A Note on the Academy Changing before My Very Eyes

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As the workings of global capitalism shrink the middle class here and grow it abroad, the institutions that serve the American middle class will be hollowed out, too. If you look past the myth that free trade brings prosperity to all and grasp the basic capitalist premise that markets seek efficiency, then globalism means opportunity will knock at the door of the less expensive worker.

For some reason many of us do not link global capitalism to the university save invoking one aspect of it–so-called privatization, which really means passing the cost on to the students and donors. More profound is the transformation of the education delivered to students. We hear about this mostly as “the adjunct” crisis, but that too is only part of the story. The trend includes the decline of the humanities, social sciences, libraries, and, more generally, research positions.

As a high school student in the 1970s, I marveled at America’s colleges and universities as I prepared to apply to college. Later I came to understand that the system was a product of the Cold War and the need to demonstrate the superiority of capitalism and democracy over anti-democratic, anti-private property communism. Now that the competition is over and capital has won and gone global, there is little need to underwrite the democratic experiment which presumed non-STEM knowledge about history, culture, and public affairs. Democratic nationalism is barely more a force than communism, so the pressure for an educated citizenry hardly exists.

It seems we no more need universities, especially research universities, for the masses than we need music, art, and history in our public schools. These topics used to belong to the rich and if current trends continue they will be their special preserve again. The poor must make themselves useful. STEM addresses that problem, though it is sold as the path to personal and national wealth. In recent years, STEM has become not simply about producing engineers and computer scientists, but also training non-union, lower-paid workers needed on the floors to operate the equipment in the returning factories. This is the STEM for the junior colleges and workforce developmentStem Image.

Except for the schools for the one-percenters, American higher education is becoming a place where our children become useful for those in need of their labor. The ideal of the educated worker is replacing that of the enlightened citizen. Parents have bought into this and so have many university professors and administrators. It is largely a done deal.

Some of my mentors who were advocates of higher education have placed so much of their attention on maintaining resources for the poor that they have hardly noticed that they are not sending them to places dedicated to empowering them as citizens. The transformation has largely escaped them and so they struggle unwittingly to make a new “college-educated” working class.

We Need a New Basis for Local Politics beyond People of Color

In fighting the #policepower, there is no substitute for building political majorities at the county level. That is where it resides in our structure of government, and it would take a veritable revolution and a new Constitution to change that. There are many counties and virtually entire states where we will never be able to build a majority coalition, but our loved ones get shot down even where we have large numbers and the potential for more political allies. We should focus there.

From the Rainbow Coalition of the last generation to the People of Color Politics of today, we have not excluded whites, but let us face the fact: We have not won over enough white people to make our lives as sacred as theirs, or anyone else’s. For a decidedly ethnic person like me, this is not an easy reality to accept, but I have reluctantly concluded that this reality met be grappled with to preserve black lives.

If you think the solution is simply protest, you are half wrong. If you think you can build the winning coalition while harping about white privilege, you are wrong. A common ground must be sought and found with white people and all others. We need white allies today as much as we did in the urban North in the twentieth century. We like to point out that urban protest brought about concessions from the state in the 1960s, but we do not like to acknowledge that the resulting #whitefear drove the politics of outsized policing and mass incarceration. We can take the position that white people’s fear is white people’s problem, but it is our children, not theirs, who are dying. Moreover we delude ourselves if we think the fear residing in whites is not shared by other groups. Our polls simply ignore everyone besides blacks and whites.

The urban politics that preceded the turmoil was nothing to write home about; the patronage politics from the 1920s to the 1960s was majoritarian politics that paid more national than local dividends. Yet the carnage was probably not nearly as high, but we do not have numbers to know.

The new urban coalitions I am talk about amounts to nothing radical, and for this reason it will not appeal to many who want national and perhaps even global change. Nothing said here precludes working nationally or globally. It merely says that local politics and coalitions are critical. Yet as one unwilling to wait for the restructuring of society, I believe we must reach out to others who are looking for local change, regardless of color. Influencing the prosecutor’s office is key and must become a central part of our electoral politics. Our local coalition politics must insist on this without preconditions that blame victims or exalt the police beyond the citizen.

This need for a new basis for politics becomes more important as the cities become gentrified and yet we must continue to work in them. In many cases, the grand juries will get increasingly non-black. And yes it is politically possible that people of color politics can give way to anti-black politics, especially since New York is not America.

