We’re still on hiatus from the blog (pandemic life!) but we wrote an op-ed for Carleton College’s student newspaper about responding as a community to hateful speech from a transformative justice perspective. Let us know your answers to the questions we pose at the end! (Also, check our tweet about the op-ed where we include some links that we refer to.)
Our statements in support of #ScholarStrike
Away from email 9/8/2020: In solidarity with the national #ScholarStrike
September 8 and September 9 I will interrupt my normal teaching and administrative duties at Carleton College to participate in the national #ScholarStrike. The strike has been organized by academics across the country as one way to call attention to the ongoing state violence being waged against Black communities and other communities of color in multiple forms, including police brutality; disparities in access to healthcare and health outcomes, most visible these days in the disproportionate effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on Black and Indigenous communities, immigrant communities, and other marginalized communities; and the longstanding educational debt owed to Black children and communities. Demands for justice in Minneapolis and beyond following the police murder of George Floyd have led to renewed calls for racial justice and equity on Carleton’s campus this summer–you can view demands by Black students and organizations here and demands by Carleton alumni here.
On Tuesday, I will participate in departmental conversations intended to address the question of how we, as English scholars and teachers, might name and dismantle the way colonialism and imperialism and white supremacy have shaped our aesthetic and cultural values, our canons, our pedagogical tools.
On both days, I will take the time to educate myself further on racial justice and abolition using the collection of teach-in videos created by those participating in the Scholar Strike. Those videos are available to everyone. We cannot change our institutions and our communities without taking the steps to educate ourselves. I plan to tweet out about what I’m learning.
In addition, I will be donating the equivalent of two-days pay to three different organizations recommended by the Carleton Ujamaa Collective : Snap for Freedom, Community Justice Exchange, and the UndocuBlack Network.
Thanks to Anita Chikkatur’s work, this away message contains a lot of links which I hope you will use to join me in educating yourself more about these issues that affect deeply members of the Carleton community and communities in Northfield, Twin Cities, Minnesota, and beyond.
Finally, due to my participation, my email response may be delayed. Let me encourage you to follow #SCHOLARSTRIKE on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and to engage with the teach-in occurring on the Scholar Strike YouTube channel.
Scholar Strike is meant to disrupt the everyday routines of academia, and to show solidarity with other workers striking for Black lives, particularly the athletes of the WNBA and NBA. On these two days, in a variety of ways, academic professionals are disrupting the status quo and refusing to stand by while racism and violence devastate Black Americans’ lives and communities.
Away from email 9/8/2020: In solidarity with the national #ScholarStrike
I will be refraining today from teaching and administrative duties at Carleton College to participate in the national #ScholarStrike. The strike has been organized by academics across the country as one way to call attention to the ongoing state violence being waged against Black communities and other communities of color in multiple forms, including police brutality; disparities in access to healthcare and health outcomes, most visible these days in the disproportionate effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on Black and Indigneous communities, immigrant communities, and other marginalized communities; and the longstanding educational debt owed to Black children and communities. Demands for justice in Minneapolis and beyond following the police murder of George Floyd have led to renewed calls for racial justice and equity on Carleton’s campus this summer–you can view demands by Black students and organizations here and demands by Carleton alumni here.
Scholar Strike is meant to disrupt the everyday routines of academia, and to show solidarity with other workers striking for Black lives, particularly the athletes of the WNBA and NBA. On these two days, in a variety of ways, academic professionals are disrupting the status quo and refusing to stand by while racism and violence devastate Black Americans’ lives and communities.
As an educator and a scholar, I believe that individual learning and change is an important part of working towards changing institutions and societies. Today, as part of taking part in the strike, I will be spending time educating myself more about racial justice and abolition, including learning from the collection of teach-in resources created by those participating nationally in the Scholar Strike as well as reading about what justice might look like in a police/policing-free society.
I will also be donating the equivalent of two-days pay (nationally, it’s a two-day strike) to Juxtaposition Arts, which “is a teen-staffed art and design center, gallery, retail shop, and artists’ studio space in North Minneapolis.”
I’ve included a lot of links in this away message in case you want to join me in educating yourself more about these issues that affect deeply members of the Carleton community and communities in Northfield, Twin Cities, Minnesota, and beyond. I also encourage you to follow #SCHOLARSTRIKE on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and to engage with the teach-in occurring on the Scholar Strike YouTube channel.
