Sunday, April 5, 2009

Academic Privilege

So one thing that seems to come up a lot lately both personally and in my conversations with others is the privilege associated with academic language. There are a lot of things I think about when I look at the stark contrast with the language I built in high school and the language I built after coming to Hampshire...

People at home don't use the same vocabulary that people around here use, even those who are enrolled in colleges, seem to be less a part of 'the academy' than I see around here. Which leaves me to examine the concept of academic elitism. Academic superiority. While the concepts that are analyzed in my home environment are no less complex than the ones I study at length in my classes and talk about amongst other students, they lack the vocabulary of superiority, and because of this seem far less complex.

Additionally, these issues come out of a place of necessity, it is far different to study queer oppression than it is to feel someone shove you into a locker and call you a dyke or rush to your girlfriends house in the middle of the night because she threatened to take her own life (which are experiences I had in high school).

Being at Hampshire, being enclosed in the bubble of Hampshire allows me to forget the reality of the things that I dealt with on a daily basis in High School and that my friends, who continue to live in the same area that I grew up in continue to deal with daily. Instead of confronting the issues that shaped me I am allowed to forget the very real ways that I was hurt and study the roots of why systems of oppression exist. This is not to say that the ability to study these systems is invaluable, in fact I feel that it has been of great personal reward, but none the less every time I go home, or talk to the people I know who still attend my former high school, or watch video footage of my high school, I confront the reality of life and the privilege of my academic status.

I also consider where this academic privilege comes from, it comes in many ways from a lack of necessity, my white skin allows me to ignore the oppression of others and internalize my own oppression. My parents academic knowledge is undeniably both a product of their own hard work and my own academic inclinations are indeed a product of their emphasis on my education, which translated into me in the form of access to educational tools that they did not have and that many of my peers did not have, including the ability to consider attending a school which costs $50,000 a year. College was never a question, but an answer. My parents academic pursuits were in many ways limited by finances and because of this they promised me a long time ago that mine never would be. For years, they went to every end possible, driving themselves into the ground, and limiting our mobility in order to secure the best education they could for my brother and me.

I learned early to transcend academic places and ‘street’ places within different social groups. There was always a disparity between the students at my private school and my friends from my neighborhood. Even when I was young I realized that there were communities I did not belong in, communities of class, which are forever inundated with academic privilege.

I think that one of the things I really like about video and most art forms, is that when using visual analysis, vocabulary is not important. I can express things visually that I cannot express in language because I still find myself on the outside of this academic language, and I believe that I can show other people concepts through video no matter what the language barrier may be between the two of us.

Recently I visited an installation that contained a portion with a significant amount of voice over that was composed using high academic language. As I sat there listening to the track repeat for the third time that day I realized how inaccessible this installation would be to most of the people I know outside of the Hampshire community. The self-perpetuated rhetoric of both Hampshire College and the academic world only serves to fuel itself. It is language and practice that serves to fuel the oppressive systemic institutions that create the normative discourses that my art, and this instillation strive to comprehend and take apart.

As for how I proceed it is hard to say with certainty. I do believe that it is necessary to learn the tools of the master but I also realize that these are tools of oppression, and tools of the spaces that I have not be allowed entrance to on the grounds of my class, sexuality, gender and societal status.

During the Arts and Activism workshop at the Civil Liberties and Public Policy conference at Hampshire College we began to enter this discussion. One of the participants mentioned that in order to avoid compromising ones art to enter the spaces of the academy, she finds it more effective to build her own spaces. But I am inclined to remember that while art can be a powerful way to carve out space for marginalized communities we have to bare in mind what the intentions of carving out that space are.

Do we carve out are space to simply live among those like us, or do we seek to reach out to others, outside of our community?

As marginalized artists with academic privilege we can choose to be with each other and create our own space.

Or we can attempt to enter the ranks of the un-marginalized through our art by compromising the message.

Or we can choose to speak back to the communities we came from, where we felt so alone so others won’t feel so alone.

But we must beware of the corruption of the revolution, the “marketing of revolution”…
It comes in the form of “be green” pins for sale in target and anti-authoritarian screen prints at Hot Topic, Obama posters with black power fists that you buy at FYE…. and many other forms.

What was the last political craze you remember? I can tell you that right now Obama, and the Prius occupy the majority of the glamorous hipster activist’s time. But once these messages reach the mainstream they are so diluted that there is often little point and they lack the passion that they started with.

So what is the point of my art? What is the point of yours?

My art is a conversation with my former self, an examination of my journey and an attempt to bring out the lessons and truths of my journey so that others can embrace theirs. I want to speak to the 13 year old me, I want to speak to my community, because I want to speak to the 13 year olds who feel more alone than anything because no one knows what to tell them about themselves and they sure as hell can’t figure it out, and when they try to read books they just don’t understand the language that those books are written in. (I mean damn, is that stuff even English?).

How do I reconcile my journey through academia and the ultimate product of finding my self on the other end?

How do I create art that is accessible to those without my language that would have been accessible to me when I needed it?

How do I use my languages as a tool of inclusion, instead of exclusion?


Anonymous said...

Sometimes I'm so psyched to understand the academic language that I might eventually forget to try to avoid it.

So thanks for this article; this is important stuff to think about. I'm looking for my own answers to these questions.

Helyx Horwitz said...

I think especially in your case it is interesting to think about the significance of language...
you blog in English, yet live in Argentina... that decision im sure was conscious and most definitely relates to how that enables you to enter the western academic world...