“The legacy of identity politics has produced a problematic language idealism where we focus more on correct words and phrases rather than the material basis of oppression… And even in the moment where we imagine we are indeed combatting real world oppression we are, in fact, simply engaging with the level of appearance. [...] This language idealism becomes nothing but a self-righteous exercise when it refuses to contemplate a praxis of mass pedagogy based on actually changing the material circumstances and instead focuses on anti-oppression training, atomized concepts of privilege, and how to speak correctly.”—J. Moufawad-Paul
“I admit not being able to define, not even for even stronger reasons to propose, an ideal social model for the functioning of our scientific or technological society. On the other hand, one of the most urgent tasks, before everything else, is that we are used to consider, at least in our European society, that power is in the hands of the government and is exerted by some particular institutions such as local governments, the police, the Army. These institutions transmit the orders, apply them and punish people who don’t obey. But, I think that the political power is also exerted by a few other institutions which seem to have nothing in common with the political power, which seem to be independent, but which actually aren’t. We all know that university and the whole educational system that is supposed to distribute knowledge, we know that the educational system maintains the power in the hands of a certain class and exclude the other social class from this power. . . . It seems to me that the real political task in a society such as ours is to criticize the workings of institutions that appear to be both neutral and independent; to criticize and attack them in such a manner that political violence has always exercised itself obscurely through them will be unmasked, so that one can fight against them. ”—Michel Foucault, “On the Topic of Future Society” from Conversations with Noam Chomsky, c. 1971 (via metamash)
“One issue that surfaces when teaching the skills of radical cultural critique to students is a sense of conflict between pleasure and analysis. Initially they often assume that if you are critiqueing a subect it must mean that you do not like it. Since I have written critical essays on two Spike Lee films, students will often say "Hey, you're really down on Spike." Or even before they "get on my case," if I express a positive interest in Lee's work, they are surpised because they assume that critical essays are an attack. In any liberatory pedagogy, students should learn how to ditinguish between hostile critique that is about "trashing" and critique that's about illuminating and enriching our understanding.”—bell hooks, Yearning, 7
“A second way that women of color are introduced into the curriculum is by a brief look at a few “exceptional” examples. This method is very common in history and the social sciences, where “exceptional” black women such as Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Ida B. Wells, and Mary McLeod Bethune are discussed. In contrast to marginal treatments of women of color, described above, where the population of women of color is seen as an undifferentiated mass, this approach holds up a few models—nonvictims—for admiration. In the case of Black women, this is often done under the guise that racism has not been terribly difficult for them. The subtle message to students is that if successful black women could achieve in the face of obstacles, other Black women failed to attain the same heights because of faulty culture, lack of motivation, and other individual deficits. A faculty member might not intend to reinforce the individualistic lessons of the American ideology, but students interpret the material in this way because it is a common theme in our history. The “exceptions” approach fails to depict the larger social system in which the struggles of women of color, whether successful or not, take place.”—Elizabeth Higginbotham
TRANS PEDAGOGY 101
DISCLAIMERS: I am an able-bodied white dude from a middle class background and am invested in academia. These factors necessarily limit my perspectives on these issues. I don’t want to claim this list as complete in any way, but rather as starting point for educators who want to make their classes more trans friendly and a resource for trans students to point their professors toward. I’m super open to critiques, expansions, and suggestions!
1) Put trans people on your syllabus. I don’t care what you’re teaching. A trans person has probably written about it because trans people have more experiences than just being trans. Being trans is never single-faceted; it always interacts with your race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, class, (dis)abilities, nationality, age, weight, education, hobbies, etc. “Intersectionality” is a good buzzword here.
2) Inclusion is about more than having a “Trans Day” during the class. This applies to queerness, race, disability, and innumerable other oppressed identities. Spread that shit out. Putting it all on one day implies that the issue only occurs in one context—for instance, teaching a class on undocumented immigrants one week and on trans people the next without any overlap implies that trans people do not have to deal with immigration policies/practices, or inversely, that all immigrants are cisgender. Be creative, find the connections.
3) Having one trans person’s narrative on your syllabus for an entire semester is a problem. No one trans person can represent all trans people because we’re so varied. This is super relevant to birth-assigned genders. Trans men (female assigned at birth) as a whole experience the world very differently than trans women (male assigned at birth)—google “transmisogyny” and you’ll see what I mean. Genderqueers and other non-binary people come in infinite iterations—some are androgynous, some pass as cisgender or transgender, some were assigned male at birth, others female at birth, others were assigned intersex at birth and may or may not have had “corrective”/coercive surgeries. Some pursue medical “transition” in its numerous forms and many don’t. White trans people encounter different issues than trans people of color, straight trans people encounter different issues than gay/lesbian/bi/queer ones. Ideally you should pull from a variety of trans experiences, or at the least choose authors who recognize how diverse we are.
