via On Being Uncivil
“On Being Uncivil”
Sometimes, you must raise your voice.
It is the only way to be heard
when they will not listen to you otherwise.
Sometimes, you have to tell the truth.
It is the only way to be true to yourself
when they are all telling you
“you must lie if you want to succeed.”
Sometimes, you have to be angry.
It is the only way to release the seeds of justice
when they want to normalize
injustice as justice.
Sometimes, you have to be betrayed.
For this is the only way you will know your allies
as those that will betray you
will have their face painted by guilt
Sometimes you must file a complaint.
This is the only way you will make a record
of your abuses and abusers,
their clandestine investigations
for the world to see.
And sometimes, you must leave and leave behind
those that made you sick. Very sick.
It is only the healthy, the brave,
the ones with dignity and self love,
the ones that will not want to be erased
from the history of being silenced
can set themselves free.
From Their grips
That You Disallow/ed.
For many white people, a single required multicultural education course taken in college, or required “cultural competency training” in their workplace, is the only time they may encounter a direct and sustained challenge to their racial understandings. But even in this arena, not all multicultural courses or training programs talk directly about racism, much less address white privilege. It is far more the norm for these courses and programs to use racially coded language such as “urban,” “inner city,” and “disadvantaged” but to rarely use “white” or “over- advantaged” or “privileged.” This racially coded language reproduces racist images and perspectives while it simultaneously reproduces the comfortable illusion that race and its problems are what “they” have, not us.
Robin DiAngelo in White Fragility
It was not that long ago, I remember sitting in our President’s office and giving him a Postcolonial 101 tutorial. I knew he would listen. We always didn’t agree, but we listened to what the other had to say. On a yellow lined writing pad I drew a small circle and named it “the center,” followed by a larger circle on the outside and marked it as “the margins.” I remember telling our tall, white, male President (who has now retired) who created and chaired our diversity committee this:
“Do you want to threaten the center? It is a dangerous move. If the center disintegrates, the margins with all its sharp and hard edges may cave in. Or worse. The margin may become the center.”
That day, he looked at me partly amused, partly curious, partly serious, mostly puzzled. Puzzled because neither he (as an administrator) nor I (as a scholar) could’ve predicted if this diversity initiative that he had initiated –– would float or sink. At the very least, we wanted it to float until it reached a safe shore.
This narrative is not about my President. It is about those that never supported my President. It is about those that do not support your President either.
The Main Act:
The truth is that our straight white cis gender male colleagues do not like diversity committees. They are threatened by its very existence. They do not feel included.
The truth is that many of our white cis gender women colleagues also do not like diversity committees. They are threatened that the little power they have gained from these white men may be taken away. They also do not feel included.
Not included in the center. Not included in the margin. Not included anywhere.
Not being included is a threat. A viable threat.
Our allies are few. Very few.
The truth also is that most white colleagues (including many of our white feminist women in positions of power) feel deeply anxious and even conflicted about equity in educational spaces. They are not ready to give up their white privilege to level off the playing field. There is still a great deal of divide between our white Lean In Feminists and our transnational feminists/feminism.
The truth is that many of our our white colleagues believe in hard work and meritocracy. They believe in equal opportunities. And like their guru Nicholas Kristof, they believe in “turning oppression into opportunities.”
They are dreamers, because their dreams may and do come true. They believe in the American dream. They believe that all of us have access to our dreams.
The truth is that they are afraid of disruption that equity requires. They are afraid of disruptions that equity brings. They do not want to be disrupted.
They fear the disrupters.
Disrupters are a sight of abject.
The truth is that most of our white colleagues are uncomfortable being examined, being scrutinized, being questioned, being challenged about their ways by us. They call it their “episteme” or their “epistemology.”
Somehow, the laws of equal opportunities that demand accountability are not applicable to our white colleagues. Somehow those that are on the margins still do not have the permission to interrogate the center. Or worse, as James Baldwin had once said, “The victim who is able to articulate the situation of the victim has ceased to be a victim: he or she has become a threat.”
We/You/Our/POC/WOC/BIPOC/Marginal/Transgender/Queer/Disabled/ = A Threat
Any real diversity worker who begins to articulate the situation and the conditions of institutional racism and oppression becomes a real threat to our institutions.
So let’s keep this project of diversity safe. Or, as Sara Ahmed in her book On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life reminds us that “diversity [is] or as a form of public relations. . . a means by which organizations establish and maintain good will.”
Smiling faces of our POC students and faculty on various brochures are signs of happiness. These are indeed the symbols of good will.
