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Defamation: A Critique on Race, Class, and Gender in the U.S.

Defamation captivated the audience at Notre Dame’s Snite Museum of Art through the cast’s powerful performance, and Todd Logan’s sharp critique of the United States justice system.

The play is a courtroom drama in which the plaintiff, Ms. Wade, is suing the defendant, Mr. Golden, for defamation.  In the courtroom, Ms. Wade is claiming that Mr. Golden told a common business associate that she stole his watch so that Ms. Wade would lose the business of that common associate.  In the play, the audience acts as the jury, and it is up to them to determine if (1) the claim was a false statement, and if (2) the claim led to the bankruptcy of Ms. Wade’s business.

As objective as this case may appear, the playwright, Todd Logan, challenges the audience by having the lawyers argue that class, race, and gender are legitimate factors in how the jury should decide the case.  Ms. Wade is a middle-class black woman that worked her way up from a working-class background.  Mr. Golden is an upper-class white businessman from the North Shore, an exclusive neighborhood in New York City.  The case degenerates from the “he said she said” narrative when the audience is forced to ask questions such as “Did Mr. Goldman make the accusation of thievery because of Ms. Wade’s race?” or “Did Ms. Wade take the watch to alleviate the economic hardships she was facing during the recession?”  The playwright reaches an even more profound level when audience members are forced to ask the introspective question, “Do I believe Ms. Wade stole the watch, and would I think the same thing if she were white?”

This play is a powerful critique of the justice system, and of U.S. society as a whole, because it takes the covert, tacit assumptions about race, class, and gender, and makes them overt points of debate during the course of the trial.  The courtroom is supposed to be a place in which these distinctions make no difference in determining a defendant’s guilt or innocence, yet ironically they were the main points of contention throughout the mock trial.  In the end, the jury voted to compensate Ms. Wade for the loss of her business.  The underdog triumphed in what could be considered a happy ending.

The course of events in Defamation forces the audience to ponder the times in which the inclusion of race, class, and gender has led to the infringement of rights.  The law can only be as effective as the society in which it operates, and as long as the factors of race, class, and gender create unequal power dynamics in daily life, they will also adversely affect the impartiality of the justice system.  However, the fact that Ms. Wade was triumphant in her defamation case at Notre Dame offers hope that change is possible, and that society has the capability of growing beyond the inequalities that currently limit it.

Staff Writer, Christopher Quiroz

christopher_quirozChristopher Quiroz is a graduate student pursuing his PhD at the University of Notre Dame.  He is a first generation American that was raised in a predominately Latino neighborhood in San Diego.  He is interested in racial inequality and the form that it takes in contemporary society.

Race and Recruiting

A few weeks ago, I experienced a series of racial incidents that I think collectively were the worst I have ever faced during my time at Notre Dame.

The first occurred two days before the full-time career fair at an event that showcased several firms of a particular industry.  I went up to a representative of the company and introduced myself.  It turns out he was a director of the company.  He said a phrase in Chinese that translates to, “you are from Shanghai?” As he was a middle-aged white male, I found it interesting that he spoke Chinese, so I asked him how he knew Chinese.  After he explained that he had worked in China before, I proceeded to explain to him that my parents were from Shanghai but I was born in America.  At first he seemed caught off guard by this, but quickly understood.  Then he told me, “but that’s probably for the better”. Confused, I asked what he meant by this, and he told me about how he thought America’s education system was better, in part because China’s system created “robots.”

The second incident happened two days later at the full-time career fair, and with the same company.  I walked up to recruiters’ table and said that I had a question about the position that they were offering.  The position had to do with the federal government. (I am trying not give too much away, but it was a position where I would need security clearance).  I do not remember the exact wording of what the lady said, but in essence she told me, “Oh! I’m sorry, even if we provide support for your work visa, you won’t be able to work in that position.” Her comment showed that she also thought that I was an international student. Shocked by what I heard, I clarified to her that I was born in America, and then promptly left the fair.

Being a minority student in the business world has always presented its challenges. Recruiting is a game of first impressions—those who give great ones can be really successful.  A week before an interview or a career fair, I always question whether I should cut my hair or not.  Longer hair looks less professional, while shorter hair means I look more stereotypically “Asian”.  Then after I put on my suit and tie, I wonder if I should wear my glasses.  Wearing glasses reinforces the “Asian” stereotype again, while not wearing glasses means having shady vision.  These seemingly simple issues are not unique to Asians; the issue of black hairstyles and the corporate world is decades old. In addition to that, a friend of mine who is black told me that she sometimes wears glasses instead of contacts to give a “smarter look” to combat black stereotypes.

