CFP: Hip Hop Feminism

Rosa Clemente/former VP Candidate for Green Party/unattributed

There have been strong women of color at the center of Hip Hop theorizing since its inception. Many of these women have never received the recognition they deserve for their artistry or their profound critical feminist eye focused clearly on the experience of women of color at the margins and intersections of multiple identities. These artists have struggled to have their voices heard in and outside of Hip Hop even as they inspire, mentor, and help provide strength to face any number of gendered oppressions. Many of them have worked just as diligently at empowering young women and providing critical analysis of engendered experiences as they have at being the best at their craft. Often these things are inseparable. And yet, these women’s work has been overshadowed by the racist and racialized sexist discourses that only want to focus on the “video ho” until recently. (see my posts on Hip Hop for AfAm herstory and LGBT history month for more thorough posts and links to Hip Hop feminism and Hip Hop feminists.)

kin4life/outhiphop.com

While this shift has been important, I think currently there is far too much mainstream attention to Hip Hop feminism as the *only* form of feminism(s) of color. On the one hand, the emphasis represents a needed intervention into mainstream discourse about the “video-ho” in which black men are seen as the most misogynist men in the world and women of color are internalized sexists needing rescue from their “culture of violence, sex, and drugs.” On the other, the slowly won recognition of feminists for whom Hip Hop and B Girls have been critical forms of expression, solidarity, and empowerment has come at the price of the recognition by mainstream of feminists of color outside of these stereotyped (tho not stereotypical) scenes. This is not the fault of Hip Hop feminists or people doing needed documenting work on their movements but rather the ongoing problem of tokenizing woc feminist contributions by mainstream academic theorists and educators. In the last few years, scholars like myself who work on race and gender have been introduced as or referred to verbally and in print as “hip hop feminists” or asked what we think or will we write an article about Hip Hop feminism in the same way we were referred to as Womanists when Alice Walker coined the term and still have to fight for the right to define ourselves and our affiliations. My concern then is that there are at least two camps here: (1) those who want to embrace, document, and explore the meaning, history, and empowerment behind Hip Hop feminism and (2) those who see it as just a new word for “black feminists over there”. One way to posit a counter-narrative to the latter is to keep writing, keep filming, keep talking about what Hip Hop feminism is and about all of the feminisms engaged in by women of color in which Hip Hop feminism is only one iteration.

La Bruja/unattributed

So I am publishing this call for papers on Hip Hop feminism to encourage the continued struggle to talk about feminisms by women of color in arena that often posits us as both singular (ie one kind of feminism) and perpetual victims (in this case the video-ho) in need of feminism. I do so out of solidarity with the project of naming, claiming, and documenting our feminisms and our activism but also with the caution to take on the task of clarity and specificity in your writing so that you lend to both the needed discussion of the specific feminism under discussion and to the larger discourse about the longstanding presence of women of color in activist, feminist, circles.

melange Lavonne/David Laffe Photography

Also I would encourage readers to consider some of the queer and/or differently-abled black and Latina Hip Hop artists highlighted on this blog or even in this post for your potential papers/presentations. Just as interventions need to be made in the way mainstream feminist academics are approaching Hip Hop feminism as the new Womanism, interventions need to be made into the ways scholars have often shied away from discussions of queer sexualities or assumed able-bodiedness or cis gender. There are sub-topics in the call specifically open to making this challenge, where you could take the advantage.

Please find the CFP below:

Black and Brown Feminisms in Hip Hop Media

University of Texas at San Antonio – March 4-5, 2011

Submission: 500 word abstract to Kinitra Brooks and/or Marco Cervantes blackandbrownfeminisms@gmail.com on or before November 15, 2010.

Description:

Black and Latina feminist scholars offer multiple ways of understanding feminist cultures that transcend ideological borders and patriarchal conventions. More recently, Black and Latina feminists have negotiated the positionality of the woman of color in the ever-changing world of Hip Hop since its inception.  The Black and Brown Feminisms in Hip Hop Media Conference situates Black and Latina feminist theory in the context of Hip Hop representation to discuss ways Hip Hop music, film, and club industries fetishize, exploit, celebrate, empower and/or disempower Black and Brown women.

This interdisciplinary conference will feature unpublished work on women in
Hip Hop to exchange ideas, share research, and initiate a sustained conversation by and about Black and Brown women in Hip Hop media.  Vital to this discussion is attention to the blurring lines between Black and Latina feminist studies and a dialogue that attempts to understand an interweaving history of objectification, struggle, and potential for agency. How do we read Black and Brown women in Hip Hop culture? What readings of Black and Brown women other than conventional black feminist readings and Latina feminist analyses are cogent? What theories enable those readings? Finally, what would an investigation into autobiographical stories of video models yield? How would those narratives differ from that of more conventional readings?

A select number of accepted papers will be included in a one-day, academic
conference at the University of Texas at San Antonio as a part of UTSA’s celebration of Women’s History Month on March 4, 2011 with a Hip Hop performance from local Texas as well as national hip hop artists on the evening of March 5, 2011.  This conference will be an opportunity for presenters to share views and concerns on the growing intersections between Black and Brown women in hip hop culture.  Possible Panel Topics Include:

  • Interdisciplinary Approaches to Gender and Race in Hip Hop
  • Colorism within Hip-Hop video culture
  • The New Female Entrepreneur
  • Negotiating Sexualities
  • Black and Latina Diasporas
  • Video Vixens or Video Models?
  • Female Rappers
  • Chicana/o Rap
  • Alternative Models of Black Femininity
  • Latinas in Video Model Culture
  • Intersections of Video Models with Youth Culture
  • Performing the Black Body/ Brown Body
  • Reggaeton
  • A Case Study of Karrine Steffans
  • Strip Club Culture
  • Confessions of Video Vixens
  • Eroticism vs. Pornography
  • Women as Exchange among a Male Economy


What I am working On

I am working on a post about women of color in graduate school based on an intervention we did with an old friend at our house this weekend. Unfortunately, it is taking longer to write than I imagined because

  1. I want to make sure the information does not glare like a neon sign pointing to her – though her experiences are so similar to most woc in school I doubt it will
  2. I want to include a list of helpful survival tips in the post for those of you struggling with similar issues

So what this means is that my quick post today has turned into a long and time consuming one.

SCEED/asu

Interestingly, it comes at the same time that a new study has come out showing that schools that have equitable graduation rates between white students and students of color have aggressive programs to recruit and support students of color.  In other words, instead of just claiming they “support diversity” or making inconsistent recruitment efforts when the diversity bug bites too hard to ignore, these schools have ongoing recruitment efforts that ensure that every class has a critical mass of people of color to support each other throughout their time in college. They also have programming that goes beyond “diversity week” or February, May, and August-September. Instead most of these schools have theme houses, regular events throughout the year like film series, symposiums, lectures, etc., that address intellectual contributions, new and hot research, and intersectional study rather than just “doing diversity” or “inclusivity”. This sends the message to ALL scholars that race is part of intellectual work and not just a PC endeavor. Both numerical significance of students and faculty of color and an overall focus on integrated knowledge or study makes these schools places where, at least in the aggregate, students of color and white students succeed at the same or similar levels.

This seems like information we should all already know. Yet the racial disparities in educational attainment speak to the fact that even if we do not it, we are not doing anything about making lasting change. While there are many factors that lead into limited representation and subsequent graduation of students of color in higher education that are beyond the purview of the university, the policies in the study certainly are within our ability to enact. And speaking as someone who went to an undergraduate institution that use to operate like those referenced above and then decided to focus on “increasing donors and funding”, aka moving away from diversity toward a model of courting white male old money as if somehow those students were not already at my institution, I can attest to how well they work and why some schools avoid them despite their success. Perceptions about import, exclusive education, etc are still very much tied into visible race and class differences and elitism is still the cache of many SLACs and Tier Is.