Two Hemispheres, One Call for Action: Chile, The U.S., and Social Protests
Image description: Sticker in Minneapolis of Negro Matapacos, the Chilean “riot dog.” Image source
Continuing our occasional series on “changing our imaginations”–inspired by Kandace Montgomery, a Minneapolis-based organizer for Black Visions Collective who, talking in particular about abolishing the police, said, “They’ve ruined our imagination and told us that policing is the issue [solution]. We need to change our imagination. We have to change what’s possible”–we are excited to publish this post by our colleagues, Vilma Navarro-Daniels and Carmen R. Lugo-Lugo about the symbolic and substantial parallels they see between protests in Chile in October 2018 and ongoing racial justice protests in the U.S. this summer. They call for us to recognize and build on the solidarities expressed by protestors as we reimagine a better world across national and linguistic borders. You can find Dr. Navarro-Daniels on Facebook, Twitter, or email her at email@example.com. You can find Dr. Lugo-Lugo on Facebook, IG (@crllugo), or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Vilma Navarro-Daniels and Carmen R. Lugo-Lugo, Washington State University
Souls in pain know no borders.
Isabel Allende, My Invented Country
When it is genuine, when it is born of the need to speak, no one can stop
the human voice. When denied a mouth, it speaks with
the hands or the eyes, or the pores, or anything at all.
Eduardo Galeano, The Book of Embraces
On October 18, 2019 (18-O), Chile began a protest movement that shook Latin America’s Southern cone. The anti-government protests often focused on the police, who are seen as the violent extension of the government. The song composed by the collective “Las Tesis” (The Theses) and titled “Un violador en tu camino” (A Rapist on your Way) made its way around the world, with the line “and the rapist is you,” which the women in Chile performed in front of police precincts while pointing literally at the cops and figuratively and the courts, and the state.
Close to eight months later, the United States has also been experiencing a series of protests, in the summer of 2020, which has also focused on the role of the police as the violent extension of the government, in this case, perpetrating violence against people of color and more specifically, the Black population in the country. In fact, the protests began after a series of murders of Black folks in the hands of the police and White civilians, galvanized by the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. The movement, growing under the umbrella Black Lives Matter, began to ask, firmly and without pause for one important thing: the defunding of police departments around the nation.
As context-specific as the Chilean protests were, and as context-specific as the protests in U.S. cities also are, it has become apparent that fighting the government and its fascist responses in Chile has prescient points of similarity to the fight against the government and its facist responses in the United States. There is an unquestionable connection between the Chilean social movement, October 18 (18-O), and the U.S. demonstrations in the aftermath of the assassination of George Floyd. The frames and narratives of both movements, their symbols, how they have evolved, the way mainstream media has criminalized civil disobedience, and the response of their detractors all point to a moment in history shared by the citizens of both countries.
Amazingly, there are two Chilean symbols captured by photographers in the U.S. protests: the Mapuche flag and the Negro Matapacos (Black Cop-Killer), a black mongrel dog that became famous after having been seen in many street demonstrations for years. He was (and still is) the Chilean riot dog. Although the dog passed away, his spirit seems to be still present, encouraging the people of Chile (and obviously abroad) in their fight for dignity and justice. Stickers depicting Negro Matapacos were seen on some light poles in front of a police station in Minneapolis. And protesters were captured on camera waving the Mapuche flag in the U.S. street demonstrations.
Another important point of intersection is the stories of George Floyd and Gustavo Gatica. Floyd was a Black man killed by cops in Minneapolis by kneeling on his neck for more than 7 minutes. Gatica is a 21-year old Chilean college student who was left blind after police officers in Santiago mutilated both of his eyes by shooting the same type of rubber-bullets used by U.S. cops. Floyd’s “I can’t breathe,” which he kept saying as the cop’s knee put pressure on this neck, is eerily similar to Gatica’s “I can’t see,” after the cops shot at him with rubber bullets.
Race has also played a role in both sets of protests. As mentioned earlier, in the U.S., the protests have been framed through the Black Lives Matter lens. The Chilean protests have also acquired a specific racial component after the murder of the indigenous Mapuche leader, Camilo Catrillanca, who like George Floyd, was killed by the police. This particular murder has been viewed as a galvanizing element in 18-O.
It is clear that in both Chile and the U.S., mainstream ideologies support the interests of the ruling classes at the expense of the interests of the people. In all this, there is one more connection: Chile was one of the main laboratories developed to implement the neoliberal policies that sustain the U.S. economy.
Returning to the song turned street-performance, “A Rapist On Your Way,” the song makes explicit reference to police abuse of power, in this case, abuse against women. And we are reminded of a White police officer in Oklahoma who raped multiple Black women in a short period of time. He did that because he could. (A study found that police officers in the US were charged with forcible rape 405 times between 2005 and 2013.) In both Chile and the U.S., the police force, which is supposed to serve and protect civilians, becomes the “armed wing” of the government, the economic powers, and the ruling class. It becomes a weapon against the very people that they make an oath to serve and protect.
