I have been keeping up with the American Studies Association’s decision to boycott Israeli universities. I know that there are other organizations that boycott Israel as well, but the ASA’s decision angers me more than I ever thought possible. Why? Because I majored in American Studies and now I have a whole new reason to hide from my major.
When I entered my college in 2007, I had originally wanted to major in Human Development with a concentration in Early Childhood Education because I wanted to be a Primary Teacher at the daycare I worked at as an Assistant Teacher. After I had been at my college for a few weeks, I went to a lecture hosted by the Chair of the American Studies department, Gail. I had heard wonderful things about Gail from a co-worker who had graduated from my college a few months before and I was excited to hear her speak. The lecture began with a chat about Jessica Simpson and how she could’ve had a Ph.D. in Neuroscience. I and the rest of the audience laughed. Gail told us that it wasn’t funny to laugh and that none of knew the real Jessica Simpson. We didn’t know her hopes and dreams. We only knew what the media showed us. From that point on, I gave up my quest to study Human Development and Early Childhood Education and immediately switched my academic plans to just have a major in American Studies with a focus on Popular Culture and Representation. A few months later on Declare Your Major Day, I declared American Studies as my major and requested Gail as my Academic Advisor. I was granted both requests.
American Studies, as Gail told me and the other students in her classes, is the study of the people who never get their stories told, i.e. anyone who isn’t a straight, white man. We learned about white women. We learned about people of color. We learned about poor people, LGBTQQI people, people in other religions and people with disabilities. My focus, Popular Culture and Representation, taught me how to analyze the media by knowing who owns it and to check out the facts. I felt great studying a subject that I found both interesting and able to grasp. I excelled in my major and Gail always called me one of her best students. In fact, one of the papers I wrote for her class my sophomore year was published in my college’s online journal. The topic was not a popular one with the masses at my college (or anywhere)—the hegemony found in Disney films. Gail always said that on her evaluations that she received at the end of each semester, the comments always say that she’s a great professor, but that they “hate the class on Disney.” I didn’t grow up watching Disney so criticizing it was easy. Of course, as much as I was passionate about what I believed in at my college, Gail warned me that learning the truth about the world would make me feel isolated. I didn’t believe her. I wish I had.
Even though Gail made us think about things in a new way—such as the misogyny found in women’s fashion or why shopping at Wal-Mart was not the right thing to do economically or morally—I truly loved learning from her and from the other professors in the department. I liked that my major and my focus made me think about topics that people my age didn’t broach. When my Gender and Politics class wrote about same-sex marriage and abortion, I wrote about breastfeeding instead and became a huge advocate for it (my former boss says that “[I] know more about nursing than the average -year-old”). When I had my first nanny job and would read the mother’s monthly subscription to Cosmopolitan, I would tell the five-year-old that I cared for that the woman on the cover was virtually the same every month—white, blonde, thin, big breasts—and that most women don’t look like that. I cared about the things that no one would talk about or that had no impact on my life. I felt good trying to learn more about the world. London did not see it that way.
Since I had gone to such a small college and had been working at the same daycare for years, I never really stepped out of that. Even though I had worked in two different political offices, I worked for politicians who cared about children and thus, I never strayed from my passion for education and social justice. When I went to live, study and intern in London three years ago, I thought I’d be praised for studying something so offbeat and for interning in Parliament. Wrong. I was crucified for my major, my internship and my job back home. While I may have been around eleven other interns who went to big, co-ed schools (my college was predominantly female) and had never worked with children, I still thought they’d listen to me at the very least. They couldn’t even do that and three years later, I remember their comments:
Why do you care about breastfeeding rights? You don’t want kids.
If you become a politician, don’t try to lower the drinking age to eighteen. You’re already twenty-one.
Why would you want to legalize marijuana when you don’t smoke it?
*My college graduation, May 13th, 2011. London didn’t like that I cared about the First Amendment, either. But I had to care about my rights once my college took them away.*
I didn’t believe Gail when she said the world would isolate me for believing in offbeat opinions. London sure did.