So what does this all mean for scholars of color, especially those from working class backgrounds? I suppose that depends on the willingness of those of us on this side of tenure to read the study and try even harder, now that we have national data to back us up, to make it happen and the willingness of those who say they “support diversity” or are “tired of diversity/victim stance” to look at the national data and finally cut the crap.

WordPress Wednesday

brittanica.com

Last week, WordPress Freshly Pressed highlighted a post written by a white female author about “turning Asian” in which she listed a bunch of anecdotal behaviors that highlighted the “strangeness” of Asian people. This post concluded with a reference to the way Asians speak English as “a special regressed level of English.”

It was the second time in less than a month that I had been deeply disturbed by what WordPress staff thinks is the best blogging WordPress has to offer. The first time, the highlighted post was written by a black woman excusing away black face in the fashion industry. Surprisingly, my twitter followers were more upset about the former than the latter even though both seem extremely racist, or internalized racist, to me.

When one of my twitter followers/blogging colleagues took the initiative to contact WordPress about their decision to highlight “racialized posts” on the Freshly Pressed page, the response she received was “what does ‘racialized’ mean?” In other words, not only are the people at WordPress picking posts with racialized and/or racist content as the best of the best blogs on their site but they are not educated enough about diversity to even name what they are doing and own, defend, or change their decisions.

So I decided to help them. Ok, well only indirectly. What I decided to do is document the disparity for all of you and to ask you to link to these Wednesday posts as a way to raise awareness about the problem. Hopefully, instead of getting further marginalized by my blog hosts, this will foster some learning and growth. If not, I’m sure it will make for great publication and presentation material the next time I am asked to present on social media at a conference or write about it for a journal or anthology.

simplyzesty.com

The Project: Every Wednesday I will present several stats related to highlighted posts on Freshly Pressed designed to show who and what is being valued and who and what is being erased.

The Method: The same questions will be asked of, data collected on, each Freshly Pressed post and the information will be made available here in both raw and analyzed form

While I have tried to remain consistent with the questions I’ve asked, the first week of collecting data has raised some important questions about unmarked distinctions in what I have been tracking. For instance do posts that have been marked as “white identified”, ie those that assume a white audience without racializing that assumption in offensive ways, always reflect race or does it some times reflect race and class together? Why did I choose to track sexism but not gender, when both of these seem like salient variables? And when a post is marked down as having photos of white people, should the number of photos be counted? ie if there are 12 photos and only one has a white person in it, then is it misleading to say this is the same as a blog that has 5 photos all of which are of white people? And should a photo be counted twice if it has a white person and a person of color (ie once for a white photo and once for a poc photo) or should there be a third category for mulitcultural photo? It seems to me that these distinctions matter when trying to quantify the identity politics, particularly racial ones, that seem to underpin the Freshly Pressed section of WordPress and ultimately the success of certain bloggers over others and the face of WordPress overall. So I;m still tweaking the questions/data collection process and it will likely look different from week to week until I am satisfied with a core set of questions. What this means is that some sets will not be comparable to others when all is said and done. For blogging purposes however, the key information will remain the same.

So Here is the raw data for week 1:

Every week there are 11-12 posts highlighted per weekday on Freshly Pressed. On the weekend 1-2 new posts maybe added to the highlighted posts for Friday, knocking off 1-2 Friday posts. The number of bloggers and blog posts available to choose from varies but on average there are between 277,000 and 278,000 bloggers and 300,000-360,000 posts from which to choose from. The number of bloggers of color, queer bloggers, female bloggers, etc. is unknown however several of the more recognized blogs from perspectives written by traditionally marginalized authors as well as academic blogs are housed on WordPress.com or wordpress.org vs alternative sites.

Race

When the racial identity of the author was unavailable, it was not recorded.

  1. pictures of people of color: 4
  2. pictures of white people: 29
  3. authored by person of color: 4
  4. authored by white people: 58
  5. colonial gaze: 4
  6. white normative but non-colonial: 7

Gender & Sexuality

  1. reference to wife/husband, kids, boyfriend/girlfriend (hetero): 13 – this item only counted 4 days
  2. reference to partner, bf/gf (same sex): 0
  3. reference to same sex attraction or queer identity: 0
  4. sexist content: 2
  5. image of big women: 1
  6. feminist: 1 (this post was about correcting disparities in women driving stick not a self-identified feminist post)

Content

This category includes data collected specifically because it violated the rules established by WordPress to qualify for Freshly Pressed status. These rules include: original photographs or properly cited and correct use of grammar.

  1. uncited or improperly cited photographs: 12
  2. grammatical or spelling errors: 14
  3. activist posts: 1
  4. product review: 6
  5. travel: 13

Other

This includes things that we found interesting because they stood out from other posts

  1. second reference to “real Africa” in less than a month, this time positively deconstructed
  2. “I was taught the laws are there to protect our freedoms” example of white normative but non-colonial/non-racist stance
  3. posts with pictures of older people: 3

I don’t have enough data yet to make conclusions. However, as you can see, it is pretty clear that the majority of wordpress posts highlight white, heterosexual, authors over the wide range of authors present on the wordpress format. I am also hypothesizing that the preference for artfully illustrated food blogs, travel narratives, and expensive product review tips the scales toward white and upper class authors and that all though today’s Freshly Pressed included a post railing against the baby products industry that there is an overrepresentation of young, urban, white, parenting authors as well. While I expected to see regularly offensive posts based on my random glance over the Freshly Pressed blogs over the past year, which included racial over tones and sexist images, I was surprised to find far less colonial gaze, outright racism, and outright sexism in collecting the data so far.

A Little Peace

Chris Clinton/Getty Images

Last night, I attended a dinner with at least 6 people with whom I do not get along. This situation was rare because it is still technically summer which mostly means I get to be more choosy about the company I keep and that in the waning days of Dr. Crackhead (she’s begun talking retirement), dysfunction in at least two of my Departmental homes is at an all time low. Put another way, for a surprisingly long time now, must of us at Pov U, have all gotten along quite well. Even the divas in our prospective departments have all been making an effort to hold up less meetings, growl at fewer Juniors, and stop yawning with menace at every tentative change in direction we discuss. It’s been a blessing that has formed many new and productive collaborations, funding deals, and exciting changes in the curriculum and type of students we have been able to retain.

As one of the more radical people on our faculty, you can imagine what went through my head when I looked around the room at last night’s dinner and saw people whose intellectual and political commitments include derailing the funding and mentoring of graduate students of color, the nearly successful attempt to return the “Great Books” to the core of the curriculum, and the intentional destruction of important global studies research and study abroad opportunities that were once envisioned as a cornerstone of our little U’s rebirth.

peter j wilson/2007

In sitting with people more radical than I, yes that’s what I said, those folks are the bada– that make giddy with the stupid when they get to telling stories of their “pre-ivory tower days”, I began to feel that familiar rumble. Like a volcano warning all life that had been living peacefully on its terrain, there was heat, electricity, and the promise of devastation lurking just beneath the surface of our pleasant little planning meeting. Soon Bambi would not know where to run to shed those big, big, “I’m innocent and their scary” tears. And the people in the middle would be seeking shelter in the no man’s land sprung up in the devastation.

But I just wanted to eat my veggie rolls in peace and get on with the 3.5 hours of boring presentations we had to sit through before we could vote.

And that is when it happened. I saw woman whose feminism means everyone but her can get out of the way or be called sexist who had single-handedly driven out an entire cohort of students of color from our department one year and instead of sucking my teeth from the tenure porch, I said hello.

I think I startled her.

I think I startled everyone.

