SIGNAL BOOST: Racial Profiling and Harassment at WorldFest Film Festival in Houston

UPDATE (4/23): For more updates, please see this post. Thank you.

UPDATE (4/22): Houston Press wrote an online article covering this incident, including speaking with another student (who remained anonymous) who corroborated the story. They also attempted to contact WorldFest for a statement, which was initially ignored. However, after the story broke, Hunter Todd wrote in response to the Houston Press article, which has now been added to that article. Here is a link to the full article: “W[t]F? WorldFest Founder/CEO Hunter Todd Searches Fest Attendee’s Bag ‘Because She Is a Muslim’.”

EDIT (4/21): I have been informed (and by that I mean berated) that my use of the words “racism” and “racial profiling” in connection with this is “fraudulent” because Islam is not, in fact, a race. I am actually aware of this, however I wasn’t sure what other terms would work, and assumed that “racial profiling” at least got the main issue across. Furthermore, I do not know the Muslim student personally, but I believe that the harassment was motivated entirely on her physical appearance as Middle Eastern (I don’t know if she wore a hijab or any other visual markers as Muslim or not), which WOULD in fact place it in the realm of racial profiling. However, if anyone has a preferred term, and would like to inform me, I am all ears.

Original Post (4/20): I apologize for my long absence, but I am breaking radio silence in order to spread the word about a serious matter, and ask you all a favor.

I would like to ask you all to spread the word on an incident of racial profiling and harassment here in Houston.  My brother is a film student at the University of Houston, and was attending the WorldFest International Film Festival in Houston today – a Film Festival, I might add, that is supposed to be inclusive, and aimed toward fostering discussion between students and professionals in the film industry – when he witnessed the founder/director of the Festival demand to search the bag of the only Muslim student in attendance (and ONLY her bag).

As he does not have a blog, he has asked me to share the explanation he wrote on his facebook page.  Please read this and spread the word:

From Mike Rudd’s Facebook Page:

“I had a very revealing time at WorldFest Houston today with the founder and director Hunter Todd proving what an ignorant and aggressive person he really is.

Before the morning seminar at WorldFest this morning, everyone was gathered in the seminar room for the lectures start when the hotel’s fire alarm went off. The founder and director of WorldFest, Hunter Todd, told everyone to stay in the room before he went to a girl, a Muslim UH student and classmate of mine, and demanded to search her bag. She tried to show him her pass to prove she was supposed to be there, but he demanded to search every single pocket of her bag anyway. I’d like to add he did so with a great deal of rudeness and attitude. She complied and showed him the her bag, after this he walked off and didn’t ask to search any of the dozens of other bags in the room.

At this point I called a professor of mine and told him about the incident and asked if it would be appropriate for me to say something in her defense. I then went to Hunter Todd and asked him if he did in fact demand to search her bag and if so why. He told me, “because she is a Muslim and a suspicious character, now sit down.” I told him I would not sit down and that this was unacceptable and racial profiling. I offered to take it outside to discuss with him and he then said, “no you’re one of the people I despise the most and you’re an obnoxious little bastard, now sit down or I’ll have you thrown out. In response I said he should feel free to throw me out, at which point I pulled out my cell phone to call someone about the situation. At this point he lunged towards me grabbed me with both hands and tried to take my phone from me. I separated myself from him told him not to touch me and left the room to avoid further escalation.

Later, I called WorldFest to file an official complaint about a racial incident involving there founder and director. I was placed on hold for several minutes when a woman named Kathleen picked up. I told her I was calling to file a complaint about a racial incident involving their founder and director and asked her what her position was at WorldFest. Ignoring this, she asked my name. I told her I would not give my name until she told me what position she held. More rudely she said “you called us now tell me your name”. I told her that in this situation I would not give her my name or any info when I did not know who I was talking with. This is when she yells loudly in the the phone “TELL ME YOUR NAME RIGHT NOW!” Not willing to give into to this I told her that if that was going to be how it was I would go straight to the press and that I was hanging up. She began to yell something else at me as I hung up the phone.

