Weekend Reading

Spring time/New year’s reading:

Human history, by definition, is history beyond whiteness. Human history is about the future. Whiteness is about entrapment.

Whiteness is at its best when it turns into a myth. It is the most corrosive and the most lethal when it makes us believe that it is everywhere; that everything originates from it and it has no outside.

We are therefore calling for the demythologization of whiteness because democracy in South Africa will either be built on the ruins of those versions of whiteness that produced Rhodes or it will fail.

In other words, those versions of whiteness that produced men like Rhodes must be recalled and de-commissioned if we have to put history to rest, free ourselves from our own entrapment in white mythologies and open a future for all here and now.

Readers of Ngugi wa Thiong’o will already have some framing of the vernacular: Vernaculars are “home” languages banished from colonial institutions, especially schools; they are anti-oppression tools used by those excluded from elite institutions; they are frames through which we apprehend the world, following Fanon; and they are ­practices for building community. In colonial and post-­independence Kenya, vernaculars were also framed as elementary languages—the languages taught in lower primary classes, up until standard 3 or 4, at which point English and Swahili were introduced as “more mature” languages. Vernaculars are ways of claiming and shaping space.

Vernaculars also discipline, producing habits and dispositions, ways of acting and feeling and thinking. Most of Kenya’s official political vernaculars—corruption, impunity, national security, for instance—are disciplinary. They name real issues, but they also manage how those issues are handled. One notes the repeated cycle: Identify an issue, call for investigations and firings, establish a commission, commission a report, then file the report in the graveyard of reports. Even those who are aware of how this cycle works—even those most critical of it—cannot imagine anything else. And thus, each new scandal enters the established cycle of the political vernacular.

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.

Weekend Reading

These readings all meet the 15% rule:

It is not wrong to ask why mainstream Democrats don’t support reparations. But when the question is asked to defend a radical Democrat’s lack of support, it is avoidance. The need for so many (although not all) of Sanders’s supporters to deflect the question, to speak of Hillary Clinton instead of directly assessing whether Sanders’s position is consistent, intelligent, and moral hints at something terrible and unsaid. The terribleness is this: To destroy white supremacy we must commit ourselves to the promotion of unpopular policy. To commit ourselves solely to the promotion of popular policy means making peace with white supremacy.

[…]

The point is not that reparations is not divisive. The point is that anti-racism is always divisive. A left radicalism that makes Clintonism its standard for anti-racism—fully knowing it could never do such a thing in the realm of labor, for instance—has embraced evasion.

[T]o think about American slaves merely as coerced and unpaid laborers is to misunderstand the institution. Slaves weren’t just workers, the Sublettes remind the reader—they were human capital. The very idea that people could be property is so offensive that we tend retroactively to elide the designation, projecting onto history the less-noxious idea of the enslaved worker, rather than the slave as commodity. Mapping 20th-century labor models onto slavery spares us from reckoning with the full consequences of organized dehumanization, which lets us off too easy: To turn people into products means more than not paying them for their work.

Weekend Reading

Weekend Reading Jonas will leave streets covered and doors shuttered:

[G]utting public infrastructure wasn’t the only way that neoliberalism brought out the worst that the winter storms had to offer. It was also the speed-up at work, the shredding of social safety nets, and the fracturing and atomization of communities. All of these factors combined to leave people tired, frustrated, isolated, scared, and cold.

Snowstorm after snowstorm was dealt with in more or less the same fashion, while people grew more desperate and more exhausted with each passing week. Workplaces remained open while public transit ground to a halt. Children were given snow days — but not adults.

Conflicts around language-use and representation always emerge out of attempts to shift hierarchy. Each incident follows the same general pattern. People with less power demand or request that people with more power moderate their speech or actions. The people with more power use “that’s just being PC” as a rhetorical hedge to reinforce their dominant position. By their very nature, then, efforts to shift language are generally subversive; the backlash, generally regressive. Any attempt to analyze a given incident of “politically correct” action or repression must therefore look not at what’s being demanded, but where power actually lies.

It turns out that agitation for less offensive speech and safe spaces become dangerous to free speech or academic freedom only when powerful, entrenched forces co-opt such movements for their own purposes.