In the hush that followed, I asked her how she had enjoyed the first several presentations on mundane drivel that keeps the uni running that we had been subjected to before “dinner.” Never one to think her opinion is not central to the inner-workings of the universe, she warily began to wax poetic about her thoughts on new heating coils for the gym. In the 20 minutes that ensued, we discussed both the mundane and the surreal that is part of life at Pov U with more than a few overlaps in opinion. To her credit, she only made one disparaging remark about non-gender specific identity studies and the scholars who engage in it and only one barbed comment about me personally. It was a record for her. And in exchange, I did not exploit her fears of women of color and sense of inadequacy around people who know more about certain subjects than she does. We both considered the conversation a fair exchange. When she left, she left smiling and nodding at me like she’d finally realized I was human. And I smiled back, hoping that this rare moment meant that maybe we could forge ahead with less conflict in the future.

At our conversations end, I noticed that others who had often been on the other side of major political battles at Pov U had drawn close to our conversation and were now jockeying for similar attention. More than that, I noticed the radical colleagues with whom I was eating had let the call of the thunder and lightening lull to a threatened of slight drizzle. It was odd and yet wonderful. Somehow, I thought we could keep the peace and the Golden Age of collaboration could continue.

But then I realized my naivete. The people crowding near our conversation did not want to discuss mundane Pov U business as a metaphor for working together and committing to decrease oppressive behavior on campus.  The woman who had tried to deny my tenure on the basis of … blackness… and who had made a career of encouraging students of color and queer students in her Department to quit school all together or “for the love of g-d, transfer!!!” stepped in front of me and painted a clearer picture with her broad smile and barbed opening, disparaging my intelligence and my outfit all in a single flick of her tongue. Her smile said she expected pleasantries and her demeanor said she’d beat them out of me if necessary because she too wanted a public chat in which everything seemed friendly and nice to observers.

Suddenly, I felt like an overwrought Priest during confessional.

Sorry lady, this chapel is closed.

Not every space has to be transformed into a war zone between the people clinging to power and the people exploiting their clinginess to wrench it from them. Sometimes, everyone is just grateful to keep eating. More than that, in a moment in which so much good is coming out of our ability to cooperate it would be a mistake to let people who tear things down have a forum in which to justify it. I understood this when I made the gesture to a woman I’d rather did not work here and she understood it when she took the offer from me, a woman she wished did not work at all.

And yet, even with this most fragile peace, there is always someone who wants to exploit the very well-defined boundaries to their own ends. If I had let her, the second woman who wanted to talk, who intentionally blocked my path to back to my table, would have torn the whole social treaty forged just 20 minutes earlier to pieces. And for what? She was not looking for a chance to chat with me anymore than I her. What she wanted was what all unrepentant guilty people want, a public absolution to go wreak havoc another day. In her arrogance and her sense of single issue victimization she believed such an absolution was her due and that my denial of it would be more proof that she was the radical and I the interloper.

Roger Corman/1962

This, by the way, is why people do not try. As long as the people with entitlement issues and privilege-evasive blinders think themselves the victims due apologies all the while oppressing everyone around them, their intended victims will always prefer attack or disdain over peace or learned alliance. After all, these are the colleagues who bring eggs and throw them, then complain about having to walk on eggshells whenever they are near us.

The impending conflict ended when two extremely Senior male colleagues got between us with the proverbial “Girls, you’re both pretty.” As she stalked away in a feminist huff, taking no responsibility for the problem but only marking the sexist way in which it was ended, she looked over her shoulder at me and said “Well, I guess we’ll have to talk later when you have time to be around the women of the college.” Score one for [single-issue] feminism or not.

The women back at my table simply laughed and asked if I enjoyed my turkey and pumpkin pie.

And so that little peace was shattered. Our Golden Age tarnished. Even now, my phone is ringing with colleagues wanting to gossip about the unmitigated gall of academics who see themselves as saviors because they occasionally mention race or class before reverting back to their navels. And I know exactly what was gained by the other side, because when we don’t work together then Pov U has little chance of moving into this century intellectually, economically, or with regards to diversity and that makes it easier to revert to conservative arguments about what needs to change and what does not. Score one for delusional bigotry.

On Humiliation

Jan Coztás/2006

An interesting multi-blog conversation is unfolding in the academic blogosphere about the role of humiliation in academic relationships. While the conversation is quite complex overall, I find myself fixated on a single supposition: academics seek out humiliation. From my limited vantage point in the conversation, I have not read the book they are discussing nor been an active participant in the conversation, it seems the idea is based on a discussion about a “fictitious” academic from a working class background writing about a series of humiliating events in her early career. Part of that writing includes the fear of being outed as a poor girl in a field in which everyone is assumed to be rich and talking class is often the surest way to get shoved to the margins.

Long time readers, no doubt, can see why I might fixate on such a point. Perhaps it is because I am a poor girl who was given endless “tea cup tests” (does your pinky stick out or not) at my first appointment at Snooty Poo U. Perhaps it is because I chose to work at an extremely poor university that serves even poorer students and spend a ridiculous amount of my career saying to those who assume we are all elite surrounded by over-privileged students that not only is their reality not mine but there is nothing wrong with me, my scholarship, or my cognition because I chose to leave New England. Or Perhaps, it is just because I read, research, and work with and for people who have all at some point suffered serious humiliation at the hands of elitests who shrug off their cruelty like a stray cat hair on their sweater. I don’t think any of us seek out humiliation and if some do,  in this context, I would argue that it is about internalized shame taught to us outsiders to keep us from ever reaching for things we are allowed to dream about but never call our own.

More than that, I wonder about those who delight in shame. Is the delight in recognizing behaviors you have once engaged in but now have the privilege to forget the desperation that motivated them? By which I mean, when one seeks out counsel from Super Star X as a junior scholar, isn’t the motivation primarily to learn what Super Star X knows? Or if you are more self-interested, then perhaps the goal is to be taken under Super Star X’s wing so as to sail through tenure (which seldom happens by the way)? And in that instance does the humiliation stem from the system that marks out Super Star X as untouchable and therefore able to publicly humiliate others or even destroy their careers? Are you really a self-hating fool for talking to Super Star X if this is the only system in which you can engage him and he you?

Let me put it another way. Hegemony is based on naturalizing inequality to the point where we no longer recognize it and/or engage in it without the intent to do so. As students and junior scholars your success in academe is often based on networking with Senior scholars who have the power to radically impact your funding, advancement, tenure, and overall career. As you pass through each stage of academe the power they have over you diminishes. However, in order to pass through those stages you will likely have to swallow your pride, dilute your morals, and except things that in any other field of work you would be empowered to change. Those little compromises make you more and more immune to the vast array of inequalities and oppressions that fester in the academic world. This happens to everyone regardless of identity but is exacerbated by membership in a marginalized group and multiplied outward by the number of groups to which one belongs. This is something that we all know, that is written about in anthologies, and the subject of endless panels, and yet it is something that most would deny when reading it so starkly written out on a page as I have done here.

When you cross the line from un-ternured to tenured, the game changes immensely in some ways and not nearly as much in others. However, tenure provides a certain kind of safety that when coupled with years of minimizing and intentionally forgetting, ultimately translates to forgetting what it is like to dependent on good evaluations, Senior scholars liking you or at least not being annoyed with you because you wore purple on a Tuesday, and people perceiving of you as smart but not a threat to any of the status quo ideas that predate you. People forget what it is like to be the girl in the corner with one wool sweater, sleeves rolled up to hide the hole, in a room of girls with closets full of cashmere (to reference Pat Hill Collins essay on class antagonism in academe).

And while I am making critical feminist references to class analysis and academe why not trot out some tried and true readings on the subject; each of the books below contain essays on the subject:

  1. Alsion Trash
  2. Anzaldúa & Moraga This Bridge Called My Back
  3. Collins Fighting Words
  4. Kadi Thinking Class
  5. Langhout et. al “Assessing Classism in Academic Settings”
  6. “Classless and Clueless at NWSA” (haven’t read this but have had it on my to read shelf for a while)

So I put it to you dear readers, those of you who are working class academics or simply people whose identities have been the source of others attempting to humiliate you in the workplace:

  1. do you seek out humiliation?
  2. If so, why?
  3. what do you think the purpose of humiliation really is regardless of your own relationship to it?

