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.
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.