I don’t ask myself these questions out of made up delusions. It is truly a wonder how often people confuse minorities with one another.  I’ve seen it in all forms. Peers and colleagues say things like “you Asians look the same,” and professors are unable to distinguish me from other Asian students.  In addition, the students who have made these mistakes are sometimes the same people who get hired by these top companies, so I have no choice but to be cautious of my every move. I don’t have room to fail.

When I experienced the incidents I described, I was surprised and hurt, but not shocked.  It not only reaffirmed how I felt about recruiting events, but also took it a step further.  The director who said that it was better that I was American only told me that after he realized I wasn’t an immigrant.  If I hadn’t told him that I was American, would he have continued to perceive me as a robot?—thus interpreting my actions as either supporting or contradicting that stereotype? How does he treat Chinese students who are immigrants? This experience showed me how possible it was that I could receive differential treatment from recruiters. With this coming from a director at a company and their head recruiter—two people who could easily determine my future career opportunities—this experience hurt and disappointed me deeply.

I continue to wonder what these firms mean when they say they emphasize diversity and inclusion.  I can’t help but cringe when I look at company websites, and I see that nearly all the managing partners and directors are white males.  When I go to the career fair, I see tokened diversity at these companies, surrounded by white male managers and mostly female HR recruiters. I have yet to be interviewed by a person of color, despite going through already two years of business interviews.

If diversity was truly an emphasis, then how could something like this happen:

Furthermore, regarding firms that do appear sincere about their commitment to diversity and inclusion, I wonder if in some instances they might be intimidated by too much diversity.  When I interview with firms, there are times when I can’t help but feel that being an Africana Studies major and being in mostly cultural clubs and organizations is too much diversity for employers.  In a recent discussion with a friend who is Asian, he talked about how he puts less emphasis on his activity in Asian American Association on campus when meeting perspective employers, because he fears that companies will either be unimpressed or consider him a separatist for being an officer of only Asian clubs.  This is despite the fact that his experience likely matches or exceeds those who choose to become leaders of predominately white clubs.  How do they expect to attract minority students if they cannot accept the minority experience at predominately white institutions?

At networking events, you are supposed to show employers that you would be great to work with by letting them get to know you personally, and vice versa.  How will company representatives react when they ask me if I have football tickets, and I say I didn’t buy them this year?  Will they understand that I didn’t buy tickets because I’ve felt so marginalized by the mainstream Notre Dame culture that I’ve tried to remove myself from it? Or will my perceived lack of interest in school sports reinforce their idea of me as a stereotypical glasses-wearing Asian nerd—and thus not what they are looking for?

Maybe I was the one who made the mistakes at the career fair.  Maybe I shouldn’t have worn my glasses, that way I would’ve looked that much more American, or maybe I should have carried my passport around with me.  These experiences make me feel so hopeless, because I’ve realized that I will be going from Notre Dame to a workplace that is not much better in diversity and race relations.  Except in the workplace there will be no time for me to write blog pieces when there are business transactions to deal with.

By Anonymous

What Racism Looks Like

Before I start work each day in the Sociology Department at Notre Dame, I have certain rituals that I do in order to make the rest of the day go by better. I make myself lunch, I review my schedule, I go to the gym, I change into my work clothes, and then I head off. One of the last things I do before diving into my day is look at the bulletin board posted in the hallway between the elevator and my office. There are often interesting seminars, meetings and other events posted that I may not have otherwise known about. Generally, I will look them over and make a mental note to myself as to what I might enjoy. On this particular day, I had the troubling experience of running into the poster pictured here.

Poster rev 2

On the surface the poster seems benign, and even has a pleasant feel to it. I mean who wouldn’t want to go to a lecture about hope and joy presented by just about the happiest looking reverend on the planet? Even if that hope and joy is happening in “the hood”. This poster had caught my attention, yet it had done more than that. It bothered me, and I couldn’t quite figure out why. So on my lunch break I returned to the poster and analyzed it more thoroughly, and what I found turned my stomach.

The Reverend was part of an organization called “Homeboy Industries”, and if that wasn’t problematic enough, the organization doubled down on its racially charged insignia with the slogan: “Nothing stops a bullet like a job.” I know that the reverend is trying to help, and I think he should continue on his mission to help low-income, under-represented neighborhoods, (which is what I can only assume was meant by “the hood.”) But the simple fact remains that this is what racism looks like today. Among other things, racism is the idea that if only “homeboys” would choose to work, then their neighborhoods would be safer. It’s the ideology that there is something culturally different about “the hood” that makes it unsafe.

