Weekend Reading

Links to read:

The song is a paean to Southern blackness. Lyrics include “I like my baby hair, with baby hair and Afros” and “I just might be a black Bill Gates in the making.” Police are not mentioned at all. The extent of Bey’s “attack” was a simple reference to American police officers shooting black people, symbolized by a young hooded black child. These are facts, not contentions — but facts that the sheriffs’ association would rather you not hear or see.

An institution that reads the mere mention of its very violent flaws as an affront is incapable of reform. Those who see Beyoncé’s allusions to police racism as an attack on policing unwittingly assert that this racism is an essential and representative part of policing. They elide critiques of racist police violence with critiques of all police. It is they who call a hoodie-clad dancing black child a danger to policing, hauntingly echoing the police’s assertion that 12-year-old Tamir Rice presented a threat enough to justify a shot in the stomach.

[Muslim students] describe feeling constantly suspected by many Americans and by law enforcement. Their sense of security — to feel safe on campus or in their mosque, to build community, and to engage in politics — has been compromised. Islam is a welcoming religion, but now, they tell me, they have to view new community members with suspicion. Particularly the more politically engaged students have found themselves holding back in discussions, sometimes in class and especially outside of class. They worry that things they said could be taken out of context and that criticizing the treatment of Muslims in U.S. society could be grounds for more surveillance. After the AP’s investigation, signs went up in the offices of Muslim student groups across the city exhorting members not to discuss any politics whatsoever in these spaces. Many students stopped being active in the Muslim Student Association network out of fear of informants.

In her thesis, Fatima described how such surveillance changes you. Using Foucault’s theory of the panopticon (where social discipline is so pervasive that one internalizes it) and interviews with dozens of Muslim students throughout New York City, she wrote about the ways such state surveillance produces self-surveillance. She revealed how coming of age in the aftermath of 9/11, Muslim American students have grown up in the glare of suspicion and thus constantly feel they have to watch themselves. They watch how they talk in class, socialize, engage in political activities, participate — or don’t — in their mosque and MSA. And perhaps most significantly, surveillance has altered what young people allow themselves to think about or imagine for themselves.

Scholars have for years wrestled with the question of a “policy gap” between the official aim of tough migration controls and the frequent permissiveness that nevertheless results. Despite the cost and the perennial lack of efficacy, the “why” of border security is nevertheless rather straightforward on a political level: it is spectacularly effective. Numerous analyses of U.S. border operations – from 1990s-era Hold the Line and Gatekeeper to more recent measures – have shown how these fill political and psychological functions in broadcasting controls and pushing routes out of sight rather than in reducing migrant numbers. To theorist Douglas Massey, vigorous border enforcement and similar measures “serve an important political purpose: they are visible, concrete, and generally popular with citizen voters. Forceful restrictive actions enable otherwise encumbered public officials to appear decisive, tough, and engaged in combating the rising tide of immigration.” That is, the border spectacle is its own end.

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