4) Incorporating texts about trans people is nice. Incorporating texts BY trans people is better.
5) Learn the lingo and the grammar. While there has never been a unified consensus, there are still basic tenets that many trans people have agreed upon (e.g. we are not “transgenders” or “a transgender.” It’s trans woman/trans man, not transwoman/transman— we’re not superheroes… or are we? And it’s never okay to say “tranny,” “shemale,” “he-she,” or any other degrading slur! ) And get over your fear of neutral pronouns. “They/them” is grammatically correct so stop whining about it. And even if it wasn’t “correct,” think about who designed these grammar rules. I’m betting it wasn’t a trans person. Anyhow, these trans etiquette guides are widely available online— utilize the resources we’ve created for you! And distribute them to your students. I assure you, they need them.
6) Think about the narratives you’re perpetuating. Too often texts about trans people solely consist of a) hate crimes, b) HIV/AIDS and c) transition stories. We do other stuff! We write poems, play sports, do science things (I clearly don’t), make art, design video games, model/sing/act/dance. The list goes on.
7) Trans women are women. Trans men are men. If you are talking about men or women in class, think about who you’re actually referring to. Are trans people really included in what you’re saying? If not, specify that you’re discussing cisgender men/women. And think about if that exclusion was really relevant. If you are talking about bodies (like in a science class or something) don’t assume that they will come with matching/cisgender identities. The language of “female-bodied,” “male-bodied,” “biologically male,” and “biologically female” gets into trouble here. A trans woman’s body is a female body, regardless of her secondary sex characteristics, chromosomes, hormone levels, surgical status, etc. And vice versa for a trans man’s body. Instead of labeling bodies female or male, get more specific. If you’re talking about chromosomes, say XX or XY or XXY or whatever. If you’re talking about hormone levels, say “estrogen dominant” or “testosterone dominant”. If you’re talking about reproductive organs, say “people with ovaries” or “people with testes.” And so on and so forth. Saying female-bodied or biologically female to mean “has a vagina” is lazy, inaccurate, and rude.
8) We have sexual orientations! Well, at least as many of us do as cis people do (asexual folks can be cis or trans.) Do not lump us in with queer people automatically because not all of us are queer, and being trans doesn’t make your sexual orientation non-normative. Just look at Chaz Bono and his heteronormative marital bliss. And on the other hand, when you talk about lesbians, you better consider how trans lesbians relate to the conversation, and if you talk about gay men you need to consider that some are going to be trans. This means you probably shouldn’t assume that queer couples can’t make their own babies.
9) If you don’t already, you will have a trans student in your class someday soon. Do not assume that you will be able to tell who is and who isn’t. Creating a trans friendly classroom environment should not depend on the actual presence of a trans student. Especially since you are the teacher, and it is never a trans student’s job to educate other students. They’re in your class to learn just like every other student, and deserve to do so in a non-threatening environment. If you strive to create a “safe space” be sure to keep in mind who that space is safe FOR and who it’s safe FROM. Is it more important to protect uninformed cis students who say oppressive things or to protect trans students who are not only encountering transphobia in your classroom but in the world at large? Think about your priorities, and think about the context to classroom conversations: the university is not a vacuum.
10) Just because a text is feminist/anti-racist/queer does not mean it’s trans-inclusive. Just because a text is trans-inclusive does not mean it’s feminist/anti-racist/queer. Feel free to substitute those political categories with whatever applies to your situation. Oppressed people can perpetuate other kinds of oppression, and if you decide to include offensive texts, include something to contrast it with something that takes a different stance. I don’t believe in throwing out texts just because they’re problematic (see: Mary Daly “Gyn/Ecology”) but I do believe in pairing them with texts that create complex conversations.
