We are still actively receiving and inviting signatories to this open letter, but it has moved here. Please click the preceding hyperlink and leave a comment with your name and academic affiliation (if you have one). All are welcome in this effort to hold the union leadership accountable at the largest university by enrollment in the U.S.! Real democracy now!
I write as a union member and CUNY contingent faculty member to express my great dismay at your statement of May 9th praising Mayor De Blasio for his CUNY budget and singling out "full-time faculty and student support staff" as needing "investments" while entirely omitting mention of adjuncts and graduate student workers.
In addition to the questionable negotiating strategy of such mayoral sycophancy—and your bizarre contention that CUNY is the "solution" to "inequality," when CUNY reproduces, and contributes to, the inequality of New York City at large—I don't understand how you could ignore the needs of adjuncts and graduate student workers, who teach the vast majority of classes at CUNY and are the majority of union members and agency-fee payers. Furthermore, I don't understand how full-time faculty need "investments" more than adjuncts and graduate student workers, who make a pittance compared to full-time faculty, work under worse conditions, and lack job security. What kind of message does this send at negotiating time?
Indeed, it seems to me that any "investments" in faculty the union wins from the city should go to adjuncts and graduate student workers and not to full-time faculty, given the extreme inequality between contingent faculty and full-time—inequality that has occurred in large part because of the priority full-time faculty have received by union leadership since the beginning of the Professional Staff Congress and which, quite evidently, continues under your leadership.
I wish I could say your out-of-touch statement is an aberration, but unfortunately it conforms to the sense so many of us adjuncts and graduate student workers at CUNY have about the union's neglect of us and our issues. It's certainly been clear to me in my tenure this academic year as an Adjunct Project coordinator, in which you and your leadership team have either ignored or outright stymied our efforts for greater union representation of adjuncts and graduate student workers and our issues.
Union leadership has been unable to respond to or move forward our simple request from December that adjuncts and graduate student workers have a choice of which chapter to affiliate with; our demands for the bargaining agenda were sat on by you, also since December, until a meeting with my colleagues on April 10th, and we've received no follow-up from you, including on your promise to include adjuncts and graduate student workers in the bargaining meetings; and our newly reconstituted Graduate Center chapter—an initiative the Adjunct Project proposed at its October 2013 organizing meeting—contains only two student workers on its slate of 12.
Meanwhile, the UFT deal, which will set a precedent for the rest of the city's bargaining units, including our own, has been heavily critiqued by the Movement for Rank and File Educators caucus, which is waging a struggle against an entrenched, monopolistic party much like the New Caucus, which commands every (or nearly every) chapter of the PSC. At the moment, I feel more allegiance to MORE than I do to our union, given your De Blasio statement and inaction on the above issues.
I am hoping you will find this letter jarring enough to immediately redress these issues, at least the ones you have full control over: namely, the addition of our demands to the bargaining agenda, the inclusion of adjuncts and graduate student workers in the bargaining meetings, and the change in chapter-affiliation policy.
Furthermore, to enable the participation of CUNY adjuncts and graduate student workers in this summer's COCAL conference, which is being organized by the PSC and taking place at CUNY's John Jay College, I ask that the union cover the $250 registration fee for 30 adjuncts and graduate student workers at CUNY.
I look forward to your response, Barbara. If you don't respond, however, I will not write again, as it shouldn't be my job to convince you of the merits, ethics, and fairness of genuine union democracy and the concomitant representation of adjuncts and graduate student workers and our needs.
Sean M. Kennedy, Graduate Center, CUNY
Elizabeth Sibilia, Graduate Center, CUNY
Wendy Tronrud, Graduate Center, CUNY
Dadland Maye, Graduate Center, CUNY
Öykü Tekten, Graduate Center, CUNY
Erica Kaufman, Institute for Writing & Thinking, Bard College
R. Josh Scannell, Graduate Center, CUNY
Preeti Sampat, Graduate Center, CUNY
Peter Matt, Brooklyn College, CUNY
Margaret Hanzimanolis, City College of San Francisco, De Anza College, Cañada College, California Part-Time Faculty Association
Debangshu Roychoudhury, Graduate Center, CUNY
Jack Longmate, Olympic College
Monique Whitaker, Hunter College, CUNY
Anna Spiro, retired CUNY adjunct
Rafael A. Mutis, Hostos Community College and Graduate Center, CUNY
Jennifer Prince, Graduate Center, CUNY
Esther Bernstein, Graduate Center, CUNY
Héctor Agredano, City College, Bronx Community College, and Graduate Center, CUNY
Collette Sosnowy, JustPublics@365, Graduate Center, CUNY
Megan Paslawski, Graduate Center, CUNY
Kristen Hackett, Graduate Center, CUNY
Fang Xu, Lehman College and Graduate Center, CUNY
Christina Nadler, Graduate Center, CUNY
Kristin Moriah, Graduate Center, CUNY
James Anthony Phillips, Kingsborough Community College, CUNY
