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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Prof. Gates incident and the "race card" card

What's worse than playing the race card? Playing the race card...card. After Henry Louis Gates, Jr. was arrested last Thursday, I've been reading, against my better judgment, numerous comments that news sites (against their better judgment) allow beneath their articles. Most of these articles contained inconclusive details and demonstrated conflicting accounts between Gates and those of the arresting officer, Sgt. James Crowley. And many, many of the comments complained of Gates "playing the race card". Accusing minorities of playing the race card, it seems, has become code for, "Can we drop this distasteful subject already?" Many of these comments were accompanied by the assertion that now that we have a black president in the White House, it's time to put the whole "race thing" to rest (or as one commenter so tastefully put it, "that ship has sailed"). It seems that, for some Americans, a black president, rather than representing an historic milestone in an ongoing struggle, means that they are off the hook; no more of this messy white guilt. The new face of racism (not that the old ones have gone away) is an impatient rush towards complacency.

It's impossible to know for sure what motivated Sgt. Crowley to arrest Prof. Gates. Regardless, I think we all need a refresher about what exactly "racial profiling" means. It is unfortunate that the phrase itself has a PC ring to it, allowing cynics to dismiss it as bleeding-heart liberal jargon. Whatever you want to call it, there's a very important element to racial profiling that isn't discussed nearly enough: you don't necessarily know when you're doing it. And once you know what it is, dismissing it as something you would "never" engage in isn't enough. Furthermore, no matter what your race, you probably have done it, and you may be just as likely to do it to people of your race as to another.

In order to illustrate, let me share something embarrassing about myself. This is something I realized a couple of years ago, and admitting it hasn't been enough to make it go away. I'm pretty sensitive to the random harassment -- ranging from ogling to unwelcome advances to shouting and whistling -- women are regularly subject to on the street. When I see a male or group of males on the sidewalk or in a car, I immediately brace myself and assess the likelihood that I'm about to be harassed. What I've realized is that this assessment is made up of age, race, and class identifiers. Middle-aged working class males who are white or Hispanic are always high on the alert meter. Yet I've been wrong and been harassed by crotchety old black men, and by young white guys in business-casual garb. I've been right and been harassed by someone whom I was wary of. The times I wasn't harassed don't really prove anything. And what all that probably proves is that my unconscious system is pretty much useless. In my fear of a victimization, I'm passively victimizing other people. I have not yet succeeded in overcoming this way of thinking. Yet I still try, and, more importantly, I try to acknowledge this sort of pattern of thinking and act independently of it.

My point is that avoiding ones own prejudice takes vigilance; it's a decision we have to make over and over again, sometimes in the face of less-than-ideal circumstances. It takes admitting to yourself that your instincts can be not only wrong, but can go against your own dearly held value system. There is no point at which we can sit back and say with self-satisfaction, "I'm not racist, and neither is anyone else." Those who feel that all this is tiresome and requires too much effort likely do not live every day on the receiving end of racial discrimination (or sexism, or classism, or homophobia). But we all have empathy at our disposal if only we chose to exercise it.

Maybe our society has become post-racial in the sense that most of us don't want to be racist, but that's really only a fraction of the struggle.

Monday, May 18, 2009

One of the best things on the internet

Chances are, you are already familiar with An Engineers Guide to Cats. Well, those wacky guys at Gutsy Movie Productions have a new video on Advanced Cat Yodeling, which is not to be missed, particularly if your cat, like mine, is "...mellow enough, yet still capable of being annoyed."

Friday, May 8, 2009

Yale says, "Pls send $ kthxbai"

Dear Yale Health Services,
If you are going to be sending me a bill, kindly let me know what you are charging me for. Failing that, you could give me some clues. If I at least knew some details like date of service, or name of provider, then this little game would seem slightly less one-sided.

A bad time to discover a funny superlative

Two days ago, there was a horrific murder at Wesleyan, where I went to grad school. It turned out to be the escalation of a long-time stalking. A student was shot, while working at her job in the cafe at the campus bookstore, by a man who had had no connection to Wesleyan or Middletown, and who had been harassing her for at least two years. I can't even begin to fathom the detestation her family, friends, and the witnesses to the shooting must be feeling.

When initial reports came out, I assumed it was either an escalation of tensions between the school and the Middletown community, or an escaped mental patient. Middletown, a town of about 48,000 located on the CT River in central CT, is not the idyllic place that description conjures up; it's rough. I moved there from Boston, where I'd lived for six years. I my four years in Middletown, I witnessed a mugging, robberies, at least one major drug bust, a bunch of kids beating each other with baseball bats, and an absolutely crazy suspected arson. One night I was assumed by men in passing cars to be a prostitute, because of the particular (quiet, residential) street I was walking down, (even though I was wearing a long winter coat, jeans, and clogs). I frequently heard gun shots from my apartment. I still get public safety reports at my Wesleyan email, and incidents in the past year, if memory serves, include an altercation with armed local teenagers at a college party, and the brutal on-campus beating of a male and female college student by some high school students. There is a also a mental hospital in Middletown, and there are a lot of halfway houses around (the mugging I witnessed, from my window in broad daylight, was of a mental patient who lived across the parking lot from me). As for the Wesleyan students and alums I've spoken to who seem unaware of these issues, I can only assume that they just weren't paying attention.

