Category Archives: Inequality

On the Colonial Legacy of U.S. Universities and the Transcendence of Your Resistance

By Prof. Oriel María Siu

Oriel María Siu is Assistant Professor and the founding Director of Latino Studies at the University of Puget Sound.

Oriel María Siu is Assistant Professor and the founding Director of Latino Studies at the University of Puget Sound.

(This is a copy of the Keynote speech I gave at the University of Puget Sound’s Graduates of Color Ceremony in May 2015. I dedicate it to all students of color at this and any other institution of higher learning in the U.S.)

As people of color, you were never meant to be at a university. I was never meant to teach at one. And your family and I were never meant to be here celebrating your graduation today.

The establishment of universities you see, were a direct result of the European colonization of the Americas and later white settler expansion all over the globe, a process begun in 1492. From the beginning, universities served as a crucial tool for the introduction and retention of a white Eurocentered power structure in these occupied territories. In the Americas, universities were created and run by British and Spanish settlers and later by their descendants for the purpose of founding and retaining the colonial order of things. The founding years of the first universities in this continent should therefore be no surprise; they directly paralleled the English and Spanish processes of colonization north, center, and south: the Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo (1538), Universidad de San Marcos of Perú (1551), Real y Pontificia Universidad de México, today the UNAM (1551), and Harvard University (1636), to name but a few.

Through savage processes of forced displacement, genocide, racialization, and the enslavement of Natives and Africans, whites self-proclaimed themselves superior to other people upon entering the Americas. From 1492 to 1592 –or the first 100 years of the occupation alone– it has been estimated that Europeans decimated more than 90 million indigenous people in the Americas, making it the bloodiest holocaust in the history of human kind (other estimates place this number above the 100 million people mark). Aside from this genocide, more than 11 million Africans were shipped across the Atlantic, with death rates so high during that atrocious Middle Passage that many lives were lost at sea. Engendered by a system of slavery and the decimation and removal of Native life, the colonial order of things in the Americas consisted of the formation of a particular economic system; one which controlled, confiscated and reserved productive Native lands for the use of the white settler; one which ensured the flow of exploitable, cheap and free labor for the occupiers’ benefit; and one which ensured little to no upward mobility for the colonized. Universities, as I was saying, were crucial to the retention and functioning of this colonial order.

As spaces for the creation and retention of systems of thought, universities contributed to the eradication of indigenous educational institutions and to the displacement, invalidation, destruction, and subalternization of indigenous and African ways of knowing. In the minds of missionaries and “men of letters” –as scholars were called back then–, indigenous knowledges were dictates of the devil and thus had to be disciplined, punished and eliminated. These knowledges and epistemologies neither corresponded to the history of the so-called West the colonizers imposed here in the Americas nor were they recognized as valid or beneficial to the colonial system. Native knowledges did not support racial, class nor gender hierarchies –all organizing principles of colonial America. As Duwamish Chief Seattle said to the settlers that later appropriated his name and this land in the Northwest, Native ways did not see land as belonging to people as the white man understood it, but rather that people belonged to the land. As sites for the development and preservation of ideology, universities thus became the mechanism through which these indigenous knowledges were made inferior and obsolete by the white colonial settlers, replaced instead with Eurocentric lenses of the world. These new lenses were channeled through the academic disciplines that universities engendered –Math, Sciences, Humanities and Philosophy– disciplines all designed to rationalize the Eurocentric white power structure in place still to this day.

From Types of Mankind (1854) by J.C. Nott, and Geo. R. Gliddon. In arguing for the superiority of whites, scientists claimed that the world’s “races” had different “origins” and were therefore different “species”. Photo by APS Museum. CC BY-NC 2.0

From Types of Mankind (1854) by J.C. Nott, and Geo. R. Gliddon. In arguing for the superiority of whites, scientists claimed that the world’s “races” had different “origins” and were therefore different “species”. Photo by APS Museum. CC BY-NC 2.0

