Commentary on limits of academic protest published in Savage Minds

Originally published at the anthropology blog, Savage Minds, responding to their call for short commentaries on “anthropology in the Trump era”.

Screen Shot 2017-03-07 at 6.13.05 PMIn late January, President Trump signed three Executive Orders concerning immigration. The “Muslim Ban” galvanized attention, from protests and Op-Eds to legislative action. Given the patently unconstitutional practices sanctioned by that Order, the maneuvers promised by the other two—including increased agency powers to profile and criminalize immigrants, mass raids, detentions, and deportations—possibly appeared less immediately pressing.

Academics’ responses hint at a more worrying reality. An open letter to the President signed by 43,000+ scholars, including prominent anthropologists, concludes:

“The unethical and discriminatory treatment of law-abiding, hard-working, and well-integrated immigrants fundamentally contravenes the founding principles of the United States.”

The qualifiers here are alarming and counterproductive. Racialized groups of people have been systematically criminalized, exploited for their labor, and marginalized in the United States since its founding. Terms like “law-abiding,” “hard-working,” and “well-integrated,” are furthermore malleable to pernicious ends, and frequently deployed by right-wing voices.

As scholars, teachers, and activists, we must refute, not echo, the “good” vs. “bad” immigrant rhetoric of this (and earlier) administrations. As anthropologists, we must reflect critically on governmental categorizations of people, not take them for granted. We must expose the xenophobic constructions at the heart of each policy statement. As Trump makes good on his promises, we must advocate for all immigrants—regardless of taxes paid, skill sets, or ascribed work ethics; regardless of faith, language, or family ties; regardless of records, status, or papers. Lines drawn in the sand around state-approved “deserving” immigrants will only fortify the foundations of future border walls.

#AnthReadIn at Georgetown

read-in-imageFollowing the call published by the anthropology magazine Savage Minds, my colleagues and I in the Women and Gender Studies Program at Georgetown University will host an #AnthReadIn event on Friday 17 February, 12.30-2pm.

We’ll be reading Chapter Nine from Hannah Arendt’s On Totalitarianism (which you can find here), alongside Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” (which is available here).

Join the conversation on social media under #AnthReadIn.

Why Trump (Or, America In Fragments)

People want answers. On social media timelines, in newspapers and blogs, in private conversations, those who cannot understand how Donald Trump has been elected President of the United States are desperate to make sense of it all. Too many people are accepting easy answers. It was neoliberalism. It was misogyny. It was white supremacy. It was fear. It was Hillary. It was the media. It was the FBI. It was Facebook.

In truth, there is no single person, group, ideology, or media moment to “blame”. Ignore the thousand Think Pieces telling you otherwise. No one “let” this happen; there is not one “cause”. Desire for straightforward answers reveals only the depth of denial we face in the United States today. The voting public chose this. Across income levels, across numerous states. We chose this. That is how democratic society works. We are all complicit.

People are asking the wrong questions. “How did Donald Trump win marginally more support in three particular U.S. states?” “Why were pollsters wrong?” “Did Democrats choose the wrong candidate?” The question we are too afraid to ask is simple: “What is our society, such that Donald Trump could be President?” But this is the question we must ask as we plan the necessary fight back.

The answers, like the United States of America, can only be understood in fragments. Continue reading

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.

Doctoral Dissertation Defense

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.

Continue reading