be honest. Besides the crunch of November/December and the worsening cold/darkness of the season, another thing has got me running for a hug or an escape. Simply put, I’ve been dealing with a lot of social justice questions.

A lot of my peers have been involved with social justice for quite some time, and have developed strong coping methods for the moral questions that plague the activist. But given my relatively recent calling, I’ve been thrown into it headfirst, and so I’m still struggling with how to answer some of the nagging problems on my shoulders. I haven’t got any answers and I’m not sure how to write for my audience on this one, so I think I’ll just throw them out there:

1. How do we balance the crucial need for equal access to social services/rights/freedoms, with an equally important need for respecting and valuing racial/ethnic/religious/gender/sexual/etc identity?

This question is more complex than it sounds. On a superficial level, there should be no problem with everyone being able to pursue equal social assets while simultaneously enjoying a strong personal identity. But when you get into the actual mechanics of how this works, it becomes very hard.

All people should be able to attain high-paying jobs, even if they’re people of color, right? Obviously. But how do you go about making this work? Housing, education, employment practices, parenting, financial ability, location – all of these work against the average person of color, which sets up a system of disadvantage, which in turn inhibits people of color from obtaining jobs at the same level as whites. So, what do you do? Do you advocate ignoring their race, in order to guarantee them jobs? Sounds good, but then you’re eliminating their right to their own cultural or ethnic identity. Or do you utilize their race as leverage to help them? Sounds good, too, but then you’re playing favorites of a different kind; how do you turn this sort of policy into an organic respect for identity?

The problem gets worse when we think about the question of ignoring or valuing difference. To oversimplify the problem, I can use feminism as an example. Many feminists advocate ignoring the socially-constructed female gender, working to prove that women can do anything and everything that men can. While gender is indeed socially constructed, this approach neglects to consider the actual experiences of women as they differ from men’s – care, bodily comportment, discrimination, et cetera. In response, many other feminists advocate evaluating and exploring women’s experience, calling attention to the ways women live differently than men. While this approach is important because it values women as distinct from men and acknowledges their often-painful experiences, it also serves to differentiate women and potentially set them apart from other capabilities.

To get into this even deeper, we can go off on a whole conversation about “other capabilities” in the first place. What is normative? Culturally, we’ve got this unconscious idea that the white, male, Western, middle/upper class perspective is the normal one, from which all else flows. This sets in motion phrases like, “Get over it”, “I don’t see race”, “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps”, et cetera. It also sets in motion ideas like, “Knowledge is the same for everyone”, “We all live in the same world”, and so forth.

I could go on and on about this, but the questions just keep getting deeper and harder and harder to solve. Let’s go on to my next issue.

2. How do we deal with one’s authentic identity versus one’s perceived identity?

Technically, everyone should be able to self-identify. Race, ethnicity, religious tradition, gender, sexual orientation, ability – they’re all socially constructed. Therefore, every individual should have the right to practice/identify whatever they wish.

But here’s the problem: What happens when one’s authentic (i.e., self-determined) identity come into conflict with one’s perceived (i.e., culturally-determined) identity?

In some cases – transgender people, for example – I would advocate very strongly for one’s authentic and self-determined identity. I would support a person claiming their own right to their own gender and sexual identity, even to my dying day. But in other cases – such as U.S. Army Maj. Hasan, the shooter at Fort Hood several weeks ago – I would advocate very strongly for a culturally-determined identity. I would reject his (allegedly) Muslim identification and publicly renounce his affiliation with an otherwise beautiful, peace-loving faith.

Is this fair? Can I call the shots both ways? What if the roles are reversed? What if one’s gender identity is mixed up with psychological illness and a sexually exploited childhood (like in “Stage Beauty”)? What if one’s religious identity is strong and peaceful, but runs counter to traditional expectations (like in CNN’s “Emerging Jews” article)?

I don’t even know how to sink myself into this one.

3. Diversity/pluralism versus political correctness: How far is too far?

Given all the issues expressed in #1 and #2, it becomes obvious that we’re dealing with an ongoing public conversation. It never ends and happens every single day. How do I balance social equality, cultural difference, authentic identity, perceived identity (and all the related questions therein) with political correctness?

In other words, how do I participate in life? I’m having a hard time digging stuff I used to enjoy, because I’m constantly thinking about the systems of advantage that went into it. I’m having a hard time laughing with old friends, because I never think their insensitive jokes are funny anymore. How do I keep finding pleasure in things? How do I keep finding humor in life?

But on the flipside, I don’t want to be like Racialicious – they seem to write only about things that make them angry, and thanks to them, steampunk isn’t even fun anymore. I don’t want to be like the Hamline liberal elite, shoving words like “diversity”, “white privilege”, “social capital”, and “offensive” down people’s throats.


This is a glimpse of what I’m struggling with. This blog is getting pretty long, so I think I should wrap it up. On the whole, I guess I’m just ready for a break, ready to relax and recharge and approach my life anew.

Thanks for listening 🙂

To end on a high note, the cutest video ever:


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