Universities were essential to the development of scientific racism. For more than two centuries, from the 1500s to the 1800s, colleges and universities throughout the United States and the Americas supported research and implemented curricula that argued for the enslavement of black people, the superiority of the white man, and the inferiority of Natives and their ways of knowing. Scholars such as Josiah Clark Nott, Robert Knox, George Robins Gliddon, and Samuel George Morton among many others lived to prove that the racial inferiority of people of African, Pacific Islander, Asian, Caribbean, and Indigenous descent, justified conquering them, enslaving them, exterminating them, exploiting them, segregating them, and/or occupying their land. Be this within the newly created U.S. borders, or south of the U.S. borders, or in Africa, or in Asia, or the Pacific Islands, all regions colonized by Europe and/or the U.S. during the 17th, 18th, 19th 20th, and 21st centuries. In arguing white superiority, these scholars measured the skulls of diverse populations, put forth theories of polygenism supporting the classification of human populations as distinct races stemming from different origins, and spoke of the “primitive psychological organization” of slaves. Their research and the value given to it by way of the university institution made it possible to create the logic for the colonization and occupation of vast territories and peoples during the forming years of European and US imperialism world-wide.

Universities both in the North and South of the United States participated in the economy of slavery. As scholar Craig Steven Wilder’s work most recently demonstrates (Ebony and Ivey, 2013), in the South many colleges owned and used enslaved blacks to build and maintain university campuses. Fully at the disposal of the universities that owned them, campus slaves were forced to commit their labor to the campus which held them. They served the students, the faculty, and the administrators. Slaves took care of administrators’ and faculties’ children, rang campus bells, prepared meals, cleaned students’ shoes, made beds, obtained the wood for fires, and tended farmland owned by administrators and universities. In some instances, students, administrators and faculty even paid special fees to their respective university to be able to bring their personal slaves to campus. Yale, Columbia, Harvard, Brown, and Princeton among many other prestigious universities of the North, were no. These institutions suitably accepted into their student body the sons of wealthy slave-owners, including sons of wealthy slave-holder elites from the Caribbean (Wilder)[i]. Both directly and indirectly, universities all throughout the nation supported the economy of slavery, benefited from it, and played a crucial role in retaining the racist and racial order of things in the newly created white settler nation.

Engraving from 1827, University of Virginia. Female slave carrying baby. Zoomed in image of Rotunda and Lawn, B. Tanner engraving from Boye’s Map of Virginia from the University of Virginia Library Materials.

The sons of plantation owners who studied in Europe were seen as experts on Natives and enslaved Blacks because of their close contact with them (Wilder)[ii]. Insisting on the economic benefits of slavery while also furthering the case for U.S. genocidal politics at home, these slave-owners’ sons wrote entire dissertations and gave lectures on the physical and intellectual inferiority of these groups (Wilder)[iii]. Their work’s objective was to dehumanize their subjects or rather objects of study. Their lectures not only helped validate and explain the system of racist economic, social, and political rule in place in the U.S., it also argued for its perpetuation.

In the aftermath of the Civil War, Blacks and other people of color in the U.S. as well as Jews and non-Protestant Christians were still not admitted into universities. Black colleges and universities were created for this very particular reason in the 1800s. Throughout the U.S. students of color were not legally allowed into higher education until the second half of the 20th century. That is approximately 50 years ago.

The very university from which you graduate today was founded in 1888, just a few years into the occupation of the Puget Sound area by its white settlers. Even though the area began to be “visited” by English “explorers” in the late 1700s, permanent European settlement was achieved in this region in 1852 when a Swedish man by the name of Nicholas De Lin discovered there was lots of money to be made by exploiting the area’s lumber. The Nisqually and Puyallup regional tribes fought back and in 1855 the settlers were forced to flee, being able to return only after Native populations of the area were put in a nearby reservation by the U.S. government, leaving the Puget Sound area free for its exploitation by the returning settlers. Founded in 1888, our university is directly and indirectly a product of this occupation.

But just as these academic institutions have historically wanted to make you and your bodies of color invisible, there is also a long history of struggle for visibility, inclusion and the right to existence that precedes you; one that also dates back to more than 500 years ago; from Native and slave rebellions, to organized walk-outs, hunger strikes, sit-ins, street protests, to people writing our own excluded histories and creating spaces within academia so that you and I could learn about our own histories and struggles as well as recuperate lost ancestral knowledges. Many students and educators before you even paid with their lives for you to be able to be here today; for you and I to be here today and to celebrate you. During the 1960s young women and men fought the police, racist administrations, went to jail and sacrificed spending time with their own families to create the possibility for you to be able to get the very degree that will soon be in your hands. Your immediate communities and families have also sacrificed a great deal and gone through many difficult moments in life in order to make this day a reality for you. I sincerely congratulate them on this day, only your parents know all the struggles they have endured to make this day possible for you.

