ACADEMIC* Freedom

I fully support academic freedom in higher education. Even with its double-edged-sword quality, I still defend it. I would like, however, for it to be practiced with a little more thoughtful “academic” and a little less unbridled “freedom”. I am not at all suggesting that there be some sort of curtailing of the freedom of speech on our campuses as that would defeat the purpose of open engagement. But, in my 18 years as a faculty member and 13 years of consulting and training in higher education I have noticed a long-standing confusion between freedom of speech as a basic tenet of U.S. society versus the deeper intention of academic freedom in higher education. Basic freedom of speech is the lifeblood of any democracy. And short of speech that endangers others (“fire” in a theater or hate speech that is readily associated with threats of violence), I do not believe it is healthy for a democratic republic to go down the slippery slope of limiting the freedom of speech.

Higher education, however, is different in that while it exists within the confines of a democratic republic, and thus presumably has the same latitude as everyday citizens regarding speech, it also exists within the shared agreement of “higher” and “education”, meaning that the bar for ideas that are exchanged in a college classroom should be higher than that of two people chatting at Starbucks (actually Starbucks could also use a slightly higher bar of conversation within their organization). By “higher” I mean the ideas proffered in the academy should be held to a higher scrutiny, the words shared on our campuses should have a higher level of consideration regarding their import and impact, and the ways we engage with each other on our campuses should represent our collective reaching toward higher levels of knowledge, skill and capacity. Too often, however, I find the threads on faculty list-serves to represent anything but the above, where full professors to adjuncts (more often full professors due to the security of their positions) put forth ideas that are not indicative of this higher ideal (or that they would actually even share if face to face with their colleagues). The one-degree-removed nature of the faculty list-serve creates a space where harsh, sometimes even abusive, commentary is put forth under the guise of “academic freedom”.

Looking first at the “freedom” portion of academic freedom, its emphasis is all too often taken to extremes and is not only harmful to individuals and corrosive to the overall academic environment, but it is an appalling degradation of the “higher” level of engagement we are told to expect from this nation’s colleges and universities. Of particular concern is the conflation of freedom with entitlement born out of long-standing oppressive systems that results in this “freedom” being inaccessible to some while overly accessed by others. In my campus consulting work I find “academic freedom” frequently used as a tool for the maintenance of power, privilege and access to resources held by dominant group members via its use to shut down marginalized voices, disregard calls for equity, and even portray dominant groups as the new “oppressed minority”. This is not new. Unfortunately, higher education has a long history of periodically backing the wrong horse (scientific racism, gender segregation, eugenics, and more) and has not done enough to repair the harm caused by these historic and current examples. The anything-goes tone of the “freedom” element on many of our campuses does nothing to remedy this history or help them be more just and equitable, and instead often fuels injustice and inequity.

While the “freedom” aspect of academic freedom at times misses the mark, the “academic” portion is often neglected, or worse used in a performative way that makes one’s argument seem like it is rooted in the academy when really it is just the academy being used as cover for various problematic ideas. For example, I absolutely have the right to say that the world is flat (literally flat, not flat in the Thomas L. Friedman sense) as per my freedom of speech in the U.S. And, in point of fact there are folks in this country who do posit that the physical world is flat. To this loosely identified group the insistence of a round world was and still is a scientific ploy to undermine the church, dinosaur fossils were placed there by god as a test of their faith, and the 6,000 year age of the earth is dictated by their reading of the Bible. And, while I emphatically disagree with every aspect of these ideas, I support the right of folks to express them; to a point. Where I draw the line is having “flat earth” ideas positioned as legitimate and debatable content in higher education. To use academic freedom as an excuse for the polluting of higher education with “flat earth” concepts and assert that they are equally valid to round earth evidence serves to make the “academic” portion of academic freedom laughable and the “higher” in higher education all but disappear.

And so let us stop conflating the mere right to free speech with the principle of academic freedom. Let’s debate finer points of already well-honed “astronomical” ideas rather than debate whether the earth is flat or (basically) round. I share this because when it comes to issues of equity on our campuses, I have been repeatedly shocked by what faculty feel entitled to say and then embarrassed that this is what we as academics are modeling as the penultimate arena for advanced thought in the U.S. Suggestions like “Students of color achieve at a lower rate than White students in STEM because they lack ‘grit’, have no interest in such challenging subjects, or do not possess the intellectual capacity to do hard science” should be commentary relegated to 18th and 19th century racist tomes, not coming out of the mouths of presumably well educated people in 2018. Or the belief that women cannot advance in schools of business or economics because they are too weak, overly emotional, unintelligent, and lack drive (as evidenced in a 2017 LA Times report on comments from male faculty in one university’s economics department), while common 60 years ago, should be unthinkable in today’s higher education environments for their complete lack of academic evidence.

And yet the double standard prevails – the work of faculty from historically marginalized communities that shows powerful evidence regarding dynamics of racism or sexism in the United States’ systems and structures (including higher education) is roundly rebuked by some faculty as “unacademic”, biased and a personal grudge while the basis of these dismissive faculty’s arguments is exactly that – unacademic, biased, personal and not at all founded in research, data, or fact. For example, campus climate surveys that indicate an unsafe and unsupportive environment for historically marginalized faculty are often dismissed by faculty from historically dominant social groups with little or no “evidence”. To reiterate, I am not suggesting that we limit the speech of cisgender men, White people, etc. In fact the accusation that I am is such a tired old trope that I’m always embarrassed for those who drag it out for one more go. Instead, I want higher education to be what it claims to be by modeling exchanges of “academic freedom” that are rooted in critical thought, self-reflection, a commitment to learn what we do not know, and a recognition that there is nothing noble in the practice of abusing colleagues that you disagree with or who are challenging your long-held pet ideas. That is not the art of debate and intellectual sparring, it is just bully behavior and should have no place in higher education.

Almost all of this planet let go of the idea that the world is flat centuries ago, perhaps it is time for faculty to let go of the notion that academic freedom means you can say anything you like and that all ideas are equally valid. In this current national climate, it is particularly important for higher education to set an example of thoughtful, analytical and civilized discourse based on fact and meaningful interrogation. What an embarrassing waste of time and energy to debate whether the world is flat. In its place, we should commit to learning, growth, and change in the same ways we ask our students to each day they are with us.