As I always, it would be great to discuss it here for the people who don’t use twitter, but if you want to talk real time you know I’ll always answer your tweets.

Sabotage

It was just brought to my attention that a jealous colleague sabotaged a huge grant my colleagues and I have been working on for almost a year. I am particularly upset about it because this person is someone I have gone out of my way to include and encourage for over 10 years while others have walked away. There have been many times in public spaces when particularly egregious accusations have been made by woc and I myself have experienced some of their complaints first hand but luckily only once outside of the blogosphere. In my mind, while there have been many reasons to isolate this person when writing or doing innovative research, I have always worked to make room for scholars of color and to encourage them to decolonize their minds and their praxis & I was not going to stop in her case just b/c the writing seemed to be on the wall more often than not.

Many people start from places that in one way or another are destructive because of poor coping skills learned in marginalization or the general horrid competitiveness that structures much of academe. It can take a long time to unlearn that, especially if you work in a destructive department, institution, or community. There are very few consequences for Senior scholars who behave badly (including engaging in identity based oppression) toward junior scholars and many of them survive by passing it on.

The irony of this particular event is that in some ways the grant we were working on was about trying to shift milieus and extend supportive spaces …

So I am thinking about what it means when someone destroys so much good work out of fear, anger, and jealousy. I am trying to keep my mind from cycling over rumors that have popped periodically around this person time and time again throughout the years and wondering how many things were in fact true. Most of all, I am trying to find the productive lesson in the ruins and the grace to find the 70 x 7.

Until then, I’m practicing the following:

Breath

Let Love in

Create

Oh and steering clear of the blog lest I start naming names and spelling out tenure revoking behavior and yes, dear reader this pattern includes things that bad.

College and Homes are Only for Rich People

At least that is what the NY Times would have you believe if you read Ron Lieber’s piece “Placing the Blame as Students Fall Into Debt“. While the latter part of his article breaks down blame according to three parties:

  1. The student & the student’s family
  2. The Lender
  3. The University

The first half of the article draws parallels between seemingly clueless home buyers who the article implies may have lied about their incomes, “just like the mortgage lenders who didn’t ask borrowers to verify their incomes.”, and students who mortgaged their futures without anyway of predicting their actual incomes. In this version of the story, the borrowers are both ignorant and greedy.

  • Ignorant because they entered into loan agreements that they “should have known” were beyond their means.
  • Greedy because they were so focused on “keeping up with the Jones’ ” that they did not bother to think about the consequences of their choices.

The first supposition requires everyone to believe in the all knowing market in which actors, in this case students or home buyers, know exactly what the cost of their purchase will be and exactly how much work-salary they can command to pay for that purchase in the long term. Just like the outdated immigration model that argues that people move based on known economic and social opportunities abroad, the reality is much more complicated. In both cases, students and home buyers had no way of knowing that the United States would enter a recession to rival the Dust Bowl. They could not have predicted that job losses in the country would hover around the double digits nationally and be as high as 35-50% for specific ethnic groups + genders in certain parts of the country. And while home ownership is something that can come later in life, educational attainment is directly tied to employment and income potential in this country.

Both popular media and scientific research encouraged students to see college as a requirement. Every day for years advertisements ran on local channels and basic cable across the country telling high school students that they would be stuck working for minimum wage in dead end jobs without college degrees. While these ads are fewer now that the economic crisis has shifted the way we look at education, they still run today. These ads are backed up by data on:

  • income potential
  • average salaries for certain degrees and histories of placement in certain fields/ with certain companies by certain schools
  • barriers to success the longer one remains outside of school

All of this research over-determines the expectations of students about their economic success as college graduates rather than paints the bleak outlook that Lieber implies should be a given. In fact, Lieber went so far as to discount all of this research when he argued that “They [students] and their families made borrowing decisions based more on emotion than reason.” Again this quote assumes that complete information is available either as a given or by the assumption that the lack of complete information prevents “rational” people from engaging in market decisions. Worse, it’s underlining thesis that poor and working class people are emotional and ignorant results the erasure of all of the data underpinning their decisions and in doing so creates willful fools out of potential victims.

The ongoing willingness of journalists and pundits to blame the poor and the oppressed for their own poverty and oppression, even as all signs point to greed at the top, pales in comparison to Lieber’s assertion that poor parenting is to blame for the student debt crisis:

It is utterly depressing that there are so many people like her facing decades of payments, limited capacity to buy a home and a debt burden that can repel potential life partners. For starters, it’s a shared failure of parenting and loan underwriting. (emphasis mine)

This is where Lieber’s second supposition about “greedy people” comes into play. As he argues a few paragraphs later:

No one forces borrowers to take out these loans

While education maybe optional for some, I think we have already pointed to the reasons it is not for the majority of potential students in this country. Not only is employment and advancement somewhat based on educational attainment, but for some communities it represents needed social and economic capital denied through other avenues. Working class and subsistence level students who really are facing lives spent behind a food counter or department store without the leg up college promises them use education as their doorway out of poverty. The same can be said for people of color, and to a lesser extent rural white people, both of whom have been permanently cast as ignorant, shiftless, and criminal in this country. They use educational attainment to shift perception and gain moderate social capital in their own communities even as they remain shut out of economic capital in the nation as a whole. As the economy fell apart, these groups were at all the more risk for falling below the poverty line without education because they were the hardest hit by high risk lending practices proven to be racial in their application by banks as well as the hardest hit by downsizing. Even now, while the government talks of bounce back, unemployment amongst people of color, particularly African-American males, has reached catastrophic proportions. Rather than “bad parenting” then, the encouragement these groups receive from family to go to college is part of a cultural, gender, or locational struggle that has historically benefited the entire community.

While Lieber argues that lending agencies own some of the blame along with these supposedly bad parents, he writes:

Sallie Mae gets a pass here, in my view. A responsible grownup co-signed for its loans …

The nation’s largest private student loan company gets a pass. Let that sink in for a minute.

While Lieber is perfectly willing to vilify students and their families, he says that a loan agency that helped lock student borrowers into permanent debt even as they are paid by the Federal government for any defaults or costs they accrue is off the hook. Recent research into the student-loan industry shows seemingly unethical ties between certain loan companies and certain well-paid school officials to push specific lenders, loan terms, etc. Lenders have also been known to garnish social security and disability even when they know doing so will render the borrowers homeless or destitute rather than work on payment plans. These loans are binding even if borrowers have to leave school through no fault of their own because the goods and services cannot be returned even though the benefit from them cannot be reaped. Moreover, as I have argued elsewhere, these loans seem to violate basic laws governing contracts which requires the absence of coercion (in this case the threat that not taking out the loan means you cannot go to college and face all of the economic and social consequences of that option for the future) and the presence of complete information (ie a full disclosure of lending practices and consequences, which is impossible given that Congress can change rules governing student loans at any time and loan agencies can change policies governing your loan with a simple disclosure letter knowing there is no way for you to pay the entire outstanding amount to keep from having new policies kick in). One such policy Sallie Mae recently implemented erases the debt relief and on time payment bonuses for borrowers who have to take a deferment or forebearance unrelated to a return to school. THAT’S RIGHT – Sallie Mae is telling students in financial crisis during a massive recession that if they cannot pay their bill the only way to keep up their good credit history with the company is to go back to school, which will presumable result in the taking out of even more loans! Many of my returning students have also complained that none of the new legislation hoping to provide some kind of payment relief for students has been explained to them, or in some cases even provided to them, by their lender. In at least two cases this year, my former students reported losing their good credit status with Sallie Mae because when they called to ask about payment options while un or under employed, they were not told about the income based payment plan because that plan would result in losses for Sallie Mae unlike other plans in which extra money could be made off of each of them. But Lieber thinks Sallie Mae “gets a pass.”

