White Supremacy and the Liberal Arts

There’s no question that the liberal arts college, the prestige model of American higher education, has been inherently reactionary and even White Supremacist.  For it has rooted itself in a meta-narrative in which the most prized knowledge in the U.S., filtered through Europe, is a bleached package from Greece and Rome.  Linguistically and otherwise, of course, there are legitimate reasons to trace legacies from these two empires.  Problems arise when the influence of Africa, Arabia, and Asia gets deliberately ignored.  Invasions, migrations, and the nature of these empires itself make the lines from Athens and Rome to Europe and the U.S. very messy, but that is not how the Classics, etc., get taught.   Further, the original 7 liberal arts were much plainer, pragmatic, and career-oriented than what the American version has become. (A good read is Rebecca Futo Kennedy’s essay, “We Condone It By Our Silence: Confronting Classics’ Complicity in White Supremacy,” Eedolon: https://eidolon.pub/we-condone-it-by-our-silence-bea76fb59b21.)

True, critiques of Whiteness, colonialism, White Supremacy, the politics, culture, and terrorism of slavery, etc., do get expressed at liberal arts colleges.  But they remain on the frothy surface of what goes on.  Institutionally, ethically, and psychically, the colleges remain bastions of Whiteness.

One factor that contributes to the impervious character of the colleges is that they depend economically on middle-class and upper-class White families.  If the latter didn’t exist, neither would the colleges, which are worried now that the demographics are shifting, but which seem incapable of acting on the worry.  The liberal arts colleges that are most successful at recruiting and retaining students of color have, for example, percentages of Black students in the low single digits.  The rest have percentages that hover around or below 1%–in 2017, coming up on 400 years since Africans were forced into slavery on these shores.  The demographics alone of the faculty, student body, and upper level staff mean that White Supremacy gets baked into everyday life on a liberal arts campus.

Given the percentages, it doesn’t require much imagination to envisage what life is like for Black students on these campuses.  Daily micro- and macro-aggressions. The extra duty to serve to educate White students, faculty, and staff who, at best, express their liberalism by being “interested” in “what it’s like” to be Black, and who at worst discriminate, ignore, dismiss, and belittle.

Further, these colleges–in spite of the image of broad-mindedness they project–are bastions for faculty who deploy the propaganda of “political correctness.  –And who deploy the weird logic that diversity must equal lower standards, when in fact some of the most academically incompetent students are White ones whose family wealth has paved an easy road.  The colleges also tend to attract faculty who are White and middle class and ruling class and who bring the same ignorance and prejudice to their teaching as any White American would.

So, at a liberal arts college, it is likely that one might hear from faculty and staff such utterances as the following, and I’m not kidding:

“Why don’t they [Black students] just go to historically Black colleges?”

‘”It’s White, conservative Christians who are most discriminated against around here.”

“If they [students of color] don’t like it here, they’re free to leave.”

“I’m sick of diversity.”

“I’m much more interested in the declining percentage of White males in higher education.”

“I don’t like hiring African American colleagues because they arrive with presumptive tenure.”

And so on.  And such comments are made from a position of safety, and they’re made by faculty of stature, not as one might think by the notorious cranks in the faculty, although they make them too.

It’s still common for liberal arts faculty to make the “native informant” move, whereby, when a question related to African American history or culture comes up in class, the professor turns to the one Black student in class (or allows a White student to do the same) and asks the Black student to become a spokesperson for an entire ethnicity.

Faculty of color, especially Black faculty, have a hell of a time, too.  White faculty will compliment them on being “so articulate,” or just simply act weird around them.  Black faculty must often take on the invisible burden of counseling Black students about how to survive at the college.  This requires added hours and emotional/intellectual energy.  It’s like sailing into a stiff headwind.

The scale of liberal arts colleges can make teaching and learning more effective.  For the most part, professors, not adjunct faculty, teach the classes.  This is not necessarily an improvement, but at least the pay is fair and the professors are bit more invested in the place. But in spite of the cosmopolitan self-presentations of these colleges, they tend to be insular, figuratively incestuous, and provincial.  Greek systems, inherently reactionary, traditionally racist and misogynist, only reinforce these qualities.

