Pope Francis Visits The United States of America and Demonstrates Intersectional Awareness 

Pope Francis, the leader of the Catholic Church, demonstrated intersectional awareness and shared that knowledge with a mass audience, last week. Argentine-born Pope Francis toured three cities in the United States of America reminding us that he, too, is an American.

This religious leader proved himself to be a skillful orator, a social worker, and a professor. Addressing the short-comings of clergy, the Pope focused on the sanctity of family-life and seemingly ordered  high-ranking religious leaders to get out from behind the protective walls of the church and into the homes of believers in order to positively impact families. This suggests that those with power and influence do not need to horde their talents, nor exclude others from receiving their wisdom. Instead, they must put themselves “out there” to join the lay community and the religious community beyond the sacred ivy-covered walls.

Regarding homelessness, the Pope urged people to consider how one becomes homeless and then to actively listen to those unfortunate, disenfranchised souls suffering from lack of opportunities and lack of access to good people who want to spend time helping them cultivate opportunities. The Pope urged audiences to create communities that positively impact the lives of Others. Being a cultural studies scholar, I naturally thought of the tendency to exclude minority women from certain cultural practices common to mainstream culture.

What stood out to me from watching this visit on television, was the Pope’s willingness to critically interrogate the causes of many social problems that impact diverse members of the American family. I considered my own position as a minority-woman located in a remote geographical space comprised of leaders with normative mating values that do not always take into consideration the needs of the Other.

I am not Catholic. I have attended Catholic mass once, however. I also have many fulfilling relationships with friends who were raised Catholic, or who consider themselves to be “culturally Catholic”. Although I do not know the intricacies of the faith, I, like many women, have questions about marriage, family, and economics that the Catholic Church (and other faiths)  address. I wonder how the concept of family life applies to me, personally, a black woman whose early peer relationships were mostly with white men.

I wonder if part of the Pope’s ecumenical strategy is to reach out to people just like me, women of color who spend part of the year living in urban spaces (Los Angeles) and part of the year living in non-urban communities (Appalachia) with little opportunity to build capital holdings.

Scholars at Claremont Graduate University who study race/ethnicity and religion/theology might consider adding Pope Francis’ recent speeches to the curricula. Professors such as Eve Oishi, Joshua Goode, David Luis-Brown, and Henry Krips might have philosophical insights that shed light on the Pope’s recent visit. In addition, professors Matthew Delmont and Christie Guzaitis, who also have touched on topics related to difference, might have insights on the Pope’s recent visit.

In the meantime, below I share my own research questions for consideration. They are:

Is it the case that we are witnessing a change in the way the Catholic Church practices conversion and educational outreach? How do  global economic conditions impact the Pope’s message on topics such as marriage, annulment, prison reform, and climate change? Can minority lay people play a role in the Catholic Church?

Further study of Pope Francis’ speeches in the United States would make for an excellent addition to the curriculum in the Cultural Studies program at Claremont Graduate University. IMG_4409

Introducing “The Valley” (2015), A Tote Bag Designed by Gail Taylor of Altscholar.org for Möbius, The Poetry Magazine

Altscholar.org's Gail Taylor raises funds for Möbius, The Poetry Magazine with debut handbag collection.

“The Valley,” (2015) designed by freelance journalist and photographer Gail Taylor for Möbius, The Poetry Magazine.


Is Black Lives Matter A Political Party? 

When have ordinary Americans mobilized to fight systematic oppression? Historically, the Boston Tea Party remains a standard symbol of such a rebellion. Today’s Tea Party may echo that time. However, somewhat analagous to the Occupy Movement, substantive change by any group may be difficult to enact when so many players are direct beneficiaries of systematic oppression of minorities, whether intentional or not.

BlackLivesMatter may be different. 

BLM, leaderless, like Occupy, differs from Occupy in that the “face” of the  BLM-movement is mostly young members of a historically disenfranchised class. Now, BLM shapes electoral politics, as witnessed by the recent GOP debate, which touched on BLM (briefly) at the urging of a blonde female Fox News anchor.

Democrats also seem warm to the calls for equity, equality of opportunity, and freedom from State-terror, at the root of the BLM-movement. Political leaders running for the White House understand that change often happens, quickly, like when traffic stops long enough for the cries of the bereaved to linger in tear-gassed air.

Politicians, too, demand acknowledgement of their own presence on stage. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, have responded to BLM by adding more BLM-agenda items to their speeches. Still, the problem remains. How will platitudes become realized in the absence of a BLM Super-Pac?

How do you see the BLM movement influencing the political landscape? Do you view BLM as a political party? 