A Tale of Two Conferences

Written by Dr. Heather Hackman

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of attending two equity / social justice conferences back to back – the 19th annual “White Privilege Conference” (WPC) and Policy Link’s (PL) semi-annual “Equity Summit 2018”. What was striking to me about the second was the absence of what was central to the first. The work that Equity Summit folks were doing was impressive, especially from the vantage point of the majority People of Color / Native speakers in the plenary sessions. Glaringly missing, however, was any substantive attention to Whiteness. Conversely, the White Privilege Conference by its very nature centers the conversation on Whiteness as a means to attend to the core driving dynamic of racial oppression in the U.S. When the Equity Summit did name “white” it was often in the context of individual White people and not the ways that White privilege and White supremacy serve as the continual catalyst for this system, altogether. Said differently, White people would not work so hard to maintain racist housing segregation, despite red-lining being illegal, if they did not get something out of it – namely better housing, better schools, better transportation options, more access to multi-generational wealth brought about by property value increase, and the like. For the Equity Summit to discuss issues such as housing, education, criminal justice, etc. without naming this driving force is at best unfortunate and at worst deeply problematic. WPC knows this and chooses to go right to the heart of the matter as is evidenced by the extraordinary level of focus and organization of the conference on all that is necessary to bring about abiding and permanent racial justice for the U.S.

To elaborate, it is one thing for the Summit to call out racism in the prison industrial complex and emphasize the deeply urgent need to revamp the current prison system (or perhaps eliminate it altogether and replace it with something dramatically different). But, it is short-sighted to proffer that position without identifying that White folks from the private / economic sector, the political sector, and the social sector garner extraordinary power from the way the criminal justice system is currently operating and therefore will not simply yield that power because there is a louder call for us to change that system. For me, this omission left the conversation about criminal justice reform incomplete.

Even worse was a White, cis-male speaker on a panel about the role of philanthropy in racial equity work who continually suggested that cities “are just not educated enough” about how to use data and that their organization’s work is designed to “teach cities how to read and use data”. Aside from the deeply condescending tone this man had toward all cities, who are apparently too ignorant to know how to use data (rather than city workers often being overworked and underpaid, or unable to afford the software or time to do such sweeping data analysis), he had no idea whatsoever that his entire transactional, data-driven approach was steeped in Whiteness and racially dominant ways of perceiving government, social change, and the function of cities altogether. I was appalled that he was presenting this type of perspective at a conference on “equity” (primarily racial equity, it seems) and thankfully, two of the People of Color on the panel shut him down a bit – not so that he would notice it because I think he completely missed it, but certainly so the audience would notice it.

To be fair, one Equity Summit panel did talk about Whiteness (more than the entire rest of the conference combined) through its focus on gender justice as articulated by some very fierce POC/N speakers making the deep and critical connections between the system of patriarchy and gender oppression to that of racial oppression and Whiteness. The fact that this perspective stood out, however, speaks volumes about the lack of attention paid to Whiteness in the overall conference. Policy Link (PL) would do well to pay attention to the work of the White Privilege Conference (WPC) and take the very courageous step into a comprehensive racial justice approach in the way WPC does. In asking folks at the Summit about this, their response was that PL has never really paid attention to Whiteness largely because it is trying to work with majority, historically White leaders whom they did not want to alienate by naming Whiteness that explicitly. I have heard similar rumblings about the work of GARE and that it has no problem naming racism, but continually comes up short with respect to addressing the White privilege and White supremacy at the heart of so many government practices, policies procedures and programs that continually target POC/N folks and benefit and advantage White folks.

As is evidenced by the laser-like approach of the White Privilege Conference, we will never see an end to the system of racial oppression if we do not clearly and consistently call attention to the Whiteness driving it. As I left WPC fired up for more of the deep and hard work, but then went to PL’s Equity Summit, I was reminded yet again that even in spaces where racism is named there is still often a lack of willingness to call attention to Whiteness. Perhaps PL’s new leadership will use this transition as an opportunity to usher in a more comprehensive analysis (racism and Whiteness) of U.S. racial realities for all of the systems and structures they are trying to change. If that is too risky of a move for the POC/N leadership in terms of their safety and well-being, as is often the case when POC/N folks have spoken truth to power, then White people involved in Policy Link need to step up and speak up about Whiteness.

I look forward to the next Policy Link conference and hope that it has a chance to lean even harder into its work around racial justice and decolonization. This cannot be done without dismantling structures of Whiteness and I hope they make that move for the betterment of everyone who is trying to do this work. The time is surely now to do so.

Starbucks – Missing It By A Latte

Written by Dr. Heather Hackman

There has been quite a kafuffle about Starbucks closing for a whole day to do implicit bias training in response to the racial incident in Philly last week. To be clear, I do not doubt the intent and level of concern expressed by their CEO, Kevin Johnson. Nor am I questioning the knowledge, both professional and through personal experience, of the “consultants” they brought in to lead the day-long discussion. What I take issue with are three critical things: leadership, training, and time.

As a consulting group, we do not train front line staff unless the leadership of an organization has a) gone through extensive training itself, and b) done this training before the front line staff. The former is critical in that you simply cannot lead around issues you do not know, and the more power one has, the more in-depth the training and application needs to be. We meet many CEOs and organizational leaders who have read one piece of information or had one emotionally moving experience and are suddenly “motivated” to “go do something”, but in actuality are nowhere near being able to lead from an equity and social justice frame. Connected to this is the need for the leadership to be out in front of staff so that they can actually lead around these issues. It is often quite difficult to have the leader(s) of an organization going through their own “ah-ha’s” simultaneous to those that they supervise. The nature of training around race or gender or class or other social justice issues is such that there must be time to internally process, to lean into one’s edges, and to do the personal work necessary to change behaviors and apply a more socially just lens to their vision for the organization. This is almost impossible to do if the staff is having the same sets of experiences as leadership at the same time; the logical question from staff, “what are you going to do about it right now!?” cannot be answered if both are going through it together, and this can lead staff to doubt leadership’s ability to really do anything about racial issues within the organization.

Starbucks’ choice to send everyone through a training is good optics and will provide an opportunity for everyone to have together. But, with respect to a system of racial oppression that has been in place for 400 years, there is absolutely no way that one day of “implicit bias” training will do much of anything in terms of deep and substantive organizational change for Starbucks. This brings me to my second critique of this “day of training” – it’s not really training. I meet thousands of folks a year (mostly white, but also some people of color and Native peoples) who are badly educated about issues of race, racism and whiteness (RRW) in the U.S. It’s not surprising. I have spent enough years in teacher education and training P-12 folks to know that what we are taught in mainstream education (both public and independent) in terms of race, racism and whiteness is not just bad, it is explicitly false with the intention to avert our nation’s gaze from the racial tragedy of its past and present. Thus, the Starbucks employees for whom the U.S. is their first nation have been exposed to years and years of explicit and intentional lies about RRW and no one-day training en masse is going to make even a tiny dent in the deep and calcified socialization folks have received about RRW.