The similarities and parallels between the still-unfolding events in Chile and the U.S. register continuities and convergences in the history of both countries. The synchronicity of the protests and the similar messages by the protestors tell us that as Isabel Allende proclaims in the opening epigraph, “pain knows no borders,” and as Eduardo Galeano points in the second epigraph, whether in the northern or the southern hemisphere, “no one can stop the human voice.”
May these synchronicities allow room for solidarity and understanding.
P.S. (from Down with Brown): We’d love to have folks do guest blog posts for us around the theme of “changing our imaginations.” So BIPOC folks interested in doing so, hit us up at email@example.com!
“Privileging the urgency over the process”: How (not) to respond to demands for institutional change
Image description: Screenshot of a Zoom call with Adriana, Ainsley, Anita, & Halah
In response to the racially disproportionate effects of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the racial uprisings in the wake of the murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police officers, Black students and organizations at Carleton College issued a call for action to the college to implement anti-racist programs, organizations, and spaces for Black students, faculty, and staff.
Over 2000 college alumni signed an open letter to the college both in support of the student demands and with their own demand for the college to develop a 10-year plan for racial equity and equality. This letter was officially made public through a Twitter campaign on Monday, August 10, 2020.
Within a few hours, Carleton College sent out a response to this open letter. Many of the alumni who signed the letter, especially the nine organizers, were disappointed by the response.
We wanted to provide a space for some of those alumni to talk through why this response was so disappointing and we wanted to do it as a conversation. And that is how we arrived at our first ever video-podcast-blog post, featuring Ainsley LeSure (Class of 2005) and Halah Mohammed (Class of 2014) who took the time to chat with us and provide their wisdom and insights. You can check out the conversation here.
We want to say a huge thank you to Ainsley and Halah for joining us. We had a lot of fun and learned a lot as we close-read the response and worked through how it missed the mark and what could have been done differently.
We hope you take the time to listen to the conversation, especially if you thought the Carleton response was fine. You’ll get insight into how our readings of institutional messaging can be shaped by past relationships, current conditions of trust, and, of course, deep, sustained attention to language.
Diversity Rhetoric Obscures Structural Inequities
Image source. Students at UC Davis being pepper-sprayed at a 2011 campus protest.
After we published our post last week, an article by Cathryn Bailey came across our laptops that echoed some of our arguments about how the work that faculty do and the positions we hold at colleges tends to make us less able and willing to see ourselves as workers. Bailey takes this structural critique and argues that “It has perhaps never before been more obvious that the fissures that underlie the academic labor crisis are connected to broader concerns about diversity, inclusion, and social justice.”
Bailey makes a strong case for why the academic labor crisis and universities’ inability to make progress on social justice stem from the same structures that focus on individual efforts and rewards rather than on institutional change.
We highlight here some of the passages we found particularly insightful.
“It is perhaps when the class politics underlying academic employment are most naked that institutional propaganda about individual behavior, often couched in terms of civility, is most prevalent. Employment pressure, for example, makes faculty members ever more reluctant to speak openly about supposedly controversial matters or issues that test the bounds of ‘civility.’”
“Rhetoric swings predictably between the ‘we’ and the singular ‘you,’ which helps disguise the systemic nature of the problems. ‘Our’ campus community is set forth as a beacon of tolerance and multiculturalism. A communal ‘we’ takes credit for the mythic image of the university viewbook as an inviting Benetton ad. Yet when faculty members or students raise complaints—even those that point to long-standing patterns of discrimination or abuse—they are likely to be framed and handled merely in the very particular terms of individual rights and victimization.”
“At other times, administrators who sing the praises of diversity goals, initiatives, and strategic objectives frame structural inequities as being only about particular individuals. A quite specific complaint by a faculty member of color—for example, that his diversity-focused sabbatical proposal has been unfairly dismissed—may be met with feel-good assurances from a dean or vice provost echoing the institutional diversity statement. Such polite responses effectively close down discussion. What response is available when the dean warmly replies that ‘the University of X values everyone’? Institutional accountability becomes clouded over in a puff of rhetorical rainbow smoke that disguises the constraints faced by actual individuals, especially those from marginalized groups, who are struggling to thrive. In its attempt to sidestep blame, avoid controversy, and appease aggrieved constituents, the administration’s ‘civil’ and ‘reasonable’ conduct upholds the status quo’s inequities.”
Photo credit: unknown. Photo description: Adriana’s mami holding a sign “Rise” in the middle of a crowd of protestors, trying to help rewrite the nation’s stories.