Ana M. Fores Tamayo, Adjunct Justice
Tristan K. Husby, City College and Graduate Center, CUNY
Erin Michaels, Graduate Center, CUNY
Cameron Pearson, Queens College, CUNY
David Tillyer, City College, CUNY
Amy Martin, Graduate Center, CUNY
Colin P. Ashley, Doctoral Students' Council Co-Chair for Business, Graduate Center, CUNY
Ian Foster, Graduate Center, CUNY
Derrick Gentry, alumnus, Graduate Center, CUNY
Melissa Phruksachart, Graduate Center, CUNY
Maureen E. Fadem, Kingsborough Community College, CUNY
Alec Magnet, Graduate Center, CUNY
Erin M. Andersen, Graduate Center, CUNY
Ashna Ali, Graduate Center, CUNY
Jerry Levinsky, Member UALE, COCAL Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor
Michael A. Rumore, Graduate Center, CUNY
Makeba Lavan, Graduate Center, CUNY
Conor Tomás Reed, Medgar Evers College and Graduate Center, CUNY; Free University-NYC
Kathryn Moss, Graduate Center, CUNY
David Spataro, Graduate Center, CUNY
Kenneth H. Ryesky, Queens College, CUNY
Betsy Smith, Cape Cod Community College; member of MCCC, MTA, and NEA
Isabel Cuervo, alumna, Graduate Center, CUNY
Jennifer Chancellor, Graduate Center, CUNY
Luke Elliott, Graduate Center, CUNY
CUNY Adjunct Project
Alan Trevithick, La Guardia Community College, CUNY
Ann Kottner, York College, CUNY
Vanessa Vaile, Precarious Faculty Network
Mary Carroll, Lehman College, CUNY
Linda Neiberg, Baruch College, CUNY
Brian Unger, Graduate Center, CUNY
Ian Green, Graduate Center, CUNY
Eric Lott, Graduate Center, CUNY
John Sorrentino, John Jay College, CUNY
Hulya Sakarya, Mercy College
Allison E. Brown, Graduate Center, CUNY
Rayya El Zein, Medgar Evers College and Graduate Center, CUNY
Melissa K. Marturano, Brooklyn College and Graduate Center, CUNY
Ross Borden, SUNY–Cortland
Frank Reiser, Nassau Community College
Dominique Nisperos, Graduate Center, CUNY
Amanda Matles, Graduate Center, CUNY
Lavelle Porter, City Tech and Graduate Center, CUNY
Lauren Tenley, College of Staten Island and alumna, Graduate Center, CUNY
Mary N. Taylor, Graduate Center, CUNY
Edwin Mayorga, Graduate Center, CUNY
Charlotte Thurston, Graduate Center, CUNY
Robin Hizme, Queens College, CUNY
Sue Clark-Wittenberg, Director, International Campaign to Ban Electroshock
Wilson Sherwin, Brooklyn College and Graduate Center, CUNY
James D. Hoff, Borough of Manhattan Community College, CUNY
Mark Drury, Graduate Center, CUNY
Anton Borst, Hunter College, Graduate Center, CUNY
Jason Schulman, Lehman College, CUNY
Wilma Borelli, Lehman College, CUNY
Daniel Nieves, City College and Lehman College, CUNY
Elizabeth Bidwell Goetz, Hunter College and Graduate Center, CUNY
Maria L. Plochocki, Baruch and College Now, CUNY
Sara Jane Stoner, Graduate Center, CUNY
Anna Gjika, Graduate Center, CUNY
Alicia Andrzejewski, Graduate Center, CUNY
Paul Hebert, Queens College and Graduate Center, CUNY
Patrick Reilly, Baruch College and Graduate Center, CUNY
Kara Van Cleaf, Graduate Center, CUNY
Harry T. Cason, College of Staten Island, CUNY
Kylah Torre, Graduate Center, CUNY
Kate O'Donoghue, Queens College, CUNY
Keith Hoeller, editor, Equality for Contingent Faculty; co-founder, Washington Part-Time Faculty Association
Karen Gregory, City College and Center for Worker Education, CUNY
Michael Friedman, Queens College, CUNY
Heather Heim, Lehman College, CUNY
Marnie Weigle, San Diego City College
Austin Bailey, Hunter College, CUNY
Leigh Somerville, Queens College, CUNY
Lindsey Freer, Macaulay Honors College and Graduate Center, CUNY
Lydia Pelot-Hobbs, Graduate Center, CUNY
Nathaniel Sheets, CUNY Graduate Center, Hunter College
Brianne Bolin, Columbia College Chicago
Sean Collins, trustee, Troy Area Labor Council
Meyer A. Rothberg, alumnus (1958), City College, CUNY
John Martin, chair, California Part-time Faculty Association
Jonathan R. Davis, Hunter College and Graduate Center, CUNY
Marga Ryersbach, Queensborough Community College, CUNY
Andrew Akinmoladun, Bronx Community College, CUNY
Thomas Smith, Borough of Manhattan Community College, CUNY
Tyler T. Schmidt, Lehman College, CUNY
Sarah Davis, Hunter College and Graduate Center, CUNY
Reid Friedson, Adjunct Faculty Union
Emily Nell, Graduate Center, CUNY
Vakhtang Gomelauri, Global Center for Advanced Studies
Brenden Beck, Hunter College and Graduate Center, CUNY
Brandon Kreitler, Borough of Manhattan Community College, CUNY
Alex Kudera, author, Fight for Your Long Day, Clemson University
Aysenur Ataman, College of Staten Island and Graduate Center, CUNY
Anthony Galluzzo, Queens College, CUNY
Jenna Gibbs, Florida International University
Ryan Daley, former NYCCT adjunct; Red Hook Initiative
David Parsons, Baruch College
Rebecca Schuman, all-purpose higher-ed loudmouth
Daniel Levine, alumnus (2013), Baruch College; writer
Stanley W. Rogouski
Kelly Eckenrode, Lehman College and Graduate Center, CUNY
Danny Sanchez, Queens College, CUNY; member, Revolutionary Student Coordinating Committee
Michelle Chen, Graduate Center, CUNY
Amid the responses to [Wednesday's] news about the supremely cushy terms of Paul Krugman's hiring at the CUNY Graduate Center, three have stood out:
1) that the average adjunct salary per course at CUNY is ~$3,000, and Krugman will earn 75 times that to teach one seminar per year (and no teaching labor at all in his first year);
2) that Krugman's salary of $225,000 per academic year is either appropriate to his scholarly and public stature or that he's being underpaid at that rate; and
3) that his salary is actually a bargain because it will be well returned by virtue of the Graduate Center's enhanced profile and an attendant increase in private donations.