During your time at the University of Puget Sound all of you graduates have pushed and struggled and studied late nights and long days to arrive here and you made it to graduation. But always remember that you are exceptions. Despite us now having an educational system that is color-blind in theory, Blacks, Latinos, and Natives specifically, continue to be under-represented among those making it to college and graduating with bachelor degrees. In high schools, Latino and African American students nationally are disproportionately represented at every stage of the school-to-prison pipeline and only 53% of Native students graduate from high school [iv]. In today’s corporatized university system moreover, students of color are shouldering the most student debt, disproportionately higher numbers having to drop out of college because of the economic burden that academia now represents. You graduating from here today is that much more symbolic because of all of this.

But I want you to know you have a long road ahead of you. Twenty years ago a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Science degree held a lot of weight; it was an accomplishment. Today it is still an accomplishment but it does not carry the weight that it once did. So therefore I urge you to go further; I urge you to go get your Masters and your PhDs, to continue your education in one form or another. And I challenge you once you’re out of these spaces to create opportunities for those in your communities of origin. Too many in our communities who make it to far places too easily forget their origins; choosing to distance themselves from their communities and their own community’s history of struggle and survival. I urge you to not be one of them.

I wanted also to tell you you’re definitely not graduating from this institution with just a Bachelor’s degree. By now you all have a PhD in surviving and knowing these dominant white spaces of power that you will continue to navigate after graduation; these are places that will continuously try to shape and mold you and your spirit; dictate who you should be; what you should think; where you should go in life. The University of Puget Sound, while not always the most welcoming space for students and people of color, does in my mind do something beautiful. It challenges you and in doing so prepares you for what is to come ahead. Consciously or unconsciously you’ve met this challenge. While here, the dissident, non-conformist, rebel in you learned how to create what bell hooks would call our own communities of resistance to spaces that in subtle and not so subtle ways too often told you: “you don’t belong here”. That resistance may have looked different for every one of you. For some of you it looked like student activism on social justice related issues, building solidarities between students of color, while for others it may have been selecting particular friendships; or choosing your mentors or simply knowing when to seek spaces away from whiteness. While here, consciously or unconsciously you managed to create for yourself communities that helped you find your way through the daily micro and macro aggressions, the assumptions, the presumptions, the comments inside and outside the classroom, the burden of having to explain yourselves and your experiences –all the time–, the loneliness, the alienation, and yes, the depression. While here, the dissident, non-conformist, rebel in you pushed you to create communities that allowed you your voice whenever you needed to speak, yell and cry; to create communities that also allowed for your silence whenever you didn’t feel like speaking, yelling or crying. While at Puget Sound, the dissident, non-conformist survivor of 500 years of colonization in you also learned to question that which you have been taught in the classroom; that which you read in color-blind texts presenting themselves as universal knowledge.

So you leave here knowing when to separate useful knowledge from that which will not serve you, but further estrange you and worse, assimilate you into what the dominant culture wants of you, thinks of you, and desires of you. There is therefore very little I could advise you today in this art of survival you all know very well and have PhDs in by now. The art is actually now more than 500 years old, passed on to us by our ancestors, our parents, and the collectivity of our resisting spirits.

What advice I can offer however is to not ever let the resister and creator in you be silenced; if you spoke too soft here, amplify that voice; if you found your voice here, solidify and strengthen it. If you feel you are still in the search of your voice, be compassionate and honest with yourself, your interests, and your passions. Dream big and in following those dreams be as persistent as you can be and do not give up or let others take you in different directions.

Be creative. The world that awaits you out there is at times too ugly, too vicious; too inhuman. It is a world replete with racism, fear of your bodies, a world continuously in crisis and at war; a world submerged in a neoliberal economy that thrives on the imprisonment of bodies of color, war, forced migrations, the continued destruction of our mother earth, and the commodification of absolutely everything including love. This is a world that too often will seem to leave little to no air to breathe. So please go out and create your own breathing spaces. Continue in the creation of resisting, loving communities because you didn’t and don’t ever get anywhere on your own. As our Native sisters and brothers will always remind us, we are all connected to communities that transcend time. We’re connected to the first ancestors who walked the earth; to their struggles and their deeds. But we’re also connected to those who are not yet here, those generations who will be born tomorrow and thereafter; those who will walk this earth in the future long after we’re gone. Our job in the middle is to bridge the gap, take on the inheritance from our ancestors and our past, add our own deeds, our struggles, and leave this a better place for those that will follow. The responsibility, to say the least, is tremendous.