11) Names and pronouns matter. They’re huge gender signifiers and the communication provided by administration (rosters, email addresses, etc) will not always take into account a student’s preferred name. Thus, the third consideration after names and pronouns should be privacy. If you read off a roster of names in front of a classroom on the first day, you’re already messing up. If you pass around an attendance sheet that lists people’s legal names or university-provided email addresses, you’re already messing up. Asking people to announce their pronouns to the class on the first day, while a nice gesture, is very high pressure for trans people who are uninterested in sharing that info with a bunch of strangers. In my experience it’s better to hand out index cards or ask people to email you some information about themselves—this not only provides an opportunity for students to assert their pronoun/name need but it opens up a private dialogue to talk about other issues students regularly encounter, like navigating trauma/triggers or learning disabilities in the classroom. Emailing back or contacting students privately will allow you to ask (non-invasive!) clarifying questions and be a more supportive educator.
12) Don’t let this be the end of the list. This is a beginner’s guide and it’s up to you to keep expanding these concepts and practices by thinking critically about the ways academia is structured. Keep learning, keep sharing, keep listening, and don’t get cocky if you think you’re doing it “right.” Allyship is not an identity but an ongoing process that requires flexibility, humility, and patience.
From Me To You…
Rhythm: it’s what makes us tick. It’s the most vital and defining aspect of all music, regardless of era, culture, or style.
I’ve always felt like most method books in use today lack covering this topic as in depth as I’d like—especially accent reading. So, years ago I started making this packet for my students. I’ve since added and removed some things, trying to keep it as efficient yet comprehensive as possible.
The PDF is set up for front and back printing (book-style) with a cover sheet, like I’ve shown in the above picture. If you’re just wanting to print something for the students to put in their binder, start printing from page three instead.
You’re free to download and print as much and as often as you’d like. Please share with others, as I feel like there are very many uses for this book, inside and outside of the percussion realm. Myself and others have found this book to be VERY beneficial for our students; I hope you will too. I may do a post or two about some of the ways I use this, but I’ll leave that discussion for another day.
Until then, please enjoy The Art of Time: Progressive Reading.
Dear White and Other Privileged Friends: or, Toward a Pedagogy of Unlearning
Dear white and other racially privileged friends who experience fits of indignation when I post anti-racist critiques on my facebook page:
You see I’m often conflicted on how to best respond to your feelings. I recognize that they are legitimate and come from a well-intentioned place, but I respectfully and vehemently disagree with you. I could send you articles, data, statistics, artists, and much more about these issues – but no matter what I often get the feeling that you won’t understand what I’m saying because we’re speaking different languages. What I mean to say is that the discussions we might have about power systems like white supremacy are structured by the very logics of those systems. How can we expect to challenge systems of oppression when the ideas and language we have access to originate in those systems? How do we understand the destructive realities of racism when our bodies are primed to deny its existence?
As the terms of debate are currently structured I don’t think we’re going to go anywhere. The only way we can progress forward is if we backtrack a bit: if we forget what we read about in that one article in the New York Times, if we forget what watched on CNN, forget what we learned in our International Relations class, forget all of it. What I have to say to you isn’t new information – it’s been around for a long time. We just weren’t provided with the framework, the history, the tenacity to understand it. In order to become better anti-racists we can’t just expect to learn more about racism and issues facing people of color across the world. Before we do this, we must unlearn. In entering these discussions the question should not be about proving how much we know, but rather how much we do not know. Our pursuit of knowledge should not be about learning, but rather unlearning. The project should not be about becoming anti-racists at first, but rather un-becoming racists. This is an arduous, emotional, and at times painful process and violates the ways we thought ‘learning’ worked. This is not the sort of sanitized education that we learn in our universities – those degrees that teach us about the world without truly implicating us in its violence, without making us uncomfortable. Learning to become an anti-racist means unlearning the idea that we exist outside of the things that we learn – means relearning that we not only inherit the legacy of violence, but enact it every day with our silence.
Unlearning what we have been told
What’s always struck me in conversations about identity politics (and racial justice in particular) is how people tend to cite common knowledge in order to justify their claims. Such data is easily dismissed in other political discourse by progressives (imagine someone saying they didn’t believe in global warming because they went outside today and it was cold), yet the domain of identity politics is generally seen as a topic that everyone can equally weigh in on. The common knowledge around these issues brought up in conversation is largely misleading or flat out incorrect. The common knowledge and/or logics that people rely on is the very same knowledge and/or logics that systems of power instill in us to maintain power. We should already be skeptical of the ‘commonality’ of this knowledge in a world where racial violence, colonialism, imperialism and racial genocide are also all too common.
In order to meaningfully engage in conversations about racial justice we must therefore (un)learn common knowledge/tropes like these:
1. The It Gets Better Trope:“While I’m sad to hear that queer people of color feel isolated from the contemporary gay (white) movement, eventually their issues will be addressed…that’s just how social movements work…it takes time.”
