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How Travel Has Made Me Uncomfortably Aware of My Racism

sticker held over a map of Asia and Africa reading "MINORITY. A term applied to the majority of the world's population."Recently, I wrote up a travel bucket list, and in the list of places I want to go, found my own racism staring me directly in the face.

But before I get to the contents of list, first some context. When I started traveling abroad, I set a personal policy that I would not go anywhere where I couldn’t at least speak enough of the language to have a logistical conversation about travel-relevant topics. I think that policy initially came from a good place–I was frustrated with the xenophobia I saw in American travelers who complained about how terrible Paris is because the French are super rude, but didn’t bother to learn a word of the French language. “Everybody speaks English!” always struck me as deeply wrong, and I was struggling a lot as a teenager with the meaning of American empire and my complicity in it.

In high school, I was drawn to the study of French because it had always seemed like a rather sophisticated, romantic language, and I already had some exposure to it. I picked German pretty much out of a hat because I needed another elective and it worked for my schedule. So I’m not going to blame myself too hard for starting with European languages, but I do think it had a role in how Eurocentric my perspective skewed over time.

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A spot to which I must return

I was just doing the Feministe map of “strong geography,” where you mark a place that makes you feel strong, and I picked the bar in Cork where I came out to myself as a lesbian (as opposed to bisexual).  Then I noticed that not too far from there is a street I never went to called “Dyke Parade.”  Oh, this needs to be done.

California Dreamin'

I didn’t want to say anything until it was official because I’m superstitious about some things, but I’ve booked my ticket and hotel room so I think I can announce it.  I’ll be presenting a paper in March at the Global Arc of Justice: Sexual Orientation Law Around the World conference, hosted by the Williams Institute of UCLA law school and the International Lesbian and Gay Law Association, in Los Angeles!  I’ve known that I was probably going for a month, but now that funding for 3/4 of the trip came through and I was able to book the flight, I have an ear-splitting grin on my face.  It will be amazing academically, with several of my favorite scholars, and professionally, with several people from the NGOs at which I’d most like to work in attendance, and also I have to admit that it’s pretty cool to be in West Hollywood for three nights.  I’ve never been a big LA person, though I went to San Francisco once when I was 14 and loved it, but I keep thinking about the L-Word and laughing to myself.  It’s like a fantasy trip.  If anyone reading has academic experience, I would love some advice.  I know nothing about presenting a paper: for example, do you tend to stick with laying out the paper’s argument or do you extrapolate and give interesting facts with just your core argument as a teaser for people to read the paper?  I don’t know if/when this will be published, so a teaser seems a bit silly, though maybe this will be a jumping-off point to publication.  Also, PowerPoint or index cards?  Any other tips?  I’d love to hear them.

Off to save abortion this weekend

Or something like that.  I’ll be in Sioux Falls with the ACLU, canvassing and doing other exciting stuff.  It’s the first pro-choice thing I’ve done since working with the Emma Goldman Clinic on Medicaid reform.  If you’re interested in financial access to abortion, you might check out this post on “Contraceptive Choice and Class.”  And then there’s this quick hit from Feministe, which mentions an 8th circuit decision on abortion in SD, as well as addressing the argument that abortion is necessarily harmful.  See you on the flip side!