To believe Lieber and others like him, you have to believe that students are ignorant and greedy while banks and the loan industry who set off the multiple economic crisis facing this nation are responsible, unbiased, free agents of an equal open and equal market system. For people who have succeeded through hard work + education + social capital + luck to remain afloat in the economic crisis, victim-blaming has become a mantra, often offset with “times are tough everywhere”, that allows them to sleep with less anxiety at night. It is however a mantra that does very little for the average N. American struggling to survive. While education and housing may seem like privileges to those who have them, they are not special rights afforded to the rich and have not been for 100+ years in this country (give or take). As long as this is how we look at the debt crisis and the people who are free falling as a result of it, we will never reform lending practices in this country let alone address critical inequalities built into that system. Rather than justifying one’s own success or ability to remain somewhat afloat by judging those who cannot, we need to be having ongoing conversations about the cost of college, the lending industry and banking system, and the ongoing decision to penalize mothers, youth, people of color, queer people, etc. for “market decisions” both in terms of lending decisions and blame when those backfire. Anything else is just a poor excuse for why people like Lieber have access to white male incomes at the New York Times while hardworking students wait on the welfare line.

RIP Ethnic Studies

Despite repeated defeat with the AZ voters, Governor Jan Brewer signed a law banning Ethnic Studies in AZ. The bill, which was particularly designed to target successful Raza Studies at Tuscon United School District, makes it illegal to teach courses that are “designed for a particular ethnic group” or “advocate ethnic solidarity.” It also links these courses to terrorism by including a clause against classes that “promote the overthrow of the U.S. government.” In both instances, the implication is that only people of color have ethnic pride, that pride is anti-American and anti-intellectual. Embedded in SB 2281 is the power to create independent review boards that can comb through any syllabus, lesson plan, or textbook order to remove material deemed in violation of this law. The consequences for instructors engaging in academic freedom are as severe as the fate of the learning material itself. At this time, failure to comply with the law will result in as much as 10% of the school’s budget being removed by the State. Ironically, the program that inspired this bill and its failed predecessors was created by a court mandate after the State of AZ was found guilty of discrimination. Raza Studies at TUSD is funded through the desegregation budget created as a result of the State’s failure to provide equal access to education for Latin@s and other marginalized students; currently the courses are provided in a district that is 56% Latin@.

It is nearly impossible to argue that AZ is not doubling down on an Apartheid like state system implemented less than 20 days ago with this newest addition of legal discrimination, SB 2281. The anti-ES bill intentionally targets a program that has a long history of

  1. connecting students to education
  2. helping to place students in higher ed
  3. creating critical thinkers whose knowledge and skills have been praised by higher ed recruiters

Essentially, Arizona’s government is willing to sacrifice student success now and in the future in order to remove certain people’s histories and cultures from the classroom. Like the pass law known as SB 1070, the racism underpinning SB 2281 serves to mask the economic, social, and intellectual impact of discrimination on the entire state. On the one hand, studies programs have been shown to create a wider range of critical thinking skills and interdisciplinary knowledge (the ability to understand and use material from multiple vantage points and disciplines) than other programs of study. They also help to retain students who are otherwise alienated from the educational process, including students from a wide cross-section of cultures and races looking to have a more inclusive educational environment. Identity Studies Programs also create and/or cultivate leadership as many of these programs embed development of and praise for leadership skills in their curriculum; part of that leadership, directly benefits the community as many of these programs also include service-learning, local internships, and civic responsibility opportunities as well. While these benefits maybe seen as “special programs” benefiting the “few” by people engaged in white entrenchment, statistics prove that there is a correlation between high employment rates, low crime rates, and educational attainment that behoove any local or state legislature to embrace educational programs that increase knowledge rather than dismantle it. While some may find the leadership component of these programs “frightening” because they fear a nation with brown (and black) people in government, the reality is that many of these leaders work to better communities across districts and to create safe places and programs for all citizens.

Ethnic Studies programs also generate considerable state revenue, some of which I mentioned in the previous post. In addition to the previous mentioned connections between revenue and education, this new law specifically threatens revenue generated by targeted programs that bring in Federal dollars and/or international prestige.

While the Superintendent, who has been on a personal crusade to remove Raza Studies for years, claims SB 2281 is only to stop a single program at the high school level, the Bill covers the entire state putting both individual classrooms and entire programs at risk. Programs like the Hispanic Center for Excellence mentioned in a previous post, which is a federally funded program designed to recruit, train, and retain Latin@ physicians, certainly “promotes ethnic solidarity” and is indisputably “designed for a particular ethnic group.” In fact, unlike Raza Studies, which is open to all students and has been cited as a place some white students found their voices and learned to love their educations alongside Latin@ ones, the Hispanic Center of Excellence does not recruit white students. While Raza Studies is funded almost completely by the State, the Hispanic Center of Excellence represent a national effort that both alleviates the funding burden and connects Arizona to other states, including physicians, professors, schools, and hospitals, engaged in the program. By applying SB 2281 equally, Arizona could not only lose a needed program but needed connections to other institutions that help create a wider field of knowledge, wider placement of AZ grads, and all of the economic and social capital that breadth represents. Not to mention the losses in the general health and well-being of the AZ population as communities continue to go under-diagnosed or treated due to a lack of cultural competence in the state.

On the other hand, SB 2281’s language could be applied to any educational program that the current government deems inappropriate on the basis of race of ethnicity. While the racism behind the law assumes that the only programs teaching ethnic pride are about people of color, the fact is Ethnic Studies programs exist as a corrective measure to the teaching of a single groups’ ethnic pride and history over that of everyone else involved in the building of this nation. While I’m sure Jan Brewer had visions of permanently removing the Brown Berets or the American Indian Movement from the curriculum, it probably never occurred to her that the law could be used to prevent “standard” history as well. Think of the examples:

  1. The Civil War – since the South was directly challenging the Federal government this would fall under the “over throw of the U.S. government” clause
  2. Parts of Contemporary Republican history – since these include the statements/leadership of several governors who have threatened sedition
  3. Most history of code breakers during major wars – in WWI Japanese Americans worked to break codes and translate documents, during the Vietnam war Native American Windtalkers created code that helped win the war, any unit about either of these groups would violate the “designed for/abt a particular ethnic group” clause
  4. The Buffalo Soldiers – see above
  5. The Harlem Renaissance – while this may get a pass given that funding for many of the arts came largely from extremely wealthy white patrons any course specifically about canonized artists, poets, musicians, etc. would once again bring up the “particular ethnic group” issue
  6. Irish immigration to the U.S. – not only are they a particular ethnic group but they are IMMIGRANTS too!!!
  7. The history of the railroads – while you could teach about the financial backing behind the rail roads, lessons involving who built the rail roads and how they were treated or the connection between the railroads and the genocidal politics behind Buffalo tours would get us back to that ethnic issue again …
  8. British Lit – as taught, this seldom includes Black British authors and therefore is targeting only one ethnic group
  9. American History under SB 2281 – since the ultimate goal is to remove reference to people of color this would create history courses that focused exclusively on one ethnic group or in the case of including a handful of poc in the curriculum, the ethnocentrism of the courses would fall under the designed to create pride amidst a single ethnic group clause
  10. American Literature – see above
  11. Social Studies would also be truncated as the civil rights movement(s), abolition, the Mexican-American war, Wounded Knee, etc. and even more modern examples like the Battle of Seattle or the Tea Party movement would all violate this law in one way or another

In fact, teaching Arizona’s own history becomes extremely problematic under this law given its clash of cultures from inception, it white supremacist publications by government officials and state newspapers throughout its founding and subsequent existence, and current links to eugenicist think tanks. All of these materials violate the new law.