So make yourself and your communities visible. Resist becoming invisible; and resist becoming that which others and dominant spaces want you to become; resist it with all of your passion, your love and your humanity. Stay connected and grateful to those who’ve helped you and loved you along the way and those who will continue to be there for you. And give back.

Above all, don’t ever forget we were never meant to be here celebrating you today. Love you all.

Notes

[i] Information based on Craig Steven Wilder’s excellent book on the subject of universities and slavery, Ebony and Ivey (2013). I highly recommend this read.

[ii] From Wilder’s book Ebony and Ivey (2013).

[iii] From Wilder’s book Ebony and Ivey (2013).

[iv] “Tolerance in Schools for Latino Students: Dismantling the School to Prison Pipeline”

From The Harvard Journal of Hispanic Policy, May 1 2015.

Oriel María Siu is Assistant Professor and the founding Director of Latino Studies at the University of Puget Sound. She earned her PhD from the University of California, Los Angeles; her Masters from the University of California, Berkeley; and her BA degrees in Chicana/o Studies and Latin American Literatures from California State University, Northridge where as an undergraduate she was involved in the establishment of the first Central American Studies Program in the nation. Her research and teaching interests include contemporary Central American cultural productions from the diaspora, de-colonial border thinking, Latina/o cultural productions and diasporas, and narratives of race and racisms in the US. She has published several articles on these topics and is currently working on her book on novels from the Central American diaspora. Siu is also a mother and a dancer. She is from San Pedro Sula, Honduras and lives in Seattle, Washington.

Immigration Policy in the US: It’s All About Race

by Tanya Golash-Boza

The current debate over immigration policy in the United States revolves around how many immigrants we should let in and what we should do about those immigrants that are here without authorization.

In the contemporary United States, it seems completely natural that we would enforce our borders and regulate the entry of people into this country. Many people believe that the failure to do this would result in complete chaos.

It is thus remarkable that, for the first one hundred years after the founding of the United States, there were no laws governing who could or could not enter into or remain in this country.  For the first one hundred and fifty years after the establishment of the United States in 1776, economic development in this country depended on immigration. The free movement of labor between Europe and the United States was essential to the economic growth and prosperity of the United States, particularly in the Northeast and Midwest.

Discussions over immigration restriction first became popular when large numbers of Chinese immigrants began to arrive in the United States during the 1848 Gold Rush.

The arrival of thousands of Chinese immigrants into California provoked nativist sentiments among whites and these sentiments eventually translated into public policy.

In 1875, the Page Act was passed, which prohibited the entry of “undesirable” immigrants. This law primarily was designed to prevent the entry of prostitutes and forced laborers from Asia, and effectively barred the entry of any Asian women into the United States for the next few decades.

Debates over immigration policy in the United States have always had racialized undertones – except perhaps when the laws were outright racist.  The first major piece of immigration legislation was the Chinese Exclusion Act, signed into law in 1882. In an essay titled “The Chinese Exclusion Example: Race, Immigration, and American Gatekeeping, 1882-1994,” Erika Lee argues that

“Chinese exclusion introduced a ‘gatekeeping’ ideology, politics, law, and culture that transformed the ways in which Americans viewed and thought about race, immigration, and the United States’ identity as a nation of immigration. It legalized and reinforced the need to restrict, exclude, and deport ‘undesirable’ and excludable immigrants.”

The Chinese Exclusion Act was overtly racist in that it targeted one specific group: Chinese laborers. In specifically excluding a group because of race and class, the Chinese Exclusion Act set the stage for U.S. immigration policy, which has both overt and covert racial and class biases.

The Chinese Exclusion Act initially only governed entry policies, but worries over fraud and illegal entry gave rise to the 1892 Geary Act and the 1893 McCreary Amendment, which required Chinese people who resided in the United States to possess proof of their lawful right to be in the United States. These “certificates of residence” were the first precursors to today’s legal permanent resident cards. Such documents were required only of the Chinese until 1928, when “immigrant identification cards” began to be issued to all arriving immigrants.