So why train like this? Because it “looks” like the organization is doing something. Most private sector organizational leaders have become profitable by learning how to maximize their performance in transactional spaces where solving problems and addressing issues is about decisiveness, taking charge and “doing something about it now”. That works well with phenomena that are themselves transactional. But, RRW are sociological phenomena and absolutely cannot be addressed in quick, transactional, check-list ways. This does not stop leaders form choosing this approach because the illusion of quick and strong action = effective solutions is a powerful one in the private sector. In white dominant spaces, this “rugged individual” and transactional manner actually serves to reinforce the dynamics of whiteness and in the end leaves the influence of the Racial Narratives, the systemic targeting of people of color and Native peoples, and the systemic advantaging of white people firmly in place because it has actually never been addressed.

Additionally, Starbucks did not choose actual racial equity trainers to lead this training. Rather they chose big names to match their desire to look like they’re doing big things about race. I’m not dismissing the incredible knowledge and life experience of former Attorney General Holder, for example, I’m simply suggesting that while brilliant, he is not best qualified to train on racial justice issues. Why? Because to be an effective trainer on this content one needs to know something about the art and science of teaching. Moreover, they need to be exceptional at training (not quite the same as teaching) – meaning they need to know exactly how to lead a racially complex group of people through the process of identifying RRW and uprooting it at its core. While the trainers chosen for this day-long are all knowledgeable with respect to their various sectors, none of them have the extensive experience training necessary to make real change at Starbucks. To the lay person who might also not have experience teaching and training on this content, however, the big names will likely be equated with “big action” and Starbucks will be let off the hook.

Connected to the above need to have long-standing experienced trainers do this work, is the fact that one day is absolutely not enough time to cover anything of substance. The mainstream corporate media has reported on the financial losses for Starbucks (roughly $12 million) taking this “bold” move of closing their stores. In so doing, the media reinforces the erroneous notion that one day is really going to change racial dynamics in Starbucks. I often encounter folks who say that HCG’s three-day training is simply too much time. I then suggest, however, that 400 years of racism compared to 24 hours of training time is really not much of a comparison. In addition to being steeped in that long national legacy, however, I remind participants that they have individually been miseducated (to varying degrees, depending on their identities) about these issues and therefore, again, 24 hours is actually nowhere near enough to counter that.

Ignorance about what is really at the heart of this nation’s racial reality leads companies like Starbucks to make misguided, and in the end unhelpful, choices about how to address RRW issues internally. But, if this is not the answer, what is an appropriate response? Here is a general outline of the approach we suggest for large organizations: 1) make sure leadership understands what RRW issues actually are and be sure that they are on board with the level of organizational change necessary to more fully address them, 2) work with an internal team to identify a strategic approach for training layer after layer of the organization beginning with the top levels of leadership and working down to the ground, 3) implement various forms of firm-wide assessment to know where participants are starting, and 4) once a critical mass has been trained, support them to apply that lens to organizational changes that will support the front line folks in also being able to be trained and rewarded for engaging with customers differently. Of course, there is much more to all of this than what is mentioned here, but the general outline of work stands – be sure the organization is ready to commit to this work, assess them, train them as extensively as possible, begin the organizational change process, and then do that work for the next layer down and so on. If Starbucks had chosen the path of real organizational change, they would still be taking immediate action, but it would have a very different look and feel, and would be over the long haul. Most importantly, perhaps, they would spend a little less time in the headlines and more time committing to the actual work of racial equity within their organization.

Embracing Complexity. A Book Review of Michael W. Twitty’s “The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South”

Reviewed by Sonia Keiner, Chesapeake Foodshed Network, HCG Associate

I had the great opportunity to listen to culinary historian and chef, Michael W. Twitty’s keynote speech at the Future Harvest Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture conference this past January in College Park, Maryland. His words, energy, emotions, and passion had me rapt and I immediately ordered his book, “The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South,” (he sold all the copies he brought and signed before I could get my hands on one.) I highly recommend this comprehensive book (416 pages with notes, an extensive bibliography, peppered with recipes) for anyone interested in the intersections of African, indigenous, and southern culinary history, slavery, liberation, genetic exploration, and the complexity of identity.

“Race is an illusion. Food is real.” Hundreds of farmers and food system workers erupted in applause with Twitty’s statement. Twitty wove genetics, sociology, history, and personal story into his well-received keynote. My mother drew a genetic framework for my whiteness at an early age and that has always stood as a foundation for my academic exploration of race and identity in the United States. When there was absolutely no talk of race in my high school curriculum (a diverse school setting in the County next to Twitty’s home in suburban Maryland) my mother had already taught me that whiteness was an evolutionary genetic mutation and it wasn’t until grad school that I was able to explore these incredibly important intersections in a formal curriculum.

Twitty begins his thorough search into the past by first researching his own genetic constitution as an entry point to find his ancestors, no easy feat for peoples with a history of slavery in ancestral lines where families were torn apart and records aren’t always meticulous. “All I ever really wanted was a recipe of who I am and where I come from.” In this respect Twitty’s story can read a bit at times like Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s classic, “One Hundred Years of Solitude.” Similarly there is a magical realism that seeps through the pages from Twitty’s deep spirituality and connection to his ancestors, the land, and foods that sustained them.  “This is personal,” Twitty says, a self identified African American, Jewish, gay man, descended from African slaves, white slaveholders and “a trickle of others, including Southeastern indigenous nations.”  “I didn’t know who I was, where I came from, what our names were, why we’re here at all.  I have used food my whole life as the pathway into our collective and my distinct familial past.  We are here for a reason —-to make our way back and forge a path forward.”

This book (and Twitty’s meticulous preparation of ancestral foods) is a labor of love and pain, scholarly investigation, and redemption.  He is at the center of this story, starting as a child where he did everything he could to avoid “slave” food, to his painful coming out story in his family’s kitchen, “the kitchen no longer felt safe if I couldn’t use it to tell the truth,” through his vast travels to his ancestral lands across the ocean (both African and European) and onto the final pages of the book, “where food becomes a tool to repair the walls of black identities.” A man who picks cotton to feel what his ancestors experienced while listening to slave songs on his ipod is a man on a spiritual mission. “…the black journey in the Americas is founded on a human sense-the sense of taste.  Slavery began with food.” We must remember that cacao, coffee, rice, arrowroot, peanuts, corn, wheat, spices, and many other foods produced by slaves in the Americas and other locations in the Global South fed “the consumption of colonialism and white, western consumers.”

Twitty’s is a profound and poetic voice. He does not suffer fools (at all) but also presents an open heart that does not discriminate. His stories of disgraceful oppression are dovetailed with stories like that of a white student of his, seeking understanding and redemption for the history of slaveholding in his family. His frameworks are complex, as they should be.  We “Americans,” we of these lands of the United States are a heterogeneous tangle of genes, identities, conflict, oppression and love.  Our food is no different and we must pay homage to our African ancestors who essentially made southern food what it is.  They were agricultural experts (targeted for their know-how in Africa) when they were forced here on the middle passage and endured, survived, and in many ways thrive today DESPITE continued oppression.