These glossy symbols of happiness matters. It matters to our trustees. It matters to our donors. And mostly, it matters to our white faculty members who want to believe that their POC and all other marginal citizens are happy. Happy to be here.
The white savior’s work is complete.
When Free Speech Dismantles Diversity Initiatives
(This piece was published in CounterPunch on October 31, 2017.)
Case # 1:
In October 2017, Drexel University’s administration unilaterally suspended Professor George Ciccariello-Maher, a professor whose area of specialty is race and politics. His tweet about the Las Vegas shooting by Stephen Paddock, led to a campaign of harassment against him. In his series of tweets Ciccariello-Maher blamed “Trumpism” and the entitlement of white men for carrying out acts of violence.
Case # 2:
Bill Mullen, professor of American Studies and an organizer for the Campus Anti-Fascist Network requested that Purdue University (where he teaches) investigate documented incidences of White Supremacy on campus. What Mullen received instead was a response from Purdue’s President Mitch Daniels saying, “I have spent considerable time replying to multiple messages from citizens who find your various pronouncements abhorrent and unacceptable and demand that you be sanctioned or expelled from the university entirely.”
On October 10th, 2017, students at Columbia University protested and disrupted a far right speaker, Tommy Robinson, an anti-Islam British activist.
Columbia University is now formally investigating the student activists.
College campuses are clearly on the frontline of the right wing’s battle against diversity and multiculturalism. These incidents at Drexel, Purdue and Columbia add to the larger narrative unfolding in colleges and university campuses across the country where students and faculty voices protesting the attacks on diversity initiatives are being threatened from both within and outside the institutions. In Ciccariello-Maher’s case, Drexel has blamed the professor’s statement for “losing some prospective students and donors because of the furor over the tweets.”
Taken together, these above narratives expose the precarious and tenuous position of our institutions as they wrestle with diversity initiatives, viewpoint diversities, left oriented critiques of free speech, while aspiring to maintain a revenue generating market model of education.
The Past Tense of Diversity Initiatives:
By gone are those days when college Presidents announced their policies of “zero tolerance” for racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, anti-immigrant, Islamophobic provocations. What we have now, instead, are concerned voices of administrators, telling faculty in their memos that we need to be more mindful of our conservative students and speakers as they exercise “view point diversity.” The conservative base of students, we are told, are reluctant to speak up about their ideologies because they fear being silenced, or even vilified by their left leaning Marxist faculty and other students.
Vilified or silenced by whom? Weren’t diversity initiatives conceived to make legitimate spaces for promoting dialogues about forms of marginality and social justice issues? Weren’t these the same initiatives created to include the gender and identities of those that were historically marginalized?
While these above questions have remained unanswered, some colleges have new strategies to minimize vilification or silencing of conservative students on campus. Their plan: Enroll more conservative students. According to a recent article in Inside Higher Ed, “College With Liberal Reputation Wants to Recruit Conservative Students” the new president of Warren Wilson College, Lynn M. Morton wants “the college to seek out and enroll conservative students.”
Warren Wilson isn’t the only place trying to recruit conservative students these days. Some college administrators have said that the 2016 elections of Donald Trump have intensified these recruitment efforts. There is fear that colleges and universities are not serving the conservatives who make up a majority in this country.
While institutions are crumbling under the pressures of their conservative base, so are the various diversity initiatives. Like Warren Wilson, colleges are beginning to actively recruit conservative students by claiming that these conservative demographics are our “new minority.”
The arrival of the “new minority” have also brought to the stage new speaker and new organizations; Jordon Peterson, Charles Murray, Milo Yiannopoilos, Richard Spencer, Professor Watchlists, Turning Point USA, Club Evropa, Vanguard America.
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me”
The dormancy of the free speech debate during the last eight years of Obama’s presidency has been replaced by not just free speech, but offensive free speech. This has coincided with the historical rise of extreme right wing ideologies and their fascist take-over of identiterian politics globally.
Proponents of identiterian politics are using outright “hate” speech as “free speech” where figures like Milo Yiannopoulos can say, “Now, some of the most dangerous places for women to be in the world are modern, Western, rich European countries. Why? One Reason. Islamic Immigration – it’s got to stop.”
And then there is Richard Spencer, the leader of the alt right movement whose vision of an ideal society is to build a White society. Vanguard America, right after the election of Donald Trump distributed posters at the University of Central Florida that read: “Imagine a Muslim Free America,” and “Free Yourself from Cultural Marxism.”