To these responses I'd like to add:
a) that there are 13 different funding levels for students at the Graduate Center (GC), ranging from zero dollars to $27,000 (as of last fall's data). Krugman's primary attachment will be to the GC's Luxembourg Income Study Center, the mission of which is to support the study of, among other phenomena, poverty and income inequality.
The contradiction between these objects of study and the very subjects of poverty and income inequality at the GC is worth continually highlighting. Graduate students at the GC are at the mercy of funding—the funding inequities among us are the direct result of GC decision-making and priority-setting, working within the two-way interface with CUNY Central. Just last Friday we were at a meeting in which Interim President Robinson—the GC leader who fawned so over Krugman in the numerous emails that were released—told us, yet again, that there was no money available for increased funding—not even for those students who have no funding at all, either because they came in with no funding or because they are now outside the five years of guaranteed funding of the most lucrative packages.
There is, however, $225K a year to give Krugman for just, essentially, hanging around. What if, instead, that money went to the GC students who need it the most? Sure, at an annual rate, Krugman's salary would only equal 12.5 $18K fellowship packages, the deal that many GC students have who entered before the current academic year (including me). But another way to think about it is as 75 $3,000 grants to students sans funding, so that they could teach one less class as an adjunct, thus allowing a much-needed diminishment in pressure and the possibility, maybe, to get through another dissertation chapter because of it.
The larger issue, of course, is that the terms of Krugman's hire represent a fundamental contradiction in the hegemony of the "lack of money" that rules the practices and discussions of public higher ed. Indeed, there is always money to be had, at CUNY as elsewhere, whether it's to hire a celebrity prof to add value by virtue of his name, or to build a $350-million "world-class" science center. (Note that Krugman is also "world class." CUNY's desperate for world-class status, even if it means running its students and faculty into the ground.)
And this is just to consider the situation of graduate student workers at the GC. The CUNY system at large is rife with inequality due to the state's and university's spending priorities, which reflect the overall neoliberal political economy that has decimated public higher ed over the last 40+ years. Indeed, at CUNY in particular, as much as the 1969 student, faculty, and community occupation of City College was a watershed victory against structural racism and/in higher education, it also galvanized the reactionary policies that have led to the increased exclusion of working class students of color in recent years.
b) As for Krugman's salary, whether he's being paid appropriately for his stature is beside the point. I mean, does anyone know how much money he makes from university employment versus his NYT gig versus his books versus his speaking gigs, etc.? In a bitter irony, it would seem that university employment is actually adjunct labor for him, in the way that it was for most adjuncts back in the day, who taught to supplement their income and not for their entire livelihood, as they must today under the penury of academic capitalism.
Furthermore, CUNY's last celebrity hire, David Petraeus, cut his salary to $1 after a similar outcry last summer over his comparably less cushy terms (he had to teach—wait for it—two courses a year). As Petraeus's representative put it at the time, "Once controversy arose about the amount he was being paid, he decided it was much more important to keep the focus on the students, on the school and on the teaching, and not have it be about the money."
Considering the above, is Krugman more or less ethical than Petraeus?
c) Finally, if Krugman's hire results in more private donations, fine. But to what would those donations go? There is currently no accountability mechanism at the GC (that I'm aware of at least) to measure, on the one hand, incoming donations and, on the other, what those funds are being used for. If Krugman's position at the GC spurs donations that will then be put to student funding, that would be great—all for it. But something tells me that's not what's going to happen...
To be clear, I'm not against Krugman per se—I'm against the political economy that rewards elites while immiserating everyone else (given that the middle class is increasingly an illusion). For all Krugman's own utility, such as it is, as a scourge against center-right economics, the terms of his hiring at the GC are an unfortunate symbol of all that's wrong with public higher ed.
Originally posted at the CUNY Adjunct Project.
Towards the end of Walking With the Comrades, Arundhati Roy makes explicit a dynamic hitherto implicit in her account of Naxalite/Maoist/adivasi resistance to the Indian (corporate) state: the relationship between tactics and contexts.
"People who live in situations like this do not have easy choices," she writes (207). "They certainly do not simply take instructions from a handful of ideologues who appear out of nowhere waving guns. Their decisions on what strategies to employ take into account a whole host of considerations: the history of the struggle, the nature of the repression, the urgency of the situation and, quite crucially, the landscape in which their struggle is taking place."