“The kitchen was, perhaps more than any other space during slavery, the site of rape after rape, sexual violations that led to one of the more unique aspects of African American identity, our almost inextricable blood connection to white Southerners.” In fact, most African Americans average about 10-18% European admixture. I’m reminded of words I heard from the mouth of bell hooks once that stay with me, “we struggle within the spaces of our own contradictions.”  This is the sort of complex, nuanced, contradictory conversation we must continue to have to move forward. “Black folks have a gift for complicating the stories that Americans like to tell about themselves,” says scholar, John Edwin Mason. We see what happens in our culture when we simplify our story (and it is indeed OUR story); oppression continues, racism soars, walls are built.

The birth of southern cuisine could have only happened within the intersection of African, European, and Native American foodways. Beans and rice, rice pudding, okra and tomatoes, gumbo, greens, spicy stews, greens, black eyed pea caviar…all signs of the Africanizing presence in cuisine. Many English words for these foods are adapted from African words; Okra (okwuru from Igbo) and Gumbo (kingumbo) to name just a couple. “Who owns Southern food and who created Southern food is a question that has mostly been in the mouths of those whose perspective has been one of privilege by position, authority by default and a history written by the victors in the centering of white supremacy…The privilege of living now is that I can seat myself at the master’s table-the table of my white ancestor, a slaveholder-and interpret his world, and he has no say.”

Twitty ponders whether the White people who know they share DNA actually see him as family.  He asks some important questions. “Would we be better off if we embraced this complexity and deal with our pain and shame?  Would we finally be Americans or Southerners or both if we truly understood how impenetrably connected we actually are? Is it too late? Maybe I’ll just invite everybody to dinner one day and find out…It is not enough to be white at the table. It is not enough to be black at the table. It is not enough to be “just human” at the table. Complexity must come with us – in fact it will invite itself whether we like it or not. We can choose to acknowledge the presence of history, economics, class, cultural forces, and the idea of race in shaping our experience, or we can languish in circuitous arguments over what it all means and get nowhere. I present my journey to you as a means out of the whirlwind, an attempt to tell as much truth as time will allow.”

I have so much more to tell you that I learned from Twitty, about cottons’ role in creating a killer diet, and West Africa and Twitty’s great-great-great-grandmother, the 2nd Middle Passage and the Great Migration, persimmon wine and culinary justice, and barbeque. But perhaps it would be better for you to hear Twitty’s voice for yourself.

Photo by Sonia Keiner, Future Harvest Casa Conference, 1/18

 

Conflict(ed) Within

During my college application process, I toyed with the idea of applying to West Point.  Then, when I was in college, I took a Military Science class, and thought about making the commitment to sign a contract for Army Reserved Officer Training Corp (R.O.T.C.).  Years later, I eventually recognized that I was in search of control, discipline, family, organization, and clear purpose (read: aspects of normalcy mixed with feelings of rebelliousness).  I’ve since recognized how some of my attraction to my idealized military experience was about desires I could not yet name, but that’s a different blog post.  What actually kept me from signing a contract was that “don’t ask, don’t tell” was in practice.  I knew I could never stay closeted (I was an out lesbian in college) and I kind of bristled under certain commands – both clues it was unlikely I would successfully finish a term of service.  I share these memories to share my thinking about how, as a trans person, I am conflicted about the “policy dictate” via the very (un)presidential platform of Twitter to ban transgender people from serving in the military.  Let me explain a bit about my conflicted feelings…

To be sure, the tweet was a publicly malicious statement that denies the value and existence of transgender people who serve(d) in the military.  Once again, the message is clear that we do not belong, our lives are a distraction and disruption to “normal” people, and our transness makes us less than.  I cannot understand how personal choices about bio-medical transition options are a budget consideration and open for national debate; costs that are, based on actual empirical data, nominal.  I cannot understand how the goal of patriotic duty is not enough to overcome exclusion.

And here is where I get conflicted because I cannot even imagine the challenges that exist for openly (or stealth) transgender service people.  I cannot figure out how transness fits within a military paradigm of gender.  For some I think military service is about patriotism, but for others, I think military service is a form of economic necessity.

I am unconvinced about the positive role of the military in U.S. culture.  I admit that I am not as well-versed on the topics of militarism, nationalism, and imperialism.  Inclusion is an imperfect concept, and I struggle to determine whether inclusion of queer and trans people in the military is the kind of inclusion that demonstrates the liberatory future that could exist (see Barbara Love).  There is a homonormativity (see Kacere) about the argument for trans inclusion in the military; just another way to say we as trans people are “American” just like everyone else.  Violence is a reality for too many trans people, especially trans women of color (see Editors of Everyday Feminism), and let’s be clear: violence is a part of military tactics.  This is a complicated contradiction to manage, and certainly muddles my thinking.  There are people who write with far more nuance and sharp analysis of why the ban on transgender military personnel is problematic (see Dean Spade and Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore), and I will not rehash their thinking here.

Instead what I offer is this: inclusion and exclusion are not a binary concept.  There are consequences to people for exclusion that interpersonally are difficult to reconcile.  Maybe because when I imagine liberation, I cannot figure out how we create a world where the military is unnecessary (this is my shortcoming).  So, if I can’t imagine a future without a military, then isn’t trans inclusion in the military necessary?  At the same time, I struggle to feel safe, comfortable, or empowered in the presence of those in uniform.  Might I feel less discomfort if I knew those in uniform were trans?  Honestly, I’m not sure that poses much influence on my feelings because the military is more complex than the individual in uniform; the armed forces are an institution built with rules, boundaries, and regulations that is only mildly influenced by individuals.

Was I surprised by the tweet?  No.  Maybe the most instructive thing relevant for me is to share is what I did feel.  The most acute feeling for me after the news of the tweet was resignation.  I felt resignation because the “travel ban” foreshadowed the isolationist, nationalist, and xenophobic policy decisions of the current administration.  I felt resignation because I expect these kind of institutional and cultural policies, as well as political decisions about the uneasy and contentious existence of transness.  I felt resignation because I knew this tweet energized the more normative queer and trans political organizations.  Military exclusion is the new thing to fire up the base in this “post-marriage” era (not all of us were interested in marriage to begin with, just like not all of us are interested in access to military service).  Is another non-discrimination policy going to really address this issue of institutional and systemic expectations that support trans exclusion?  (See Dean Spade for the limits of the law and Critical Trans Politics).  I felt resignation because where is the data about whether trans people would serve in the military if they had other options for employment, and access to healthcare and education?  I don’t know, but I think it would be a worthwhile research endeavor.  Why are queer and trans organizations supporting access to an institution that has stalled many (all?) attempts to address sexual violence, torture, hazing, and racism?