Note: We will be working on a series of posts centered around “changing our imaginations” about education, colleges, and all the things that the two of us love to think and write about, as inspired by Kandace Montgomery, a Minneapolis-based organizer for Black Visions Collective who, talking in particular about abolishing the police, said, “They’ve ruined our imagination and told us that policing is the issue [solution]. We need to change our imagination. We have to change what’s possible.”
This post is an updated version of Adriana’s talk at the Martin Luther King Jr. celebration at Carleton in 2017. We thought it was worth publishing now because of the focus on working towards our dreams even/especially while living in a daunting reality. It showcases Adriana’s persistent optimism, even in the face of anxiety and grief.
In his Farewell address, President Obama invited those listening to act as “anxious, jealous guardians of our democracy”; almost four years later, it is more clear what that meant and means for us, how we are all a part of the unfinished story that is this country. We all understand now, so deeply, so gutturally, so painfully that the United States of America that we thought existed, maybe not on the ground, but at least in the world of theory, available in founding documents… that the United States of America has never yet been. Obama, then, was asking for us to be the guardians of something still to come, still to be born, still to be imagined into being.
The burden of working towards a dream might already be clear to you–after, all, how are we supposed to be guardians of that which does not yet exist?, but I want to underline it anyway. First–history does not serve as a blueprint, but it does offer necessary red-ink-comments in our margins that might help us do thoughtful, substantial edits. In the New York Times (2017), historian Khalil Gibran Muhammed writes: “The Dr. King we choose to remember was indeed the symbolic beacon of the civil rights movement. But the Dr. King we forget worked within institutions to transform broken systems. He never positioned himself as a paragon of progress. Nor did he allow others to become complacent.” Muhammed worries particularly about the way individual markers of progress serve to simplify history and create a narrative of progress that is so very seductive. (After all, if progress is in process, am I needed? There’s been a black president, isn’t racism over?) Muhammed’s concerns are not unjustified, given that even in the comments section one of the most “liked” comments applies the “we must stop harping on the past in order to move on into the future” logic that imagines we can fix structural inequality and racism without examining its roots. Indeed, as our friend Kevin Wolfe would say (miss you much!), this logic imagines that racism and inequality are curious and singular deviations from the beautiful commands of our founding propositions, instead of emerging from them. The challenge is obvious for those of us who take seriously Muhammed’s call to “judge transformation by how our institutions behave on behalf of individuals rather than the other way around”: our attention to history only helps to the degree that it is clear-eyed and strong-hearted, willing to battle the myths that sustain this country’s most dangerous lies: that we have always and we continue to prioritize justice, equality, and liberty for all.
The second burden of working towards a dream is that it has no end. That protest sign that we’ve seen on social media–”I can’t believe I’m still protesting this shit?”–get ready to see it again, and again, and again. I don’t mean to disillusion you or to disappoint you, but rather to steel you for the road ahead: the destination is not yet written; we cannot yet imagine the fitting close to this story. Martin Luther King Jr. warned us that “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” It’s long indeed. As Anita Chikkatur and I wrote in November 2016, “You have to really put your shoulder to the wheel to bend the arc of the moral universe.” So, right now, as we stand and sit and walk and run and kneel and march and close our eyes and feel called into action, it’s important to know this long arc so that you can keep going, knowing that it is unlikely that you will see the fruits of your labor.
How do you keep going? How do you not get exhausted and shift back into complacency? I want you to think of cultivating a muscle within yourselves–your resistance muscle. Like any muscle, it needs to be flexed regularly; it needs to be trained; it occasionally needs rest in order to work harder. This muscle profits from alliances, from listening, and from risk-taking; it requires the attention of truth-seekers, visionaries, and organizers. At the heart of it, this resistance muscle needs love and narrative.
Yes, narrative. Let me talk about why narrative matters. One way to think about this problem of not having a blueprint, about not knowing exactly where we’re going, is just as I’ve started to do so, in the language of maps, a spatial metaphor for figuring out the necessary social, political, and economic reorganization to come. I think a more sustainable metaphor, when talking about our own participation-our calls to action- is narrative. In a talk he gave at Carleton in 2017, psychologist Corey L.M. Keyes talked about the markers of mental health; hearing two of them, “purpose” and “autonomy,” the inner literary critic in me couldn’t help but rescript what he was saying just a tiny bit. Purpose and autonomy grow in us as we feel like the story we’re living makes sense, that our part in the story matters, and that you have some degree of control over your part in the story.