All of this because at an INTERNATIONAL film festival, an ignorant and aggressive man, Hunter Todd, decided it was okay to target a student for being Muslim.  The saddest part of all is that the girl felt it was wrong, but that it was just the way it goes. Worse still, was that to her point not a single other person in the room of the dozens in attendance said or did anything in her defense.”

My brother has currently contacted several news stations who said they would look into it, though we do not know for certain that they will take any serious interest in the story.  His professor, who is known among local Houston television people, is also contacting people. My brother has TRIED to file a complaint with the police on account of Hunter Todd’s physical contact and attempt to literally take the phone from his hand, but the officer Mike spoke to said there was nothing to be done. My brother is planning to contact a different officer who may be more willing to take this seriously.

We are also considering the option of contacting the ACLU, though that would probably have to come more directly from the Muslim student, rather than from my brother who only witnessed the initial harassment.

In the meantime, we would appreciate it if you could spread the word about this atrocious behavior. Reblog this post. Link to it in other places. EMBARRASS THIS ORGANIZATION AND THIS MAN.  Remind people that there is NO EXCUSE WHATSOEVER for racial profiling, racism, or harassment.

Here is WorldFest’s Facebook Page and Twitter Profile. Tell them what you think about this unacceptable behavior.

Thank you.

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A Schizophrenic Link Mash-Up

(Late) Free-For-All Friday: A Schizophrenic Link Mash-Up

Okay, so it’s saturday, but here’s my “friday” post.  Because I haven’t done one of these in a while, and because I don’t have time for much else, here’s a new blog/article mash-up of some of the things I’ve read over the week.  Just to warn you, this is a really scattered schizophrenic list of posts because… well, just because it’s the way I am.

First up, a couple science-related posts that couldn’t wait until Monday: “The World’s Lightest Solid”(which is less dense than AIR); and “Is the New Physics Here: Atom Smashers Get An Antimatter Surprise” which discusses new evidence provided by the Large Hadron Collider, which might explain the unequal amounts of matter and antimatter in the universe.

Next, two different explanations of yesterday’s police brutality incident at University of California at Davis, which is completely APPALLING.  First, from Reader Supported News, an overview with several videos: “UC Davis Police Violence Adds Fuel to Fire.”  And next, an “Open Letter to Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi” who is the Chancellor of UC Davis, written by a UC Davis faculty member.

For writers in the audience, another open letter.  This one is from Sebastien Marshall, and it’s “An Open Letter to Simon and Schuester CEO Carolyn Reidy.”  I don’t agree with everything this blogger/author says, though I think many writers (both traditional and indie) would agree with at least the general sentiment.  It definitely offers some food for thought though.

Also for writers: yet another brilliant post from Chuck Wendig entitled “Do What Thou Wilt Shall Be the Whole of the Law,” in which you will find Tribalism, writer mentalities, and Lord of the Flies analogies.  And which made me literally stand up and shout: AMEN, BROTHER! AMEN!”

This one is fun but a little long: a creative non-fiction piece called “Finally, an Asian Who Packs a Punch” which discusses boxer Manny Pacquiao and his cultural impact, written by Thea Lim (one of the nonfiction editors of Gulf Coast, the prestigious literary journal at University of Houston), and published on Salon.com.

Also published on Salon.com: “The Coming Out Story I Never Though I’d Write” from Steve Kornacki, one of Salon.com’s editors.

Then, an article about Catholicism and sexuality written by the friend of a friend named John Falcone, and published by Huffington Post: “The Catholic Church and Sexuality: If Only the Hierarchs Would Listen and Learn.”

Next, here’s one for women and men to both pay attention to (for somewhat different reasons): “‘I Need More Evidence,’ and Other Things That Probably Make You a Mansplainer” — ie, the ways men make women feel emotional and/or irrational.

For an example of the immense and never-ending stupidity of Congress: “US Congress Rules that Pizza is a Vegetable” — and if that doesn’t completely piss you off, I worry about you.

