What to Communities of Color in America Is White “Insurrection”

Dear Colleagues, Friends, and Loved Ones,

There has been an expected wave of statements from higher education administrators, academic departments, research centers, and prominent individuals affiliated with our fields of work regarding the armed deadly takeover of the United States Capitol by self-declared “patriots” on January 6, 2021. I must be honest that I dread adding to this noise, which is why I have waited a few days to send this note. I do not write on behalf of the American Studies Association (ASA) or its leadership body, but rather out of a humble sense of accountability to the communities of radical and abolitionist movement that nourish me.

Last week’s spectacular white nationalist coup attempt may have been exceptional in form, but (for many of us) it was entirely familiar–utterly “American”–in content. It is misleading, historically inaccurate, and politically dangerous to frame this event–and the condition that produced it–as an isolated or extremist exception to the foundational and sustained violence that constitutes the United States. As the surging neo-Confederates in the Capitol building made clear, there is a long tradition of (fully armed) populist, extra-state, and (ostensibly) extra-legal reactionary movement that holds a lasting claim of entitlement on the nation and its edifices of official power.

Further, the steady trickle of information from January 6 indicates that police power–including the prominent presence of (former) police and “Blue Lives Matter” in the coup itself–animated and populated this white nationalist siege. Contrary to prevailing accounts, this event was not defined by a failure of police power, but rather was a militant expression of it.

People in the extended ASA community have organized their lifework around practices of freedom, knowledge, and teaching that unapologetically confront this physical and figurative mob in, before, and beyond 2021. I write as your colleague, comrade, and “ASA President” to urge you to invigorate and expand your scholarly, activist, and creative labors in this time of turmoil. The ASA is but one modest apparatus at your disposal.

Finally, I encourage a collective embrace of an ethnic and practice that is common to some, though under-discussed by far too many: collective, communal self-defense. This robust ethnic and practice is not only central to abolitionist, liberationist, Black (feminist, queer, trans) radical, and indigenous self-determination traditions of mutual aid and community building, but is also a necessary aspect of “campus life” for many of us in the ASA. The need to develop well-deliberated, mutually accountable forms of self-defense cannot be abstracted, caricatured, or trivialized in this moment of asymmetrical vulnerability to illness and terror. Get your back, and get each other’s backs, in whatever way you can.

D.R.

Dylan Rodríguez (@dylanrodriguez) is Professor in the Department of Media and Cultural Studies at UC Riverside.  He was named to the inaugural class of Freedom Scholars in 2020 and is President of the American Studies Association (2020-2021).  He recently served as the faculty-elected Chair of the UCR Division of the Academic Senate (2016-2020) and as Chair of Ethnic Studies (2009-2016).  After completing his Ph.D. in Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley in 2001, Dylan spent his first sixteen years at UCR in Ethnic Studies before joining Media and Cultural Studies in 2017.

Defund Jeff Bezos for your Health and nothing less

If there’s still any question as to how serious this year’s health crisis has become, particularly in the richest nation on earth, consider that according to a report from the Washington Post, after the deadliest war in U.S. history, the four-year U.S. Civil War from 1861 – 1865, an estimated 750,000 lives were lost.

This year alone, as cases from the virus continue to surge, the U.S. has already lost at least 276,000 people to the crisis and counting. THAT’S ABOVE 1/3RD of the total lives lost during the Civil War in a fourth of the time that conflict lasted.

Consider also just a few differences between now and the U.S. 155 years ago:

In the 1860s, when the U.S. was made up just 33 states and less than 31 million people, “germ theory of disease was still a controversial idea and not yet widely accepted” among the predominantly white (27 million), working-class nation.

At the federal level in the 1860s, the 13th amendment, which outlawed chattel slavery–except where people convicted of a crime were concerned–was proposed only during the last year of the civil war in 1865 and not ratified until December of that year, seven months after the war was concluded; also in the 1860s, the 14th amendment, which granted citizenship to any persons born on U.S. land, was only passed by the U.S. Senate a year after the civil war in 1866 and not ratified until two years later in 1868.

More locally in Los Angeles, by 1860, when the county was made up of no more than an estimated 12,000 people (more than 11,000 of which were white, according to records), the L.A. County Sheriff’s department was only ten years old.

Likewise, the L.A. City Council, then known as the Common Council, was made up of just seven members and was also just ten years established; the LAPD, by contrast, originally made up of only six armed patrolmen, would not be founded until 1869.

In effect, as Jeff Bezos alone stands to add nearly $100 billion to his portfolio from the pandemic this year, the U.S. healthcare system is on track to count more casualties than the deadliest conflict in U.S. history in the 1860s, at the time of which the nation’s population count was only about 1/10th its size today, and before the advent of the telephone, mass production of Colgate toothpaste, or Ford automobiles, as well as 100 years before Lyndon B. Johnson would sign Medicare and Medicaid into law.

That’s the world we’re living in in 2020, and the one that, if communities and the “silent majority” don’t continue to demand change for, future generations across this country will have the unenviable burden of coming to grips with. If U.S. history shows anything, it’s that 100 years–or even 200 years–of discrimination can go by very quickly.

J.T.

J.T. The L.A. Storyteller Supports Calls to Block Garcetti this Winter

As Los Angeles enters the 2021 winter season, a new initiative known as Garcettiville is calling for Mayor Garcetti to be blocked from a potential appointment to the incoming Biden administration’s cabinet following reports that his name may be on a short-list for secretary of transportation, or possibly even for secretary of housing. Yes, you read that correctly.

In addition to daily protests led by Black Lives Matter and GroundGame-LA calling for the mayor to ‘be kept in’ L.A., the Garcettiville website is accepting submissions from L.A. residents as to why the mayor should not be allowed anywhere near a public office, let alone a national one, for which the last two decades have shown would lead to nothing short of a complete dereliction of duties.

After nearly 20 years as an elected official, starting in 2001 as a council member for District 13 in Los Angeles, and then since 2013 as mayor, under Garcetti’s leadership the city of L.A. is on track to landing more than 50,000 bodies on its streets and sidewalks within the next year alone, even while there are tens of thousands of luxury housing units in L.A. that can be commandeered in lieu of expanded powers for mayors due to the emergency presented by the pandemic, but which have just sat there aimlessly, accumulating nothing but dust.

This is because while Garcetti has done everything in his power to open up the city for business, that is, for bcaig banks and transnational corporations, he’s done it by no less than trading in the rights of workers, immigrants, and Black Los Angeles to live in a more equitable city. Despite myriads of protest, civil rights advocates, and other leaders calling for him to do better, the mayor has proven unwilling to serve as an actual mayor for every resident who actually resides and pays the taxes which fund his salary each year.

As a result, whether Garcetti leaves office in 2021 or 2022, by almost every measure, since the start of his tenure in 2013, Los Angeles has become a poorer, more unhealthy, and ultimately more hostile city towards its working-class communities, which will take decades to undo.

This is also not just a viewpoint from the “radical” left. In 2017, professor Philip Alston, assigned by the United Nations as a Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, said of his visit to Los Angeles:

“In June 2017, it was reported that the approximately 1,800 homeless individuals on Skid Row in Los Angeles had access to only nine public toilets. Los Angeles failed to meet even the minimum standards the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees sets for refugee camps in the Syrian Arab Republic and other emergency situations.”

The writing is on the wall, and people all over the world can see: Garcetti is not fit to serve in any public office in Los Angeles, let alone a national one in Washington D.C. Visit the new Garcettiville website and tell your side of the story regarding why this elected official is not fit to serve Los Angeles, let alone cities all over the United States over the next four years.

J.T.