I’m sorry, but jobs do not stop bullets, and marginalizing a portion of the population to “homeboys” in “the hood” does not stop bullets either. Universal background checks for gun owners stops bullets. An active community police presence rather than a militarized police force stops bullets. Internal community activism stops bullets. Equal education opportunity stops bullets. Geographic and economic racial desegregation stops bullets.

I am bi-racial, and I am a first generation American. My father is from Mexico and my mother is from England. It often surprises people to learn that I am indeed a Mexican-American, that I come from a low-income neighborhood, and that I speak Spanish. After getting over the initial shock of the matter, the question always arises, why do I not tell people sooner? The answer lies in this poster, and in the fact that racism still exists today. The poster may look clean and polished, but the underlying message reveals the pervasive misbelief that the culture and values of low-income minorities are to be blamed for the poverty and injustices that they experience on a regular basis.

Homeboy Industries means well, but the first step in helping low-income individuals is to realize that they are not a problem that needs to be fixed. I do not need to be fixed, and I am by no means an exception to the Latino community in which I was raised.

christopher_quirozChristopher Quiroz is a graduate student pursuing his PhD at the University of Notre Dame.  He is a first generation American that was raised in a predominately Latino neighborhood in San Diego.  He is interested in racial inequality and the form that it takes in contemporary society.

What I Learned About Artists By Meeting William Caballero

Filmmaker William Caballero Visits the University of Notre Dame

When I hear the word artist, the first word that comes to mind is not Latino. I have learned about several artists throughout my academic career, yet I continue to see artists solely as white Americans struggling to break the mold of societal norms. This image was challenged after listening to filmmaker, artist, and writer William Caballero speak about his art and his experiences as part of a Puerto Rican American family living in North Carolina. Caballero, after attending the Pratt Institute and NYU, has produced a widely popular documentary about his family as well as several short films. To begin his lecture here at Notre Dame, he presented the very first video assignment he completed at the Pratt Institute. He immediately showed a clip of his latest documentary which has been aired on PBS. The contrast was remarkable. The improvement he made in not only the development of ideas but also in the editing techniques was extremely evident, especially as he mocked the errors of his very first video.

Caballero spoke about his journey from the amateur film he first made to his increasingly popular and powerful works he now makes. His message rang clear throughout Geddes Hall Auditorium – you have to start somewhere and you have to make mistakes before you can make progress.  He would not be in the position he is in today had he not made errors in the beginning stages of his film career. Even more importantly, he continues to grow and expand his knowledge. Later in the evening, Caballero showed two very different short films – one using tiny figurines and one using 3D printing. These films revealed different sides of Caballero, but illustrated his openness to trying new things. As an artist, he is constantly trying to share his experiences and make a difference through his work. Regardless of the various techniques, he is still able to effectively send a message and relay some of his struggles growing up in a low income, Puerto Rican American family. I was amazed by the uniqueness of the 3D printing in his film. I had never seen movies using such a progressive and modern invention, but Caballero took advantage of his resources to share his grandfather’s personality. His talent as an artist was so clear as was his passion and excitement for expanding his knowledge of film making, and I know I will continue to follow his work.

By Lauren O’Connell

Musings & Mastery

Last week my mother and I attended my sister Jordan’s graduation from 8th grade. While it was special, it didn’t seem like such a big deal at first since she is going to be in the same school for High School and is far from out of the woods yet. (I’m also not very thoughtful anytime I have to be up before noon). During the graduation, however, I became very emotional… and not just about my sister (who looked beautiful and made us very proud).

First, I was impressed by Jordan and her best friend Teirra. They both got many awards and were two of about twelve students to get into a special honors program with an advanced curriculum for next year. It’s not too surprising, because they are both very smart young women, but at this stage in their lives they have a lot going on socially, and (with my sister especially) that can distract from school work and get you into trouble. It sometimes worries me that my sister and I are completely different; I had no social life up until high school and was very absorbed into reading books and other geeky things, I didn’t slack off a little until junior and senior year of High School. My sister on the other hand is very social, spends a lot of time with friends and doesn’t read for fun much. Trying to relate to her and involve myself in keeping her on track is awkward and something I probably don’t do often enough; but obviously, her extraversion isn’t stopping her from succeeding (and as her own person, independently from me, I might concede). My sister’s performance is such a serious concern of mine because many bright and talented children do not for realize their potential, especially as it concerns children of color and children who are economically disadvantaged (categories that often intersect). This is a reality all too common for the children of inter-city Philadelphia where I call home. As an older sister to four, and a proud Philadelphian, I want so much more for our children than what our public education system is typically willing to help them achieve and what our society teaches them that they can expect.