And finally, because we all need a good laugh after that, take a look at the “Mortal Kombat Tesla Coil WIN”!

So there you have it, folks. The very diverse (and somewhat insane) list of things I’ve read over the week (minus a few of the Occupy Wall Street-related articles, because I doubt you care to read ALL of the ones I read in a week).  Enjoy!  And I’ll see you on Monday.  Hopefully…

Angels, Love, and Old Men: A Quick Review of ‘Heavy Lead Birdsong’

In honor of National Poetry Month, I have tried to offer readers a few options for poetry that I believe is worth reading.  Obviously, this is a very subjective kind of thing, but I have tried to suggest poets who I admire, who are interesting and touching, and who may be somewhat accessible for the general reader who is perhaps not ready or not interested in more complex, dense poetry.

The poets I have mentioned so far (Stephen Vincent Benet, Adrienne Rich, and Hugo Williams, along with a couple others in passing) are all older, established, well-known, well-loved poets.  However, today I would like to suggest one of the U.S.’s new poets – a poet who will, I believe, one day be as well-known and well-loved as the others I’ve discussed.

His name is Ryler Dustin, and his book of poetry, published in 2008, is Heavy Lead Birdsong.

In favor of full disclosure, I should tell you that I know Ryler.  He is a student in the MFA Creative Writing program at University of Houston, where I was in the MA Literature program (and will soon be in the PhD program).  We have taken a few classes together, and know each other enough to say ‘hi’ in hallways and on facebook occasionally, but we are not, strictly speaking, “friends.”  Nor did Ryler ask me to promote his book in anyway (I don’t think I ever even told him I BOUGHT his book).  Therefore, this recommendation is based purely on my belief that Ryler Dustin is a fantastic poet who is worthy of your attention.

Heavy Lead Birdsong is about many things – love, family, religion, death, desperation, the things we leave behind and the things we hope to leave behind when we’re gone, art and beauty.  It is at its essence a song cycle to life – every part of it, the beautiful and the ugly.  Ryler moves effortlessly from the joyous, to the elegiac, to the whimsical, to the hilarious, and back again.  He manages to speak from his specific life experiences, while simultaneously speaking from a place that is recognizable (sometimes painfully so) to everyone.

The poems of this collection contain deep, often heavy, layered metaphors.  Yet the overall effect of these poems is one of openness, straight-forwardness, and clarity.  Ryler does not try to obfuscate or over-complicate.  He does not simplify what is rightly complex, but neither does he turn the simple things into a tangle of dense, cerebral language games.

I am not stating it too strongly to say that Ryler is one of those poets I wish to God I could be – he speaks of things that I feel, that I too have experienced, but he relates them in ways I could never hope to.

I think providing a few examples from the collection may be the best way to win you over, however.  So I’m going to hand the rest of this blog over to Ryler’s poetry.  Two of my favorite poems from this collection are too long to quote in full here, unfortunately.  “Blackbirds” is about angels; the narrator states:

“If I ever decided to believe in angels,

I’d believe in street wanderers

watching us from alleyways

and the sides of greasy dumpsters,

They’d communicate with each other

through the curling graffiti

that most of us assume is the work of some gang

They’d be fighting with shadows like schizophrenics.

They’d be sending us desperate blessings

from barrel-fire séances…”

And in “My Old Man,” the narrator tries to keep control of the old man ‘love’ that’s inside him:

“I took away his typewriter because the keys

     kept me up all night.

But now he scratches poems on the inside of my tongue.

     I don’t know how he gets up there.

He writes poems to strangers

     just to fuck with me.

He’s more like a leprechaun than a cupid.

     He falls in love with buildings.

     He falls in love with what people leave behind them:

         new hairpins and old architecture and apple cores.

     He hoards apples in my chest

         and now my chest is full of apples.

                My chest is growing into a tree…”

Finally, here is one whole poem for you.  The second-to-last poem in the collection, and one of several “birdsong” poems.