I felt resignation knowing the counter-story to this new “policy” highlights the “success” stories of trans people in the military – trans people who did not experience violence, harassment, or marginalization for being trans in the military (or who tell the story of persistence in the face of such experiences).  I also felt resignation because I am not willing tell a trans person that military service is inconsistent with the ideology of trans politics.  So, you see, I’m a bit conflicted, and maybe a bit of my resignation is turning into anger, and I have a lot of questions that are underneath the question of this false binary of trans exclusion/inclusion in military service.

Chase Catalano is a White trans* academic who focuses on higher education.  His scholarship focuses on trans* collegians (specifically, trans* men and trans* masculine students in higher education), social justice, and masculinities.  Prior to his role as an assistant professor he worked in student affairs as the director of an LGBT Resource Center.

Key Considerations for Folks in the Climate Justice Movement

In this vlog, Dr. Heather Hackman unpacks three key considerations for folks working in the climate justice movement. 1.) The importance of developing critical race, gender and class lenses 2.) As a country and individuals, the need to make amends and take responsibility 3.) The importance of educating, marshaling resources and maintaining hope.

© Hackman Consulting Group 2016
Produced by Sonia Keiner

Resiliency In The Face of ‘Ruin’: As we rebuild Ellicott City, MD, what questions do we ask ourselves and what future do we envision?

We watch environmental disasters at home and abroad regularly. Our hearts went out to victims of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and to the hundreds of thousands of people lost in extreme weather events in Asia. We ache for people dying in extreme heat in the Middle East and we watch in anguish as people are swept away in massive floods in the Midwest. We fret over California’s drought situation because we know the future of food is on shaky ground. We know these aren’t just regular weather events anymore. We learn new meteorological terms; derecho, micro burst, convective storm cells. Those of us who read the scientific literature know that humans are fueling the fire for environmental destruction; burning fossil fuels, deforesting, building more and more impermeable surfaces, destroying protective wet lands, supporting an extractive economy which unravels our natural defenses and resiliency in the face of weather disasters. We see record-breaking heat yearly now. We’ve known for decades that warming would produce more extreme weather.

Some of us joined the clean-up efforts in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and studied the intersection of climate change, poor ecological and community design, destruction of wetlands, storm water management, over-development, racism and classism and believed surely a disaster of this magnitude would force our culture to take a fresh look at who we are and who we need to become. Did it?

After watching my favorite little town, Ellicott City (EC), ‘ruined’ by a flash flood Saturday, July 30, 2016, it hit too close to home.  The term 1000-year-storm used by the media can be misleading. What they should report is that in any given year, there is a 1/1000 or 0.1% probability that a weather event of such a magnitude will occur. I grew up about 15 minutes from downtown EC and always thought I would settle down there. As an aspiring photographer in high school, I (and everyone else) honed photography skills around picturesque downtown, along the train tracks and through the forests. You could have found me and my friends dancing upstairs at The Phoenix on any given Saturday night.

The devastation is heart breaking. Two lives lost, homes and businesses destroyed; climate change and over-development refugees picking up the pieces and moving forward however they can. Of course blessings can be found in the worst pain. Every-day heroes emerge, communities come together in incredible ways to support each other. Unbelievable acts of kindness and selflessness make the tough times a bit easier to swallow.

Downtown Ellicott City is no stranger to flooding. An old mill town, it is situated over the Patapsco River at the bottom of a number of hills. It receives the entire areas storm water runoff. This was not a river flood, it was a flash flood, and as the lowest point in the area it received an unprecedented amount of water; 6 inches fell in just a few hours. Ellicott City is the fastest growing area in Maryland. There has been a 34% increase in population in the last 10 years. More houses, roads, parking, etc…all exacerbating storm water run-off problems in the face of extreme weather events that are becoming the new normal.

Ellicott City won’t be the same… and it can’t and shouldn’t be the same. Things must change and I hope Howard County government officials, community groups and citizens take the time to really think, collaborate and use thoughtful design processes as they rebuild. Tragedies like this force us to dig deep and grow, so, how do we improve ourselves and our communities to withstand future inevitable disasters. How do we rebuild? Do we rebuild in the same locations? How do we build resilience in the face of climate change and adaptation? How do we envision a different way and MAKE that vision come to fruition? We will need some serious cultural, technical and socio-political shifts to create resilient communities capable of shifting the paradigm. Here is one concerned idealist’s non-exhaustive list about what it might take to build sustainable, resilient communities.

Cultural Shifts:

  • We are happy with less stuff. We simplify our lives. We find true joy in few possessions. We value quality over quantity or size.
  • We are ultra conscious about energy, how we use it and where it comes from. Same goes for our food, food waste and WATER. We don’t buy products with petroleum in them. We’ve gone natural, we buy local. We eat more organic food and less meat. We start a kitchen garden and support local farmers using sustainable methods. We compost. We realize we don’t really need that SUV. Our lawns are more bio-diverse, attracting native pollinators, and we no longer worship chemically-treated grass.
  • We become much more thoughtful about community and ecological design. We apply permaculture concepts to everything we design. And we do it in a community-centered, collaborate process; design charrettes-galore with community input. We don’t leave the big decisions up to the developers and government officials making back room deals for money and power.
  • We seriously think about (AND DO) smart growth and storm water management. Developers stop chopping down forests and developing every damn green space there is. Governments stop letting them do this and at the very least make them integrate smart solutions into their design plans.
  • We weigh the externalized costs of destroyed ecosystems, low-wage labor, oppression and exploitation in our economic analysis and tune into our moral compass.
  • Neighbors lean on each other, they don’t hide in their homes in front of the boob tube. They barter stuff, time, energy, childcare, etc…
  • Our education system is updated to reflect the challenges and opportunities of this century. Students are taught to be critical thinking problem solvers in the real world rather than rote regurgitators of information for tests.

Technical Shifts:

  • We don’t just go with the cheapest option. We explore and implement more sustainable options, renewable energies and resources that will be more affordable in the end.
  • We make all kinds of great products out of recycled materials.
  • Permaculture design and bioswales are commonplace.
  • Rain gardens and rooftop gardens are ubiquitous.
  • We collect rain water and store it. We reuse greywater.
  • Wetland restoration and conservation efforts are fully funded.
  • Communities have terrific public transit systems and are bike-able.
  • There are less cars on the road and more people drive smaller hybrid and electric cars running on renewable energy.
  • Antiquated storm water management systems that release raw sewage into our waterways every time it rains hard are updated. Raw sewage flowing in our waterways becomes a silly thing of the past.
  • Communities become Transition Towns, towns dedicated to working together to reduce fossil fuel consumption.
  • Governments support the transition!