After all, she adds, for "Gandhian satyagraha" "to be effective, it needs a sympathetic audience, which villagers deep in the forest do not have."
Putting aside the question of violence for the moment, I want to think about the tactics Roy deploys in her representation of adivasi resistance, particularly in the book’s eponymous central narrative, and what the audience is for her intervention. Indeed, in my current seminar on postcolonial ecologies and their representations, we’ve seen three rather different attempts at representing indigenous/autochthonous experience and resistance: Amitav Ghosh’s The Hungry Tide, the three stories of Mahasweta Devi’s Imaginary Maps (translated by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak), and now Roy’s text.
I tend to see the first as a principally aesthetic treatment, the second—complicated by various translation issues—as didactic, and the latter as descriptive or journalistic, but these are admittedly contingent categories. Put another way, what are the impacts, or potential impacts, of these authors' interventions given their respective forms?
Of the three, Roy's is specifically non-fictional, of course, in keeping with the bulk of her output since her first (and only) novel The God of Small Things. And yet the stakes of Walking With the Comrades clearly seem to be in pushing back against the overwhelming political imaginary, perpetrated by the corporately controlled state and media and any number of individual functionaries, that the Maoists are terrorists or extremists who need to be put down for the sake of the "public good" (175).
To the contrary, Roy asserts: the so-called public good would be better served by letting people keep their land and by abandoning their "annihilation" and, with it, their "different imagination—an imagination that is outside of capitalism as well as Communism" (214). This imagination—I want to also call it knowledge—is of an ethical practice committed to the land and of people's relationship to it and each other. Roy transmits this ethical practice in concentrated bursts, such as in the quote on the book's cover about the sustainability of the Maoists' encampments.
But the cover, and the choice of this particular quote, so easily reduced to a northern discourse of "sustainability," brings me to the role of the global publishing apparatus, itself deeply capitalist, and its reliance on "star" authors such as Roy, who indeed are seen to "transmit" material realities, whether in the guise of fiction or not. (And Penguin, the book's publisher, has recently been embroiled in a transnational political scandal in which extant copies of Wendy Doniger's The Hindus: An Alternative History were recalled and "pulped"…)
But northern audiences, as ever, are getting only pieces of adivasi material realities in Roy's account, since those realities can probably only genuinely be conveyed in adivasi language and cultural practices. In contrast, my sense is that we get a closer replication of adivasi/indigenous experiences in the Devi and Ghosh, but these authors' respective formal tactics, it would seem, reach different (though perhaps overlapping in some cases) audiences, thus yielding different impacts.
However, though a multiplicity of representational tactics is as important as in any set of oppositional tactics, I find myself wanting to know which representational tactic is most "effective" in yielding the biggest impact: political change. On this question, if we narrow the scale to the Indian elite/bourgeoisie, it seems to me that Walking With the Comrades is/has been more effective than the other texts. It may not have effected political change any more than the Maoists have, but Roy’s account may have indeed won smaller—and no less important—victories on the representational landscape in the way that the Maoists have on both the representational landscape and the material landscape of central India.
"For the 32 page article derives its strength from its lucidity and readability. Roy’s prose and her style, however, conceal the essay’s disdain for acceptable norms of logic. It needs to be deconstructed primarily for this reason. It seduces an unsuspecting reader. It induces one to lowers one’s critical guard. As a result one is apt to be carried away by Roy’s air of righteous indignation. It makes one to suspend disbelief…"
That seductive readability might indeed carry away more than a few readers to "suspend disbelief" and embrace the ecological-ethico practice of adivasi communities, against the violence (material, discursive, imaginative) of both the state and the Maoists. But is that the case with the Ghosh or Devi too?
Certainly I've learned from the work of all three authors, and the foregoing is mere speculation (though preparatory for a fuller examination of form and praxis centered on these particular texts). But in resisting capitalism and the state's—whether the Indian state's or the U.S. state's—machinations on behalf of it, I wonder anew whether a descriptive representation of resistance is more impactful than an aesthetic, or aestheticized, one. If capital has saturated media, the perhaps a mediatized account such as Walking With the Comrades is most able to intervene in that discursive field.
I've been pondering what seems to be the heterotopic claim for fiction Roy makes in a Paris Review interview about the book:
[Interviewer] You’ve said before that it is a struggle to find the time and space to write fiction and that you feel you need to invent a language to bridge your political and creative concerns.
[Roy] Yes, what is most difficult for me is that just as certain and as real as these battles are right now, writing fiction is proportionately uncertain. Fiction is such an amorphous thing, you can’t be sure that you’re doing something important or wonderful until you’ve done it. So, because of the position I am in now, to work on fiction I have to create some sort of steel barriers around it. Fiction is something that involves so much gentleness, so much tenderness, that it keeps getting crushed under the weight of everything else! I still haven’t figured it out entirely—but I will, I will. [Emphasis hers.]
Is this "I will" a moment after change—after revolution? I note her use of "steel," one of the industrial products national and transnational corporations would like to make from the mineral resources embedded in adivasi land. If steel is what's needed to write fiction, it's a measure of how much those of us who write, let alone write fiction, for a living depend on capitalist economic privilege to do so. What is the resistance to this material reality?