Today’s neologism is “voetry” (video+poetry): “Heat Lightning,” Gail Taylor

“They’re all my Slaves.” The Dangers of A Totalizing Rhetoric 

It was my first junior high school summer band camp. I was probably 13 years old. My family and I had just moved from the Midwest to a beautiful state in Appalachia known for friendly people and a dynamic musical culture. 

Before I officially joined the junior high school band and my new state, my classmates had been made aware of my presence. They were told a new girl would be joining the squad. A girl from a big city. Someone who undoubtedly knew how to play the flute extremely well just because she attended school in the big city. But I was a beginner, just like them. I enjoyed music, I wanted to learn concert music and marching tunes. I believed early on that music had healing power. As a flutist, playing music made me feel like I was solving little problems with my fingers and my breath.

But unlike many of my band mates, I had no concept of myself as a girl who learned how to play her instrument in the big city. I thought of myself as one who enjoyed listening to and playing music. If I could get to be really good, good enough to entertain my family and friends, and good enough to join the marching band and the concert band, then that was fine with me. 

Summer band camp presented me with the opportunity to grow as a musician, bond with my fellow players, and enjoy the beautiful and historic Appalachian region. But when I said goodbye to my family members for a week of band camp, I did not know that in just a few days, I would encounter a new side of some of my classmates. Their blackface side. 

At this school, one day out of band camp was reserved for “Slave Day,” a tradition I hadn’t been previously made aware of — and as I reflect on  that day, I think about being one of the few people of color attending public school in a state that was created in opposition to the values of the secessionist South. Why did we celebrate the oppression of minorities when our state was created in opposition to slavery? This question, and many others, were never addressed when the fateful day arrived.

After a few days of excitement waking up early to the sound of a bugle horn, I encountered furtive glances from my band mates. I didn’t know why. 

And then, at some point, in the process of waking up, searching for shoes and clothes, I encountered one of the more popular girls, a red-head, with her hair parted down the middle in two tufts, each secured by a red band. I gasped when I further noted that her face, normally coveted in freckles, was covered in black paint.


“Aww, it’s Slave Day!” She said with a grin.

I must have looked stunned because she repeated slowly, as though I could not understand her words, S-L-A-V-E  D-A-Y! 

On this day, everyone was to dress as slaves, she explained. 

And do what? I wondered, either silently, or out loud. I remember peels of laughter, excited voices, and more white faces in blackface and clown-style Afros. Not all of my band mates dressed in blackface parodying formerly enslaved African Americans, but Enough did so that I immediately b-lined it to the pay phone. To this day, that pay phone is one of the clearest memories I have of my early adolescence. 

I phoned home.

“MOM,” I stammered. 

“Yes, …”

“UMM … ”

“What is it? Is something …”

“UH, do you know something about SLAVE DAY”?

Without hesitation, the next words out of my Mom’s mouth were, “I’ll be right there. Be safe!”

And sure enough, as the Slave Day band camp activities commenced, I watched my adolescent peers act out fantasies that I never could have conceptualized as a black girl.

Mostly, I was bored, confused, and alone. I wondered if Slave Day would impede the progress I was making as a flutist. I wondered whether other junior high school bands had Slave Day. I wondered if Slave Day was celebrated everywhere. I could not imagine black people participating in Slave Day. I wondered why I had not been forewarned. 

But  mostly, I wondered whether my classmates who donned blackface considered what a person like me thought about the Slave Day experience. As an adult, I think about how this experience wasted my time.

It did not take me long to realize that the people with whom I had literally been in concert with all week thought nothing about my experience of their hazing/ritual/bonding event. Not one person asked whether I was in shock, or OK.

Then, in the middle of my moment of contemplation, amidst the hi-jinks, arrived Mom.

The meeting between the band director and my Mom on Slave Day was one of my earliest introductions to the art of diplomacy.

When Mom calmly  inquired about the intent of Slave Day, and who it was meant for, our band director looked at her squarely and proclaimed, ” They’re all my slaves! They’re ALL my slaves”.

I share this recollection in this blog post because recent news events concerning racism in America have captured public attention. Rachel Dolezal’s passing as black, the tragedy in Charleston, the events leading to #blacklivesmatter campaigns, and events in Europe regarding cartoons, should cause all of us to reflect on values, rhetoric, and ideology.

I don’t know whether Slave Day still exists at my old school. But now and then I think about how that event impacted my life.

I think about my former classmates, too. I now wonder, how did the constitution of Slave Day influence their understanding of race relations in America? Did they go on to develop a diverse network of friends whose ethnic and religious backgrounds are different from their own?

Slave Day is one example of the totalizing rhetoric that mainstream culture sometimes employs in order to maintain dominance. 

Cultural studies scholars may investigate other instances of “Slave Day” in institutional settings to learn more about totalizing rhetorics of domination.