Not true. Did you know that there is more racial segregation in the American school system than there was in the late 1960s? Did you know that there is a significant body of Critical Race Studies that debunks the valorization of the Civil Rights Movement and reveals the ways in which the CRM failed to realize racial and economic justice for the majority of people of color in the United States?
This meta-narrative of ‘social movements’ actually function as a tactic of oppression. We are told that ‘social movements’ were realized in the 60s and 70s and now women, gay people, and racial minorities have ‘rights.’ What these narratives don’t express is often more telling than what they do. What these narratives don’t tell you is there is still significant discrimination on the basis of gender, sexuality, race, etc. (just take a look at the demographics of our elected representatives). What these narratives don’t tell you is that largely only people with class privilege have benefitted from these ‘movements.’ What these narratives also do is construct a ‘social movement’ as an event somehow always relegated to the past and as an event that somehow exists outside of bodies themselves. Such narratives excuse us from thinking about how we are contemporary vehicles for the prejudices we have inherited and since cultivated.
2. The Rights Based Discourse Trope: “People of color enjoy so many rights in the United States! We extended the right to vote to everyone and passed non-discrimination legislation to make sure that no one can legally discriminate!”
We have to unlearn the idea that state recognition/rights is an adequate marker of social progress. This relationship is actually more fraught and complicated than we’d like to think. Most of the time, especially when it comes to anti-discrimination legislation, only people with class privilege benefit from these laws and their implementation. Also, legal recognition or incorporation in the legal/state apparatus can actually cause a spike in violence/discrimination. Take for example the recent AP Poll that demonstrates how 51% of Americans express explicitly racist attitudes against blacks – anti-black attitudes have actually increased over the past four years even though we’ve had a black president. As activist scholars like Dean Spade have noted, the realization of legal equality matters much less than the actually campaigns and movements for those laws. Just because you change a law doesn’t mean that you’re going to change anyone’s mind. Conversations can be some of the most radical tactics of our activism. Racism isn’t magically –over—because the law says it is. Even though there are technically non-discrimination policies in place in 2011 685,724 people were stopped by the NYC police – 84% of them were Black even though black people only comprise about 23% of the NYC population.
Despite what you might think, activism is not only about the courts, about demonstrations, about the law. The political is not only about your voting for President Obama and feeling like a citizen (for a day). Activism is about you and me in this conversation. Activism is about how you think, when you are silent, what you read, what economies you support, where you choose to live, what you dress up as for Halloween. In framing the State as the only actor in our conception of ‘social change,’ we displace our own culpability, our own incrimination in systems of oppression.
3. The Government’s Responsibility Trope:“Justice for Trayvon Martin! Send Zimmerman to jail!”
When 17 year old African American Trayvon Martin was shot in February 2012 many people of color passionately argued that Zimmerman should be sent to jail immediately. Justice became conflated with ‘prison sentence.’ This is symptomatic of our citizenry’s unyielding belief on the benevolence of the State and the criminal justice system as a remedy for all our grievances. The irony of this situation is that, in their call for justice, people of color activists further entrenched a system (the increasingly privatized prison industrial complex) that disproportionately targets and oppress our communities.
We must unlearn the benevolence of the State and imagine alternative modes of community-based justice. The majority of working class people of color live in constant fear of police brutality and state violence and surveillance. Every criminal law (criminalization of abortion, criminalization of drugs, etc.) has a disproportionate effect on people of color who are already seen as criminal by a logic of white supremacy. The State is one of the most pernicious sites of violence for women (police commit sexual assault against women who report rape), violence for people of color (racial profiling and the construction of the prison industrial complex which has put 1/15 adults in prison and this stripped a large percentage of people of color of their voting rights – a strategy that Angela Davis calls a new form of contemporary slavery), and violence for queer people (rape and ridicule of sex workers, trans people, and other gender offenders).
We have to unlearn our conception of the State as some monolithic entity: the ‘State’ is composed by thousands of different individuals like ourselves – individuals who share their own prejudices and yet are expected to implement policies and make moves that run contrary to their predispositions and beliefs (so many of them just don’t).
Unlearning what we see
Along with citing common knowledge rather than taking the time to research our positions on racial justice, we must unlearn our eagerness to cite what we see as legitimate evidence. We must avoid the: “It can’t be, because I haven’t seen this!” or “I saw this and therefore it is” move. A reliance on the register of visibility may be already antithetical to a project of racial justice.
