Responsibility to respond to racism on campus

I teach at two schools in Washington, DC. One has taken recent action to stop celebrating the legacies of former slave traders, held a series of events and dialogues intended to open spaces to debate ongoing racial prejudice on campus, and elevated of African American Studies from Program to Department status. These moves are welcome, but ongoing efforts to inspire lasting cultural change are still required . The other institution has recently been the site of racist abuse on campus. Students are rightly outraged, and leading calls for meaningful action. The administration is responding, treading a similar path as other U.S. universities, by announcing plans for improved trainings for faculty, staff, admissions teams and students; improved support for relevant student services; and required courses on African American history for incoming undergraduates.

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Twitter coverage of a recent anti-racism rally at American University

As teachers, we must support these efforts and continue to make space in our classrooms for honest, open dialogues on pressing social issues, including but not limited to racism. We must respond visibly and vocally when members of our student body face discrimination, and fell let down by their institutions.

At a recent on campus rally calling on the administration to act definitively, a student held aloft a placard that read, “Silence is Violence.” This Open Letter to Students of Color At American University is intended to let our students know that we, the faculty, will not be silent. I, along with the other signatories, intend to carry this message into our classrooms and faculty meetings, taking tangible steps to making our campus welcoming to all.

Post-Ph.D., back to work

Screen Shot 2016-08-27 at 11.36.01 AMOn June 7, 2016, just under five years since I moved to Washington DC to start my Ph.D study, I successfully defended my doctoral dissertation. It is entitled (in an admittedly straightforward but accurate and easily searchable manner): “LGBT Asylum Seekers and NGO Advocacy in the United States”.

Although the defense itself was predictably a little nerve-wreaking, I was grateful for the opportunity to present and discuss my work and found the conversation to be productive—a unique forum in which to think through and rearticulate my choices, analyses and conclusions. Asked by my committee only to add a few paragraphs to my conclusion, I was able to complete revisions swiftly and with pleasure. In fact, the entire experience of preparing for, carrying out and then writing up my research was on the whole enjoyable—at turns challenging and draining, but always stimulating. My interlocutors, mentors and colleagues helped ensure that was the case, and I’m extremely glad that I had them alongside me during various stages of the process.

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Responding to #PostRefRacism

I’m generally not one for “listicals” – those “ten things…” articles that, in our post-Buzzfeed age, are shared widely and more often than not stride confidently over the thick line distinguishing informative content from clickbait. Post-EU Referendum, however, I wrote one, prompted by a notable rise in violently xenophobic and racist actions across the UK. Or, to be more precise, prompted by the shock and despair expressed by friends in response to those actions.

Commentators’ suggested ways to oppose and combat xenophobia eschewed structural analyses and instead focused on individual and reactive gestures: one popular (and justifiably derided) campaign encouraged people to wear an empty safety pin on their lapels, ostensibly to signal that were pro-immigrant and anti-racist. Others blamed “little Englanders” and reckless politicians for fueling hate, willingly overlooking Britain’s history of and ongoing battle against institutional racism.

So, despite my dislike for the format, I put together a link-filled list of practical and proactive things people in the UK can do to combat racism and xenophobia (along with a few other intersecting and co-constituting oppressions). The full article is posted at Red Pepper, replete with further information and contact information for relevant organizations. Here’s the abridged version, and the closing paragraph:

1. Support anti-fascist organisations
2. Support pro-immigration organizations
3. Recognize and resist structural racism
4. Support and celebrate local communities and marginalised voices
5. Intervene and report attacks — when it is safe to do so
6. Proactively contest hate speech and prejudice
7. Know who – and what – you are voting for
8. Advocate for workers’ rights
9. Recognise your complicity – and refuse to perpetuate oppression
10. Be ready to critique the EU

“Overall, we must not forget that if the Referendum result had been different, racism and xenophobia would still exist in the UK—and throughout Europe. Far Right parties have been gaining traction for over a decade, and popular European governments have enacted startlingly racist and xenophobic laws. The Referendum has only opened eyes to prejudices that were previously closed to a long-standing reality. To fight back against them we have to be in the fight for the long haul.”

