Of course I’m knitting during Zoom meetings. You mean the rest of you are just sitting there???

I got a note from a senior faculty member whose communications with me always, always seem to be double-coded in a secret neurotypical language designed to make feel judged and put down, and yet paranoid and weird for reading too much into things when really no put-down was intended.

IMA just gonna say it: NTs, y’all exhausting to autistics. For all the whining and complaining about “how to handle children/people with autism” y’all really discount how much work and pain y’all cause us constantly. (Seriously I just saw a curriculum on autistic girls where one rubric of their behavior was “responds to teasing appropriately” and I am assuming the right answer is “girl is learning to accept bad treatment because that’s what we want from autistic girls” instead of what it should be (punching people in the nuts and throats).

Here was the statement: I see from Facebook your knitting needles are busy.

Now, is that a dig? IN the academy, you aren’t supposed to have hobbies. You are supposed to be research production machines. Doing one’s own garden when one could pay non geniuses to free you up to do your genius things? Unheard of!! So knitting. Tsk. Guess we know what this or that isn’t done.

Or maybe they were just noting that I share my knitting on Insta. I dunno.

ANYWAY, I went away from this interaction feeling super judged and I just wanna know: are the rest of you JUST SITTING THERE ALL DAY ON ZOOM CHRIST HOW HAVE YOU IMPLODED YET IF SO?

At least when we were on campus, even back-to-back meetings usually entailed GETTING UP AND GOING TO A NEW ROOM. Or a little jaunt across campus.

How can you stand to sit there and look at your own stupid talking face?


Knitting calms me and keeps me from screaming like this on Zoom. Is it any wonder I am getting a lot done these days? How are you keeping your rage and stress from killing you?

The problem with Karen and Karening is white people

It has finally happened; somebody I know and love was a called “Karen” by a white man in LA after she asked him to socially distance. ZOMG THE WHITE WOMAN STEPPING ON EVERYBODY’S NECKS HERE.

I don’t know who first used the name Karen to stand in for a white women drawing on white privilege, but it is clever, and when used among Black Americans, it has force and value, because it is a term coined in a culture that has specific meanings and relationships to the term.

And THAT is the problem with Karening. Black Americans using it to call out behavior that harms them is not the problem. The problem is that when the term moved into mainstream American culture, it became another cudgel to use on white women, and white men like cudgels. White Americans can’t leave anything Black people create alone, and when Karen moved into the mainstream, it changed its meaning.

White men are not subject to violence from Karens. White American male use of the term “Karen” calls on the alllllllllllllllll the cultural baggage that silences all women, including white women, objecting to and reporting to rape and intimate partner violence. When Black men talk about Karen, they are speaking to the legacy of white women calling out police or mobs to do violence to THEMSELVES. There is a universe of difference there, and it is one reason why white men maybe just shouldn’t goddamn go there.

The mainstream problems with Karen are particularly hard to grapple with. Every so often I have asked, and have seen other people ask, what is the male version of Karen? And I get answers. I’ve even given some answers. But none of them are very convincing. Because mainstream culture likes to punish women and it does not like to punish white men. (Black men are a whole different story.) White women should have to sit with Karen NOT because white men are telling them to, but because Black people are telling them to.

But it’s hard to accept that when white men are calling women who displease them “Karen” because they know it will hurt and discredit them. Then, the term really does become just a new form of “bitch.”

The choice isn’t taking away Karen use. The choice is for white people, particularly white dudes, to shut up with it. Condemning the term robs Black people of a useful and necessary term to confront real problems. Messing up the term by having white dudes take it up as a trendy word to say “bitch” de-emphasizes and obscures what Black people need the word to convey.

WUUUUUUUT all the woke white boys says? I’m using Karen to fight racism and white feminism which needs disciplining by ever-so-much-knowledgeable-about-emancipation me. Uh-huh. Oddly, I think you can call out white women abusing their privilege by telling them their behavior is uncool. “Hey don’t do that, it’s harmful.” Wow. That wasn’t that hard. Black people are overburdened by the work of educating white people on race; shorthand lingo makes sense there. I think it’s fair to expect white guys to do a little work.