It has become amply clear to those who are fighting against fascism and White supremacy on college and university campuses, that the agenda of groups like alt-right and some conservative campus clubs like Identity Evropa, Young Americans for Freedom, Vanguard America, Turning Point USA (that also maintains the Professor Watchlist) is to not promote any view point diversity. Instead, their sole agenda is to disrupt the legal and cultural protections to protect justice by asking for platforms to legitimize ideologically racist and culturally conservative indoctrination in the name of “political diversity.”
While diversity initiatives that emerged in the early 90’s pushed for university curriculums to disrupt Whiteness, colonialism and imperialism as dominant epistemologies circulating in the humanities and the social sciences, Trump’s election marks a serious threat to such initiatives.
The turbulent 60’s and 70’s that gave rise to departments such as Black Studies, Women’s Studies, Gay and Lesbian Studies, and various social justice related movements on college campuses (under the broad banner of “multiculturalism”) challenged Eurocentric models of knowledge. Such diversity-based models of education are obviously offensive to those who want to “Make American White Again.”
So they have begun a well-funded effort to invoke the principles of “free speech” to dismantle various diversity initiatives that have provided equal opportunities to the protected classes.
Here, the issue is less about freedom of speech, but freedom of expression as a strategy to provoke. While freedom of expression may sound harmless, speech acts does affect and even harm. The nursery rhyme logic of free speech as postulated by the right, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me” is discernibly false.
What these members that are proponents of free speech fail to acknowledge is that “freedom of expression’ does not give anyone an unfettered permission to say anything that want. Ulrich Baer in his widely read New York Times opinion piece “What ‘Snowflakes’ Get Right About Free Speech” reminds us that free Speech on a college and university campus, have a responsibility to “[balance] the inherent value of a given view with the obligation to ensure that other members of a given community can participate in discourse as fully recognized members of that community. Free-speech protections . . . should not mean that someone’s humanity, or their right to participate in political speech as political agents, can be freely attacked, demeaned or questioned.”
Free Speech, Civility and the “disrupters”:
While the debate on free speech is dominating on most college campuses, we are also been told that offensive speech (if it has to be tolerated) then we must do so using “civility” in a “mutually respectful” climate. Repeatedly civility is used as a smoke screen to silence speech that wants to dismantle racism, white supremacy and fascism.
In 2015, The Nation published “The New Thought Police: Why are campus administrators invoking civility to silence critical speech?” by Joan W Scott. Scott reminds us by quoting social theorist Nancy Fraser that, “Once a certain space or style of argument is identified as civil, the implication is that dissenters from it are uncivilized. “Civility” becomes a synonym for orthodoxy; “incivility” designates unorthodox ideas or behavior.”
Under the current political climate and especially on college campuses, any critique or outrage over discriminatory and vile rhetoric marks one as being “uncivil.” Organizations like Charlie Kirk’s the Professor Watchlist maintains a list of more that 200 + faculty members for their leftist ideas and viewpoints that are deemed as an indoctrination of leftist ideologies into the classrooms. The Watchlist’s self proclaimed mission is to to “expose and document college professors who discriminate against conservative students, promote anti-American values, and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.”
Similarly Foundation for Individual Rights in Education: FIRE blacklists institutions that have disinvited conservative speakers, marking them as the free speech violators. Under the banner of being crusaders for free speech, FIRE’s major grants, as Jim Sleepr exposed in “The Conservatives Behind the Campus ‘Free Speech’ Crusade” “come from the ultra-conservative Earhart, John Templeton, and Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundations; the Scaife family foundations; the Koch-linked Donors Trust.” These are the same funders that also support and fund “conservative campus-targeting organizations that the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, the David Horowitz Freedom Center (whose “Academic Bill of Rights” would mandate more hiring of conservative faculty and would monitor professors’ syllabi for “balance”) and Campus Watch (which tracks and condemns liberal professors’ comments on the Middle East).”
Backed by powerful and conservative funders, in Trump’s America there is a growing fear that if one challenges the white supremacists and their narratives of culturally and morally oppressive stances, such disruptions are seen as “too disruptive,” “too offensive,” “too uncivil.” They are perceived as an infringement on the “invited” speakers right to free speech.
The alt-right, their donors, and their many followers have overwhelmingly targeted scholars of color, and those opposing racism, sexism, white supremacy and fascism.
June 2017 such an “uncivil disruptor” was African American Trinity college professor, John Eric Williams. Williams had shared an article in Fusion called “Bigoted Homophobe Steve Scalise’s Life Was Saved by a Queer Black Woman.” He later shared another article from Medium called “Let Them Fucking Die” and used the “Let them fucking die” comment as a hashtag.
