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.

American

American Removal begins with a language.

It starts with Indians as “uncivilized,” “savages.”

It expands with Black civilization deemed as “niggers” and “3/5ths.”

It proliferates with “providence” but only for Aryan destiny, “by the millions.”

American Removal embraces its robes with an “Indian Removal Act,”

Followed by a war on “Dirty Mexicans,”

Followed by a “Chinese Exclusion Act,”

Followed by Filipinos as “niggers.”

Followed by “Japs Keep Moving.”

American Removal tests its first PSAs with “public enemies,” “hobos, tramps, and vagrants,” but ultimately settles for Black & Brown youth as “gangs.”

It then sows its modern seeds with a “red line.”

Red line maps delineate our colors, separating “undesirables” and “subversive racial elements” from “homogeneous,” “single-family [white] homes.”

Until a war to end all wars. Two atom bombs dropped on “Japs,” but none on German nazis or Italian fascists.

After the war, American Removal grows to include “Un-American,” “Black radicals,” and “communist hippies” into its lexicon.

Once these begin to ring hollow, it reinvigorates itself: “[Black] drugs and gangs,” “[Black] welfare queens,” and [Latinx and Asian immigrant “invasion.”

American Removal then sanctifies itself calling on “property owners” to “revolt,”

Followed by national publication on a generation of “new” “super-predators.”

Followed by calls to “Save Our State,”

Followed by “English (Only) For Our Children.”

At the dawn of the twenty-first century, American Removal finds still new life-blood: Global war on Muslims as “terrorists,” “extremists,” and once again “radical.”

A generation later, it relishes in “good people on both sides,” “shit-hole countries,” “stand back and stand by,” and on.

But when you ask American Removal about a million bodies burned by drones in the Global South since 2001,

Or when you ask about American Removal about its uniforms shooting down Black men, women and children,

When you ask American Removal about the forced sterilization of incarcerated Latina women,

Or when you ask American Removal about the gentrification of our neighborhoods, its homeless “clean-ups” even as police patrol new hotels around the corners,

When you ask American Removal if it may dignify those it’s uprooted with so much as an acknowledgement,

That is when all you get is silence.

American Removal concludes with a silence.

J.T.

EPISODE 26 – STATE OF THE GENTRIFINATION

In our twenty-sixth episode, we coin the term “gentrifination” for listeners, describing a gentrified “state of the union” due to the last four years of policy under the Trump administration, and consider how communities should prepare for the political season ahead with the presidential election just 42 days away on the cusp of the Fall season. If you live in California, the deadline to register to vote is October 19th, and you can both check your registration and arrange to vote by mail at the following link: https://registertovote.ca.gov/.

J.T.

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