No Special Right of Self-Defense for Police: The Evil This Time

Nothing shows the folly of using historical analogies to convince people of the evil right before their eyes than the case for justice for Michael Brown of Ferguson, Missouri. For most people, moral sensibilities lag behind social change. For this reason, every generation has the burden of convincing the world that what it is facing is actually oppression. What appears normal and moral to most must be revealed for its inherent evil, not for its association with one already accepted. Analogies linking police killings to lynchings have failed to work on the average white American.

To most Americans, liberal and conservative, lynching is wrong. And it is wrong primarily because it is gone, and they have been taught in school and in church that lynchings are wrong. Before lynching died down and disappeared efforts to get an antilynching law failed because many Americans, mainly Southerners, saw nothing particularly wrong with lynchings—they were a defense of civilization against criminals, black beast rapists and other such horrors. Today lynching is not wrong because the accused was never convicted of a crime before being executed, but because the accused was executed before they were born. White Americans are always willing to cop a plea for past sins. Slavery was wrong only after the fact. Lynching was wrong after it disappeared.

If whites believe that lynching was wrong because an “accused” man was found guilty without a trial, then they would be outraged that an unarmed black man was shot at 12 times or so and posed no threat to anyone and he had not been given a trial. Does anyone really believe that Office Darren Wilson needed to shoot so many times to secure his person from even a “hulk” of a man. At best Michael Brown was an unconvicted criminal who could have been charged with stealing cigars. Nonetheless everyone is okay that he was summarily killed by a cop without a trial because he was a criminal of an uncharged offense. Now think where we would be if he had been accused of rape by a naked white woman running down the street? Would we not be hearing that a criminal had been killed by an office as he sought to escape? And would whites be patting themselves on the back for it having been done by a cop rather than the mob? See, your Jim Crow analogies mean nothing when confronting the evil this time. The cop has replaced the mob and everything is neat and legal, especially since the cop invoked the notion that he was afraid for his life. Making an analogy between police killings and lynchings does not work because white Americans today are not willing to plead guilty to injustice that is before their eyes and no historical analogy will do.

We have the burden–even if we should not–of showing this evil for what it is today, in our time, on its own terms. We must show that the police cannot engage in summary executions because he or she sees apparitions dancing around in their heads preparing to strike them dead—even when unarmed. The I-was-afraid defense is a right unique to the police. A citizen cannot simply claim self-defense because they were afraid and use it to justify a continued use of force against an unarmed person—even with stand your ground laws or the normal castle doctrine. A citizen cannot claim to be afraid of the police and fire to preserve his or her own life. And how did the police get to claim a right that even soldiers in combat cannot claim against innocent civilians. If soldiers cannot claim this right in warzones, police should not have them at home. The professional policemen, no different from other armed professionals, should not be able to invoke fear to avoid a charge of murder. It is effectively a right to commit murder by confessing that one is an unprofessional coward.

This state-sanctioned policy that empowers police against citizens is more consistent with a police state than a liberal democracy. The police killing of our children–and all God’s children–is wrong unless there is a clear and present danger presented to a cop. A cop’s right to self-defense can be no greater than the citizen’s. When a cop has rights that a citizen lacks it will often be used against others citizens for whom it was not originally intended. Be clear, this antiblack policy is used predominately against African Americans with relative ease of credibility, but others also fall victim to it. As Booker T. Washington said, you cannot drag a man into the gutter without dragging yourself down, too.

Why Black Death by Cop Is Worse than Death by White Mob

When our study of lynching catches up to the reality that many who were murdered are not in any database, there will probably be about 5,000 names on the rolls. When we BEGIN our count of the number of black people murdered by cops, the list will likely be 10 times greater.

The higher numbers reflect the reality that black folks are a superfluous population to be incarcerated and killed by the liberal state as necessary, despite our status as citizens with claims on protection and service. In contrast, lynchings reflected the acts of those outside of the law who desired to control an indispensable labor force. In fact, the victims were often middle class blacks who lived independent of white landowners. Their violation of white supremacy was their relative escape from dependence on whites.

Because so few blacks were independent, the mob was more sparing of black lives yesterday than the state is today. We are oppressed by our servants. At least that is the technical arrangement in a democracy. Yet the police oppress us because they do the bidding of our fellow Americans who set them upon us because of their fears. Given this, it is understandable that juries of their peers exonerate them when they kill us because they share the same fears.

Under liberal democracy, death by state power is worse than death by mob, because there is no recourse. Because many Northerners knew Southern states were white supremacies rather than democracies, they joined black people in calling for national anti-lynching laws. Ultimately lynching died with the agricultural system that sustained it, but there is no such relief from Black Death by Cop. Today white democratic majorities condone the police killings as proper, leaving our only recourse beyond our national borders, unless you count federal civil rights violation a remedy for murder.