Socio-Political Shifts:

  • We understand we cannot rebuild and become resilient with the same oppressive frameworks that got us to this exploitive place. Racism, sexism, classism, etc… break down as we enter a new paradigm where we live more in concert with nature and each other.
  • As we rebuild communities and become more resilient, we are more conscious of the realities of gentrification and disaster capitalism and make sure low-income folks and people of color are always part of the process. We become aware of the voices that are and aren’t in the room and we work to make sure a diversity of voices are heard.
  • Governments no longer spend our hard-earned money on BS wars and stuff the American pubic does not support. Corporations pay their fair share. We are a true DEMOCRACY, not an oligarchy anymore; a government by the people for the people. The people are involved, writing letters, calling legislators, protesting, showing up at court, etc….
  • Governments invest in renewables, a green workforce, and the physical and mental health of constituents. They realize big ag. is destroying the land and our health and instead subsidize smaller sustainable farms feeding their communities.
  • Governments use our taxes thoughtfully to deal with our waste products. There is money to be made! They start municipal compost programs. They commit to rebuilding the eroding topsoil and do remediation.
  • With all this real work to do, there is no place to worry about legislating peoples private parts and where they choose to pee, who they have sex with or marry, what higher power they worship or don’t worship, etc… There is no room for oppression of any variety. Everyone is needed, valued and supported for who they are.

For Starters, Don’t Call It “Your Movement”

In this vlog, Dr. Heather Hackman unpacks the difference between the “pull question” and the “push question.” Instead of asking “How do we get more people of color / native people and low-income people into our movement?”, she argues that white and middle class people need to instead do the hard internal work of identifying what it is about business-as-usual that is pushing people of color / native people and low-income people out.

Filmed and Edited by Sonia Keiner © 2016

4:20

Bananas, A Slippery Slope

Food Justice Travel Log

March, 2016

kurtz-phelan-600

“How we eat determines, to a considerable extent, how the world is used.”

So goes the Wendell Berry quote that often slaps me in the face when I travel internationally (rarely these days). I recently returned from a week on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. The road from San José to the port of Limón is practically ground zero for the banana monopoly created by the United Fruit Company in the late 19th century, finally morphing into Chiquita Brands International Incorporated in 1989. The history of the cultivated banana and how it became the world’s fourth major staple after rice, wheat and milk reads like a veritable soap opera; murder, suicide, labor strikes, bribery, corruption, violent coup d’état’s and an all-out banana war between the US and the European Union in the late 1990’s, making for a seemingly unbelievable story. Sadly, the same telenovela seems to constantly replay itself in the interest of vast profits for government-bought corporations and death and destruction for the earth and its’ indigenous and exploited masses.

Travels in other banana republics including Guatemala and Panama had already opened my eyes to the grand scale environmental destruction and human rights abuses multinational companies like United Fruit have wrought (and continue to wreak) on the planet, local indigenous populations, and food economies. While living with a Guatemalan family and studying Spanish in the small town of Flores, I was shocked to be drinking Nescafé instant coffee (along with the babies) in a country with some of the best coffee in the world; alas it is unaffordable for the local population. In Puerto Rico a few years back I was eager for fresh fruit and vegetables after too much easily accessible fried foods. An innkeeper handed me an avocado imported from the Dominican Republic. More than 85% of what Puerto Ricans eat is imported, although they are currently working on their minimal agricultural sector to increase healthy food production. Puerto Ricans have staggering rates of diabetes at 1 in 10 of the population.

The road from San José to Limón (a four hour drive) is literally lined with banana plantations and shipping containers. Each bunch of bananas on each tree is covered in a blue plastic bag. My local hostess/friend, Molly, said these bags are full of chemicals to protect them from disease and pests. Once you get to the port of Limón, ships loaded with refrigerated bananas are constantly departing to their various destinations around the world. I contemplated this one morning as I sipped local coffee and ate a local banana (a rare occurrence as I live in temperate Maryland) purchased from an organic farmer at the farmer’s market in Puerto Viejo. This banana was small, bruised and insanely sweet and delicious (I have to admit bananas are not at the top of my list when it comes to fruit choice.) Similarly I despised carrots for much of my life until a farming friend presented one to me fresh from the earth; again, sweet deliciousness, like no carrot I’d ever eaten before.

The morning before this contemplation over a sweet and beat up banana, I had snorkeled out to the coral reef with this warning from Molly, “our reef is in recovery from the destruction from the banana plantations, so don’t think it sucks.” Indeed, it was some of the saddest looking reef I’ve ever seen; I didn’t see even one fish. Deforestation and chemical runoff from the plantations have caused great damage, but the country is putting restrictions in place to help restoration efforts. Fortunately Costa Rica does not seem to be experiencing murders of its’ environmental activists, like other countries in Central America, Brazil, Africa and beyond; most recently the murder in Honduras of award-winning indigenous environmentalist Berta Cáceres, who had been organizing against a hydroelectric dam construction supported by multinational corporations as well as the Honduran and US governments. “By no means is the problem getting better,” said Billy Kyte, senior campaigner at Global Witness, an organization that has been tracking deaths of activists, whom the nonprofit calls environmental defenders. He noted the issue seems to be a growing problem, particularly in America as indigenous lands are encroached upon. “The increase in demand of natural resources is fueling ever more violence.”

By contrast, since demilitarizing in 1948, Costa Rica has become one of the more “safe” and “stable” countries in Central America, attracting loads of US investment and ex-pats. I put the words “safe” and “stable” in quotes because I feel many privileged US-ers have skewed notions of comfort and safety and thus choose to visit the Global South from the perceived safety of a cruise or a resort rather than interact with local populations. I had always heard that Costa Rica was on the cutting edge of sustainability and from my travels in other less Americanized, less expensive Central American countries, I know there is a fine line between sustainability and poverty. Many folks are forced to be sustainable because they lack resources and fossil fuel based energy sources to be anything but. Close to a quarter of the population lives in poverty, almost double the poverty rate of the US. Costa Rica fairs well internationally in sustainability measures and plans to become the 1st carbon neutral nation by 2021.  It is the Global North that extracts Earth’s resources and exploits the Global South’s land and labor so that no market or desire is left unrealized. The low-income people of color of the Global South are the innocent bystanders of globalization and neo-liberal policies like NAFTA and US-backed “aid” who will continue to be disproportionately affected by climate change, food shortages, fluctuations in cost of food and energy commodities, and destruction of both the environment and indigenous sovereignty. Indeed there are many agricultural demonstration projects, education centers and non-profits doing their thing, but there is much more governments can do, not to mention entities like the World Trade Organization, to protect local land and people.