The Legislature has attempted to cover themselves from lawsuits by claiming that programs open to all students and history courses about specific ethnic groups will not be subject to removal except in so much as they “violate tenets of the law.” There is very little language in the bill determining how any of these programs or courses could access exemption under the circumstances. Instead, the intended application of the law, to shut down Raza Studies, shows that these exemptions are legal maneuvers designed to keep the state from running afoul of Civil Rights Law while still defying it. Raza Studies is open to all students and does teach about a specific ethnic group that was mandated by a successful lawsuit against the state. If they are not exempt under this clause in the bill, it is unlikely that any program will be in practice regardless of the language. In the same way that no brown person will likely be safe to travel freely in Arizona regardless of supposed changes to the language of SB 1070 to protect Civil Rights.

The ability of both students and faculty to protest these decisions has also been severely circumscribed by SB 2281. The bill calls for the implementation of sanctions and expulsions for any student or faculty member “disrupting the classroom” on the basis of the new law. Including the ability to continue with an expulsion hearing even after students have withdrawn from a particular district due to sanction:

If a pupil withdraws from school after receiving notice of possible action concerning discipline, expulsion, or suspension, the governing board may continue with the action after the withdrawal and may record the results of such action in the pupils permanent file. (SB 2281)

This section of SB 2281 and its subsequent powers given both the principle and the teachers to sanction student protest, and or expressed concern about missing material in their education, will have lasting effect on both students and the educational system. When similar sanctions were proposed in my state for students participating in immigration rallies during school hours 1000s of students failed to participate in walkouts or teach-ins for fear of being expelled and losing their chance to go on to college. The fear of having their futures “completely ruined” by the State was powerful enough to silence some of the strongest leaders for equal rights. Arizona is essentially placing a gag order on young people and holding their future education and employment hostage to do it.

There is a national rally called for the end of this month to march on Arizona for the repeal of SB 1070, I assume this call will be expanded to include SB 2281 as well. I will post the fliers when I get a clean copy. There is also a rally today outside the Tuscon United School District Office Building to protest the shutting down of Raza Studies. The school Superintendent plans to personally shutdown the program today at noon even though the law does not go into effect until December.

I realize that MALCs is still working on the best possible way to support its overall membership and the people left behind in AZ, but I will not set foot in AZ as long as these laws are in place unless it is part of a national march against the implementation of Apartheid in the state.

Hunger Strike Against SB 1070

Some students at UC Berkeley have been engaging in a hunger strike against SB 1070 since Monday of last week. The students have asked the President, Chancellor, and Vice Chancellor of the university to denounce SB 1070 and address racial issues on campus that they believe make UC Berkeley, and to a larger extent the UC system, susceptible to similar legislation and policing in the future. They also requested that the university become a “sanctuary campus” in which undocumented students would be safe to both attend and seek refuge if they were attending other schools.

In response, Chancellor Birgeneau, who was out of town, condemned SB 1070, assured students that no one was being investigated for previous immigration rallies on campus, and asked that students turn their attention toward teachable moments rather than risking their health to make a statement. He also raised concerns that making Berkeley a sanctuary campus would actually draw negative attention to Latin@s on campus and increase the potential for covert surveillance of them by authorities. Historians will note that radical and even moderate social justice students, particularly those interested in racial and gender equality, have been the targets of such covert operations in the past and that Berkeley has been a particular hotbed for conflicts between government agencies and students. He also reiterated that Vice Chancellor Breslauer had his support in meeting with students and trying to clarify their requests.

While Chancellor Birgeneau comments from afar focused on the issues raised by the initial call for a hunger strike while questioning the methods, UCPD was not so interested in support for immigrants’ rights or students’ protests. When one student called for medical attention during the weekend, UCPD showed up instead. Students went to twitter to alert everyone that the police had been called despite no confrontational politics or illegal activity on the part of students. They raised concerns about how students’ attempts to care for themselves, as instructed by the Chancellor, seemed to be directly thwarted by campus and local police.

In response to police action and what students’ believe is the failure of the Chancellor to officially meet with them, 3 students are going on a “dry strike” (ie no food or water) while at least 10 others will continue the “solidarity hunger strike” (juice and water ok).  They have also modified their list of concerns and needs for the university:

  1. Public denouncement of SB 1070 (presumably including some connection to why similar legislation would not be ok in California)
  2. recruitment, retention, and safety for students of color espec. undocumented students & a commitment that UCPD will not report suspected undocumented workers or students to ICE (this replaces a call for a “sanctuary campus” originally demand #2 in a circulated list during the beginning of the hunger strike)
  3. changing the student code of conduct so that the maximum sanction for students engaged in social justice protests is community service, not suspension, expulsion, and/or potential arrest; suspension of the code until it is applied fairly to all groups on campus
  4. the rehire of laid off service workers, all of whom are people of color
  5. a commitment from both Chancellor and Vice Chancellor that they will engage solely in non-violent methods to address protesters on campus and an apology for the police brutality some students experienced during previous protests

Supporters of the strikers applaud the ongoing political commitment of UC Berkeley students in the face of ongoing oppression of students of color on and off campus. They point to the ways that Berkeley students are drawing attention to SB 1070 while addressing how a climate for state sanctioned discrimination must exist before legislation can be enacted. In other words, by pointing to key issues on Berkeley’s campus, they are highlighting how ideas of illegality and criminalization of people of color is the starting point for legislation that publicly sanctions racial profiling and makes it into law. They are also drawing attention to how the university system in general is implicated in both the exploitation of undocumented workers and reaping economic benefit from undocumented workers and students while failing to take a unified stand against anti-immigration elements.

Others have expressed concerns about the students’ methods and message. Some believe that instead of acting in solidarity with students in Arizona, the hunger strike has in fact shifted needed discussion and energy away from SB 1070 in order to center issues in California. Instead seeing a larger narrative of policing and erosion of civil rights for Latin@s in this country, cast as immigration issues, they see Berkeley students’ piggybacking their own issues onto the SB 1070 law with little effort to raise knowledge, create discussion, or organize around SB 1070 itself. Some have also pointed out that the hunger strike is “only a handful of students” while other efforts that actually are circulating concrete information about SB 1070 and organizing discussions, actions, and rallies to repeal it and prevent its spread to other states represent much larger efforts on campus. Finally, some have simply called the hunger strike “ridiculous” given that neither California voters nor California schools had anything to do with SB 1070 and that the action is undermining any credibility that students have to represent these complex issues.

No matter which side you fall on, it seems that once again SB 1070 has had far-reaching impact Arizona legislatures likely never considered. As the tide continues to turn against them amongst academic circles, negative views of the state and Arizona schools continues to spread. While some have flocked to Arizona’s defense in an act of white entrenchment solidarity, the slow ripples of disdain for state sanctioned legalized racial profiling and discrimination are extending outward in larger and larger circles. From academics to sports personalities to politicians and organizers, Arizona is starting to feel like the next “Sun City.” And in that sense, we should all remember that it was organizing at Berkeley that helped turn the tide toward national level divestment from places with legalized inequality and discrimination.

Academics Speak Out Against SB 1070

unattributed

As the reality of Arizona’s new law sanctioning the active policing and potential harassing of people of color based on “looking like an immigrant” sinks in, unintended effects are registering across the state. While the university system has been hemorrhaging under the weight of the current economic downturn, communities around college campuses know that we bring in a steady flow of new consumers to the communities in which we are situated. Students not only buy basic goods like food and clothing at local establishments, but they also pay rent, buy large ticket items like cars, electronics, and in some cases, houses. One needs only go to a college town mid-Summer and then again at the start of the school year to see the impact. Part of what draws these students to a particular institution are programs and faculty in fields that excite them and with scholars whose recognition goes beyond the college itself. When Jan Brewer signed SB 1070 into law, she failed to recognize the import of academe in the local economies in the state of Arizona. More than that, the legislation itself includes language that actively negates successful programs and calls into question others.