So maybe this is a moment where white people maybe accept that this is a term that isn’t for them to use.

So this imposter syndrome thing…

I have earned both tenure and full professor at a very competitive R1. This morning I woke up really really early because I am starting my 28th semester teaching my 52nd college class today.

I rolled around most of the night and finally fell asleep about 6 am where I proceeded to have a dream in which

…..my advisor told me I’d never turn out to be much of a scholar.

Two points:

  1. My advisor never said any such thing to me. Ever. I can’t imagine him saying anything like that to anybody. A couple of members of my senior faculty have hinted at it plenty of times, but senior male faculty can be insecure and thus catty bunch so I will chalk it up that. (Yes, I just called male faculty “catty” and it felt as good as you might think. I encourage more people to say it more often because it’s both true, edifying, and extremely satisfying.)
  2. If I can feel this way as old and as far into the academy as I am, I think just about everybody probably expect to happen and to recognize what it is and forgive themselves the time when it sneaks up on them, too.

Good luck everybody. I am going to try not catch or give Covid to anybody and may be some use to my students. My goals have changed with the times.

Can my fellow urbanists be just as outraged by the LA wage disparity between male and female city workers as they are about Robert Reich?

Robert Reich is acting like a rich suburban white guy, and while his conduct is bad and I’m all for calling it out, I’m missing the discussion on Twitter and Facebook about this report from David Wagner at the LAist.

Dealing with worn and inflexible gender categories aside, the report shows that the gender wage gap in LA is bigger than in any other major city in the US, and I think I should probably dig up the entire audit if I can find it. I am wondering how much of this disparity comes down to our the police budget (it’s huge) Of the top 100 earners, only 2 are women.

Now, why should or would urbanists care about wage inequality when we have Robert Reich to kick around?

The outrage directed at Reich is a response his buttheaded opposition to what is in reality a pretty small development that includes some housing for extremely low-income people. I’ve looked at it; the proposal isn’t a bad development proposal by any stretch. Whether he knows it or not, Reich is contributing the poverty and labor issues he’s built a luminary academic and political career on. I pointed out yesterday on Twitter that while YIMBYs have made the connections between place-hoarding and poverty, it’s still a huge gap in the thinking of most people and the major political parties (although the Sanders campaign got right up next to it; hopefully that will live on.)

So, Lisa, why are you busting into this conversation to make it your GENDER PARITY STUFF HUH? Way to make it ALL ABOUT YOU, lady. (You’d be dead shocked at how often I hear this when I bring up gender oppression.) I mean, people are going without housing because of Reich. Why distract from this very important housing argument?

Well, it turns out gender wage disparities have a lot to do with poverty which has a lot to do with struggles for housing, and the privileges enjoyed by the Robert Reichs of this world are mirrored systematically in the disadvantages faced by women in the workforce. Ever-rising house prices due to scarcity from chronic undersupply is one problem, but its demand-side counterpart is wage theft, stagnation, and poverty.

And when we talk about poverty, we are talking about women; the wage gap is far worse than the average for Black and Latino women than it is for white women or the average when they are all put together. That is one reason why I want to see the full audit. I’m not sure if California allows those numbers by race to be reported, but if we did report them, we have every reason to believe, based on priors, that LA pay gap for Black and Latinx women working for LA is bad, indeed. The aggregate numbers reported here for LA are worse than the gap estimated globally by the International Labor Organization. In the US, the National Partnership for Women and Families reports the following breakdown of the wage gap by race, relative to white men:

  • Asian women make 90 cents for every dollar
  • White women make 79 cents
  • Black women make 62 cents
  • Native women make 57 cents; and
  • Latina women make 54 cents

Given how many city workers in LA are likely Latinx, this prior is not good news. They get a double dose of low wages and housing discrimination.

When you read through books liked Evicted, you see women struggling with health and ableism as part of poverty as well.