I witnessed a small slice of some great work being done in Costa Rica at Centro Ashé in Manzanillo on the south Caribbean. Director, Molly Meehan Brown, works with the local population to promote their work around ethnobotony, medicinal herbal education and application, healthy cooking, and eco-tourism that puts tourist dollars directly into the pockets of local and indigenous people. With centers in both Southern Maryland and Costa Rica, Centro Ashé is rooted in community and dedicated to keeping classes affordable & accessible in order to keep the knowledge of food, herbal medicine, seeds, and healing traditions alive and vital. Centro Ashé programs act as catalysts to build community, land-based and traditional knowledge. They celebrate the richness and diversity of folk herbalism across cultures while providing supportive and practical knowledge. Their teachers are all local herbalists, farmers, and plant people. I had the opportunity to sit in on a plant talk with a local Afro-Caribbean medicine woman and visiting Plant and Healers International, who connect people, plants and healers around the world (I’m excited to start their online botany class, a donation-based course within my price range in a time when so many courses I’d like to take are simply out of my price range.) It was cool to watch the group bouncing ideas off each other, learning different names for the same plants, critically analyzing western ideas about the safety of plant use, identifying an unfamiliar edible fruit tree in the middle of town (Screw Pine!) and building international and local place-based resilience. We have the skills, resources and creativity to make our shared lives truly amazing, diverse (both bio and beautifully human), just, healthy and delicious.

Upon our return we went to retrieve my car at the house it was parked at. On the kitchen counter was a bunch of bananas with a Chiquita sticker that read, “Costa Rica.” My partner and I looked dubiously at each other. As consumers we can choose to support equal exchange organic farmers, when it is available. We make sacrifices in our fixed income life so that we can feel good about what we put into our bodies. We don’t always get it right (near impossible to do so), but it feels right to try, for our health, the planet’s health, workers’ health, and because we know our choices aren’t just personal choices; they affect others. And what incredible collective power we DO have to shape the way the world is used by making the choices and changes we need to create a more just and environmentally friendly food system with a heavy local flavor! A delicious revolution indeed.

For more check out this article by Phyllis Robinson about the true cost of bananas.

 

The Public Face of the White Corporatocracy

While much has been made of Donald Trump’s bombastic style, his highly offensive commentary toward just about every identifiable group (strangely, sometimes even his own), and his irreverence for any type of “protocol” other than the one he happens to be proffering that day, I have been considering a slightly different aspect of his rise (and recent wins in state primaries). Since our nation’s inception, the corporate elites have been the shadow figures with respect to U.S. government, funding candidates and influencing policy via their economic power (e.g the Koch brothers today). Now however, via Trump’s candidacy, the White corporatocracy has brazenly stepped into the limelight. I was struck most by a sound bite of his I heard from South Carolina the day after he won New Hampshire where he was openly talking about his personal love of money and his unabashed greed, and that that is what has made him a success (hello Gordon Gecko). Apparently he has had his Scrooge awakening and now wants to turn all this into a means of serving this country – “I’m greedy. I love money. Now I want to be greedy for America.” Rather than be appalled, the folks at his rally stood and cheered.

Astonishing. Not because it’s the first time this has ever been said, (the White, imperial corporatocracy has been doing this all along) but rather for its public face. I wonder if this means that the corporatocracy has so much control as a result of Citizens United that they no longer think they need to pretend they are not running this country? Or, has the fact that they were bailed out with no repercussions after the 2008 crash while so many millions of Americans suffered made them feel invincible? Not sure, but something has changed such that the leaders and denizens of the White corporatocracy feel that they can unreservedly come out into the light. At one point several weeks ago Bloomberg said he would rush in and “save” us from the threat of Trump if it seemed he was winning. Again, astonishing – one corporate conglomerate is seemingly going to save us from another. Yes, a clash of the corporate titans has left the shadows and emerged as the WWF of politics right out in the open.

But my focus in this piece is not about Trump or Bloomberg. They have taken up too much ink, air and space already. I am more interested in and concerned about what Trump’s rise says about us. It’s less about the titans and far more about what this political moment reveals about the racial and economic underbelly of this country. More specifically, I’ve noticed four things.

“I’m rich…really rich”

When I was in my teens the television show “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” was a hit because it let the rest of us peek into the lives of the very rich and fantasize about being them some day. The presentation of the show was not merely a “reporting out” but was always tinted with the theme of aspiration. In Robin Leach’s droll British accent I heard high praise after high praise for the various class markers that indicated not only affluence, but also one’s importance to our society. Horatio Alger was indeed alive and well in the mythic notion that we all can rise to this elite status if we are smart, work hard, and dream big. And I think Trump holds this strange promise to many poor and working class Whites around this country. They have been screwed, no doubt about it, but not by “the government” and its taxes and legislative spending. They have been dismissed and their value as workers in this country has been deeply diminished, but not by those on Pennsylvania Avenue. No, the unions that have for so long protected poor and working class people, the social benefits that have served as nets to catch the most economically vulnerable, and the very jobs that so many poor and working class folks have worked over the years have been decimated and destroyed by the 1%, either directly or by their political proxies. Either way, it was the prompting of the 1% that led to the tax changes in the Reagan era and the decimation of welfare in the Clinton era. And yet, the myth of meritocracy and the belief in one’s “bootstraps”, ideas deeply steeped in the lies of manifest destiny and American exceptionalism and then wrapped up in the conflation of democracy and capitalism, seem to obfuscate the reality that the 1% has never, ever in the history of this society been a friend of the working class. Poor and working class Whites seem to be voting for Trump because they think he has pulled himself up by his bootstraps, forgetting of course that he started in a place they will likely never, ever reach in their lifetime, and then stepped on countless others as he climbed. I’m not singling him out as some sort of pariah, that’s simply how this current economic system works for folks like him.

And so the promise of wealth, of one’s rise, of some measure of comfort and safety brought about by hard work in an economic system that is completely and utterly rigged still holds sway for these poor and working class Whites, and in the process the fiction of the “American Dream” as being open to everyone persists, despite the fact that it is still really just open to White, middle-class men. Thus, the public face of the corporatocracy and of Trump’s success as a Republican candidate tells us that 8 years after the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the economic and racial myths of this country are greater than its reality. The desperation wrapped up in this is powerful and painful to watch, as is the inevitable devastation that will come to those White, working class folks when Trump destroys their access to health care, sells off their pubic lands for private development, lets the corporate sector take over even more of their “public” schools, continues the decimation of their unions, and further solidifies the barriers between the elites and the lives of these everyday folks.