Nineteenth century immigration laws tended to focus on Asian immigrants. By the 1920s, however, the United States no longer depended on the large-scale influx of European labor. Technological advances, which reduced the need for labor, along with rising nativist sentiment in the context of wars with Europe led to increased support for immigration restrictions.

These sentiments translated into legislative action. The 1924 Johnson-Reed Act was the nation’s first comprehensive immigration law.  As Mae Ngai explains in Impossible Subjects, “It established for the first time numerical limits on immigration and a global racial and national hierarchy that favored some immigrants over others” (Ngai 2014: 3).

The quotas set forth in the 1924 Act were based on ideas of white superiority – particularly the superiority of Germans and people from the United Kingdom. Whereas 65,721 visas were allocated to people from Great Britain, Italians were only allocated 5,802 and the Turkish only 226. The quotas were ostensibly based on the national origins of US citizens in the 1890 Census, but they excluded people of African and Asian descent.

While Congress used quotas to exclude undesirable races from entering the country, the Courts ensured that those who were in the United States would not attain citizenship. In the early 1920s, the Supreme Court decided that Japanese and Indians in the United States were ineligible for citizenship

The restrictive quotas and laws prohibiting Asians from attaining citizenship were eventually lifted. Today, our immigration policies are ostensibly colorblind.

However, over 90 percent of immigrants in the United States today are non-white, meaning that laws that restrict or provide opportunities for immigrants will have racially disparate consequences.

A Congressional decision to provide avenues for legalization and citizenship for undocumented immigrants would go a long way towards reducing inequality between Latinos and whites insofar as about 75 percent of undocumented immigrants are from Latin America. In contrast, decisions to enhance immigration law enforcement would further restrict opportunities for Latinos insofar as 98 percent of people deported last year were from Latin America.

No matter what your opinion is on immigration law enforcement or immigrant legalization, there is no denying the fact that discussions about immigration in the United States are and have always been discussions about racial difference and racial equity.

Tanya Golash-Boza is a 2015 Contributing Blogger for Mujeres Talk. She is on the faculty of UC-Merced and has published books and articles on the topics of immigration, migration, race, racism, transnationalism, borders.

Mujeres Talk About Ferguson, and Beyond

The year 2014 ends with our eyes turned to the aftermath of the events at Ferguson, Missouri and elsewhere, where police violence against black and brown communities of color is being increasingly challenged through mass mobilizations. Angry, but also inspired, we at Mujeres Talk have collected our thoughts below, as part of the urgent discussion now surging into view about institutionalized violence against people of color.

#BlackLivesMatter

Carmen R. Lugo-Lugo
Washington State University

Black lives matter.  A statement of fact that becomes relevant in its temerity, its urgency, and its ability to express so simply a historical set of circumstances fraught with example after example revealing the opposite to be true. It is a bold response to the reality that negates it and makes its very articulation a necessity.  Black lives matter.  We must state this truth as many times as it is necessary.  Because blacks lives become fragile in the hands of a society that seeks to destroy them.  Black lives.  They should matter.  In Ferguson, MO.  In Sanford, FL.  Anywhere.  Everywhere.  Black lives matter.  And yet.  Black teenagers continue to be gunned down by police officers or vigilantes protected by a system that doubles down on them.  And Baldwin comes to mind: “All I know is, he’s got a uniform and a gun and I have to relate to him that way. That’s the only way to relate to him because one of us may have to die.”  May have to die. Poignant because we know who “the one of us” will be.  Black lives matter.  And yet.  They continue to be extinguished by our institutions.  Black lives matter.  They matter.

#BlackLivesMatter #SomosFerguson Movements

Theresa Delgadillo
The Ohio State University

The recent deaths of black men and boys at the hands of police in the U.S., and news of earlier similar events, as well as the loss of life facing migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border brings into focus the deadly shortcomings of policies that rely on criminalization, militarization, detention, harsh sentencing, and imprisonment. The harsh policing in Black and Latina/o communities of Los Angeles described by Mike Davis morphed into the mass incarceration analyzed by Michelle Alexander and the increased surveillance of Black and Latina/o communities researched by Victor Ríos.[i]  Black girls and Latinas are not exempt from prevailing policies and laws that punish their infractions more harshly – an area of research and policy that The African American Policy Forum is pursuing. Yet this increased turn to criminalization and incarceration also had its complement in U.S. immigration and border policies, where militarization and now massive criminalization and incarceration are the norm. Joseph Nevins analyzes this shift, one that grew increasingly strident post-9/11 – and that has led to the tragic loss of life at the border described by Luis Alberto Urrea.[ii]  Blanca E. Vega’s recent blog on the Latino Rebels site makes the case that Blacks and Latinas/os are allies in the struggle for greater social justice, and takes Spanish-language media to task for not covering black deaths at the hands of police more thoroughly.