The identities of liberal arts colleges usually depend on illusions of “tradition,” and “tradition” and various kinds of safety and care figure heavily into liberal arts marketing.  And of course we know how tradition and “safety” can be translated into White Supremacist practices.  For example, Black students at liberal arts colleges routinely get followed or accosted by “Security” for no reason than that they are Black. It is a problem that is both chronic and acute.

In spite of highly promoted and self-congratulatory “diversity” efforts involving modest changes to curricula and programming and lots of noise about a welcoming, tolerant community, most liberal arts colleges have hardly made a dent in their Boards of Trustees (often composed of White wealthy alums), faculties, and administrations.  They tend, strategically, to silence straight-from-the-shoulder critiques of the White status quo by pointing to modest, even token, changes.  White faculty, staff, and students often go directly to playing the victim, complaining that they mean well, aren’t racists, and have done a lot, so why are you being so ungrateful?   You know that move as well as I do.

As with the nation itself, I don’t see any serious changes ahead for most liberal arts colleges when it comes to examining their White Supremacist character, assumptions, and practices.  The self-interrogation, discipline, patience, and strength required just isn’t there, and there are simply too many rewards, many of them monetary, for staying the same.  And, culturally, there is just too much invested in the mirage of “the small liberal arts college”; this powerful illusion is part of the White Supremacist “American Dream” that Ta-Nehisi Coates describes and analyzes  in Between the World and Me. Arguably, American liberal arts colleges contribute as much to the White Supremacist status quo as does the Republican Party, with its dog-whistles and Southern Strategy, its fake textbooks (in which, for a Texas example, African slaves are referred to as “immigrants), its mask of Christian piety, and so on.   Most of these colleges have endowments large enough to stay White forever, so they will.

Further reading:

“How White Supremacy Lifts Liberal Whites,” by Gail Cornwall. http://www.sfchronicle.com/opinion/openforum/article/How-white-supremacy-lifts-liberal-whites-10812043.php

“Top-Ranked Liberal Arts College is Calling for Its President to Address Its ‘Legacy of White Supremacy,'” by Abby Jackson.http://www.businessinsider.com/amherst-college-protest-against-legacy-of-white-supremacy-on-campus-2015-11

“For Christ and His White Kingdom–An open Letter to the Wheaton College Community on White Supremacy,” https://thetatteredrose.wordpress.com/2013/12/09/for-christ-and-his-white-kingdom-an-open-letter-to-the-wheaton-college-community-on-white-supremacy-on-campus/

“Diversity in This Progressive Cycle: Where Are We? An Issue Too Close to Us–We Cannot [sic] Possibly Ignore It,” by Luke Carberry Mogan. https://www.theodysseyonline.com/diversity-in-this-progressive-cycle-where-are-we

“Bates + Who? An Open Letter to the Bates College Faculty.” http://www.thebatesstudent.com/2017/05/bateswho-an-open-letter-to-the-faculty-of-bates-college/

“White People Are Amazed that a White Woman Was Treated Like a White Woman,” Michael Harriot, The Root.  http://www.theroot.com/white-people-are-amazed-that-a-white-woman-was-treated-1795272316

“Race and Racism at Colorado College: Revealing Micro-Aggressions and Institutional Negligence,” by Han Sayles, http://www.ciphermagazine.com/articles/2017/1/12/race-and-racism-at-colorado-college

“De-Segregating International Relations: A Conversation with Robert Vitalis on ‘White World Order, Black Power Politics,” http://toynbeeprize.org/conversations/de-segregating-international-relations-a-conversation-with-robert-vitalis-on-white-world-order-black-power-politics/

“The Case of the University of Puget Sound Three,” by Clifford Cawthon. https://southseattleemerald.com/2017/01/03/the-case-of-the-university-of-puget-sound-three/

What’s Liberal About the Liberal Arts? Classroom Politics and ‘Bias’ in Higher Education, by Michael Bérubé, W.W. Norton, 2007. 