Economists with the Institute of Women’s Policy Research find that eliminating the gender wage gap could HALVE the poverty rate of working women.

If Robert Reich should be a better leader (and he should), so should the City of LA. Not cool.


The Big Dig and reparations for and from freeways

My apologies if this is rough. I am out of practice and WordPress is giving me nonsense today.

We had a great piece from Dr. Destiny Thomas on reparations for white supremacy in Curbed here. In addition to the reparative components has some suggestions for institutional land reforms that could alter land development. Highly recommended reading. Some of these are short-term implementations (like the freight tax. It’s a legislative change; find a way around Interstate Commerce Clause objections, go, dedicate the funds to surrounding communities) and some are medium to longer-term, like the community land trust formulation (land assembly takes a little time, but it’s hardly impossible. We do it for developers.)

I just want to provide an example and extension to some of Thomas’ ideas here. Whenever the movement to tear down statues to racists comes up, somebody from urbanism chimes in that freeways, too, are racist monuments of a sort. This fact is a good to remember and it gives us a chance to revisit Eric Avila’s lovely writing in Folklore of the Freeway and Popular Culture in the Age of White Flight. This is a good analogy on one hand, and a bad one on the other. We probably wouldn’t, for example, have to look too dreadfully hard to find racism in the rail development of any given city. So just because we want to root out and confront racism doesn’t mean we want to physically tear down every structure that racism touches. Why? Transit, just like freeways, provide essential mobility, and we want to keep it, even as we subject it to scrutiny to see if it works for Black residents properly or not.

Freeways are not a good, pro-social source of mobility in the city, and in the long-term, it’s strongly desirable that they go away. They are poisoning the air and crashes kill people. But right now, a lot of not-rich and not-white people use them every day to get between home and work. Transitioning from the existing infrastructure to a better future isn’t as simple as chirpy white urbanists want it to be when they pull out examples of freeway deconstruction to tell us that “of course we can get rid of freeways, it’s happened before.” We’ve gotten rid of specific links, not entire systems. And even the former takes thought and care. After the initial wrong of freeway development, Black and Latinx people have incorporated the freeways into their decision-making, as bad as freeways are, and helping people have viable options other than the freeways has to be part of a transition away from them.

Which, as I have noted, is one reason why people in the region are working pretty hard to try to boost transit, both construction and use.

That said, we do have some surprising examples for how to think about building Thomas’ thought into a post-freeway future. One example is the Big Dig or Central Artery Tunnel Project. The Big Dig became a poster child for wasteful infrastructure projects, and it merited the moniker. It was massively overbudget, but it was a huge project that included some significant transit projects under its umbrella.

Cut out that tunnel and you have a relatively lower cost land reclamation project and a bunch of transit projects. And that is the interesting part. Because the Big Dig made new urban land available for development in Boston. Pretty decently prime real estate, too, if I understand the Boston landscape well enough to say. Now, reclaiming urban land from freeways is a hell of a struggle; it’s got lead and plenty of other toxics that we have to think about when we redevelop because it’s not good to clean up one environment just to wreck another with toxic soil dumps. After that concern, however, we can imagine a lot of urban land reclaimed in high-price locations throughout Los Angeles.

That land could mean a lot of opportunities for land trusts and in some instances (with the 10 and the 101), for direct reparations payments to the Black families subjected to human rights violations at the hands of Caltrans during 1940s and 1950s, prior to the protections of the Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Estate Acquisition Act. That was passed in 1970, too late to protect a lot of California families. We should be providing reparations at both the community level and the individual level, and there are people in my neighborhood alive who still remember the 10 being built through here. Surely at least some of these famililes can be found and their residential histories validated well enough to make reparation with part of the reclaimed value.

Given that many of these folks are seniors, the reparations could be made now and borrowed against future land reclamation because taking down and rebuilding in freeway locations is a really long-term endeavor.

Professor Julian Agyemon talks about “joined-up thinking” in environmental justice thinking–about making connections between different venues and mechanisms of injustice. To me, connecting long-term plans with help for past wrongs is part of that joining up.