The thing about poverty and inequality is that those in power always find a way to relegate it to the domain of the invisible. Did you know that in the US – apparently the most wealthy nation in the world – almost half of our population is living in poverty or near poverty? People around the world – including Americans themselves – don’t see this because the field of representation is always already political. The images that media, that popular culture, that our ‘diverse’ universities create are engineered in such a way that they often obfuscate the lived reality of inequality.
In (un)becoming racists we have to acknowledge the ways in which invisibility has always worked as a strategy of white supremacy and colonial domination. We can see this when we read the discourse generated by colonial empires as they talked about the savages in their colonies (the person of color is always hyper-visible, while whiteness is never marked), read the pseudoscience constructed to justify colonialism and genocide, read the way that ‘ethnicity’ was constructed as a category to incorporate Europeans into the ‘constructed’ racial category of whiteness and therefore continually exclude black/brown bodies. We become familiar with the ways that whiteness has always maintained its power through its invisibility. Even though whiteness created racial difference, it excused itself from ever being named as a race.
Another way that white supremacy maintains its invisibility and therefore power is with its reliance on results/static oriented thinking versus process/mobile orienting thinking. Racism is seen as something that inhabits particular bodies. We hear of ‘racists’ as a type of people that we can easily identify. This is not the case. Racism can be better be conceptualized as a series of actions – actions that we can discern from a cursory survey of the field of representation. Both white and people of color can do white supremacist things and participate in structures of white supremacy. In recognizing racism as an active process we can see how ‘seeing’ only captures a glimpse of it and is never able to obtain the full process.
(Un)becoming racists means that we have to learn to see what has been rendered invisible.
Here are some examples of how representation often arises in these conversations:
“I’m a White Person and I’m not Racist!”
This is a tactic used by white people who conceptualize racism as only an interpersonal or interactional phenomenon that involves the expression of explicit prejudice to a person of color. The argument goes that because a white person (thinks) they treat people of color with respect and don’t call them mean names, they are therefore not racist. Because a white person sees themselves as somehow ‘different’ than the category of a ‘racist,’ therefore they are not racist. People use this argument may cite ‘extreme’ examples of racism (like the KKK) to distance themselves from it.
However, this argument incorrectly perceives what racism is. Yes racism is interpersonal, but it is also structural. White supremacy is an institution, is a particular logic, an ideology. White supremacy is a particular logic of domination that has a long history that involved (and continues to justify and render invisible) the exploitation of labor of people of color around the world, the forced enslavement and trafficking of people of color, the genocide and forced displacement of people of color, the destruction of indigenous traditions of people of color, the extinction of native languages, the pollution and exploitation of the land owned by people of color, the rape and sexual conquest of people of color, the spread of infectious diseases of people of color, the torture and mutilation of people of color, among other heinous crimes. The very system of law, of governance, of propriety, of development, of modernity, of time, of reason, etc. is a result of these violent histories. Yet, because white supremacy maintains its power in its invisibility, we do not see these systems as racialized. Because we associate these atrocities with the past, with our ancestors, we do not feel implicated. Because we do not see ourselves participating in this corruption, we pretend that we are not.
White supremacy by its nature is invisible – it is something ALL OF US (including people of color) are socialized into. If you don’t believe me take an Implicit Association Test: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/demo/ and confront your own internalized racism(s). What we have to unlearn is that our bodies are unproblematic sites of knowledge. The ‘enemy’ is not something outside of us, rather it is part of us – what Ashis Nady calls “the intimate enemy.” The lens with which we view the world is already textured by white supremacy.
All of us are complicit in white supremacy, but white people may be even more unaware of this because, unlike people of color, they do not have to develop a self-conception of being a racialized being until they are in situations where their whiteness becomes hyper-visible (visiting a country in the Global South, getting called out in a Facebook discussion). Thus, when you hear a critique directed to “white people” it is because white people are significantly less likely than people of color to take the time to understand themselves as having a race and participating in structures of white supremacy. It is because, therefore, white people are significantly less likely to interrogate their racial privilege and acknowledge the ways in which their ‘success’ does not arise solely because of their merit, but also because of their historical and contemporary racial privilege.