Arizona’s Higher Ed

Arizona colleges, which have an extremely high population of Latin@ students, staff, and faculty have all been re-acting to SB 1070 with varying degrees of condemnation. Prior to the passing of the bill, The President of Arizona State University, the state’s largest university,  urged Governor Brewer not to sign the bill on the basis of its potential to enact discrimination and turn people away from Arizona as a viable place both to study and live. (scroll down past blank ends of pages to get to the rest of the post text; sorry for copy quality):

After Jan Brewer ignored him and everyone else who expressed concern to make the bill law, the President of University of Arizona, has already gone on record about the immediate negative impact SB 1070 has had on the State’s second largest educational facility. Among the issues he raises are:

  1. the loss of new enrollment as parents and students withdraw their acceptances of admissions decisions already sent out
  2. the loss of current enrollment due to students choosing to look elsewhere for safer educational environments and taking a year off to do so
  3. the loss of future enrollment as families of both students and faculty consider education in the 49 other states available to them
  4. the loss of lucrative (and potentially expensive) hires that have already been done as faculty lured to the state with already paid packages start looking elsewhere
  5. the loss of prestige for Arizona based universities leading to the further leeching of current faculty and staff and the impossibility of attracting new ones

While many in this nation have been trained to think of higher education as a luxury for over-indulged students living on the taxpayer’s dime, the reality is that education is a critical aspect of our economy. People who attend college

  1. make more money
  2. have better job security

More than that, people with better job security tend to stay and contribute to the health and economic stability of a community through

  1. investment in schools, industry, and products
  2. use of services provided from large employers like hospitals and schools
  3. buy big ticket items like houses and cars
  4. spur investment not only through demand for goods and services but also providing the money that banks use to grow capital

So while they image of the over-privileged, useless egghead, 7 year Freshman serves a conservative backlash against higher education, it does very little to benefit the real economy of communities based around colleges and universities. Moreover, the number of people entering college is increasing exponentially as the economy continues to fall apart. While some students are on financial aid, it is important to remember that some students are paying full or partial tuition out of pocket and that money as well the demand for good services and potential long term community investment these students represent all go benefit the State.

In other words, what Arizona’s SB 1070 crafters have done is leverage the State’s educational institutions and all the potential economic and social capital they provide against an image they believe will garner favor with the neo-conservative elements of the state and national Republican party and potentially catapult the careers of AZ Republicans on the backs of AZ citizens and students.

Conferences

May 6 Protest at ASU/unattributed

The second potential major loss of revenue for the state related to the economy has to do with conferences, conventions, and research funding. Almost ever Department, field of study, and sub-genre in academe has an annual conference attached. These conferences represent major economic gain for the states and communities in which they are held. Like the tourism dollars that float small island economies, academic conferences represent a substantial portion of a state’s budget. Moreover, certain cities and states have such long term ties to these conferences that the revenue they generate are part of the budget.

Not only do national conference rotate through Arizona at least once every three years, but regional conferences may occur even more often. Added to these conferences cycles are the number of symposiums, summer research “seminars”, and local conferences put on by Arizona colleges themselves. We could even include recent pushes to create internationally recognized research centers which would likely hold their own conferences and do have lucrative seminars with outside scholars. Arizona State University recently spent a considerable amount of money creating and advertising their new Social Justice MA program for instance, which included lucrative hiring packages for faculty who will now be racially profiled under SB 1070; while, University of AZ houses the Hispanic Center for Excellence, a Federally Funded program designed to train Latin@ physicians in order to increase the number of Latin@s in medicine and cultural competence of medical providers nationwide. Both of these programs cost that state a considerable amount to implement and will cost even more in economic and social losses were they to fail as a result of SB 1070.

Courses & Censorship

One of the more insidious aspects of SB 1070 is the successful run around Arizona voters with regards to education. After several failed attempts to pass a law designed to put an end to Raza Studies at the high school level and open the door to removing and/or censoring lesson plans about Latin@s in the schools, the AZ legislature tacked similar policies to SB 1070 and plans to use the passing of the law to open the door to re-introducing a bill to end Ethnic Studies all together. As a result, not only are the higher education programs mentioned above under threat through racial profiling but one of the most successful programs in increasing retention and graduation rates of Latino students and cross-cultural cooperation in Tuscon United school district is likely to be shut down despite repeated defeat of such attempts by voters in the past.

The current bill includes provisions for review and removal of teachers whose “English” is “sub-standard” without actually determining what that means or how it will be measured. It is common for students to complain that professors of color, especially those perceived to be from cultures or backgrounds in which English is not a first language, are incomprehensible, do not speak English well, or are otherwise sub-standard with regards to language skill. These arguments permeate at least one of the departments in which I am currently housed, where students feel free to complain about the general education requirements in math and science because ” no one in those departments speak English” and often turn in evaluations that include complaints about the language skills of the “hard graders” in our department who are brown b/c they “look like immigrants.” Never mind, that most of the faculty in our Department are native English speakers including all of the faculty who are regular targets of these complaints.

Why would any educator put up with this kind of internal policing, only to leave campus and receive it on the street or in public places when they could move somewhere else? While white supremacist Arizonans may think that a mass exodus of these teachers and their families is a good thing, they have not stopped to think about the immense amount of skill and intellect that will be lost to them as a result.

These draconian measures could literally turn some Arizona school districts into ghost towns the same way that immigration raids have done to once thriving single-business communities. Poor white students and their families, who cannot afford to move will thus be robbed of not only diverse education but also potentially any education at all. Worse, though schools may survive a mass exodus, one has to consider what kind of academics they can attract to communities that actively and publicly participate in racial profiling.

Academic Organizations

La Virgen de los Mohados/Sylvia Rodriguez/MALCs 2010

At this point, many academic organizations are weighing what kind of stance they will take with Arizona now that SB 1070 has passed. Various organizations under the American Association of Anthropologists have already begun discussing boycotts and alternative measures. While members of the American History Association and the American Studies Association have stated publicly that they will not attend conferences for their discipline if they take place in Arizona. Whether or not entire academic communities make these moves official or not, the bottom line is that many academics are willing to forego national and regional conferences to take a stand for Civil Rights and some of them have no choice since racial profiling will likely make them “look like immigrants.”

Two organizations stand out in this growing controversy: NACCS and MALCs.

MALCs, a organization of Latina, Native American, and Chicana scholars, summer institute has been set to take place mid-July in Arizona. Members of MALCs have expressed major concerns about attending, spending money, or otherwise participating in anything that has to do with the state while SB 1070 is in effect. In response, MALCs ran an online survey of its members about the conference and how to best deal with binding contracts and civil rights dissent. The survey is currently being reviewed. Among the options MALCs members are considering are:

  1. Moving the conference out of the state of Arizona and paying whatever fines are in the contracts – ie taking major revenue away from the state
  2. Holding the conference on Native American land in Arizona – ie taking major revenue away from the state while both engaging/supporting communities impacted by the law and making sure Arizonans see how much money they’ve lost
  3. Having a virtual conference – ie taking major revenue away from the state
  4. Modifying the focus of the conference to address SB 1070 and making it available to AZ community members

MALCs blog, has also included information about the general call to boycott the state. So that they are ultimately taking a stand for an informed and targeted response to civil and basic rights violations enacted by SB 1070. As part of this stance, MALCs leadership released an early statement that included the following:

Mujeres Activas en Letras y Cambio Social protests the inhumane treatment of the un-documented. Additionally, we protest SB 1070 as a back door maneuver that erodes basic democratic principles that protect us from becoming a police state

ASU’s MALCs chapter on the other hand raised the issue of being “stranded” at ground central of SB 1070 if non-Arizona based academics left educational institutions to fend for themselves:

MALCS at ASU
Site Executive Committee
Position on HB 1070

The MALCS Site Executive committee at ASU recognizes the discontent and horror of progressive communities towards the Arizona state legislature; we want to
take a moment to comment on this year’s MALCS summer institute.

