Dear Isabel (Letter/4)

by Mark Chmiel

Tuesday 23 June 2015

Dear Isabel

Page 4, line 3

Have you, with all your white privilege, ever led the space of  non-whites?

Did you simply choose journalism because it made you feel special and it was enjoyable? (There are 100 other fields or professions you could have chosen.) I think there’s more to it than that, namely, that  you can claim YOU WANT TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE.  And why shouldn’t you want to?  That’s why that piece on Chomsky by Susan George is on my mind.  Read those parts of Manufacturing Consent when you have time; it will encourage (and sober) you on your path.  Now the thing about Chomsky—he is going after his own tribe, the liberal intelligentsia, because they play a cultural significant role  in promoting thinkable thought that, in Ignacio Martin-Baro’s expression, perpetuates the Official Lie about our horrific violence towards many peoples.   Who at your grad school spoke like they knew this, believed this, and wanted to change this?  

Page 4, line 14

Of course you’re not Salvadoran.  Living there didn’t, couldn’t make you Salvadoran. But then, maybe that isn’t true.  My friend Harmony  spent 8+ years in her twenties living and working in China. After four years, her Chinese friends, impressed with her love of their culture and her increasing proficiency in Mandarin, would say, with great excitement, “Harmony, you’re 40% Chinese!”  By the time she left, they were amazed and respectful: “You’re 80% Chinese!”

So maybe you were 50% Salvadoran.

Who are you?  You can do the usual social location (and skip the breast-beating, please!).  But then think beyond the five or six politically correct OBVIOUS categories and come up with ten more.  Take 30 minutes sometime to do this, while listening to the Velvet Underground (60s NYC band).

Page 4, last short paragraph

This is why Bourdieu is interesting—what you’re talking about is a very different field —the domain of struggle, violence, Global South. (Your experience there —on paper—may have made you very interesting to certain elite grad programs). I’ll say more later, but you mentioned it giving you easy moral authority.   Well, that depends.  In whose eyes do you have moral authority? Not the editorial staff of the New Republic.  Ditto, New Yorker.  Now I’ll quote Elie Wiesel (can you believe it?): just because a person has suffered doesn’t make her moral. Or, extending it some, just because a person has seen others suffer doesn’t make her have moral authority.  It’s what you DO with the experience and with the witnessing.

I haven’t written any one like I’m writing you in a very long time.  Bear with me, or tell me to cease!

To be continued tomorrow …