Weekend Reading

Readings:

Weekend Reading

These links only circle the Earth once every seven days:

For the Bundys, then, nothing really happened before the 1870s. They do not mention Spanish explorers in 1532, or French Canadian trappers, or the British occupation after the war of 1812, or Oregon statehood in the 1850s. Their story most definitely does not begin thousands of years ago, when the first people settled the region. They have no time for how the U.S. Army resettled the northern Paiute in the Malheur Indian reservation in 1872—emptying Harney County for settlement by white people—nor how those same white settlers demanded (and got) the reservation dis-established in 1879 so they could have that land, too.

[…]

The U.S. military first had to ethnically cleanse the land, getting rid of the various native peoples that had lived in these stretches for thousands of years. But even after the land had become “free” to white settlers, prospective ranchers still needed markets for their cattle, especially once their primary market for meat, the U.S. Army, had moved on to other territories. It was the federal government that stepped in and bailed them out, taking on debt by an act of Congress to finance and build a railroad system. Without the Central Pacific Railway, those thousands of cattle could never have been sold.

As Reconstruction ended and Southern white men reclaimed political power, they dropped out of the Klan, no longer limited to secret outlets for their violence… The Klan itself was dying, but only because white supremacy was resurging right out in the open, with the sanction and participation of law enforcement and white society at large. Now they had Jim Crow laws. They had a criminal justice system that disproportionately punished Black people and imprisoned them in prison farms, on former plantations. They had lynch mobs, who no longer concealed their identities.

As Gwendolyn Chisholm would comment over a century later, about the white supremacists who tortured and murdered James Byrd Jr. in 1998, “They look like normal people, don’t they? That’s the way they are nowadays—they don’t wear hoods anymore.” Late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century lynchers also looked like “normal people.” The complete absence of any hood, costume, or concealment presented, literally, a new face of white supremacy. Journalist Ida B. Wells-Barnett estimated that in the twenty-five years after the Civil War, lynchers murdered 10,000 black Americans. Starting in the 1880s, spectacle lynchings attracted crowds of up to 15,000 white participant-witnesses, who booked special excursion trains to reach lynching sites. They snatched victims’ clothing, bone fragments, and organs as souvenirs; they photographed themselves, smiling, posing with their kids beside the broken, burned bodies of their victims; they scrapbooked the photos and mailed them as postcards, confident that they’d never be held accountable for their terrorism. They didn’t wear hoods, because they didn’t need to.

Weekend Reading

If your New Year’s resolution was to click on some links, I’ve got a few for you:

Legitimacy is what is ultimately at stake here. When Cooksey says that her son’s father should not have called the police, when she says that they “are supposed to serve and protect us and yet they take the lives,” she is saying that police in Chicago are police in name only. This opinion is widely shared. Asked about the possibility of an investigation, Melvin Jones, the brother of Bettie Jones, could muster no confidence. “I already know how that will turn out,” he scoffed. “We all know how that will turn out.”

Indeed, we probably do. Two days after Jones and LeGrier were killed, a district attorney in Ohio declined to prosecute the two officers who drove up, and within two seconds of arriving, killed the 12-year-old Tamir Rice. No one should be surprised by this. In America, we have decided that it is permissible, that it is wise, that it is moral for the police to de-escalate through killing. A standard which would not have held for my father in West Baltimore, which did not hold for me in Harlem, is reserved for those who have the maximum power—the right to kill on behalf of the state. When police can not adhere to the standards of the neighborhood, of citizens, or of parents, what are they beyond a bigger gun and a sharper sword? By what right do they enforce their will, save force itself?

It is funny growing up under a free-market dictatorship masked as business as usual. A child cannot be too different, and the education system drills conformity like clockwork. Activist deaths and disappearances and suppression of freedom of speech are not on the news when we come home from school. Families affected by the long shadow of 1965 cannot speak of it, especially those with “Communist sympathizer” lineage. Despite the academic understanding some of us have of Soeharto as a dictator, it still feels funny in my mouth to say “diktator.” Despite the “real history” education at home given by parents who fell in love as student activists, he is for many years just the president. It is generally understood—despite political talk at home and leftist books filling our bookshelves, despite my friends and I not being completely oblivious to the fact that there is a status quo—that it is dangerous to speak against the way things were in public. Most everyone toes the line in public, adults behaving as obedient schoolkids do, quick to ostracize. In middle-class Jakarta, life is supposed to be “normal” and as usual, but there is a tightness in the air.