As a result of his hashtag, Williams received violent threats. Rather than Trinity defending his right to free speech, administration put him on administrative leave.
Emerging Discourse on Silencing:
Perhaps we need to start thinking seriously about not the role of free speech, but a discourse of silencing and sanctions as a form of disciplining that has emerged in responding to campus climates that have historically suppressed ideas and positions of exclusions.
A debate on free speech and even offensive free speech on college and university campuses should not be at the cost of what we do not value and cannot value. Cheryl Harris has poignantly said in “More Than What Is: What Ought to Be,” “Defending the right to speak is theoretically distinct from defending the underlying message” but over and over, those who protest the racist character of the event are subject[ed] to the most strident critique.”
To not univocally denounce racist, homophobic, sexist, and Islamophobic speech, but to allow it on campuses as “viewpoint diversity” is at best an ethically irresponsible gesture.
(This piece was published in CounterPunch on March 21, 2017)
A racist man shot Srinivas Kuchibhotla on February 22, 2017. He wanted to kill a Muslim. He thought Srinivas and his friend Alok Madasani were Iranians. A week later, Harnish Patel was shot and killed in his driveway by another racist man. Sheriff Barry Faile, investigating Patel’s case said, “I don’t have any reason to believe that this was racially motivated.” Sheriff Faile’s words are not convincing. Instead, the Indian community have concluded that these two brown men were gunned down by two racist Americans who couldn’t care less if these men belonged to the “model minority”class, or were U.S. born citizens or not. All that mattered to them was that these two men were “brown” or “Muslims” and hence they must be deleted. Permanantly. America First.
For the Indian community, however, these men were not just “brown” men. One man was an Aviation engineer working for Garmin in Kansas, while the other, an owner of a Speed Mart convenience store in South Carolina. For one, the Indian community raised $670, 000 for his funeral. There was no such GoFundMe campaign for the other. For one, the Indian Americans mourned in the Silicon Valley and all over America. For the other there was a hand made sign that was stuck on the window of his convenience store: “Store Close for few days because of a family emergency. Sorry for inconvenience.”
Kochibhotla’s funeral took place in Hyderabad, India. Patel’s funeral was in Lancaster, South Carolina. Paul Oommen, an India-based journalist with The Associated Press tweeted that Kuchibhotla’s granduncle said that Kuchibhotla and his siblings were all bright students, “but Srinivas was the brightest of the three.” For Patel, there was a post on the guestbook of the funeral home saying, “He will always have a special place in our hearts.”
The funeral for Kochibhotla was a public event in India with hundreds of family and friends and even politicians. Images of his body with flowers, grief stricken relatives, the funeral procession, and even the lit funeral pyre were made public. The heartbreaking photo of his young widowed wife, Sunayana Dumala made the pages of both The Hindu and The New York Times.
Patel did have a funeral too. A more private funeral. A small post by the Burgress Funeral Home read, “The service will be overseen by priest Ashok Trivedi.” That’s all.
In the wake of Kochibhotla’s murder Sushil Rao, another Indian journalist tweeted that the Indian government should “institute awards for those who protect Indians abroad.” For the other, no such protections have been announced yet.
Two brown men killed by two racists Americans, yet for the Indian community these brown bodies belong to two very different Americas, two very different kinds of Indians in America. They belong to the America that still believes in “exceptionalism,” and one that doesn’t. They belong to a belief of what Kuchibholta’s grieve stricken wife said in her press conference: “he always assured me that ‘only good things happen to good people. Always think good, always be good. And good will happen to you’.
I am finding these articles about the murder of the Indian Kansas man incredible sad, and this growing worry about “our” safety amongst Indians frustrating. Who exactly is this “our” in this collective call for “our community,” “our safety,” “our protection,” “our dignity?” Who according to the Indians are “the good?”
If anything these two hate crimes have highlighted is that there are two kinds of Indians, two kinds of “browns.” The “right” kind of brown versus the “wrong” kind of brown, and we urgently need to have a conversation about this divide. And this divide is not new. It has existed long before Trump’s America. Lyndon B. Johnson’s “The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965” put an end to the exclusionary and racist quotas of the 1920’s, and gave birth to the class of people we now call the “model minorities.” While the demographics of the right kind of brown have gradually risen in American since 1965, “the wrong kind of browns” have been playing in their shadows. Forever.