Despite the isolation that came with American Studies, I patted myself on the back for graduating with a 3.63 GPA and for being invested in a subject that I was passionate about. After I had graduated college in 2011 and began to work with more families as a nanny and a babysitter, I was able to put my major back into work, seeing as how I rarely used it in London due to me feeling like I had to hide it. I would tell kids that commercials were designed to sell them something. I would tell the young boys that when a girl says no, it means no. When I did Birthright last summer, one of the girls in my group, Caitlin, and I had various conversations about American Studies since she had studied some of the same topics as I had studied, albeit at a different college. I always maintain that my Birthrighters were the antithesis to my London experience and being able to have an open dialogue with them about what I had learned in college was something I wished I could’ve had in London. I used American Studies in Israel—I would see who owned the media and why the media would spew off propaganda about Israel being an oppressor. Unlike the journalists and the organizations who say harmful things about this country, I was there. I AM there.
*Myself and Gail, one of the most vocal supporters of me in college and one of the best professors I had. College graduation, May 13th, 2011*
The ASA knows nothing about what goes on here. LGBTQQI people can live here and not get killed. Women will not be punished for being raped, nor will they need male witnesses to prove that a rape occurred. Women can drive. Women can vote. Women can leave the house by themselves. Arab women have way more rights here than they do in their home countries. I know the ASA’s focus is on the Palestinians and while the majority of them are just trying to live their lives, I think the ASA should know the harm that comes from the bad ones because they refuse to acknowledge the atrocities that the bad ones commit.
The ASA needs to know that Israelis were not the ones handing out candy when 9/11 happened. Israelis do not name their streets after suicide bombers. Israelis aren’t the ones blowing up buses, cafés, malls or schools. They aren’t firing rockets every day. They helped the Palestinians during this recent snowstorm. They provide free medical care to Palestinian children whose parents cannot afford it. They protect Israelis and don’t use them as human shields. They warn their enemies when they are about to attack a terrorist base so as to avoid collateral damage of civilians. They have sent their soldiers and doctors to help with the earthquake in Haiti, the tsunami in Japan, assisted with both police work and medical care during the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings and were most recently helping out in the Philippines. Why doesn’t the ASA mention this? Why doesn’t anyone mention this?
I find it odd that the ASA writes their postings from computers seeing as how the internal technologies were invented by Israel. And so are their cell phones. And Facebook is owned by a Jew. So if the ASA wants to boycott Israel, they better boycott their electronics and their medicine, seeing as Israel probably invented whatever medicines they have on hand.
American Studies taught me how to see the truth. I know the truth about Israel. Israel has marked the commencement of a miraculous journey—a journey of challenges, obstacles, beauty, grace, and hope. Israel is a beacon of light in a shadowy world of hardship and an illustration of perfection in her innocence and resiliency. Israel is a representation of all that is good. She is a country who has been the home for Jews around the world and she serves as the captain of a ship on uncertain seas. Israel is an expert teacher on living each day and each moment in the present. Though Israel’s strides thus far have already been numerous, she undoubtedly has much more to share with this world.
My week has held some truly sorrowful moments due to the ASA’s misguided and blatant (although they deny it) anti-Semitic boycott. However, my eyes don’t have to travel far to glimpse the happiness that abounds and surrounds me on a daily basis here in this country. And I often wonder how it is that I have come to be so blessed by living here. Why me indeed. The faces of my students, teachers, cohort and locals sustain me. They lend light through the darkness and allow me to see, that together, we will find our way, even when the rest of the world shuts us out.
I used to hide from my major. The damage to my self-esteem that the interns in London threw at me for studying American Studies is irreparable. They made me feel ashamed of what I studied. And despite the fact that I have tried to move on and am respected by my Israel cohort for my passion in the social sciences, what the ASA has done has made me hide my major again. I hid my major in London because I was ashamed of me. Now, thanks to the ASA, I have to hide my major because I am ashamed of them.