We desperately need to question how and why heightened criminalization and incarceration emerge as “solutions” that disproportionately impact African Americans, Latinas/os, and migrants, and how such “solutions” can be undone. At The Ohio State University, we are involved this year in a series of events commemorating the 50th anniversaries of landmark pieces of legislation in the United States: the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act.[iii] Through a series of panel discussions, lectures, and interactive workshops, students and faculty at OSU have been and will be able to re-consider the significance of these two landmark laws; reflect on the movements, events, and consciousness that made them possible; discuss the histories that made them necessary; explore the opportunities they created; and critically assess contemporary inequalities that endure. For me, commemorating both of these events in a year when grassroots movements are once again making us aware of the loss of Black and Latina/o lives reminds me that civil rights and immigration are not merely linked by a shared legislative anniversary, but that instead, that shared anniversary marks a moment of heightened consciousness about the insidious effects of racism and discrimination that can permeate all aspects of U.S. policy.

Susy Zepeda
University of California, Davis

On November 24, 2014 the Ferguson, Missouri verdict to not indict Darren Wilson in the homicide of unarmed Black teenager Michael Brown sparked a response that initially resembled the 1992 Los Angeles uprising after the Rodney King not-guilty verdict, yet has quickly erupted into a solidarity movement that surrounds the hashtag #blacklivesmatter and spans across geopolitical borders.  An important connection in building consciousness around racialized and gendered police violence is the Spanish assertion “fue el estado” that has been articulated by activists, scholars, and other social actors who are seeking justice in the September 26th disappearance of the 43 students from a rural teacher-training school in Iguala, Guerrero, Mexico.   According to Charlotte María Sáenz, the mainstay of this movement, particularly for the parents has been “Vivos se los llevaron y vivos los queremos” responding in critical disbelief to Mexican authorities declaration that the 43 are dead, similar to the way families and activists have challenged the vast “disappearance” and feminicide of mujeres in Juarez and beyond.[iv]  Another resonating and profound echo of solidarity with the disappeared students have been the words “They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds,”  which Sáenz notes was said by the former Zapatista Subcomandante Marcos in honor of “his deceased compañero” Galeano, a teacher who was murdered in Chiapas, Mexico in May of 2014. The likening to seeds illuminates the awakening minds and bodies across imposed state borders that are simultaneously enunciating #not1more deportation, ni un@ más deportación.  All together, these powerfully show the importance of solidarity movements against state violence that are not bound by imposed demarcations.

Felicity Schaeffer-Grabiel
University of California, Santa Cruz

At a recent event organized by Critical Resistance in solidarity with the protests against police violence against black men and boys, Robin Kelley reminded us that the police use the excuse of fear (of black violence) to claim they acted in self-defense. In addition to the hash tag, #blacklivesmatter, which refutes the continued devaluation of black bodies inherited since slavery, Kelley sees these murders alongside settler colonialism where white, middle class or wealthy people intrude into black neighborhoods and then claim they are simply defending themselves from blacks, rather than vice-versa.  This is similar to the scapegoating of Latino/a immigrants as perpetrators of crime and violence rather than groups displaced and killed at the hands of state and cartel violence, policies such as NAFTA, as well as the victims of abuse and death at the hands of the police and the border patrol.  The Organization, “No More Deaths/No Más Muertes” released a report in 2011 that documents over 30,000 cases of abuse and murder by the border patrol. That the state is an arbiter of violence, rather than the force to protect people of color, is at the heart of Critical Resistance’s radical move towards prison abolition that attempts to diminish the state’s intrusion into communities by empowering communities to develop practices, organizations, and new models of social and economic interaction that help people flourish.

marchers with signs and placards on OSU oval

Peaceful march for Justice and End to Discrimination at Ohio State University Oval called by #CBUS2FERGUSON, December 8, 2014.