“But my person of color friend said…”
This occurs when well-intentioned white people may recognize that they have a different relationship to visibility because they have not been racialized. So, they cite the knowledge of their person of color friend to justify their ideas. This is symptomatic of a tactic called ‘tokenization’ – which was central to the project of colonization. Native informants were used to justify exploitation of the colonies. “Because this Indian thinks it’s okay – we’re going to go ahead and do it!” One person of color cannot represent all of the opinions/thoughts/perspectives of a diverse peoples.
Also, because people of color have grown up in a white supremacist world that has told – and continues to tell them – that they are insignificant, are less than, are worthy of incarceration, death, genocide, cultural extinction. It makes sense that many of people color have internalized racism and aspire so deeply for validation from white bodies, whether they recognize it as such or not. In advancing this argument what you are, in fact, doing is appropriating a body of color for your white supremacist agenda.
“But I’m a person of color and I don’t think this is racist!”
People of color can also be complicit with white supremacy and prejudiced on the basis of race (let’s talk about Condoleeze Rice and her decisions which have resulted in the torture and execution of countless innocent brown bodies, let’s talk about people of color who roll their eyes when their community members talk about the racial oppression they have received from white people). As I’ve tried to explain, white supremacy is an institution that is perpetuated by all bodies, including bodies of color. Bodies of color can totally say things and make decisions that contribute to white supremacy. As a brown person I am totally complicit with white supremacy and say/do/think racist things far too much.
As people of color attempting to ‘make it’ in a world dominated by a logic of white supremacy we are often not provided with the language, spaces, or methods to identify and communicate our experiences with racism. Every part of the system encourages us to remain silent and go along with the agenda. In this system we are encouraged to call out people of color who are vocal about their oppression as ‘obnoxious’ or ‘extremists’ in the same way we are taught to view black bodies as ‘criminal’ and brown bodies as ‘terrorists.’ It’s the same tactic white people use to distance themselves from the KKK. In distancing ourselves from the ‘obnoxious’ we become more reasonable, moderate, rationale, and down with the (white supremacist) system. Thus it makes perfect sense that people of color – once they have access to privilege – want to hold onto it desperately and not revoke it.
However in order to be anti-racists (not just people of color, there is a difference) we must question the legitimacy of the standards of our success, we must question the parameters our tongues, our bodies, our politics, our thoughts have to assimilate into to become successful, we must question what types of people are unable to experience the privilege we have. We must draw attention to the ways in which has been and continues to be a site of extreme material and economic oppression of people of color across the world (look at the distribution of wealth across the globe thanks to centuries of (settler) colonialism, slavery, genocide, and empire).
Rather than blithely accepting the status quo, we must use our comparative privileges to create a space for justice for all people of color – including the poor, the immigrant, the incarcerated, the homeless, the colonized, the undocumented, the non-English speaking, the non-Christian, etc.
We must (un)learn validation from a white supremacist system. We must unlearn the drive to universalize our privileged experiences and unlearn the assumption that all people of color should be quiet. Instead of distancing ourselves from conversations of racism, we should use this thing, our ‘race’ to build solidarity with communities who do experience incredible disadvantages and violence on account of their race.
I began this letter establishing that the conversations we have around race are actually structured by the very logics of white supremacy itself. This is evident in the way that we are asked to speak about race in a ‘civil,’ ‘objective,’ ‘reasonable,’ and ‘appropriate’ manner that is ‘not offensive to white people.’ The conversations we have about race are seen to exist in a vacuum – divorced from any history. We continually re-invent the wheel when we asked to re-prove the importance of racial analysis. We must unlearn the ways we have been taught to speak about race because those ways are necessarily racist!
Every time I post anything challenging white-supremacy people get upset about the “anger” and the “radicalism” of the piece – “could you have picked something more reasonable, they ask?”
We have to (un)learn what we think of as radical. Radicalism a matter of perspective. The fact that 1% of Americans have devised tactics to control the majority of wealth in the world is pretty radical. The fact that people can still deny the importance of affirmative action or other programs to address centuries of institutionalized racism is pretty radical. The fact that students at universities across the world don’t learn about white supremacy, its history, and its current implications is pretty radical!
What we must recognize is that the very keys to liberation are constructed as ‘radical’ by the system to dismiss their legitimacy. How do you expect to end racism unless we think in ways that make you uncomfortable? Can you explain to me why there is still so much inequality in the world when people have been thinking reasonably for a long time? What we must recognize is no one has come up with the answers to solving social justice issues like white supremacy because of the mandate of this political pragmatism, the mandate of this reasonability, this demonization of imagining and thinking outside of the box.
