Anti-Social Non-Media

 

The idea holds promise. It might look like
sitting alone, phoneless and thinking,
which at least allows you
to imagine a country that has unfriended
racism, faved equity, pinned
knowledge, twanked twaddle
into truth, and stopped following.

As the media are mainly
a village of the damned celebrities,
it may be wise sometimes
to reduce the status of the spectacle
to that of an evening gnat that
passes by your eyes and ears–
a momentary minor whine.

hans ostrom 2017

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A Simpler Explanation for the Use of Jargon, Buzzwords, etc.

As we know, Orwell in ‘Politics and the English Language,” came down Puritanically hard on the use of jargon, “foreign phrases” (provincial much, George?), and academic-insider diction and vocabulary.  He virtually makes such usage a moral issue.

A simpler explanation, and one that fits our age of communication-deluge, is that how we learn language and, via language, how we learn to fit into families, schools, jobs, and so on, induce us to use “the latest words.”

I’ve seen this fitting-in phenomenon in academia frequently.  New terms will spread like a flu-bug during a large or small academic conference, and people reflexively start using them, not necessarily because of their efficacy but just because they are new and moving up the popular charts,  and people do not want to be perceived as being not fully current, not being part of the group that’s using this language.

It seems as if younger academics may be more susceptible to this anxious need to keep up on new lingo, but even if this is true, it doesn’t mean academics of every stage don’t do the same thing.  That said, there also seems to come a time in most academics’ careers when an opposing reflex kicks in: generally weary, and acutely weary of academia, many academics become hostile to new things and new words, and they become increasingly likely to dismiss the latter and align themselves epistemologically with the credo, “There’s nothing new under the sun!  Therefore, leave me alone!”

But it can happen anywhere–job sites of every kind, political groups, social groups.  The right-wing servicer, Frank Luntz, developed dozens of slippery phrases, to a) lie in a most “Orwellian”way, b) heap scorn on “liberals” (a term he never had to define), and c) further fortify White-Right political identity.  Members of the group, new and old, lap up the new cream like kittens, not least of all because they like that feeling of being righteous and accepted.  Of course the same thing goes on in virtually every kind of group.  I do think it’s pretty clear that, in the U.S., the Republicans have been much better at this language-game than the flat-footed, befuddled Democrats, who haven’t exactly put effective roadblocks in the way of right-wing flim-flammers from Reagan to the current bloated, narcissistic loon, Our President, who is too lazy, and too rewarded for his laziness, to use new language.  He sticks with words like terrible, sad, tremendous, bad, and good.  Before the end of his term(s), he may just start grunting at his rallies and in his press conferences, and a large percentage of White folks will cheer each nuanced sound effect. Animal Farm, indeed.

In any event, counteracting both the keeping-up-with-the jargon mania and the curmudgeonly hostility any new words and terms can be difficult because to do so with the former requires checking the impulse to fit in immediately, and to do so with the latter means checking your own desire to stop learning.  In other words, discernment and self-discipline are crucial.

After all, in whatever specialized group one may think of, new language will arise, and much of it will be appropriate and useful–a reasonable acknowledgement (if I do say so myself) that is tough to find in Orwell’s essay.

Simple forms of such discernment come in the shape of questions: “Why am I using this new word/term, exactly?”  “Am I sure I know what it means?”  “Why are ‘they’ using this new word/term, exactly?” “Are people using this term more or less unthinkingly, out of reflex, habit, or an anxious need to fit it?”

Discernment in vocabulary and diction, in writing, speaking, and reading/consuming: a good aptitude to develop, and one distinct from Orwell’s clumsy eradication-policy vis a vis (foreign phrase!) “jargon.”

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. 

 

 

 

 

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.

Of American White Supremacy: the Constant Plague

It leads to the continuing slaughter and unnecessary imprisonment of African Americans.  It leads to impoverished and working-class Euro-Americans to vote catastrophically against their own personal and economic interests.  It leads Euro-American women to vote for an admitted sexual assaulter for President. It leads to enthusiastic, widespread display of a flag that represents slavery, rape, murder, and terror: the Confederate flag. It leads to an irrational foreign policy.  It gets conflated with patriotism and Americanism.

It leads “pro-life” “Christians” to support a murderous justice system and a savage attitude toward healthcare, both of which kill people, just as it once led them to own slaves and lynch human beings.  It leads to de facto Jim Crow educational policies.  Even in relatively improved situations—such as the status of African Americans and Latino Americans in higher education—it leads to continuing dehumanization: racist graffiti on campuses, racist security “services,” racist treatment of professors and students, etc.

It is White Supremacy, an idea rooted in the fake science of 17th and 18th centuries, completely fictional constructions of multiple human species when in fact there is only one.  And obviously this idea helped to make slavery and genocidal colonialism, among other things, morally acceptable to alleged Christian nations, including ours.