Following are the remarks I prepared for the closing plenary of the MLA Subconference last Thursday, on which I appeared, on behalf of the CUNY Adjunct Project, with Chris Newfield of the University of California–Santa Barbara, Kyle Shafer of Unite Here!, and Jimmy Casas Klausen of the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Though I veered from these particular words—I'd quickly handwritten them, in my near illegible script—the views are the same as I expressed in person, as you'll see on the archived livestream (which you should check for the other panelists' remarks and subsequent discussion).
The photo above, by Lee Skallerup Bessette, shows an image, presented by Shafer, of hospitality workers in a vending machine—a specific depiction of how capitalism renders people in general: disposable. If we are to resist precarity, we must resist capitalism and its various deployments, as I try to show.
First of all, and again, I want to thank the organizers of this very generative convening. Thank you all for inviting the CUNY Adjunct Project to appear, and thank you for your generously donated labor. And, frankly, it shouldn't be our job, as graduate students, to change the university. We have enough other things to do—research, write, teach, attend conferences on money we don't have—the list goes on—that we don't have time, let alone resources, to solve all the problems facing higher education too. But since the people with available time and resources—tenured faculty and faculty unions, administrators, disciplinary organizations and other academic bodies—apparently have no interest, nor ability, to fix these issues, doing so must be our work as well. And so I thank everyone here in this newly formed collective, and I look forward to continuing this mobilization, in particular in coordinating actions across our various campuses between now and next year's gathering in Vancouver.
I also want to note my regret that Marc Bousquet can't be with us tonight as expected. Not only is he an alumnus of my very program at the CUNY Graduate Center, but his longstanding analyses of academic capitalism, particularly in How the University Works, have provided an important foundation for my own views on the political economy of U.S. higher education. Indeed, I love to quote his remark that the PhD holder is now the "waste product of graduate education," especially at department-wide meetings in which most attendees, professors and students alike, look at me like I'm crazy. But Marc is dead on about the expendability of laborers, who are eliminated, both symbolically and materially, under global capitalism. What is a prison, after all, except the housing of waste—of incapacitated workers deliberately left behind by the structural adjustment that has battered specific U.S. communities since Reagan? What is imperial war, of which the U.S. is the reigning arbiter, except the incapacitating of communities around the world?
Prison and war frame my remarks tonight not just because of their central relationships to U.S. governmentality and capital accumulation but also due to my institutional and geographic locations at the City University of New York, whose students are subjected to the whims of campus security when they're not being terrorized by the NYPD through its racist, violent stop-and-frisk program. Although the police target black and brown men, the costs of stop-and-frisk—and prisons at large—to individuals and neighborhoods are countless. And when youth of color make it to CUNY—that is, if they're not pushed out earlier by the school-to-prison pipeline or the brutal testing regime (both of which line the pockets of corporate executives and investors)—they are now offered a dubious stability in the form of military service, as CUNY has welcomed back ROTC after a 41-year absence—a military that has historically preyed upon the multiracial working class. Meanwhile, U.S. imperialism, safeguarded by the military, and the sturdy hegemony of the American dream continue to make New York City a hub for numerous diasporic communities. Indeed, the diversity of oppressed nationalities in the city led the American Enterprise Institute to recommend CUNY as a recruiting ground.
I was asked to speak tonight on one aspect of precarity, and how to resist it, and as this sketch of issues at CUNY indicates, I want to highlight the critical necessity of intersectional analysis and organizing. In other words, there can be no single-issue activism or research. At CUNY, the myriad intersecting issues—and I only briefly outlined a few—make it impossible to address change without also addressing the full complex of problems that jointly maintain the status quo. And this is the case across higher education, given the university's deep entanglement with processes and histories of colonialism, racialized social control, and oppression.
In practice, what this means for me, as an organizer for the CUNY Adjunct Project, is that I must also organize with and alongside organizers for racial and economic justice broadly, since academic labor, like labor at large, is shaped by structural forces that delimit not just equal opportunity but equal resources as well. It means I must collaborate with and stand beside organizers working to end stop-and-frisk, since that affects the students I teach as contingent faculty and the colleagues I work with inside and outside of class. It means I must work in concert with organizers demanding an end to the militarization of CUNY and its appointment of war-criminal David Petraeus, overseer of death squads and torture in Iraq and drones at the CIA. It means showing up at hearings and rallies for comrades disciplined by City College and turned over to the law on allegations of "almost" inciting a riot for protesting the seizure of the Morales/Shakur Community and Student Center, an autonomous space won by black and Puerto Rican people—students and residents of Harlem working together—in their—our—still-ongoing struggle to decolonize CUNY. It means demanding a parental-leave policy for Graduate Center student workers—currently none exists—so that they don't have to forfeit their teaching fellowships if they want to care for their newborn children. Again, the list goes on.
I am one of four phenotypically white, cisgender men on this panel tonight, an observation I make not to criticize but to think through critically. Indeed, this room is primarily white, and as such mirrors the prevailing whiteness of the academy, and marks how much work needs to be done to rectify the racial injustices of higher education. But we—and I mean those of us who are white, with all our racial privilege—need to be part of that work. Similar to how we want tenured faculty to use their privilege, and resources, to help us contingent faculty end the two-tier system of academic labor and concomitant exploitation—one of the many themes of this conference—those of us with the capital granted to us by white privilege must spend it—all of it—for the sake of racial justice. That is to say, we must work against our privilege, to undo it, akin to how my mentors at the Revolutionary Students Coordinating Committee, or RSCC—the rhyme with SNCC is deliberate—urge "class suicide" of the bourgeoisie, petit and grande. Only when whiteness is eliminated, and the capital it has accumulated by dispossession is returned, will there be an end to precarity.