Sarah Bond, “Whiteness, Polychromy, and Diversity in the Classics”: https://sarahemilybond.com/2017/04/30/the-argument-made-by-the-absence-on-whiteness-polychromy-and-diversity-in-classics/     Also see her article in Forbes on the same topic.

 

 

 

 

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Is Trump Mainstream?

Well, if enough people voted for Trump to secure the electoral votes needed, then, yes, he’s mainstream.  It’s a thought from many Americans (and others) who aren’t suffering from one kind of mass psychosis or another recoil.

In what sense is his White Supremacy not mainstream, given the “Southern Strategy” of his Party, actions leading up to the Black Lives Matter movement, continuing Jim Crow voter-suppression (abetted by the Supreme Court),  and the bizarre (if predictable) over-reactions to a middle-of-the road, prepared, pragmatic Black President?  Trump want to fire Sessions, not because the latter is a homophobic segregationist but because a proper investigation continues.

In what sense are his excesses, profligacy, proud ignorance, environmental nihilism, greed, and grifting not mainstream American?  Judging from what I hear and see at my nondescript liberal arts college, I would guess more than a few academics, even, are okay with Trump’s anti-political-correctness, anti-Obama, nobody-knows-the-trouble-White-folks-have-seen, misogynist persona.

Why would so many American “Christians” vote for and continue to support Trump if he weren’t mainstream?

The idea that if “we” could just get rid of Trump, then everything would get back to “normal,” may be a necessary delusion; who knows?  But the real problem is that “normal” is Trump and Trump is normative,  if more crudely direct.  After all, the GOP Congress and Supreme Court do his bidding.  It’s not like they oppose him in any meaningful way.

A deeper problem is that the U.S. has never truly addressed its White Supremacist core values, its cultish attraction to unregulated capitalism and the long-con of “trickle-down” economics, its unrelenting baiting of the White working class, its military-industrial complex, and its ultimately self-destructive (in addition to destructive) view of its home, Earth.  Now one reads article after article about how “liberals” (whatever that means) must learn how to appeal to White working class people, which is really a way of saying that we need to pretend what many of these people believe is hideous.  Also, the articles overlook the fact that a majority of White suburban men and women went for Trump, so apparently class isn’t the determining variable.

To me, Trump just looks like a inevitable result of American history, economics, and education.  He is America, particularly White America (and in politics, that’s still mostly what matters).

What people who recoil from Trump need to do is to recoil (and then do something about) all the things that make him American, as opposed to making excuses, minimizing, wilting under charges of “political correctness,” and remaining in denial. From its colonial inception, the country/nation has been as sick as a dog that drank anti-freeze.

“Populism”?

Here is a definition of populism:

  • S: (n) populism (the political doctrine that supports the rights and powers of the common people in their struggle with the privileged elite). [From wordnet via Princeton U.]

Given this definition, I can see why more than a few people might find the word almost useless with regard to the victory of Trump’s campaign.

First, Trump is of the privileged elite, obviously, and second, he wallows in this status in front of his followers.  Why the working-class sector of his followers celebrate his elitism has answers in studies of psychology, racism, misogyny, White Supremacy, mass media, and American history.   Second, perhaps they also truly believe he will represent and support their “struggle with the privileged elite; if so, then Pseudocracy did indeed triumph in this election.  Online, I’ve seen the term “drain the swamp” used by his supporters.  It is of course mostly an empty signifier, ready to be deployed in the service of blind rage and cultivated ignorance.  But even if we agree that it can refer to replacing elite insiders in government with commoners, it remains preposterous.  Most of Trump’s announced appointees seem to have spent a lot of time in the swamp.

I wonder if it’s also likely that Trumpster populism is actually anti-populism, a reaction against the demographic shifts in “the populace” that are making it less White, less Christian.  Trump’s loss of the popular vote may support this conjecture, and at any rate, the loss is certainly ironically counter-populists.  Trump’s obvious taste for authoritarianism and bullying help the irony to spike.