When the decision to bring the institute to our state and Arizona State University was made, one of the goals was to make present and visible our histories, experiences and visions as Chicanas/Latinas/Indigenous women in this particular geo-political space.

People of color and immigrants have been notoriously attacked in the state of Arizona for years. The theme of our Institute Derechos Humanos: (Re)Claiming Our Dreams Across Contested Terrains reflects this history. The contested terrain we refer to are not only geo-political spaces, but an affirmation of the struggle against the slew of anti-immigrant legislation in our state. As the call for a boycott to our state takes momentum, we want to critically address what this might mean for our institute. We will allot time in the conference to strategizing best responses to the parameters of the bill. Indeed, we have already made invitations to community activists as speakers for the thematic plenary session. And we are in the process of inviting the student activists who chained themselves to the State Capitol and got arrested as they demanded that Governor Jan Brewer veto HB 1070.

Now, more than ever we need the national community to bring support to those of us who are grounded here and to critically address what derechos humanos signifies in times of crisis. We believe it is imperative to continue to struggle against human rights violations that ensue from anti-immigrant, Indigenous, women, gay/lesbian/transgender discourses and practices. HB 1070 is the first of a nationwide effort to pass draconian immigration laws. There are ten similar bills considered in other states across the country, if we don’t fight back strong now, the battle will be significantly harder in the future. Additionally, we must continue to pressure the Obama Administration and our members of Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform and the Dream Act.

We propose, if the boycott indeed goes into effect, considering this year’s institute as an autonomous space to build solidarity in what can be deemed “ground zero” in the national immigrant and human rights debate. Arizona State University’s President Michael Crow has supported students who were affected by Prop. 300 that mandate students who cannot produce a social security number to pay out-of-state tuition. We encourage MALCS members to stay at Taylor Place, and to patronize Latino owned business when they come to Arizona in efforts to show the economic power of the Chicana/Latina/Indigenous communities.

Like the other organizations, departments, and schools addressed in the previous section, MALCs Arizona runs the risk of being completely isolated while trying to fight the negative impacts of SB 1070. If enough students and faculty transfer or never attend at all, the Arizona MALCs members who may not be able to make those choices may loose one of their key places for support. The question many academics are asking in and outside of the state as they weigh is a response is deeply related to this call from Arizona MALCs, ie how to support entrenched communities while expressing deep concern and disdain for the leadership of the state and the measures they have passed to concretize inequality and discrimination in the State.

unattributed

NACCs leadership has also expressed their deep concern for the impact of SB 1070 on Latin@s, Civil Rights, and intellectual freedom. In a 4 page letter, The current President of NACCS outlines some of the major misconceptions of the bill and the response NACCS membership has decided to take.  The letter argues that SB 1070 creates an “ecology of fear” through the depiction of immigrants and Latin@s in general as criminal, dangerous, and systemic drains on the economy.  It points to how the language of fear ignores the historical roots of the Latin@ and indigenous communities in Arizona dating back as far as the 1700s in order to criminalize anyone brown. This ecology of fear creates an environment of intolerance, fear, and hatred that will inevitably erupt in violence against both citizens and non-citizens alike, as it has in other communities invested in public, state sanctioned, hatred of immigrants.

The letter points to several falsehoods in anti-immigrant discourse that allowed SB 1070 to pass in the first place:

  1. Undocumented Workers pay more taxes than they receive: 6-7 billion dollars go unclaimed by immigrants who pay into the system but cannot legally take from it (Urban Institute 2005)
  2. Undocumented Workers keep Social Security afloat b/c the number of Mexican@ workers is growing while the majority of native born workers is reaching retirement age (American Chamber of Commerce 1985)
  3. Undoc Workers stimulate economic growth through demand for goods and services and entreprenuership
  4. Latin@s have the lowest unemployment rates in the country (Perryman Group 2010)

In short, the facts paint a picture of hardworking people supporting both state and national level social programs (schools, police, fire departments, social services, social security, etc.), expanding local economies through both job creation and service/product demand, and receiving very little economic gain in return. Long term workers are also more likely to invest in home ownership and community building projects than has previously been reported by those invested in white entrenchment. Thus the overall image of criminal, violent, and shiftless brown people menacing communities and draining resources is simply unsupported by bi-partisan research.

The negative image of the immigrant serves to distract workers and voters from failing state policies and diminishing economic opportunities while focusing their attention on a hate Other with limited to no responsibility for the problem.  NACCS leadership points out that SB 1070 is part of this long history of scapegoating immigrants at not only the national level but also in Arizona:

  • In 2008 – the state tried to disenfranchise Latin@ voters by claiming their documents were illegitimate, not present, or insufficient
  • AZ was at the center of the Federal Attorney scandal that saw people fired for failing to carry out unsubstantiated prosecutions against Latin@ voters

A longer history of Arizona’s xenophobia and anti-Latin@ policies can be found at Gay Prof’s blog:

In 1877, the editor of Tucson’s Spanish-language newspaper Las dos repúblicas lamented the “the attack of the [Anglo] hordes from the north . . .” Before the arrival of these white supremacists, Arizona had been part of the territory of New Mexico. For the rebel whites, though, the idea of living in a territory with a Mexican majority was anathema. They therefore separated themselves from New Mexico and created a whole new territory where they could institute a tyrannical government. (read the whole thing there)

NACCs also points out that S 1070 was written and funded through the help of long time white supremacist eugenicist organizations like the Federation for the American Immigration Reform and the Pioneer Foundation. The presence of white supremacists organizations in the drafting of the bill makes it impossible for anyone to take Jan Brewer’s statements about the bill‘s protections for civil rights and non-discrimination seriously.

Like other organizations, NACCs is calling for an immediate response by academics to the discrimination implemented by the State of Arizona including:

  1. a targeted economic boycott
  2. not scheduling national conferences in Arizona (NACCs will not hold any of their conferences there until the bill is rescended)
  3. Education and monitoring of the State

Conclusions

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Ultimately, racist and anti-immigrant factions in Arizona failed to recognize the ways in which xenophobic racism would ultimately impact the entire state not just the brown people they hope to police. In crafting a narrative of criminality and illegality around Latin@s and Latin@ culture they also hoped to [re]inscribe a narrative of their state and the nation that are out of keeping with the actual cultural histories of both. As various parties consider what, if anything, to do in response to Arizona’s laws, one thing is clear: academics are making their voices heard in both public and private spaces. Though we have often been discounted by the far right and misrepresented by the mainstream media, the bottom line is that we do generate a considerable amount of both money and prestige for the states in which we reside. At least for some of us, the choice is clear: we will not spend our economic or intellectual capital in Arizona and ultimately that means Arizona loses more than we do.

For all of the Latin@ intellectuals in Arizona whose roots go back to before the “founding” of this nation, I can only hope that the crisis between choosing their roots and their safety is less painful than the economic and social ostracism that supremacists in the State will experience as the national tide turns.

Everyone, regardless of their perspective, should question the motives of State level leaders who are willing to leverage the livelihoods of both dominant and marginalized communities and education in their state for political points with the minority (white supremacists) who may or may not also live in that state. Other states have bent to the whims of these factions before and found the aftermath much harder to overcome than anything they might have been trying to avoid or implement. More than that, the days of public, state level, discrimination without consequence have long since past and as these academic protests point out, any state in the N. American Southwest that thinks they can ignore their own history for anti-Latin@ rhetoric is all the more delusional.