We must unlearn our cursory dismissal of critiques and arguments that come across as too ‘radical,’ too ‘outlandish,’ too ‘unreasonable’ and recognize the ways in which white supremacy creates distinctions between what is ‘useful’ and what is ‘excessive’ as a tactic of its surveillance and control.
Affect and the Personal
Folks also may take offence to the “rage” of the anti-racist text. They may feel ‘isolated’ by this and ask for a less overwrought critique.
Such a response, once again, is a tactic of white supremacy. It’s the discourse around 9/11: “How could ‘they’ do this to us – how could they be so extreme?” (discourse which ignores histories of violent exploitation and imperialism directed at the Middle East by the US and called ‘foreign policy’) It’s a way in which affect/rage/un-rationality is always ascribed to the body of color without recognizing the real history behind this feeling.
Do you honestly think anti-racists go around just wanting so desperately to yell at everyone and get in fights? As someone who has been in my fair share of these I can tell you it’s pretty exhausting and isn’t that fun. We are turned to rage as a last effort. We have tried your methods of respectability; we have tried to express our concerns with racism and imperialism in your appropriate channels and forums. We have been ignored.
Our expressions of rage come from a frustration with a system of white supremacy that continually renders our voices and critiques invisible. Our expressions of rage come from a desire to penetrate through your noise-cancelling headphones (called privilege). Our rage has a history (and so does your disbelief).
Furthermore, what makes you think that feeling ‘isolated’ by this text is a ‘bad’ thing? In dialoguing about race we have to invite our full bodies – in all of their visceral honesty – into the conversation. We cannot endorse a paradigm of rational thought that sees our intellect as somehow ‘outside’ of us. What makes you think that challenging systems of oppression like white supremacy will be easy? What makes you think that coming to see yourself as a white person is going to be comfortable? If it was easy it would have happened a long-ass time ago. It should be an extremely isolating, difficult, and emotional journey to cultivate anti-racism.
What is more important is less that you are feeling isolated, but rather, what you choose to do with that affect. You could follow the route of most privileged people and distance yourself from that emotion and rest-assured in your white bourgie sensibility and surround yourself with people who think and act like you do and validate your integrity. Or, you could use this as a radical opportunity to unlearn yourself and unlearn your privilege. You could use this as an opportunity to reflect on how the majority of people of color exist in a state where they feel perpetually isolated by you. You could use this as an opportunity to reflect on your racialization as a white or privileged race person.
This learning, this cultivation of your anti-racist racial privilege, is not something that you can just develop in reading the articles you read on Facebook. It is something that you have to (un)learn in all realms of your life: it is a way of living and thinking that has to become infectious: the way you refuse to go to certain parties and endorse racist and/or colonial stereotypes, the way that you refuse to keep silent about the jokes made about custodial/janitorial staff, the way you can’t feel comfortable in a club with all people who look like you, the way you must even invite this critique into the bedroom and question the racist construction of your deepest and most personal desires.
Unlearning Knowledge Itself
The way we are taught to think about ‘knowledge’ is that it is something that we own, something that we control, something that we cultivate (not the other way around). In our Western education systems the accumulation of knowledge is dictated by a logic of capitalism and therefore functions with models of competition and scarcity. Knowledge becomes something that we horde, we amass, something that we must continually prove and subsequently use to justify our social position and distinguish ourselves from other people if successfully proven. Knowledge stratifies us – it divides the ‘intelligent’ from the ‘unlearned, the ‘A’ from the ‘B+.’ And we buy into this understanding of knowledge so much to the point that we pay tens of thousands of dollars for it a year and accrue significant debt and sleepless nights.
What if the way we have been taught to learn and express our knowledge is antithetical to a project of social justice? What if we don’t know how to learn how to eliminate racism and other systems of oppression because we have been taught to create empires and not movements with our knowledge?
Could it be – perhaps – that the knowledge we are taught is an insecure knowledge, is a knowledge that relies on continual validation, continual dismissal of critique, continual putting down of others? That insecure knowledge, that college degree, makes us perpetually terrified of critique – we the college students who get pissed when we get B’s on our papers, we the learned class who so deeply believes that we’ve got things figured out.
Our relationship to knowledge makes racial justice impossible because as with any project of liberation, we must liberate ourselves from dominant ways of knowing that the system – the same system that has incarcerated more African-Americans in our prisons than were enslaved in 1850 – has taught us.
