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.
A History of Anger: Theirs. Not Yours
If you are like me, a faculty of color teaching in a lily-white private liberal arts college, then there is a good chance that my story is also your story.
Let me tell you then, how your gradual road from happiness to hell or fury on your campus may have unfolded. Nobody in your graduate school, even your dear advisor ever told you that this “tenure track” route is indeed a long and treacherous road. Road filled with uneven sidewalks and occasional open manholes.
And if you have made it on this track to being granted tenure, or tenure with an associate ranking and even “full professorship,” I know, we know that you have scars. Deep scars. Scars from humiliations. Scars from betrayals. Scars from simply being stepped over. Multiple times.
But you always knew your worth, although they made you doubt it from time to time. You passed all those gatekeepers who didn’t want to promote you –– not because you didn’t achieve the excellence required of your teaching or scholarship, but deep down they were angry with you. Yes, you angered them. You angered them because your students loved you. You angered them because your scholarship made you more prominent that their golden boys and girls. You angered them so much that they probably had “secret” meetings in your absence to process their rage with each other.
But you certainly didn’t know about their fragile emotional states. How could you? They were always polite to you. Always. But beneath their politeness, there was contempt. Deep contempt.
You (their token of diversity subject) must have unknowingly spoken back. Must have spoken back about their very white and Eurocentric curriculum with daffodils and clouds. If you are like me (growing up in a former British colony) you may have never ever seen a daffodil. Neither did Jamaica Kincaid. “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” said Kincaid, “became not an individual vision coolly astonishing the mind’s eye but the tyrannical order of a people, the British people, in my child’s life.”
By invoking Kincaid in your conversations you made it clear that you are not that kind of subaltern. And even worse. One day when amongst the feminists in your institution, you declared that you did not gain much from the second wave feminism. You always had a voice. You mother did too.
Then you heard from some of your trusted white allies (yes they exist) that you made your white women colleagues cry in each other’s offices, if not in each other’s arms. They were particularly shocked to hear that you did not believe in their Lean In Feminism.
The men, on the other hand could not understand your antipathy towards their beloved Wordsworth. They fumed behind closed doors. Alone.
As a result of all of these white tears shed on your behalf, or fumes released, the reality was/is, that you must have accumulated a fair number of colleagues that began to disdain you–– your guts, your mind, your words and mostly your audacity to question.
So let me take you back to that lovely fall day, sometime in August when you arrived for the first time on your “tenure track” job.
You were ready. You were happy. You knew that you were lucky.
You probably couldn’t keep track of the number of colleagues that shook hands with you, or at least conveyed to you verbally, how glad they’re at your arrival! How glad they were that you’ve joined their community!
“We sure needed some color. It’s dreary here in the cornfields,” said the soon to retire SheTheFrench professor.
You were told that this SheTheFrench professor had a dry sense of humor.
After a few months into your job you too realized that it sure was dreary. So you started looking for more colleagues of color. Well, you found only three. Three.
This is when it dawned on you that after all the meta-theorization on race and racializations and hypervisibility and erasures, and all the books and papers you had read and written in graduate school about “the discourse of invisibility and marginality” ––were all wrong. Dead wrong.
You and your three other colleagues stood out in any crowd like white teeth. White teeth that glowed when the room was full. Glowed when it was dark. Pitch dark, like tar. Bright teeth that were visible even on the dreariest days. And just like your white teeth, you three all looked alike. Hyper –Visible- Clones.
Your visibility and resemblance (although you looked nothing like Cheryl other than your hair and skin tone) made you interchangeable. Yes, by then you had met Cheryl. She was brown. She grew up in a border town near San Antonio. She was an adjunct in your building teaching in the business department.
Cheryl was you and you were Cheryl like a song. Like a merry-go-around.
And with your Cheryl you must have attended those readings sponsored by your “state of the art” and newly renovated library. Readings, where accomplished and award winning white authors and scholars (mostly men with unshaved faces and women with their short bobbed hair and knee high boots, short skirts, and Eileen Fisher linen shirts, (or khaki trousers and Keen hiking shoes) came to speak on campus about the future of our environments and the disappearing rivers and forests, bears and wolves.
And who could forget that moment when you looked around and saw just rows and rows of white people, except your colleague Cheryl (who was hiding behind the stacks, since she was only an adjunct).
This is when it struck you that it was only you two that added any strokes of brown on an overwhelmingly white canvas. You didn’t want to be a part of that painting any longer.
What Is Next?:
Hit with this realization that there may be some serious issues with under-representation on your campus, you must have walked to one of your colleague’s office and asked, “Does the college have any plans to hire more faculty of color? How about strategies for increasing students of color?”
This is when you heard a deep and concerned voice leaning back against his chair and telling you, “Well we are in the middle of these cornfields or mountains, or vineyards. Faculty of color does not want to come here. I don’t think they will be happy here.”
You wondered if HeTheAnthropologist knew what made faculty of color so unhappy?
This was followed by more shocking revelations by a few other well meaning colleagues that you had the pleasure of knowing by the virtue of working on a few committees with them. “Increasing students of color will make work too difficult for us. They may not be ready to come here,” said SheTheHistory professor. Then you overheard, SheTheMedievalist whispering, “Faculty of color are too demanding.”
You stood there in the fish bowl, or perhaps sat down. Like some ghost, your presence was invisible to them. It became obvious to you that the Emancipation and Proclamation Act of 1963 may not have arrived on your campus. It was 2007. Or may be 2008.
The next day you did something bold, or rather subversive. You slipped under each of their doors an article or two from the Chronicle of Higher Education about the pitfalls of a campus that lacks diversity. You emailed the director of the library and asked her to get a copy of White Privilege: Essential Readings on the Other Side of Racism edited by Paula S Rothenberg.
That evening tired and exhausted you came back home. Read for the next day. Graded. Then you picked up from your bookshelf something that you had not read for a while. This Bridge Called My Back. You could barely keep your eyes open anymore, but still had to read Mitsuye Yamada’s words like a prayer:
We need to raise our voices a little more, even as they say to us “This is so uncharacteristic of you.” To finally recognize our own invisibility is to finally be on the path towards visibility. Invisibility is not a natural state for anyone.
There is an expectation that we can talk about sins but no one must be identified as a sinner: newspapers love to describe words or deeds as “racially charged” even in those cases when it would be more honest to say “racist”; we agree that there is rampant misogyny, but misogynists are nowhere to be found; homophobia is a problem but no one is homophobic. One cumulative effect of this policed language is that when someone dares to point out something as obvious as white privilege, it is seen as unduly provocative.
by Teju Cole in “The White Savior Industrial Complex”
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 is soon to retire) who both created and chaired our diversity committee this:
“The center cannot be threatened. 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 predict if this diversity initiative that he had initiated –– would float or sink. At the very least, we wanted it to float until it reaches a safe shore.
This narrative is not about my President. It is about those that never supported my President. It is about those that did not support your President either.
The Main Act:
The truth is that our straight white male colleagues do not like diversity committees. They are threatened by its very existence. They 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.
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 of their knowing 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/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.