This brings me to my other reason for being so proud: after naming children for their individual accomplishments came the boring impressive part of the graduation, the discussion of their accomplishments as a class, complete with illustrated statistics… These children did exceptionally well. Majority of the students were above basic level in test scores, meaning they were proficient or advanced. On top of that, their scores were tracked from testing performance as 7th graders to final performance as 8th graders, and all the changes were so positive! The number of students who were scoring on an advanced level increased significantly, as did the number of students who were proficient, the most impressive change was the huge decrease in the percentage of below basic students. These feats are amazing accomplishments all on their own: for the school, staff,  parents, and of course children, but at the same time so much more than that.

Mastery Charter School (which I also attended for High School, but at a different campus than my sister) has been steadily acquiring more and more campuses, not uncommonly former public schools that were “neighborhood schools”.

A lot of our neighborhood schools were recently closed down, and others are in danger of being closed. This of course has complicated effects on the lives of the people living in our neighborhoods, but despite some of the negative consequences there is some good reasoning behind it; neighborhood public schools in Philadelphia are notoriously poor in quality, (a problem which I could and may at another time devote much energy into discussing).

MCS can be a very difficult school to go to; they have very strict rules (which are even more strictly enforced), the grading system is unique (anything below a 76%, which is a C or C+ at most schools, is a failing grade because a 76 is ‘mastery’), and if you transfer in, you start from at square one. My best friends and I often joke about how much we hate Mastery, but truthfully, if you are strong enough to last until graduation it definitely pays off. On top of that, being located in the city and especially now in our neighborhoods, Mastery students are overwhelmingly students of color, whose opportunities are often limited in comparison to white Philadelphians (♠who often live in Philly suburbs or the Greater Philadelphia area, where I can say from ◊personal experience there tends to be better educational opportunities). Those students who performed so well and changed so drastically from one year to the next were the children the world always seems ready to give up on. Nearly everything on my current events radar regarding students of color (I follow a lot of Social Justice Blogs) has been tragic these past few weeks. I’m constantly reminded how little our society values our children; this is made obvious not only by the policy of blindness the justice system often suffers when it is our children who are victims, the disregard towards their education, or the perpetuation of ill-formed beliefs used as weapons against their belief in themselves; but also by the exceptionalism granted to those of us that do have success. This reinforces an illusion that what we have managed is or should be unobtainable to those that come after us and discredits our hard-work by making it a happy accident. Seeing a group of young children that I could see myself in, so proud and confident (and believe me, that isn’t assumed, they wore it all over themselves) in their abilities, made me cry (quickly and in secret, I have an image to protect); for two hours I was able to forget about the guilt of knowing how many obstacles they still may face, that I still face, and have genuine hope (positive feelings before noon is, once again, a miracle).

Aside from being touchy-feel-y I also had a lot of fun and really appreciated the way they didn’t  limit the children’s expression during the ceremony and in fact, encouraged it. I think that allowing children to still be who they are is an important part of teaching them to be successful. During the speeches of the two students honored as representatives of the class, they both attributed how well they did to their staff and their parents; the young lady thanked her mom especially for making her do what she needed to do everyday, the young man thanked the aforementioned people and also referenced his peers that he made friends with leading to a shout out to three friends and lastly but most importantly, his girlfriend. It was adorable, hilarious, and original. Everyone laughed and clapped. Both of the students were composed, thoughtful, and themselves; I believe it is encouraging to other children to see the top achievers still be ‘regular’. [Who better for those just like them to look to?] Later a teacher spoke about how the students, as children of color, were closing the learning gap, then had a student introduce “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” which was sung as a class. There was a “break-down” in the middle of the song with their own little spin on it. There was a young man who had a special move for getting his award and later his certificate, which must be signature to him, as it was automatically accompanied by a clap and a few seconds of chanting from his classmates each time. A lot of the kids had a special look or pose for getting their graduation certificate, and it was all fabulous. At the very end of the ceremony, after the certificates were received, three of the students performed an original piece composed by one of the young ladies, the two young ladies sung and the young man rapped. It was a song about their progression toward their future. It is hard to explain just what this graduation meant to me. Maybe in a few years there will be a lot more of us taking that 11 hour drive from Philly to South Bend that I took nearly 3 years ago.

♠That is not to say that white Philadelphians don’t live in urban Philadelphia, however due to a history of gentrification in Philadelphia many neighborhoods are populated almost entirely by a group or groups of people of color, and the suburbs and Greater Northeast (in addition to a few other sections) remain mostly white (my grandparents live there and were the first non-white people in their neighborhood, now there are, I believe, three diverse families of color on their block).
◊This author has attended public school and charter school (but unfortunately not Catholic school) in Philadelphia, and has lived in North Philadelphia, Germantown, the Greater Northeast and Cheltenham (not specifically in  order).


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