Photo of Refugees Welcome protest in London. Credit: The Weekly Bull

Right to be angry – but be angry with the right

As commentators have noted, Brexit campaigners are ramping up their focus on immigration as the key debate in the referendum. Pushback from the left has been largely cloth-eared, and unsuccessful. In my extended circle of friends and family, there are also people keen to leave the EU because they are worried about immigration. Dismissals and statistics are not going to convince anyone who feels exploited and exhausted by contemporary UK life that they are wrong to be angry about immigration.

We are witnessing the result of years of scaremongering and scapegoating, led by the Conservative Party and other right-wing elements in the UK–tactics that have not been effectively challenged by the Labour Party. People in the UK are absolutely right to be angry that life has become increasingly painful, difficult and expensive; that those who are not rich are being squeezed and hung out to dry. The public has been actively misled, however, and encouraged to blame “immigrants” for social outcomes that were not only caused by, but were always intended by policymakers.

The question to ask those concerned about immigration-now, but also long after the referendum has passed-is this: What are you worried about, and who really is to blame? What would improve if we closed our borders?

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A beautifully written, insightful article on addiction in the age of the “unnecessariat,” taking in questions of community, disease, social exclusion, the wages of capitalism, public sympathy and – of course – the appeal of Trump.

A must-read.

More Crows than Eagles

I remember AIDS. I’m older than you probably think I am, and I remember what AIDS in America meant in the eighties, when William F. Buckley suggested all “carriers” be tattooed, and the Wizard of Id got in trouble in Canada (fr) for a joke in which Robbing Hood’s “Merry Men” were rounded up into quarantine camps. Mostly what I remember is the darkness- the world seemed apocalyptic. Everyone, at least in the gay men’s community, seemed to be sick, or dying, or taking care of someone else who was sick or dying, or else hurling themselves headlong into increasingly desperate and dramatic activism the like of which has hardly been seen since. I was actually watching the MacNeil/Lehrer news hour when ACT-UP broke in and nearly handcuffed Robert MacNeil to his desk. The tenor is just unreproducible; you get a taste of it in some of Sarah Schulman’s…

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Thoughts on the UK Parliament #SyriaVote

We will bomb them!
(And we will sell our bombs to those who fund them)

(We will lamentably create more refugees)
And reject or detain these “migrants” as they reach our shores

We must show our strength!
(Look, we throw punches with our eyes closed tight)

(We will lamentably have civilian causalities)
But no causalities will have passports stamped “HRM”

We cannot do nothing, as women and children die!!
(Our lips remain sealed for tyrannical allies)

(We have, lamentably, no long-term plan)
Our lack of hubris will remain resolute

We are Great Britain! The world needs us!
(Grasping for relevance, we will pummel the earth)

(We have, lamentably, no idea what to do)
Destroy and “rebuild” is what we do best

We will not let terror win!
(War without end is terror defined)

Learning about digital labour (appropriately, through video editing)

Screen Shot 2015-10-28 at 3.39.00 PMOne of the most enjoyable aspects of working as a journalist is being presented with opportunities to learn about something I previously knew nothing about. Last month, I was invited to cut together a short film to accompany an interview published in Red Pepper entitled Digital Labour: Wages for CrowdworkThe interviewee, Byron Peters, is an artist and labour organizer making pretty incredible work. It was an eye-opening privilege to research and edit together clips of interview, his own film projects and found footage to illustrate his ideas.

Though I’ve followed critiques of and Google’s business and labour practices, the terrifying MechanicalTurk was new to me, and I had no prior conception of the depth of exploitation occurring around the world as people are paid peanuts to scan documents, click links, produce animations and perform various tasks central to the maintenance of the internet as we know it. Click through to see the video interview I made – but I strongly encourage people to read the full interview with Byron as well. It will undoubtedly change the way you think about the digital world and labour practices in the contemporary moment. Continue reading