“Make America Great Again”

Can you hear the strains of nostalgia as we start to harken back to the “good old days”? I can. In no uncertain terms this campaign slogan is about some very disconcerting racial dynamics and spells deep trouble for People of Color, Native peoples and White people working for racial justice. First, that language when coming from White folks with conservative leanings has always meant a reestablishment of the racial hierarchy in this country. Since Mr. Obama won the Iowa caucuses in 2008, we have seen the public vitriol toward People of Color and Native peoples increase exponentially. Far from being some sort of post-racial utopia, President Obama’s two terms have signaled a deep and palpable panic on the part of the White establishment regarding their “rightful” place in the world. This is demonstrated most sharply by the KKK controversy with respect to Trump. His desire to return to times of “America’s greatness” is contingent upon the second class citizenry of People of Color and Native peoples such that White folks can have easier access to resources, opportunities, and economic, social and political safety. A perfect puppet of Reagan’s promises of a shining city on the hill (just before he waged “war on drugs” aka war on Black and Brown men), but with the gloves off.

Second, this language has also always signaled an increase in the use of violence to enforce that racialized social order. As such, I think we can expect under Mr. Trump greater support for policing tactics that have inflamed racial tensions across the country, a greater acceptance of torture tactics for those deemed enemies of the state, and a rolling back of any institutional policies that seek to rectify this nation’s four centuries of racial oppression. The dismantling of Section IV of the Voting Rights Act will be nothing in comparison to what Mr. Trump, and more likely his appointees, will proffer in hopes of creating an America that looks decidedly Whiter in all the halls of power. Thus, we can see that the very notion of making this nation great again is contingent on the maintenance of the deeply racist and profoundly exploitative racialized policies of this nation’s history. As Trump calls upon his followers to remember what this nation used to be like, we who believe in racial justice must call out the deeply rooted racial oppression that those historic and current realities are based on. Far from making this nation great, our long-standing racist history has been a blight and ultimately will serve as one of the sources of the end of this great society, not its salvation.

“I want to be greedy for America”

In conjunction with the heightened centering of a White dominant hierarchy, Trump’s desire to be greedy for America also signals a period of U.S. imperialism and unilateral militarism abroad. Trump’s initial inflammatory comments about Mexicans coming into the U.S. were a harbinger of his overall ideology of U.S. entitlement. He is one step beyond the Bush doctrine (if there’s a 1% threat) and feels that there doesn’t even need to be a physical threat to take action against another nation, there simply needs to be an economic or political opportunity for the U.S., and that is sufficient grounds for a hostile takeover. Thus those who favor militaristic approaches over diplomacy of any kind will favor his bomb first and ask questions later approach. In the 2008 election John McCain made a problematic “joke” where he conflated the song “Barbara Ann” with the bombing of Iran. It was largely panned in the media but also created a bit of a distance with Republican voters. Now, 8 years later, throngs of White folks do not seem to mind Trump’s assertion of empire via military and economic imperialism. Again, as above, when fear drives a young nation such as ours, a nation with a lot of firepower, it can be a very dangerous equation for the rest of the world. Those who thought George W. Bush’s notions of U.S. unilateralism were extreme have not seen anything until Trump gets elected and ushers in an era of uber-neo-colonial foreign policy rooted in racist reactivity to what he deems (as do his followers) as a “weak” Obama and a tepid U.S. foreign policy. In particular, economically, politically and militarily vulnerable nations (often nations that have high numbers of poor folks or People of Color who have been run roughshod over due to Western colonialism) will be no obstacle to Trump if his administration deems them desirable to the United States’ interests. Again, this is not new in terms of U.S. foreign policy, what is new is the brazen way in which it is publicly stated and in which the White corporatocracy feels immune to its contestation. In a moment where the planet needs to come closer together to address global climate change, massive refugee issues, deep and heavily interconnected economic issues, and the threat of violence in a range of manifestations, it is striking that the Teddy-Roosevelt-on-steroids notion of “carry a big stick” appeals to the followers of Trump. In exactly the moment when we need to act like one among many, Trump’s message says “isolate and dominate.”

I’m a fighter

While I do not know if Trump has uttered these exact words, he certainly packages himself as a fighter for those who have been mistreated by our government, by other nations, by “terrorists”, and by “special interests” who are bringing America down. I was talking to my colleague, Marie, about this the other night and she noted how powerful that “fight” response is in terms of Trump’s words and actions and how it seems to resonate so deeply with folks who see themselves as having reason to fight. Through the combined lenses of racial justice and somatic experiencing, the response of the collective nervous system of Whiteness in this society could actually be an indicator that things are truly changing for us, albeit on some slow, tectonic level. After all, a fight response is not usually brought forth unless there is some powerful threat. In Marie’s words, brown folks are increasingly “here” and demanding change, change which threatens four centuries of White hegemony and power. It is possible, therefore, to see Trump’s rise as an indicator that the White power structure is not only being threatened as stated above, but that it perceives its entire life as coming to an end, perhaps because it is? Maybe the rise of Trump is the beginning of the end of the legacy of Whiteness? It seems less likely that it also signals the end of the corporatocracy, but it might mean that now that it is out in the light a bit more, it is more vulnerable. Before we celebrate, however, remember that when White people (and especially White rich people) get deeply scared good things rarely happen, which is perhaps one way to understand the blatant racism and violence that Trump’s followers often attach to his campaign, his message, and what they imagine his presidency to be. Nevertheless, if I understand the possible indicators of Trump’s rise and appeal, it can serve as a motivation to dig even deeper into the fight for racial and economic justice because we are, in fact, winning this long struggle.

Conclusion

Sadly, while I hear and see plenty of coverage of Donald Trump, I do not hear much in the way of conversation about the mirror Trump is holding up for us as a nation. Liberals (and progressives?) mock him on SNL, Colbert and Conan and yet at the same time we keep grabbing the popcorn and pulling up a chair to watch him and those who follow him. In true White liberal fashion we disparage those at his rallies and suggest that they are not as intelligent, or we simply dismiss them because they are “angry White people” (as if somehow dismissal has ever disarmed and disabused White people of their destructive capacity and power). But, what we are not doing is noticing that the Trump phenomenon is saying something critically important about us as a nation. One could say it is our last gasp as a young, immature, and power-hungry nation who is used to getting its way; or, that it is the final stand of the historic and current regime of conflated class, race and gender dynamics. This is an optimistic view, and one I would sign up for, if I saw that there were numbers, voices and wisdom back of them. Instead, what I see more of is the kind of twin reaction of disbelief that he made it this far and elitist cynicism that Trump will never make it to the presidency and so why worry. This, to me, seems like a substantial misunderstanding of what the private face of the White corporatocracy coming into the public eye actually means. For our sake, and for this nation’s sake, I hope that those of us who care about social justice take a much deeper look, enact a stronger stand, and launch a more vocal and relentless response to Trump and more importantly to his followers lest we find ourselves turning back the clock and wondering how we got here.