In other words, we must fully reckon with the settler colonialism and chattel slavery on which the U.S. was founded and which destroyed communities—of people, of thought, of practice—all over the world. These paired legacies are alive at CUNY, as they are everywhere. As such, I believe we must reclaim the notion of contingency so that it names radical possibility as much as it does material vulnerability. The contingency I imagine would allow us to choose the labor we want to do, be with the people with whom we want to be, govern ourselves in the ways we want to be governed, travel to where we want to travel, and take care of one another in the manner in which we want to be taken care of. Legacies of such collective determination are also alive, even if they're often demoted to "cultural differences" by the dominant communities of the global metropole.
At the same time, we must also remember that the institutions that discipline us are precarious, as yesterday's presentation on private-bond-funded, tuition-backed campus construction showed. But when a protest can increase interest rates—and attendant debt-service payments that can run into the millions—it gives universities even more reason to crack down on dissent, as we have seen happen this last semester at CUNY, which is now codifying such repression.
Again, we must contend with militarization, and the capitalism it protects—and the communities harmed by both. To counter this violence, in the present and historically, we need to organize across divides and resist the colonial logic of separation. Only then will we be resisting precarity too.
(Cross-posted to the CUNY Adjunct Project website.)
Going in, I thought The Act of Killing was a documentary about the indigenous filmic practices of Indonesian paramilitary veterans, in which men who had killed thousands following the U.S.-backed overthrow of Suharto in '65 reckoned with their motives and tried to come to terms with their violence and its aftermath. I had only glanced at various synopses, at the AFI Docs website or on Flixster. Mostly I was struck by the film's marketing image (above) of an enormous, surrealist fish perched on a shore, and the column of pink-clad figures who seemed to have emerged from its mouth. But I was also interested in the film's relationship to violence and spectacle, both locational and mediatized, having researched Bombay's Hindu-nationalist Shiv Sena and its rise, also from the mid-'60s, to prominence nationally and within Maharashtra state thanks in large part to its public spectacles of violence—spectacles that were further spectacularized by Indian media, particularly via U.S.-influenced Bollywood gangster films. I was curious to see if The Act of Killing rebuked this spectacle and offered something else: a counter-spectacle, if you will.
Instead, the film amounts to little more than a Western propaganda piece about the evilness of others, without acknowledging the role of the U.S., for instance, in Suharto's removal and in provoking the anti-Communist fervor that animated the mass killings, nor the role of the U.S. director Joshua Oppenheimer, without whom there'd be no filmic practices of the now-grizzled members of the Pancasila Youth, the ostensible subjects—that is, objects—of this fiction. I should be clearer: there is no "foray into filmmaking," as The Act of Killing's official synopsis puts it, by "Anwar Congo and his friends." Instead, Oppenheimer asks Congo et al. to act out the stories of violence they purportedly share among themselves, and the director's camera records these increasingly staged scenes until Oppenheimer himself gets to condemn Congo for his murders. But this confrontation is as illusory as the film at large—it only occurs because Oppenheimer has created the conditions. Never mind the fact the director has palled around with Congo and his buddies since 2004. Congo understandably might have trusted Oppenheimer, who not only gives Congo the means to realize his Hollywood fantasies but also promises, explicitly or not, the global circulation of them. Such is the power of a white American's camera, especially in global locations where the range of U.S. cultural imperialism is seen and felt.
There are no ethics in this projection of Oppenheimer's own fantasies on to the material bodies of Congo and the others, who include, as the film proceeds, numerous extras. Indeed, the film's nadir goes well past ethics into outright harm when it subjects dozens of local Indonesians—the film was shot in and around Medan—to physical and emotional turmoil during a recreated melee in what looks to be a forest. At the end of the violence, Oppenheimer pans in on a child crying uncontrollably, then on a dazed woman gasping for breath amid lingering smoke from fires set during the scene. The director wants to highlight the victims of Congo's tactics, but these are the victims of Oppenheimer's own tactics: there would be no such suffering were he not filming a scene he has both asked and helped Congo et al. to stage. It's an unconscionable moment akin to the odious Stanford prison experiment of '71, in which a similarly deluded director—professor Philip Zimbardo—sent students into a simulated prison to act out the roles of guards and inmates. Among other effects of this staging, the guards psychologically tortured many of the inmates and also coerced them into torturing their fellow prisoners, while Zimbardo, observing all this, let it continue. (Nowadays, Zimbardo, like Oppenheimer, is keen to talk simplistically about good and evil, and what he calls the "Lucifer Effect." Like Oppenheimer, he's also been honored for his work, despite the harm it's caused.)