The heyday of lynching was from Radical Reconstruction to the collapse of cotton production. The heyday of Black Death by Cop commenced then and has continued ever since. We have it twisted.

Liberal American Exceptionalism, Faux Multiculturalism, and Ethnoracial Communities in America

Oh, here we go again conflating all forms of segregation and treating them as inherently problematic, racist, and un-American. According to the Business Insider, “Racial segregation in America is lasting longer than anyone expected.” They are right in their observation because of the liberal variant of American exceptionalism, which says in America racial and ethnic differences can and should be eliminated. This view was not born with the founding fathers, for they had no confidence that all races could be assimilated. It was one of the more liberal products of the Progressive era that looked to sociology to create a vision of the future in which America would be first and foremost in embracing and absorbing ethnic and racial differences.

As a land based on white immigrants who lacked a history of ethnic strife and enjoyed a wealth of opportunity, America, sociologists believed, had an unprecedented ability to become a nation that could absorb newcomers. With the rise of modernity, the power of America assimilation was thought to be so great that even Africans and Asians could overcome their racial uniforms and become part of the vaulted American mainstream, moving from their enclaves as individuals. Mind you, this argument was intended to say that the enshrinement of segregation in Southern laws notwithstanding, blacks in the North and eventually the South, would become assimilated. The University of Chicago sociologist who propounded this theory was no arm-chair intellectual. He had been the personal secretary of Booker T. Washington, a leading light of the National Urban League, and a co-worker with Carter G. Woodson. Despite all he had seen first hand, he believed that the unique experience of America would result in the end of segregation and ethnoracial identities.

Later sociologists would reject the anti-statism and the naiveté on racism in the Chicago school’s thought and call for the use of state power to end segregation. But they were no less convinced that state intervention would allow America to rid itself of ethnoracial communities and the racism, thus redefining American exceptionalism as a product of the nation’s political will.

But what if America is not exceptional in its ability to assimilate all comers? What if all comers do not want to assimilate? What if blacks, born as an ethnic group here in America, will not melt in the land of their birth? And what if segregation–even when it does not have the major force of state power–persists with little assistance from racism? For most participants in this conversation, we need not sort out whether the segregation is a result of policy or preference, because in either case all that matters is the racism of whites. The ever-existing and analytically blinding obsession with whites–their privilege and their racism–precludes all other consideration of other actors, as if the will of whites is always the reality we see and experience.

Yet, if this were so easily the case, why are the people of color so separated in these cities? Why are they not entwined? Why are the out-marriage patterns among people of color, breaking down these ethnoracial enclaves? Why are middle class blacks, Asians, and Hispanics with the resources to keep the company of middle class whites forming ethnoracial suburban communities? These challenges bother scholars little. The assimilationist-integrationists who have dominated this discourse succeed because they have a moral righteousness about them. All who oppose them are considered racists and black nationalists, evil people all, who profit on separation and hate. People of good will believe that all institutions should be enthnoracially heterogeneous and multiculturalism is merely a bridge to a new composite America. The latter part of their ideology, of course, is not part of their objective social science.

Even in the age of multiculturalism their viewpoint continues to reign because the multiculturalists that they recruit move from the assumption that ethnoracial identities, including robust cultures, can exist in ethnoracially heterogeneous communities. To be sure, not all and perhaps not most multiculturalists believe this, but the ones highly placed in these conversations certainly move from the assumptions of liberal American exceptionalism. Some go so far as to believe that ethnoracial institutions are not necessary either and reflect segregation, invoking a reality resulting from white political will and policy.

How can a multiculturalist—and even many so-called ethnic nationalists—believe that ethnoracial communities persist as a reflection of coercion rather than choice? How can they believe that ethnoracial identities can remain vibrant without separate institutional and community space? It is because the folks who intellectually denounce victimhood and tout agency also find their blatant contradiction politically useful. Making the persistence of ethnoracial communities a product of institutional racism and willful white privilege affirms their solidarity with those assumed to be living wretched separate lives and reinforces the need for their continued presence in white spaces as a moral imperative. And then there is theory: In an age of discourse, institutions and geographical proximity are hardly necessary for community. Such reflexive intellectual moves allow them to denounce the conservative version of American exceptionalism as they manipulate the morality embedded in the liberal version and pretend it’s wholly consistent with their ethnoracial commitments. What a peculiar multiculturalism indeed. Perhaps it is the only exceptionalism here at play.