In order to dialogue meaningfully for justice we have to unlearn this knowledge. We have to unlearn the logic of ‘criminal’ ‘justice’ as a means to make our nation more ‘safe.’ We have to unlearn that tinge of fear when we see a black man walking on the street at night. We have to unlearn the overwhelming beauty of whiteness that we see marketed to us on television screens.
The way we have been taught to ‘know’ is in a way that requires us to continually prove to the world that we know exactly what we’re talking about – that we have well-reasoned arguments for every belief we might have. Within this system of knowledge we get punished for admitting our ignorance – we don’t get the degree, we don’t get the job, we don’t get the credibility. We get punished for not knowing the ‘answers’ for not having the ‘finished product.’
We have to develop a relationship with knowledge that makes us eager, and not intimidated or offended by critique. We have to approach knowledge with humility and not dominance. We have to stop viewing knowledge as something that we can access as individuals, and instead think of it as something that we can only discern as collectives.
Ultimately, we have to perceive knowledge as something that is beyond our control, something that is continually unknowable and inaccessible. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that we didn’t know something, it should be an expectation, especially when it comes to issues of justice. We cannot make demands that these topics render themselves in intelligible forms that we can consume (when you ask me to prove that white supremacy exists). In making this demand we assume that the key to knowledge is about knowing facts, having results. What gets lost here is the process. We should think of anti-racism as a continual process of collective unlearning – a seemingly insurmountable project that requires us fundamentally to forget what we thought we knew, and commit ourselves to (un)learning anew.
“Most Ph.D. students spend their days reading esoteric books and stressing out about the tenure-track job market. Thomas Herndon, a 28-year-old economics grad student at UMass Amherst, just used part of his spring semester to shake the intellectual foundation of the global austerity movement.”—
There are several things that are great about this story:
- A “lowly” graduate student was able to take down a highly influential study, by simply looking under the hood at the underlying data and finding simple errors.
- The importance of replicating existing findings.
- Consequently, the importance of sharing data (or making it publicly available).
- The importance of remembering that science is not about definitive answers, but about engaging in a debate.
- The importance of making arguments and counter-arguments based on data, not just mere speculation.
We don’t often push our students to ask questions and challenge the authorities. We should. This guy is inspiration because he had the confidence, persistence, and fortitude to take apart a highly influential study.
You also have to give credit to his professor, who gave the assignment: Go out and replicate and existing study. And then working with the student to refine the findings and double-check the work.
And you also have to give credit to one of the original authors of the study, who sent the student the dataset. Without that dataset, there would be no “take down” and no discovery. The original author knew she was exposing herself, but freely passed along the data.
This is how the scientific method works, and why it’s superior to other forms of knowledge. Science is a collaborative project. The student needed guidance from the professor; the original author shared her data. Together—collectively—they are engaging in a debate and uncovering knowledge (in this particular case: the relationship between public debt and economic growth).
In the end, it doesn’t matter that the student is a “lowly” graduate student at UMass Amherst and he “took down” two Harvard economics professors. In the most scientific sense, they stood as equals and worked together to solve a problem. The idea that “experts” have superior intellects and should not cooperate if they disagree, is the exact opposite of how science is supposed to work.
“I see philosophy as an infrastructure rather than a system because I think as a philosopher you have to build on your surprises. That is to say, we all have opinions about pretty much every topic, and most of our opinions about most things are mediocre viewpoints no different from those upheld by everyone else who reads the same newspapers we do. Only here and there does each of us have flashes of individual insight, and I think surprise is what alerts us to these moments. Don’t tell me you aren’t surprised by something and knew it all along; that’s just boring self-congratulation. Instead, write a book about all the things you were surprised by in your researches, and then work to link those surprises together one by one, trying to discover what holds them all together, hidden from sight. That’s what infrastructure means in the philosophical context.”—Said by Graham Harman. Blockquoted on Surprise as Infrastructure- Cyborg Management 101
“As long as libertarians continue to answer people's questions about their problems with the reasons they're not really problems instead of ideas for solutions, we will lose and we should lose.”—
This is important:
- You don’t have to be interested in every single issue.
- And you don’t have to have the answer to every single problem.
- And you don’t even have to understand why every single problem is a problem at all.
But when presented with a problem you don’t understand or care about, don’t just downplay it. Explain any ideas you do have on the subject, acknowledge that this isn’t your area of expertise, and try to point the questioner in the direction of a libertarian who does have good ideas for a solution.
Empathy, even coupled with disagreement, is more appealing than dismissal — and this is a key lesson for anyone who wants to advance liberty.