The point is that staging something sets the conditions under which people act, whether in the basement of the Stanford psychology building or in a forested area outside Medan. In the latter case, if there were no scene being filmed, there would have been no harm to the aforementioned visibly harmed extras (and they were just two out of the many). The process that Oppenheimer enacts by asking Congo et al. (and Congo is the de facto leader of this group of men) to stage their past violence leads to present violence: the "collateral damage" of the filming itself. The initial scenes are of Congo and his pals re-enacting their deeds themselves: they're quasi-knowing actors insofar as they've agreed to Oppenheimer's request. But as more and more people are roped into the process, abetted by the camera's presence and whatever off-screen negotiations there were, the majority of the actors become unknowing participants, there only because Congo and Pancasila Youth members have effectively demanded it. There's a spectacle to be filmed by Oppenheimer, after all, and the men don't want to miss out on the opportunity to dramatize their exploits for a new global audience.
I should point out here that, contra to the surrealist fish image, The Act of Killing's scenes are primarily realist, as reenactments tend to be. There are nods to noir, and some campy horror make-up and effects, but aside from the fish and a related scene of pink-clad figures dancing in the spray of a waterfall, the film endeavors to place the Pancasila Youth men—and the audience—into the original context of their actions. The two surrealist scenes, then, are outliers, and not just in terms of their form: their inscrutability is at odds with the seeming transparency of the historical, lived re-enactments. What kind of fantasies are being expressed in these two scenes exactly? In the second iteration of the waterfall scene, towards the end of the film, an "actor" tells Congo that he was glad to be killed, an obviously self-serving fantasy of Congo's, but why the waterfall location? Why the pink garb? There's likely a cultural symbolics at play here, but Oppenheimer doesn't explicate it, in keeping with his overall contextless approach. Instead of taking to task Congo, for instance, the director might have detailed the U.S.'s involvement in Suharto's overthrow and the country's Cold War geopolitical interests across Asia. That certainly would've been a valuable approach for American viewers, who could've learned about yet another violent abuse of power by their government, especially as such contemporary geopolitical warfare—against Iraq, Afghanistan, the vaguenesses of "terror," and, possibly next, Syria—is arguably more robust than ever. But such an approach would've also been useful for Indonesian and other viewers to learn, once again, about how U.S. imperial actions have materially shaped—that is, staged—the conditions under which they live. Instead, Oppenheimer, like many a U.S. filmmaker before him, chooses to ignore this history and place the burden of responsibility solely on Congo et al., whom the director makes look even worse by their enjoyment of the re-enactments.
The name Congo, of course, points to an important parallel with the African Congo, the setting of Conrad's Heart of Darkness, which similarly sought to expose the heart of darkness at the center of the racialized other. The difference between that fiction and Oppenheimer's, however, is that Conrad wanted to expose the horrors of colonialism and not the horrors of the colonized, even if he perpetuated racist tropes about the horrors of Africans in the process. In contrast, The Act of Killing purports to expose the horrors of Congo and the Pancasila Youth by way of unacknowledged colonialist tropes, and elides the colonizer—here, the U.S. as global power—altogether. It's a reprehensible piece of filmmaking.
The spectacle of the film is all the worse because it takes material advantage of living people, but in that, The Act of Killing is merely a step ahead of more-easily-identifiable works of fiction, such as the Bollywood gangster films I note above or Jeet Thayil's Booker-nominated 2012 novel Narcopolis, set in Bombay/Mumbai and also a topic of my recent research. Indeed, although The Act of Killing appears to be a film about gangsters making a film and isn't, "gangsters" actually do make films in other U.S./European-capital-dominated spaces of the global south. In the paper I've been working on that's based on this research, I describe how various intersecting political economies—colonial British, postcolonial Maharashtrian/Indian, and contemporary global (that is, the related capital flow of multinational firms and the economic structural adjustment of Indian and other "developing" nations via the World Bank, IMF, and WTO)—produced material inequities in Bombay and Maharashtra that the Shiv Sena was able to leverage to perpetrate violence in service to its Maratha-Hindu nationalism. This strategy has been incredibly successful for the Sena: aside from ascending to the chief legislative bodies of both Maharashtra and India, it also led the campaign to rename Bombay Mumbai, the vernacular pronunciation of "Bombay" in Marathi, the official language of Maharashtra, rendered in English.
In the following excerpt from my paper, I explore the relationship between the Sena's street spectacles and the concomitant media spectacles of them, including those in Narcopolis. (My primary research source in this excerpt is Thomas Blom Hansen's Wages of Violence: Naming and Identity in Postcolonial Bombay, but the reference in the second paragraph to "elimination," which frames the paper at large, comes from Achille Mbembe's analysis of mortal and material expenditures in contemporary African states in the Comaroffs' anthology Law and Disorder in the Postcolony.) After the except, I make a final remark about how The Act of Killing might participate in a similar dynamic vis-à-vis the Pancasila Youth.
What we see in the case of Shiv Sena and their sainik foot soldiers is a group of men with differential holds on and claims to masculinity—and, therefore, material and symbolic power—and at various scales: local (among the Maratha Hindu males of the Sena and among them and other Mumbai men); national (insofar as Bombay is the commercial/financial/media capital of India); and global (among all Mumbai/Indian men, including the Sena, and northern capital/ists). Accordingly, violence orchestrated by the Sena can be an expression—a compensation—for any of these power imbalances. Sainiks can kill Muslims, they can rape women or men (proving their masculinity in either case), or they can target capital directly in street riots and property damage.