“Oak and Sunlight Birdsong”

When they cut me open,

they’ll find whole novels I swallowed too fast

so I could go back to playing video games.

They’ll find too many mirrors,

some filled with my face,

some with the reflections of strange birds,

most of them filled with the faces of girls

who have deep circles under their eyes.

/

Maybe because of my mother, overworked women

have always looked beautiful to me.

/

Inside the back bedroom of my spine,

they’ll find a lopsided movie projector

replaying a game of tag in a trailer park.

/

In my skull they’ll find a chair

by a sunlit window

and a bottle of spilt win

pooling like a black eye.

/

They’ll find a field beyond the window

and a book left fluttering on the sill.

/

They’ll never know if I left before finishing it,

or if I was just going back,

reading over all the parts in the story I loved.

It’s probably obvious by now that these are not the kinds of reviews you’d find in a literary journal, or even in a newspaper.  For one thing, in keeping with the brevity preferred in blogging, these “reviews” aren’t really long enough to do the books justice.  Second, I have tried to avoid all the usual sorts of philosophical and literary theory lingo one usually finds in a review, particularly because this blog is not really meant for an academic audience.  So, I worry that as “reviews” these posts have been somewhat useless.  However, I hope that my personal appreciation for these poets, and the inclusion of some of the poems from the collections, have done you some good.  In the end, I’m not trying to offer a critique, I am merely hoping more people will read the poets I love.

I hope this leads at least some of you to go and buy this book and support a young, new, hopeful, struggling poet who really deserves the chance.

Going to Utah in October

A few days ago I submitted a paper abstract for a literature conference taking place at Brigham Young University in October.  The conference is called “Literature and the Sacred,” and, as may be obvious, focuses on the various intersections between Literature, Religion, and Philosophy.  As some of my friends know, that is an area I’m extremely interested in, and so this conference seemed right up my alley.  In fact, I already had a paper that I wrote last semester that I thought might make a good presentation for this conference.  So, with a little help from my good friend Clay, I wrote an abstract, sent it in, and was accepted.  Yeah!

So, from October 14-16, I will be in Provo, Utah, at Brigham Young University.  At my very first academic conference ever.  The only concern is how expensive it’s going to be for the flight, hotel, food, and taxi (from Salt Lake City to Provo, since Provo doesn’t have an airport).  Joy.  Oh well, it’ll be worth it to finally get a little exposure, experience, and something good to put on my C.V.

For anyone who might be curious, here’s the abstract I sent in:

“The Scent of a Pine Tree”: Reconciling Spirituality and Postmodernism in D.M. Thomas’s The White Hotel

In certain areas of postmodernism, religion is often dismissed as yet another modernist narrative that forecloses difference and attempts to master the world through an authoritative and oppressive conception of Ultimate Truth.  However, to completely dismiss or vilify religion is simply to deny one more possibility for mystery, for anything beyond the physical, as well as denying an integral part of many cultures – precisely what postmodernism usually wishes to avoid.  Instead of considering institutionalized religion, which is often problematic from a postmodern viewpoint, I propose considering a spirituality that, though often expressed through more traditional aspects of religion, is ultimately outside doctrine, and opens up the possibility for difference and mystery.  It is this kind of spirituality that D.M. Thomas explores and advocates in The White Hotel, by employing a wide variety of religious images in new and surprising ways.

I demonstrate, first, how Thomas removes authority from Freudian rationalism and shifts his attention to Jung’s more mystical spiritual symbolism.  I then systematically explore Thomas’s use of Jungian, mystical, and Christian symbols.  These symbols offer multiple meanings that Thomas keeps in play throughout the novel, combining opposites and creating a space that exists outside representation and rationality. The kind of spirituality that Thomas demonstrates in this novel is not a modernist narrative that erases difference, denies mystery, or forecloses subjectivity.  Instead, the novel as a whole becomes a place that is open to play, multiplicity, mystery, and faith.