Which brings me to the students. Although I met a lot of great undergrads at Wesleyan (including one who is now my husband), on the whole I and my fellow grad students noticed a marked air of unconscious privileged, and a distinct lack of awareness about the surrounding community (or even the extended campus community...I met upperclassmen who were unaware graduate students existed at Wesleyan, and got a lot of comments like "You don't LOOK 30!" in the same tone that one might say, "You don't SEEM like a Nazi!".)

No doubt this is true, to some extent, of most college student bodies. I know I did my fair share of dicking around drunk in Potsdam, NY, the small North Country town where I spent my freshman and sophomore years of college, and Allston, MA, the Boston neighborhood where I lived during the rest of my college years. But I posit that Wesleyan's combo of wealth and, shall we say, free-spiritedness, combined with Middletown's relatively depressed and crime-ridden situation, make for a unique powder-keg of bad relations. I'm comparing not only to my own undergrad situations at SUNY Potsdam and BU, but also to MIT and Yale, where I've worked for extended periods, and to University of Southern Maine, located in Portland, ME, where I grew up, and at which my father taught and my mom worked.

ANYHOODLE, this has all been a long preamble to the fact that, in the course of the online obsessing about the Wesleyan shooting that I've been engaging in over the past couple of days, I made an interesting discovery. After reading the Gawker's report on the shooting (which, taste-wise, I would rate somewhere between "questionable" and "piss-poor"), I went on to read some other Wesleyan-related posts and found that they rated Wesleyan "Most Annoying Liberal Arts College" a couple of years ago. I find this, and the supporting posts, hilarious and spot-on. For example, they site a course offering in which students study global warming through both "scientific and choreographic" inquiry, as well as an article in the campus newspaper in which radical left students are gently requested not to harass the young Iraq War veterans who will be enrolling.

Had I made this discovery (a) when it was current and (b) when a terrible tragedy had not just hit the campus, I would be disseminating these posts far and wide (probably only to find that everyone else I knew already read them, but whatever). As it is, I'm just musing about the whole thing on this blog that nobody reads. That is all.

Oh yeah. There's also this:

Thursday, April 16, 2009


Howdy. This is now a general blog, and no longer my music website. You can find my new, less-bloggy music website at

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Upcoming Performances

Lots of exciting new music coming up!

Rachel Bernsen's
Unicorns were Horses
Saturday, March 7 at 3:00

Rachel Bernsen - choreography, dance
Anne Rhodes - voice
Carl Testa - electronics, electric bass
Lindsay Bauer - dance

Danspace at St. Mark's Church
131 East 10th Street
New York, NY

Carl Testa's Clouds
Educational Center for the Arts: New Music New Sounds III
Thursday, March 19th at 7:00

Anne Rhodes - voice
ECA Student Chamber Orchestra

Arts Hall
Educational Center for the Arts
55 Audubon St
New Haven, CT

Sally Norris's Clara: a music box opera
Saturday, March 28 at 8:00

Judith Berkson - Clara, soprano
Anne Rhodes - Logic, soprano
Larissa Mason - Butterfly, soprano
Brittany Fowler - Freya, mezzo-soprano
Carl Testa - bass
Katherine Young - bassoon
Dan Peck - tuba

Memorial Chapel
Wesleyan University
221 High St.
Middletown, CT

Friday, February 6, 2009

Connecticut Opera's season cancelled

Connecticut Opera, with two remaining productions in their three-show season (Daughter of the Regiment, for which I was to sing in the chorus, and an exciting production of La Boheme with a fantastic African-American cast), has become the latest victim of the national economic crisis, and had to close mid-season.

For those of us in the chorus, this is a disappointment, to say the least. For full-time members of the company, the financial and professional loss is immeasurable. So is the loss to the community. The prospect that this could be a permanent closure (nobody can know for sure in times like this) potentially leaves a gaping hole in the Connecticut arts scene that can never be filled. Particularly heart-wrenching is the possibility of saying good-bye to Maestro Willie Anthony Waters, who has been bringing opera to the Bushnell and to the greater Hartford community for over 25 years. Working with Willie, an opera-world badass and a truly kind soul, has been an unequalled privlege.

This is indeed a sad time for the arts.

Update: Not long after this post, CT Opera announced that it has closed for good.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Upcoming Performances

Happy New Year! Here is a list of performances I have coming up this season. Details for individual shows to follow.

"Unicorns were horses"
by dancer/choreographer Rachel Bernson
Rachel Bernson, dance
Carl Testa, electric bass/electronics
Anne Rhodes, Voice
Dixon Place
January 28 and 29

The Magic Flute
Yale Opera
New Haven, CT
(I'm in the chorus)
Feb. 13, 14, 15

Daughter of the Regiment
Connecticut Opera
Hartford, CT
(I'm in the chorus...and it's small, so you might hear me!)
March 6, 7, 12, 14

"Unicorns were horses"
DanceSpace Project
March 7

A new opera by Sally Norris
(I'll be singing a major role)
Wesleyan University
March 28