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s amazing musical Hamilton (now streaming! But this isn’t a commercial! Also like all art, it has problems!) is all about narrative–indeed, the character Hamilton as imagined by Miranda is so very sensitive to the purity and perfection of the narrative of him that he torpedoes it. There’s a lesson there for all of us as we begin to own our roles in this grand story about this country, this moment, the future: do not invest yourself in idealized heroes or perfect narratives. Be humble as you sketch your part in the story; be forgiving as you look back and wish you’d taken other steps; appreciate your fellow sojourners who also work to build the story.
Of course, the true hero of Hamilton–my preferred role model today–is Eliza. In the final song, “Who lives who dies who tells your story,” all the other characters moan and lament, “when you’re gone who tells your story,” She’s the one who changes the mood and direction of the song, forcefully responding: “I put myself back in the narrative.” In many ways, so many of us have imagined ourselves beyond and on the edges of the national narrative. It is high time we write ourselves back into the story. The more that we work on inserting ourselves into this story, asking ourselves, as Eliza does, “when my time is up, have I done enough?,” the more we can feel our strength, be ready for the long haul, glory in the small victories along the way.
So. Narrative–your approach to the national version of it–matters. And love matters. I’m talking of the love that Dr. King hints at when he says, “Here and there an individual or group dares to love, and rises to the majestic heights of moral maturity.” Dares to love. Dr. King points out that love is, indeed, difficult, because it asks us to engage in “understanding and creative, redemptive goodwill for all men.” For King, daring to love during struggle and sacrifice makes possible–indeed, it is the only way–to “create the beloved community.” “Love is the most durable power in the world,” he proclaims. Solange adds to that, “what’s love without a mission?”
Yeah. We’re not talking about romantic love or some anemic, anodyne love. This cannot be a touchy-feely love. This has to be an angry, justice-driven love, a commanding love, a requiring love. It is a get-up-and-shout love and a do-you-see-me-now love. To create the beloved community, we need to be able to imagine it into existence, to be able to see and care about our neighbor, our enemy, our kin. We need to love, so as not to fall into tactics of exclusion, division, and separation. It’s important to know that love is not easy. If it ever feels easy, you’re probably not doing it right. Don’t shy away from this kind of hard, daring love–it is a love that helps us re-imagine the terms of our story.
You might be asking right now, “love seems hard. How does it keep my resistance muscle from getting tired? Why is hard love sustaining?” My answer is as follows: I do not love institutions. Or corporations. Or policies. I love people. Institutions, corporations, policies will never return your love. Demand from these entities justice, equity, fair measures and processes. Love is different. Love people, without expectation of return. Love fully, knowing they may not be able to. Love honestly, letting your light shine. Love people, because loving them makes you a better, stronger, wiser person.
Reimagining K-12 schools in Minneapolis and beyond
Center High School students protesting mistreatment by school resource officers in May 2016. Photo credit: Andy Rathbun, Pioneer Press.
In this post, we want to signal boost a statement issued on June 7, 2020, by Education for Liberation, Minnesota Chapter, in support of the Minneapolis School Board’s recent decision to end their contract with the Minneapolis School Board. As this statement makes clear, taking cops out of schools is just a first step in moving towards developing curricula, pedagogy, and practices that truly educate and nurture Black and Indigenous students and students of color.
Anita is a member of Ed Lib, MN Chapter, the first-ever local chapter of the Education for Liberation Network. Our chapter was started by core local organizers of the 2019 Free Minds, Free People Conference. Our goal is to be a network to bring together various constituencies in MN toward organizing for educational justice. Our membership consists of about 100 teachers, youth, activists, and academics. Our current emphasis is on designing a statewide mentorship network for BIPOC educators who are or want to teach Ethnic Studies.
Schools without police: Our vision for liberatory education in Minneapolis and beyond
The Education for Liberation Network, Minnesota Chapter, stands in solidarity with the youth, families, teachers, and community members who organized to push the MPS School Board to vote to end the district’s relationship with the Minneapolis Police Department. We specifically want to lift up the Black youth who led this effort despite being constantly targeted by police in schools. The vote was a testament to the will of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) youth in organizations like Black Liberation Project, Youth Political Action Coalition (YPAC), Young Muslim Collective, and YoUthROC, among others, who strive, each day, to implore the district to live up to its rhetoric of equity and to truly serve the children of Minneapolis by providing an education they deserve. Ed Lib Minnesota recognizes that the termination of the racist MPD is just one stretch of a long road to justice that will take courage, imagination, humility, and will among the district’s leadership and its communities.