If the first casualty for the Indian American community in Trump’s America is Srinivas Kuchibhotla, the first casualty in Bush’s America, referred to as “The First 9/11 Backlash Fatality,” was a man named Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh- American the gas station owner in Mesa Arizona. I do not remember this level of anxiety within the Indian-American community when Sodhi was killed after 9/11. He too was mistaken as an Arab-Muslim and shot and killed by a man called Frank Silva Roque. Rogue had told his friends that he was “going to go out and shoot some towel-heads.”
Neither did Sodhi nor did Patel have any large fund raising campaigns by their fellow Indians across the country to cover the cost of their respective funerals. What, however, did happen in Sodhi’s case was that many Arizona state representatives and citizens of all backgrounds rallied around the Sodhi family and the Sikh American community in support of this hate crime. Over 3,000 people attended Mr. Sodhi’s memorial service.
Yet, just a few months before the tenth anniversary of Sodhi’s death and the attack on America, the Arizona legislature decided to remove Mr. Sodhi’s name from the state 9/11 memorial because he was not deemed “a victim of 9/11″. Adding insult to injury, along with stripping the late Mr. Sodhi’s name from the memorial, the legislation even enumerated that the removed plaque to be sold to a scrap metal dealer. Ten years after 9/11, the original sponsor of the bill to remove Sodhi’s name from the memorial John Kavanaugh, a Republican member of the Arizona senate stated, “It’s part of a myth that, following 9/11, Americans went into a xenophobic rage against foreigners. That’s not true. America’s reaction towards foreigners was commendable.”
I cannot recall any outrage by “the right kind of brown folks” against Sodhi’s murder, or the subsequent negation of his “victim” status after 9/11. While other communities of color repeatedly expressed their anxiety over their safety after 9/11, and Brooklyn New York’s “Little Pakistan” became a ghost town (as 20,000 Pakistanis left Brooklyn out of fear and many landed in detention facilities), I do not recall, then, any call for safety, or awards for keeping all people “brown” safe?
But Srinivas was the “right kind of brown,” the right kind of foreigner, the “good” immigrant. Yet his wife was not so sure about their safety, as she said in her press conference, “we’ve read many times in newspapers of some kind of shooting happening everywhere. And we always wondered, how safe, or I especially, I was always concerned: ‘Are we doing the right thing of staying in [the] United States of America?
The night of Kuchibhotla’s murder, hundreds of “the right kind of brown folks” who continue to take their safety for granted have posted on various social media sites. asking, “why did this happen to him?”
I continue to be frustrated that there is still such dismay amongst the “right” kind of the Indian brown community that Srinivas’s killing was one of a mistaken identity. “He was not a Muslim” as hundreds of Tweets have said. Srinivas was “mistaken” to be a Muslim. So, if Srinivas was a Muslim and Adam Purinton killed him, would his death be more justified?
I find it even ironic that these “right” kind of brown folks who are so shocked about the rise of racism against the Indians in this post-Trump’s America, have continued to turn a blind eye to the racism that has plagued Africans/African Americans and Hispanics in this country on a daily basis, much before Trump’s arrival. Mass incarcerations are not a concept that the “right kind of brown” has to witness, let alone imagine. Such things do not happen to them or “good people.”
Oh well, the “right kind of brown folks” (I forget) are here to advance professionally, to dream, to contribute to America’s exceptionalism and demand safety that “the wrong kind of brown” cannot even fathom.
The “right kind of brown” also never thought that the Muslim ban, or the rise of anti-immigrant xenophobia was going to impact any of them. After all they are the “the right kind of brown,” “the right kind of immigrants,” “good people” –– well educated Hindu professional. They have conveniently forgotten the “Muslim ban” in India. They have conveniently forgotten that India has her own anti-Muslim “Purinton.”
While it deeply saddens me that both Srinivas and Harnish are dead, (and both were vicious racist hate crime along with the shooting of Deep Rai in Kent, Washington), I am even more sad that the right kind of brown folks continue to believe that somehow their life is more valuable than the “wrong” kind of brown –– those that are not a part of the group that constitute “the highest per capita income” earners amongst the minority groups. Are the lives of the right kind of brown folks really more valuable than the Muslims, the refugees, the Speedy Marts and gas station owners, the Hispanics, the Blacks, the Native Americans? Are the lives of their children more valuable than Michael Brown or Tamir Rice?
Let’s face it. Until the right kind of brown folks can begin to acknowledge their complicity, their willful naiveté and their turning of their blind eyes against the wrong kind of brown –– the Indian community will be forever fragmented and even isolated in their discourse on racism in America. A conversation about “our safety” until then should best remain suspended.
Trump may have given the Indian community an opportunity to grapple with this contradiction both here and in India.