#ICantBreathe

Miranda Martinez
The Ohio State University

In New York City, right wing pundits and the head of the police union are accusing Mayor De Blasio and those who protest police violence of murder, following the murder and suicide by Ismaaiyl Brinsley of police officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos in Brooklyn. De Blasio has capitulated to these wild accusations, and requested that demonstrations pause while the city mourns the deaths of the two patrolmen.

It really does take one’s breath away.

Samir Chopra has written about the toxic self-pity that is so embedded in the policing establishment.  Psychically besieged, aggrieved and resentful, many urban police forces blame everything but the practices of law enforcement when their authority is challenged. And it seems to work!  It appears that legitimate collective action by hundreds of thousands who peacefully marched against the status quo must stop every time police representatives claim injury with the blatant aim of disciplining dissent.  Let’s hope that the protests continue going forward because we need to show that black pain matters as much as police pain, and because the campaign to defame legitimate protest by linking it with this brutal double slaying is just another outrageous example of anti-black racism. The conflation of civil rights protesters with a deranged murderer once again demonstrates (if we needed more proof) the instinctive, undiscriminating connection law enforcement officials make between blackness and violent criminality. We have to keep saying it, in the face of propaganda like this: Black lives matter.

Lucila D. Ek
University of Texas at San Antonio
University of Utah at Salt Lake City

The murders of Black children and men continue across the U.S. as Christmas Eve witnessed the shooting of yet another Black teenager by police. In Mexico, Federal Police are implicated in the disappearance and suspected murders of 43 student teachers in Guerrero. Every time I hear or read of another killing, my gut tightens and twists as I think about my Black and Brown loved ones on both sides of the border whose humanity is not recognized or valued by many. Often, I despair that things will never change, but widespread demonstrations against violence and death provide a glimmer of hope. People’s consciousness is being raised as thousands have come together to protest police violence and to proclaim that Black and Brown lives matter. I have to believe that a mass movement for social change is emerging. ¡Ni uno más, ni una más!

 

Endnotes

[i] Mike Davis.  City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles. 1990. Vintage; Michelle Alexander. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. 2012. The New Press; Victor Rios. Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys. 2011. New York University Press.

[ii] Joseph Nevins.  Operation Gatekeeper and Beyond: The War on “Illegals”and the Remaking of the U.S.-Mexico Boundary. 2010. Routledge;  Tanya Maria Golash-Boza. Immigration Nation: Raids, Detentions, and Deportations in Post-9/11 America. 2012. Paradigm Publishers; Nicholas De Genova and Nathalie Peutz, Eds. The Deportation Regime: Sovereignty, Space, and the Freedom of Movement. 2010. Duke University Press;  Luis Alberto Urrea. The Devil’s Highway: A True Story. 2005. Back Bay Books.

[iii] Our colleague in the School of Social Work, Professor Keith Kilty, inspired these events by reaching out to faculty in Asian American and Latina/o Studies, who in turn reached out to faculty and students in History, American Indian Studies, African American Studies, Disability Studies, Sexuality Studies, Women’s Studies, Political Science, and Comparative Studies to plan and organize programs. 2015 also marks the 50th anniversary of the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act of 1965.

[iv] Rosa-Linda Fregoso and Cynthia Bejarano, Eds. Terrorizing Women: Feminicide in the Americas. 2010. Duke University Press.

Somebody’s Children

In this holiday season, and with the permission of the author, we are republishing a blog essay by Laura Briggs on a classic holiday film in light of contemporary attitudes toward poor mothers. The essay originally appeared on Briggs’s site, Somebody’s Children: A Blog about Adoption, ART, and Reproductive Politics, on May 8, 2012.

Potter and Bailey in office.

 It’s a Wonderful Life. Dir. Frank Capra. 1946.

by Laura Briggs

I recently published a book called Somebody’s Children: The Politics of Transracial and Transnational Adoption (2012). I chose that title for a number of reasons, but the main one was that I wanted to think about the mothers that often get discounted. When scholars and journalists and policy analysts write about adoption, they almost always ignore the birth mothers. When we talk about adoption from overseas, we refer to “orphans”; when we talk about kids in foster care, and why Black children should be adopted by white parents, we say they are “languishing,” waiting for an adoptive family. But the reality is, full orphans–those who have lost both parents–are quite rare, especially when you are speaking of infants and young children. When international aid agencies talk about millions of orphans, they mean those who have lost one parent. Almost all of the children who become available for adoption in or to the United States have parents or a parent. We just don’t want to talk about them.