Simply removing police from MPS, alone, will not ensure the safety and well-being of Minneapolis’s BIPOC youth and families. The path forward must take into account the educational paradigm that allowed for police to have a role in schools in the first place. MPS must question the nature of educational structures that seek to justify notions of meritocracy, standardization, ability, and competition. Ending the contract with MPD should not be seen as a way to save money. The money needs to be reinvested in programs that nurture BIPOC youth. MPS must take bold steps to center trauma-informed practices and ethnic studies, and address racial disproportionality between teacher and student demographics in order to create an ethic of care across the district. The district must take a reparational stance to address the decades of racial animus faced by generations of youth of color, including making substantial financial investments in historically underfunded neighborhoods and funneling the most effective educators to the students with the most need. In addition to the elimination of police in schools, the district must terminate teachers who consistently remove youth of color from classes, and administrators who ignore the data showing the evidence of racist practices occurring each day.
The district must fundamentally change its curriculum across all grade levels to center the histories, cultural practices, knowledge, and skills of its diverse constituency. No longer is it acceptable for students to graduate without a deep and profound understanding of Indigenous, Pan-African, Pan-Asian, and Pan-American studies. No longer can multilingual youth be treated as though they are deficient against a monolingual English standard. No longer can racialized disparities in discipline continue to push students out of schools. Youth who consciously or unconsciously resist racist educational contexts are not behavioral problems. They are the barometers who measure the toxic atmosphere of a district with a deep history of anti-black and white supremacist logics.
Ed Lib Minnesota stands with the people of Minneapolis, and other communities, to demand that the cops who are being kicked out of the schools be replaced with BIPOC counselors and educators, rich and vibrant ethnic studies curricula, transformative justice practices, and translingual classrooms. Our organization would like to be a resource to help MPS transition toward this vision. Every child deserves to be the subject of their own educational journey, and not the object of an imaginary white norm. Police in schools are just one piece of a much larger white supremacist puzzle that must be taken apart and exposed for the lie it is.
The Education for Liberation Network, MN Chapter
Divestment and (Re)investment
Photo by Anita; on Chicago Avenue between 37th and 38th streets, South Minneapolis.
Note: We will be working on a series of posts centered around “changing our imaginations” about education, colleges, and all the things that the two of us love to think and write about, as inspired by Kandace Montgomery, a Minneapolis-based organizer for Black Visions Collective. This post is by Anita.
They’ve ruined our imagination and told us that policing is the issue [solution]. We need to change our imagination. We have to change what’s possible. Concretely, it’s putting investment in things like making sure everyone has food, making sure everyone has housing…being in process together so how do we want to keep each other safe? How do we want to address harm? Because harm will happen. How do we do that without sending racists with guns who have no accountability? Kandace Montgomery, Black Visions Collective and Reclaim the Block.
Two weeks ago, an unarmed Black man was murdered by Minneapolis police officers. Murdered brutally, casually, for allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill.
Since then, Minneapolis, St. Paul, and cities and towns across the U.S. have erupted in protests against police brutality, calling for an end to racist policing and more importantly, an end to policing. Minneapolis is leading the country in reimagining community safety and community health and resilience beyond police. Thanks to the decades of organizing by Black activists and communities, especially Black youth, the Minneapolis School Board voted to end their contract with the Minneapolis Police Department and nine out of twelve City Council members have pledged to “dismantle the police department.”
During the first week of the uprisings in Minneapolis, I had a conversation with a friend that got me thinking about all the ways in which we need to divest and reinvest as we collectively imagine and build futures of justice for Black communities and for all of us. There’s the concrete divestment of money and resources from harmful institutions and the reinvestment of money and resources into community-led, justice-oriented solutions. What is also necessary is the divestment of my own thinking and ideas about safety and order. Or as Kandace Montgomery put it in an interview with Unicorn Riot after the community meeting on June 7, 2020, where the nine city council members announced their pledge to dismantle the police department, “We need to change our imaginations.”
During a phone call with a friend the day after the 3rd precinct and many nearby buildings had burned down, we talked about how my first reactions watching buildings in South Minneapolis burn down were shock and horror. I talked about how I was raised to believe in the politics of respectability, to obey laws, to follow the rules, and to believe that the police were there to help us. I needed to be honest in naming that my first reactions might have been shock and horror, rather than pretending like I didn’t have those initial reactions. I needed to acknowledge that I needed a moment to reframe what was happening. That I had to understand what we were seeing through a different lens than the ones given to me as a child of South Asian immigrants to this country. That I needed to shift my focus to the kindling from the flame, as historian Carol Anderson described it. That I perhaps needed to learn more about what it means to abolish the police if I am to truly divest from what I have been taught to believe.