Weekend Reading

I’ve emerged from my grad school hole! I don’t know if that means winter will actually start or not. Enjoy some readings before we reach peak holiday:

Initially, I thought migrant deaths were unintended consequences. But when I got deeper into the origins of the policy, I discovered that federal documents plainly stated that fatalities were going to increase because of this policy. One document I cite contains a table using migrant deaths as a metric for demonstrating the policy is working. Realizing that some government official was typing this up and recognizing these things, was when I thought: This is a machine that kills people. It isn’t collateral damage. These aren’t unintended consequences. These are direct consequences that, in the initial stages of design, people were thinking about.

[…]

The Mediterranean is in many ways like the Arizona desert. People die there, and the bodies disappear because nobody wants to claim them. The big difference with the European crisis is that it is much more visible. If you’re lying on the beach in Lampedusa in your bikini and all of a sudden a bunch of bodies washes up, that’s shocking. Or that photograph of the infant in Turkey, Aylan Kurdi, who became the human face of the migrant tragedy.

In Arizona, it happens in the middle of nowhere. There are no people with cameras or folks out there to be shocked. So it keeps going, unseen and mostly unreported.

Before Northwestern students were able to force Ludlow from campus, they taught him a lesson about how words really modulate. The struggle to expand the meaning of “rape” to include Ludlow’s attack on his former student was just that: A struggle. It was fought through the school administrative bureaucracy, the courts, and decisively by students putting their bodies and voices in the way of business as usual. Language is alive, but how it grows is a function of conflict and power. It’s a lesson I don’t imagine the man who will now be known as rapist former-philosopher Peter Ludlow will soon forget.

When Lukianoff and Haidt wrote in the Atlantic that colleges should “equip students to thrive in a world full of words and ideas that they cannot control,” what they meant is that college should equip students to endure a world full of words and ideas that they cannot change. Colleges, however, are faced with students who aren’t interested in that kind of training. Instead, students and young people outside the academy are building the power necessary to change the way Americans think, talk, and act. It’s no wonder people who rely on the old definitions are worried. Some of them should be.

Weekend Reading on Student Protests

A short reading list this weekend:

Weekend Reading

As long as they’re being hunted down by the PC police, cultural conservatives can pretend that they’re the victims of modern culture. Think about it: An entire society wants to marginalize them for talking about black-on-black crime or genetic definitions of gender. Of course, no one is going to arrest them under PC law, try them in PC court or lock them in PC jail. But they feel excluded and socially coerced to behave in particular ways, so they fight back wherever they can against compulsory thoughtfulness.

What “South Park” libertarians don’t seem to realize is that they’ve crafted a whole politics around their bruised feelings, which is exactly what they accuse the PC police of doing wrong. More than police brutality or wealth inequality or state surveillance, they don’t like being told that they’re wrong or should behave differently.

We have read about torture, and Guantánamo, and torture again, glowing with outrage at every turn. Even if it did not secure accountability for these outrages, the defense of civil liberties at least strengthened the norms prohibiting inhumane conduct in war—especially unacceptable forms of detention and interrogation. The value of civil libertarianism was at its greatest when those norms seemed momentarily fragile, and the country appeared to be slipping over to the “dark side,” as revelations from Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo, and elsewhere began to mount.

But we should not pretend that you can never have too much of a good thing. Oppositional to the state in the short term, civil libertarianism can function to grant the state legitimacy in the long term by helping scrub wars of their outrageous excesses—as if those excesses were the main problem.

Under civil libertarianism (now augmented by a much newer human rights internationalism), how the state fights its enemies is made to matter much more than why it does so and with what consequences. The question of whether a war is right or wrong to begin with is often left to the side so long as the way the war is fought is arguably in conformity with national law and international standards.