There are exceptions, of course. Increasingly, adoptive parents groups talk about the “adoption triad” of birth mother, adopted child, and adoptive parents. Those of us who are adoptive parents inevitably have to answer questions about where the little people and grown children in our lives came from–questions that come from adoptees and from the world around us. It used to be that we were routinely counseled to lie to our children. But we’ve learned a lot from groups like Concerned United Birthparents, which beginning in the late 1970s gave voice to birthparents’ experiences of losing their children, often under considerable pressure to relinquish their babies. Organizations of adoptees challenging sealed adoption records, like the Adoptees Liberty Movement Association and Bastard Nation also challenged us to tell the truth.

But these movements focused predominantly on the mostly young mothers who relinquished babies in the U.S. (think Juno). People don’t talk much about birth parents when we think about foster care (one major policy book about foster care and transracial adoption was entitled Nobody’s Children), and even less when we are considering transnational adoption. I wanted to write a book that took seriously the racial justice, feminist, and international politics contexts and questions that surround how birth parents–usually mothers–find themselves in situations where strangers are raising their children.

One of the places the title of the book came from is the 1946 film, It’s a Wonderful Life.

It’s a Wonderful Life gets tagged as a sentimental piece of Christmas, but it deserves more credit. These days, as the middle class continues to lose its footing as the central piece of its wealth–home ownership–gets transferred to big banks as foreclosure, the story of the Bailey Savings and Loan ought to get our attention as the careful piece of social analysis it is. It also tells a story about children and survival. In a scene that defines the film’s moral compass, young George Bailey, confronted with a moral dilemma about whether to respect adult authority even when it is wrong and will cause harm, runs to his father for advice. His father can’t talk to him then, though, as he is in a confrontation with big banker Mr. Potter. When George enters the room, he is privy to this bit of conversation:

HENRY POTTER: Have you put any real pressure on these people of yours to pay those mortgages?
PETER BAILEY: Times are bad, Mr. Potter. A lot of these people are out of work.
POTTER: Then foreclose!
BAILEY: I can’t do that. These families have children.
POTTER: They’re not my children.
BAILEY: But they’re somebody’s children, Mr. Potter.

George leaves without asking his father his question, but learning the answer anyway: do the right thing by other people, and other people’s children even when authority tells you not to. It’s this lesson that allows George to grow into someone who could inherit the responsibility of running  the Savings and Loan, and, the movie tells us, in so doing he prevented Bedford Falls from becoming Pottersville, a place of steep class divides, alcoholism, exploitation, and despair.

I feel strongly about community-based banking (my money’s in a credit union), but I also like what the film says about the “somebodies” and their children whom Bailey is not going to kick out of their homes.

A lot of politics in recent years has taken place under the rubric of how some people–especially mothers–don’t count. Welfare mothers, crack mothers, single-mothers raising the underclass. From Newt Gingrich suggesting we take the children of welfare mothers and put them in orphanages to sociologist Charles Murray talking about how single mothers are responsible for the downfall of white people. David Brooks of The New York Times wrote a column on Murray that was, among other things, designed to refute economist Joseph Stiglitz and Occupy Wall Street’s objection to the the 1% number, and the contention that it has been obscenely enriched in recent years. Instead, he suggested that 70% of us are doing okay, but 30% are really a mess–unemployed, uneducated, criminal. They are (surprise, surprise) the children of single mothers and those mothers themselves. (Charles Pierce at Esquire wrote a truly funny rejoinder if you want better reading.)

Fifty-six years after It’s a Wonderful Life, banking and the children of the poor are still surprisingly entangled.

It might seem like a reach to link the politics of impoverished mothers and children and international banking. But after ten years of thinking about adoption, I suspect that watching what happens, rhetorically, to mothers who don’t count tells us a surprising amount about politics of all sorts: economic, international, gender, race, immigrant, queer. That’s why I wrote the book, and why I’m writing this blog. I’m interested in the “somebodies” who don’t have children, of course. But I also think that “somebody’s children” give us a really powerful and interesting lens for analysis.

Dr. Laura Briggs is Professor and Chair of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She writes and teaches about reproductive politics, feminism, race, and the relationships of the U.S. and Latin America.