To that end, a partial list of resources that I’ve found useful if perhaps you too need to divest from some of your previous ideas about what keeps us safe:
MPD150’s frequently asked questions page that answers questions such as “Won’t abolishing the police create chaos and crime? How will we stay safe?”
The first eight steps of abolition–what do we divest from, what do we invest in.
How to talk to children about the idea of abolition: a Woke Kindergarten reading of Wings by Christopher Myers
The end of policing Alex Vitale
Are prisons obsolete? Angela Y Davis
Throughline podcast episode about the origins of American police
P.S.: Yeah, we’ve been on hiatus for a while…but we’re back at least for now. Given everything happening in our world today, we won’t promise that we’ll be blogging regularly or all the time, but we’ll try our best to put out posts on somewhat of a regular basis. As always, if you have a question about a race-related topic, particularly one pertaining to how we can imagine different, more just, more anti-racist ways of living, working, learning, and teaching on a college campus, you can write to us here.
P.P.S.: We’d love to have folks do guest blog posts for us around the theme of “changing our imaginations,” especially in the realm of education/higher educational institutions. So BIPOC folks interested in doing so, hit us up!
Racially charged words in the classroom
In this blog post, we want to signal boost a podcast episode where Professor Koritha Mitchell (Ohio State University) talks about her approach to racial and other identity-based slurs that appear in the materials she teaches in her courses. She discusses her policy of developing a class “covenant” that expressly forbids students from using the N-word or other slurs. She talks about how having a clear policy allows her and her students to read parts of texts where slurs are used without avoiding those passages and most importantly, she argues that not saying the slurs do not prevent the students from being able to analyze the texts deeply and critically. In fact, she posits (and her students featured in the podcast affirm) that such a policy allows for deeper engagement because students are not worried about how to approach these texts. Her approach allows us (as teachers) to consider more carefully our learning goals and how the diversity of student identities, experiences, and backgrounds in our classrooms changes how we reach those goals.
She repeats a phrase often in her explanation of why White teachers, in particular, are not more thoughtful about how they approach this issue, especially as it might impact Black students and other students of color: “White people are not being special or unique when they hold themselves to incredibly low standards in their interactions with people who are not White.” She repeats this idea of “low expectations” a few times, including how such low expectations apply to people of all kinds of majority identities (including race, gender, and sexuality). She also explains how the everyday violence of our institutions become normalized in moments where racial slurs are read or used in classrooms and workplaces: “When institutions are literally built on the denigrating and diminishing people of color, White people do not have to seem aggressive in order to do great violence. Denigrating and diminishing people of color might be said to grease the wheels that make our institutions and our country function.”
In the episode, Professor Mitchell starts by describing her experiences both with her students and with colleagues around the use of the N-word in classrooms and at her workplace, which, as she importantly points out, includes the classroom. As she notes, she has the right to expect a different standard of conduct in her workplace and for her students to have a different standard of conduct in their learning environment than at a hip hop concert or out on the streets. She then discusses specific passages from Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and James Baldwin’s essay “Notes of a Native son,” which include the N-word and another racial slur, and how her policy allows students to read these passages without re-creating the violence of such words by speaking them and to dig deep into the meaning of those words.
The latter part of the episode features a thoughtful discussion among three of her students who talk about their experiences with the policy and the impact it had on their learning experiences in the classroom.
We recommend a listen whether or not you’re teaching texts with the N-word or other racial slurs. We found Professor Mitchell’s approach and her explanations useful, especially her reminders about how everyday experiences in White institutions can feel violent to students and faculty of color.
Finally, a shout out to our awesome colleague and friend, Marty Baylor, for telling us about the podcast!
Why I support race-conscious admissions policies and racial diversity in schools
Note: We occasionally feature posts written by just one of us or by a guest. This post is by Anita.
There have two recent cases relating to educational opportunity that have deeply involved and engaged the Asian American community. First, debates about Mayor Bill De Blasio’s proposals about how to make the specialized magnet high schools of New York City more racially and ethnically diverse and the second, the current case against Harvard’s affirmative action plan. Both situations have brought to the forefront the diversity of experiences and opinions among Asian Americans about how they view educational opportunity and privilege. As an Asian American who happens to be an educational studies scholar, I’ve read a number of articles written on the topic, I’ve watched Asian American friends and relatives discuss and debate the issue on social media, and I am one of 500+ signatories on an amicus brief submitted in support of race-conscious college admissions. That brief makes two main arguments: (1) that Asian Americans, like all applicants, benefit from Harvard’s whole-person reviews of applications and (2) the lawsuit makes arguments based on racial myths and stereotypes of Asian Americans. Additionally, as many others have pointed out, we should be spending our time thinking about educational opportunity and equity for all students, including Asian Americans, beyond elite K-12 schools and colleges.