At the moment, I don’t see any effective means for opposing Trump’s anti-populist scheme to pimp the rage that springs from angry ignorance and ignorant anger. For one thing, his anti-populism relies on a disdain for facts, hallucinations induced by slogans (“Lock her up!”), and a depraved indifference to sensible solutions.  A cult-leader, Trump will probably not have to face any serious consequences for failing miserably to address material conditions unfavorable to those not wealthy, those not elite, and he will continue to benefit from expressed, livid opposition to parts of the populace that struggle mightily: many immigrants, many African Americans, many LGBTQ persons, many Muslims, and many women.

All Politics Are (Not) Local

Herein the blog asserts that Governor Chris Christie’s journey from New Jersey (where he is caught in the consequences of using the other kind of bully-pulpit to bully politicians who didn’t support him) to Las Vegas, where he must kiss the ring of a GOP Mega-Funder, is emblematic of the pseudocracy.

Such is the pseudocracy that ancient adages may be threatened.  Probably the adage, “You can’t beat something with nothing,” remains reliable, although didn’t John Ashcroft lose to a dead person in Missouri? Oh, well: the exception that tests the rule.

The blog believes (here I imitate Bill O’Reilly: “The Factor believes . . .”) that the adage “all politics is [are] local” is endangered. True, Chris Christie has his eye on the White House, so it is expected that he would suck up to a national Mega-Funder. That said, Mega-Funders such as the Koch Brothers pour money into House elections, flooding Congressional districts, and those elections frequently feature state officials wishing to climb, but they don’t climb based on how they brought farm-money home; they run on how well they conform to a nationalized Tea Party formula.

Moreover, the “issues” seem increasingly national. That is, if you associate with or want to please the Tea Party, you must be rabid about the budget in a Tea Party sort of way, viciously anti-Obama (not merely anti-Democratic), nativist, Randian, and NRA-friendly. You must, essentially, run on the implied promise of getting nothing done. “I will do nothing about immigration. I will do nothing about health-care, except oppose ways to deliver it. I will not work on the budget. I will work against it. I will not soil my hands with policy. I will vote regularly on symbolic ‘legislation.’ I will make government not work.”

And the idea of a New Jersey Governor flying to Vegas–Vegas: how perfect is that?–to perform for cash somehow captures what the Citizens United decision not so much did to politics in the U.S. but what it completed. The coup de grace.

Of course, candidates in both Parties must suck up to Big Funders, although it must be said that one way Obama and Democrats fought back against oligarchical money was to raise money online from “small” donors–three bucks a pop, even. Nonetheless, the Dems have their bundlers and Mega-Donors. In this sense, it is a one-Party system.

And even the online appeals to small donors have a national character, so that (for example) if a citizen gave money to Obama’s campaign, he or she will be asked every day to contribute to election-campaigns in a wide variety of states and Congressional districts, however far-flung.

There may come a time when Democratic candidates must fit themselves to a constrictive mold. For the moment, it seems as if only the GOP is functioning that way, so that experienced politicians (like Dick Lugar) get undercut by primary-challengers who have agreed to shape themselves according to assembly-line specifications. Model Tea Party.

Christie is in trouble because of painfully provincial, local, and stupid politics. Shutting down a bridge? Really? But he hopes to escape by doing a pole-dance (block that image) in our real national capital, Vegas. Viva, Chris Christie!

Meanwhile, the blog sentimentally longs for the old days of moderately corrupt pork-barreling, when at least we could count on incumbents to bring home money for roads, bridges, and buildings, and thereby (wait for it) put people to work. What a quaint idea. Horse-and-buggy thinking. Dear Blog: Grow up! Way too local and pragmatic for the pseudocracy, which, like our data, lives in a Cloud and cannot, must not, concern itself with what might be productive for a state, a district, a county, a city, or some people.

All politics are vaporously national. Does the assertion hold up? The Blog must ask some political scientists.

The GOP Adjustment as Rhetorical Problem

Adapt or wither: that seems to be one major piece of advice the GOP is receiving. However, I did hear at least one “progressive” radio-host advise, “Please don’t adapt!”