White Supremacy never goes away.  It only changes shape, at most.  Slavery has ended, but widespread immiseration of minority populations remains, as does a proliferation of hate groups and lynching talk from elected representatives:  while still a U.S. Senator, Jim DeMint said of newly elected President Obama, “we will break him”; recently an elected official in the South said those responsible for removing monuments to confederate figures should be lynched.   The mindset leading to such rhetoric determines the character of the GOP, which is a White Supremacist Party.  As noted, de facto Jim Crow practices remain in the justice system, the political systems (voting rights eroded), the educational system, and the healthcare system.

Shortly before she retired from the liberal arts college at which I teach, a highly respected, nationally decorated colleague said to me, after I had mentioned the miserable jog the college did at recruiting and retaining Black students, “Why don’t they [African American students] just go to historically Black colleges [as opposed to “annoying” “us”,” I guess was the rest of the point.  In the GOP mind, she probably counts as a typical “liberal” professor.  Liberal and White Supremacist, unapologetically so.  Multiply her worldview by hundreds of thousands, and you’ll get some sense of how White Supremacy vitiates allegedly enlightened institutions. Imagine how that worldview inspires innumerable micro- and macro-aggressions, every day.

White Supremacy affects the Left, with hard-line quasi-socialists, including Bernie Sanders, downplaying (at best) the presence and effects of racism.  It affects liberals, who may say the right things but are almost never as aggressive as they need to be to wipe out White Supremacy.  It affects seemingly smart men like Justice Roberts, who asked, when the continuation of the Voting Rights Act was before the court, just how long such an Act (and other measures) was supposed to be allowed to go on.  In other words, when would “they” (African Americans) be satisfied?  Embedded in the rhetoric is the attitude of a White Supremacist doing somebody a favor and growing oh so weary of it.  The answer to the “how long” question is “as long as it takes,” of course.  And of course his Court struck down the Act, or at least its most potent parts, and doing so led directly to widespread voter suppression in the South and Midwest, where White “Christian” governors and legislatures reign.

It affects identity, not just in the narrow sense of “identity politics,” but in the sense that millions of Euro-Americans simply cannot construct an identity that doesn’t depend significantly on the belief that in some deep biological sense, they are superior to African Americans.

I just had lunch with a remarkably smart, well educated, successful former student who is African American.  She said that after Trump was elected, “it didn’t take long” for a White man driving a truck with a Confederate flag decal to yell the N-word and other violent expressions at her—no, not in the South, but in Westlake Village, Los Angeles.  Subsequently she visited Kansas City, Missouri, where she “didn’t feel safe” because of how White folks were behaving in public.  Multiply her experiences by millions and imagine the psychological impact on African Americans.  Imagine the stress this impact creates.

White Supremacy is certainly tied up in Trump’s pulling out of the Paris accord on global warming because gleeful ignorance, doing thing because you can, showing contempt for scientists in particular and higher education and research in general, and throwing your imagined White Man weight around are linked to this problem of identity.

It affects the media, not just White Supremacist Fox News but also more mainstream outlets, who rarely mention the profound White Supremacist appeal of Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, and the rest of the GOP and who rarely challenge the Democrats on their feckless or non-existent responses to racist policies.

It certainly affects academia, informing notions of the liberal arts, hurting students and professors, and leading other professors into very sad, racist territory, putting the lie to all their high-minded posturing.

Decades ago, the genial, urbane legal scholar Derrick Bell told me that he was telling friends that vicious racism [White Supremacy] in the U.S. would never go away.  And he added that a feeling of relief, at least briefly, came over him when he recognized and expressed that fact.

As a political and social entity, Euro-Americans have always had the power to knock the crap out of White Supremacy.  Instead, they take half-measures—at best.  Otherwise, they are by turns uselessly guilty, stupidly liberal, viciously “conservative” [let’s get real: the GOP is the same as the Dixiecrat Party], unctuously sympathetic, and enthusiastically harmful. They say shit like “I never owned slaves,” which is supposed to lead to the logical conclusion that “so I don’t have to do anything about White Supremacy [except enjoy it.”  “All lives matter,” “Obama got elected—what more do you want?,” “make American great again,” “Obama isn’t American,” and yadda yadda yadda. They do things like defend murderous police and vote for Donald Trump, already in the category of worst presidents ever, although he doesn’t own slaves, as Jefferson and Washington (among others) did.

Euro-Americans simply won’t get the job of eradicating White Supremacy, its legacies, and its consequences, done.  Much of the time, they perpetuate it, on purpose or through indifference and willful ignorance.  White Supremacy should be, but never will be, part of our daily political dialogue, given the horrors for which it has been responsible.  It is at the amoral core of the U.S.  It is the most obvious matter of urgency and the most ignored.  Sure, there are multiple factors that led to the election of a gleefully White Supremacist, “birther” President, who is catastrophically unfit for that position.  But if there were no White Supremacy or if there were only an enfeebled remnant of it, there would be no President Trump.

The disease of American White Supremacy continues to proliferate like a plague.  It makes everybody sick, one way or another.  I have no clue what to do about it, even though I write against it and do very tiny things in my very tiny sphere to oppose it.   I wish something would wake up Euro-Americans, en masse.   Wishing is not a strategy.

 

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