While the brief summarized my professional take on the matter, I wanted to write about these two cases–especially the New York City one–on a more personal level. I graduated from Stuyvesant High School, one of the specialized high schools in New York City. When I think back on my own K-12 educational experiences with a more sociological lens, I can clearly see how various forms of privilege played a crucial role in opening up educational opportunities for me even as I can recall how being a new immigrant student led to painful moments and experiences. I can also see vividly how interactions with peers and friends from diverse communities played an equally integral role in what I have learned over the years and who I have become.
As the child of class and caste privileged parents, and like many middle-class Indian children, I attended a private, English-medium school (English-medium is the term used to describe schools where English was the language of instruction). I had access to a rigorous curriculum, teachers with high expectations, a parent who herself was a teacher and a family who emphasized and celebrated educational achievement. By the time my family’s visa to the United States came through, my parents already had established lives. They owned a home, my dad had a well-paying, stable job and my brother and I were doing well in school. Yet, they decided to take a chance to move to the U.S. because they wanted my brother and me to have a wider range of educational opportunities than they thought was possible at that time in India. There’s a very good chance that if I had stayed in India, I might not have taken the path that I have in my career in terms of pursuing a PhD in a social science field and teaching at a liberal arts college. (In light of what’s happening these days in terms of American immigration laws and policies, I do want to stress that my family would have been fine if our visa hadn’t come through–our lives would not have been endangered if we had stayed in India.)
The fact that I had access to an education in English in India–a function, as I noted earlier, of class and caste privilege–helped ease my transition to American schools in many ways. While I might have spelled some words wrong (oh, color, not colour!), I was able to understand my textbooks, my teachers, and my peers. When my family moved to New York City a few months after we moved initially to the U.S., my parents could use their English-language knowledge and their social network of other Indian immigrants to ensure that I could go to a middle school outside of my neighborhood because they decided that my brother’s negative experiences in the neighborhood middle school meant that I should go to a different school.
Off to middle school I went, in a predominantly White neighborhood with robust curricular resources and well-prepared teachers;I was placed in the highest tracks of classes along with other Asian American students and White students, thanks to the preparation I had from my schools in India. My middle school counselor told me about and encouraged me to take the admissions test for the specialized high schools. I did and I was able to gain admission to Stuyvesant High School.
My parents’ decision to give up their comfortable lives in India and move to the U.S. opened up a new range of educational opportunities for me and my brother, but it wasn’t easy for them or for me. While my parents eventually got well-paying, middle-class jobs in New York City, they did struggle for quite a few years because their foreign degrees and accents meant that they weren’t able to find jobs commensurate with their education and experience. While I received a solid, rigorous education in my schools, I also remember the difficulties that came with being a new immigrant kid. I remember peers making fun of my Indian accent, my “weird” lunches, and my “funny-smelling” clothes. I remember arguing with my sixth grade teacher that I was right when I insisted that Mahatma Gandhi and Indira Gandhi were not related. I remember a classmate’s surprise that I had electricity and running water when I lived in India (though, of course, that access is also related to class privilege there and in the U.S).
Still, overall, the system worked for me and I’m truly grateful for my parents’ sacrifices and dedication to my education.
However, what I learned in my classes in my K-12 schools and beyond is only part of my story of education. I would not be the person I am today if I had only been educated through interactions with my mostly White peers and teachers in middle school and my mostly Asian American peers and White teachers in high school. What has made me a more thoughtful, compassionate, joyful person and what makes me so passionate about the need for diverse classrooms, K-12 schools, and colleges are the interactions I had with Black, Latinx, and Native American peers and friends in and out of school. In high school, for example, I had the privilege of writing stories for a teen-written newspaper, New Youth Connections, where I got to know teenagers from across the city who attended a variety of high schools. I learned more about myself and my world through discussions and debates with them. In college, I was lucky enough to be part of a class where 40% of students were students of color, which meant that I had the opportunity to discuss issues of race, identity, class, and privilege with peers who came from a range of racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds. They pushed me to think about my privileges and positionality, while supporting me and cheering me on. In graduate school, another South Asian classmate and I were welcomed into the student group for African American students. My membership in that group was crucial to my intellectual growth and social support throughout my graduate school career and beyond.
What Janelle Wong writes is definitely true for me: “I would not have succeeded as a scholar without the benefit of attending classes with students from diverse backgrounds who challenged me and made my thinking sharper.” And I would only add that my life wouldn’t be as joyful, thoughtful, or supported either.