Adapt to what? Allegedly, changing demographics, contrary attitudes toward some social issues, and the perception that the GOP chiefly represents “wealthy interests.”

If the problem(s) were seen in rhetorical, not strictly political terms, I might advise the following:

1. Define the “immigration problem” as “an immigration problem”–not as a problem of race and not as a threat to “culture.” If you think immigration-processes should be more orderly and consistent, then work with Democrats to make them so. Or don’t adapt and keep making the issue more about race and culture, and keep intimating that Latinos are “taking our jobs.”

2. Don’t swallow this business about “a changing America” whole. African Americans have made up 10-12 % of the population for a very long time. This isn’t a change. They vote largely Democratic because you, GOP, have basically pushed them to do so and because you have treated the first Black president like dirt. You can still play traditional rough politics and treat him with respect.

And if I were you, I’d have somebody confess that the Southern Strategy has always been about race, and I’d have the official confessor apologize.

3. When it comes to politics and governing, stop defining “gay marriage” as a religious issue. Treat it as a religious issue in your respective religions. If your church doesn’t want to host gay marriages, then it need not do so, obviously. But otherwise marriage is a civil matter, even if some couples–gay and straight–behave uncivilly after they get married. The U.S. isn’t a theocracy. I’ve met Tea Party people who agree with me on this, by the way.

4. Stop running the trickle-down con. People are catching on that’s it complete economic bullshit. More than that, there’s concrete evidence from Clinton’s 8 years that modestly raising taxes on the wealthiest helped the economy without hurting (as if!) the wealthy. Romney tried to run the Reagan con again, and enough people didn’t go for it (apparently) for you/him to win. It’s a pathos-move that’s quit working, and it never made logos-sense.

5. Look, we all know all politicians have to be data-deniers sometimes. Politicians lie. They deceive. But when it comes to data about evolution, global warming, dirty water, dirty air, and running out of fossil fuels, you all need to grow up.

6. When both you and the Democrats discuss budgetary issues and government-intrusion issues, you have to stop pretending the military is beyond enormous. It’s a data-thing. Empiricism.

7. If the question of abortion were as simple as you want to make it, a lot more people would agree with you now. If the question weren’t in large measure about women and their right to control what happens to their bodies, a lot more people would agree with you know. If you really want fewer abortions, support education and contraception. Or: don’t adapt.

Or–don’t adapt, as your progressive “friend” suggested.

David Brooks’ Faulty Reasoning About Why the GOP Lost

I give David Brooks credit. In looking for reasons why the GOP had a bad night, he’s not being as shameless as Karl Rove. I know that’s faint praise. The long-con-artist Rove is blaming a storm for his failure to deliver what billionaires paid him for. Here is Brooks’ take:

Growing beyond proper limits, government saps initiative, sucks resources, breeds a sense of entitlement and imposes a stifling uniformity on the diverse webs of local activity.

During the 2012 campaign, Republicans kept circling back to the spot where government expansion threatens personal initiative: you didn’t build that; makers versus takers; the supposed dependency of the 47 percent. Again and again, Republicans argued that the vital essence of the country is threatened by overweening government.

These economic values played well in places with a lot of Protestant dissenters and their cultural heirs. They struck chords with people whose imaginations are inspired by the frontier experience.

But, each year, there are more Americans whose cultural roots lie elsewhere. Each year, there are more people from different cultures, with different attitudes toward authority, different attitudes about individualism, different ideas about what makes people enterprising.

More important, people in these groups are facing problems not captured by the fundamental Republican equation: more government = less vitality.

The Pew Research Center does excellent research on Asian-American and Hispanic values. Two findings jump out. First, people in these groups have an awesome commitment to work. By most measures, members of these groups value industriousness more than whites.

Second, they are also tremendously appreciative of government. In survey after survey, they embrace the idea that some government programs can incite hard work, not undermine it; enhance opportunity, not crush it.

