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.

Dug Ramon: Hot Wheels

As I played with my toy cars next to the giant living room window, the early morning summer sun shined a rectangle of heat all around me. My neck and arms burned, but I was frozen tense as I watched my mom from the corner of my eye pacing back and forth. She bit her nails while her other hand gripped the cordless phone to her chest. Suddenly, I heard keys at the door.

It opened and I saw my dad standing there wearing the same clothes from yesterday. I fell asleep the night before in his rocking chair waiting for him.

“Sabés qué?!” my mom screamed at him. “Si no vas a llegar a dormir a esta casa, por qué putas no te vas mejor?!”

My heart pounded and my hands stiffened on my Hot Wheels. It didn’t make sense why she’d scream at him to leave when he’d just gotten there. My stomach moaned and ached.

Mom gripped the phone, trembled and swallowed, and stared at him with teary eyes.

He said nothing. He glanced at her then looked down, took a shallow breath, and walked past us and into the kitchen. I heard a drawer open and a big noisy trash bag was taken out. Dad walked back in holding the bag and hurried into the bedroom without looking at us. Mom followed.

I pretended not to stare through the doorway at them as she kept screaming.

“No soy estúpida!! Encontré su número en tus pantalones!”

I wondered if she meant the lady dad made me talk to on the payphone the other night. I got worried he would think I told mom after I promised I wouldn’t.

She kept screaming: “Si querés andar jodiendo largate a la mierda mejor!”

Why would she scream at him to leave like that? My heart pounded faster and I felt worry on my face.

I heard the plastic bag being filled while mom kept screaming. Dad was quiet. With my head lowered I peaked at them again and saw him lifting the bag to cascade its contents toward the bottom. He pulled his pants, shirts, and underwear from our dirty laundry hamper and threw them into the black trash bag.

I looked back down at my cars simmering in the sun and my hands were shaking. Dad walked back into the living room with the bag and stood far from me, but I felt him staring. He stepped closer, to the edge of the sunlit rectangle, and knelt down as he dropped the trash bag of clothes onto the warm carpet in front of me.

“Mirame hijo,” he said, and I looked up at him. He looked away quickly.

“Me tengo que ir,” he said avoiding eye contact, “pero sabés que te quiero mucho.” With his hand on my shoulder, he forced a hug around me.

I didn’t move. I didn’t say anything back. I didn’t ask why he had to leave, or tell him to stay, even though I really wanted to. Everything was bright and blurry and I noticed I was squeezing my car.

He stood up, took a deep breath, and lifted the trash bag over his shoulder. He said nothing else.

In the quiet, my mom sniffled. Dad walked to the door, left the house, and mom and me stayed there quiet and shaky.

I turned quickly to look out the living room window, but the brightness burned my blurry eyes. I wiped them and as they adjusted I saw dad walk across the street with the black trash bag over his shoulder. He threw it into the bed of his beat up blue pick up truck, got inside, started the motor, put it into gear, and drove away without looking back.

“Quitate de allí,” mom said, but I didn’t move.

“Quitate de allí!!” she screamed and the cordless phone shattered against the living room wall.

DR

Dug Ramon was born, raised, and resides in East Hollywood, Los Angeles. An LAUSD, LACC and Cal State LA alumni with a background in psychology and mental health, Dug works as an office manager and writes daily for his own joy and sanity. Dug hopes to grow as a writer in the coming years and share his work with more readers. He’s currently working on a fiction project, from which “Hot Wheels” is an excerpt.

blossoming branch of tree against blue sky

Tunisia Nelson: Standing in Remembrance of Mary Lee

Standing in remembrance of Mary Lee
I TIP her hat with pride
Red as Bold & Courageous
Strong as she Identified

The true definition of what it means to be…
A Woman after God’s own heart
The pillar of this family
Proverbs 31 in human form

To know her was to love her, if not to envy her kind, subtle ways
She owned SWAG before it was even a thing
She created the Formation, you hope & dream
To be anything like Mary Lee
A conqueror of much

She is a survivor of more than you will ever know
Her faith made it seem as if she towered, despite her petite frame
Cancer couldn’t take her and the devil couldn’t break her

She made a mean peach cobbler!
The kind you are willing to sneak in the kitchen, eat up,
And get a whooping for.

A sacrificer of much
In a pinch she knew just what to do
Head High, Speaking Her mind,

For ALL that, and more, Grandma,
I tip YOUR hat to YOU!

TN

Tunisia Nelson is a writer, born in Los Angeles but raised in Bakersfield, CA and currently residing in Moreno Valley, CA. She is a VONA Alum and has published poems in the Eunoia Review, Iō Literary Journal, and Refractions, an online literary journal. She received a BA in Psychology from Cal Poly Pomona, and an MSW from Cal State Long Beach. Tunisia dedicates this poem to her grandmother, one of the most faithful and prayerful women she was blessed to have known, who also made the best peach cobbler, hands down, and who loved her family with every fiber in her. Her memory deserves to live on and this poem is paying her homage, letting her know she is so very missed.