Moreover, when they look at the things that undermine the work ethic and threaten their chances to succeed, it’s often not government. It’s a modern economy in which you can work more productively, but your wages still don’t rise. It’s a bloated financial sector that just sent the world into turmoil. It’s a university system that is indispensable but unaffordable. It’s chaotic neighborhoods that can’t be cured by withdrawing government programs.

* * *

As it happens, I’m an expert on part of what he says. I grew up “on the frontier”–in a High Sierra town of 200, once a Gold Rush town. And, culturally, part of me came from Sweden but that part was atheist, not Protestant. Also, I saw what the GI bill did for one of my uncles, who flew mission in a Flying Fortress. It allowed him to go to a state college and get a teaching degree. He taught and coached for the next 30+ years but never gave up on the “frontier” stuff like hunting, fishing, building your own cabin, and panning for gold.

My uncle’s values were not, in fact, different from those described in the Pew poll concerning these alleged “people from elsewhere.”

Everybody in the U.S. is from elsewhere, and why begin history with Protestant colonialists? Why not start it with the slaves who were brought here in 1619? Or the Spaniards out on that frontier? Or the French in the bayous? And so on? And why not mention that many of the early members of the federal and state governments owned slaved? That’s the ultimate “government intrusion” and extreme “attitude toward authority.”

So I assert that Brooks’ argument is based on a false, White-centered, nostalgic view of history. I also assert that the GOP had a bad night (but only narrowly, let us remember) because it has been begging for one. Look who speaks for them mostly loudly, hear how much hate is in the speech, and see how weird the stances are: abortion banned even in cases of rape; denying global warming; claiming “trickle down” economics is anything more than a long-con (70%+ of economic growth is driven by consumer–middle class spending, not by how much dough rich people get to keep); wanting government to intrude on two adults’ decision to spend their lives together (what’s more “American” than that?); and treating the first Black president like a you-know-what.

I also assert Brooks’ argument hinges on a false dichotomy: either government helps the economy or private enterprise does. They both do, and they both must. If these “new people from elsewhere” don’t work with the same fallacy as Brooks does, it may simply mean they are reasonable. Government can raise the taxes or sell the bonds necessary to build schools, bridges, sea-wall, an electric grid, and so on. Who does the work? Private contractors. So enough of that dodge, please.

If government has grown beyond proper limits, then why not question the proper limits of the defense budget, which is the most out of whack part of our budget when compared to all other countries?

Is a national health insurance program–operated by private insurance companies–and improper intrusion of government, or just something my practical uncle would see as necessary?

Barack Obama as Big Government Lefty is one of the larger straw men the GOP has built. On what issues is President Obama to the Left of Eisenhower or Truman?

I think the GOP decided to see how far right it could go on a range of issues, and so it went too far. I think it decided long ago to be a White party. Lindsay Graham has admitted as much, and we all know about the Southern Strategy, which is race-based. That’s the short version. There’s more to it than that, but it isn’t the more that Brooks cites.

Romney and Rhetoric

By now we all know about Mr. Romney’s latest gaff (offering a scathing critique of 47% of Americans for being lazy and indulging in victimhood, etc.)

Rhetorically, R was doing what rhetors are invited to do: tailor his remarks to his audience (in this case, very rich people–being served by waiters who may be among the 47%?) Alas, our audiences are always multiple now, and so: oops.

An ethical question for all writers and speakers is . . . at what point does the tailoring violate one’s own sense of right and wrong, true and false? That is, Aristotle did not propose that speakers and writers just lie, baby. I don’t mean the following unkindly, but I find with Romney, it is more difficult to ascertain what he really believes about right, wrong, true, and false. To some degree, the same could be said of almost all politicians, but I think Romney is a special case. Often he seems to me to be like a salesperson who is willing to say anything to get the sale.

I have no idea whether President Obama and former president Clinton are better people than Romney. How could I? I do know that they are much more nuanced and deft in their negotiation of multiple audiences than he is. If he loses the election, much will be said about he causes and correlatives. Perhaps it will be the case that inflexible, awkward rhetoric will be among these.

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