If the Sena’s discourse stoked this complicated dynamic, it’s also reinforced by cultural discourse at large, particularly by the news media and media forms in general, including crime tabloids, film, and literary writing. The Sena has a significant media arm of its own, comprised of several periodicals, but it’s the representation and circulation of its “violent public spectacles” by other cultural producers I’m particularly interested in: the propagation of spectacles of spectacles and the concomitant widening of psychic economies based on them. Specifically, what happens when the psychological experience—or structure of feeling—of elimination is picked up and distributed globally by Western capital interests? And does this experience or structure have a counterpart in the West? Indeed, to take the example of “Mumbai noir,” heavily indebted to U.S. noir (via Hollywood) as it is, suggests that the same dialectic of law and disorder, legality and criminality, attends to both the global south and the north, even if its effects—for now—may be more intense in the former given the latter’s economic hold.
As Gyan Prakash notes, the “dark form” as a mode for representing modern urban dystopia has a long, and particularly colonial, history (1). William Booth’s 1890 screed In Darkest England, for instance, tied urban metropolitan crisis to Africa but it spoke to a generalized fear of the other vis-à-vis India and the British Empire’s worldwide holdings in the midst of the apex of formal imperialism and its tensions. And while the dark form would later be taken up by Hollywood in the 1940s and ’50s and transformed into noir, this earlier colonial precedent is important to remember in the context of Bollywood’s version of noir that gained prominence in the 1980s. The Mumbai noir inaugurated by films such as The Godfather-inspired Nayakan (1987) thus draws on both a colonial imaginary and a U.S. one. The former, however, is not always recognized by critics writing on spectacle, noir, and contemporary Mumbai. Ranjani Mazumdar, for instance, sets her discussion in the “context of globalization” (401), whereby she elides the colonial formation of darkness while replicating it anew by opposing the “dark space” of the “underworld” (414) to the “light space” of the bourgeois “interior city” (404). In this way, denizens of Mumbai’s “middle and upper class” are akin to Victorian Londoners, both threatened by an ever-encroaching disorder from elsewhere.
Of course, as I’ve been trying to show, and as the class positions in Mazumdar’s analysis indicate, disorder, darkness, and the underworld/underground are products of the dialectic of law and order that underwrites particular political, economic, and social ends. Therefore, while she notes the “material connection of finances” between Bollywood and Bombay’s criminalized economy (415), she fails to consider the discursive stake that a group like the Sena has in depictions of violence and strife. Thus, she asserts, “One of the principal features of noir is its ability to destroy urban spectacle” because its evocations of “shadowy and mysterious spaces” sharply contrast with the “phantasmagoria of aerial photography so commonly used in tourism and travelogue films” (423). But as my tracing of the effects of various political economies on Bombay shows, those shadowy spaces are part of the same phantasmagoria as the aerial footage: city bureaucrats may offer one spectacle to global capital and consumers, while other urban actors display their own spectacles on Mumbai’s streets and screens for the city’s residents.
In the case of the Sena, the group’s material connection to the Bombay film industry is one of deep imbrication, in both the financing and the production of “gangster” films. According to Hansen, the term “gangster” first came into use in the 1970s via “American gangster mythology” and was applied by “police, officials, and the press” to describe members of Bombay’s criminalized economy (188). How this happened remains unclear, as do the particular ways the Sena came to participate in the making of gangster films. But since the mid-’80s, the group’s entanglement with Bollywood has been “wide-ranging and complex,” involving
the “Motion Pictures Unit,” Shivsena Chitrapat Shakha, which organizes employees in the film industry, a number of directors and actors who produce Marathi and Hindi films and are closely involved with members of the Thackeray family who invest in their films, as well as Cable Sena, a recent association of smaller cable TV operators in the Mumbai area. (213)
Hansen goes on to describe the example of the director N. Chandra, “a self-avowed supporter” of the Sena whose various films, beginning with Ankush in 1985, depict violence as a form of justice for “poor and marginalized figures”—“an enduring element in the Sena ideology” (214). Given the scale of reception for film, and its mimetic-like, experiential qualities, the Sena, then, had found a more potent form in which to circulate their street-level spectacles. That is, if the middle and upper classes weren’t directly witnessing Sena-orchestrated violence—if they were, say, only reading about it in the papers, or catching glimpses on broadcast news—then they could see it in extended visceral fashion without leaving their homes or, to go to a movie theater, their enclaves. Film, of course, is a paradigmatic way of experiencing the other, at least in the psychoanalytic tradition that I’ve already been using in this essay.
It’s in this context that we must consider both the representations in and the global reception of Narcopolis, which is set in the criminalized lifeworlds of Bombay over the last 40 years or so. Its main narrative thread (as its title implies) is the role of narcotics in an economically transforming Mumbai, in particular the effects that opiates and their changing commodity status have on a cast of characters that includes a traditional khana, or opium den, owner, a hijra woman who works in the khana and a nearby brothel, a dada subordinate who sells cocaine and “black-market whisky” for the boss, and a native informant who’s returned to the city after a long stint in New York. The novel foregrounds the history of the opium economy—first an eastern Mediterranean and Asian trade good, then a British-imperial commodity produced in India for sale to China, and, since the early 20th century, a fully global commodity in both legalized (pharmaceutical) and criminalized (heroin) forms (see McCoy)—as a stand-in for the wider political economic changes I sketched above. Specifically, we see a version of how heroin’s replacement of opium as the in-demand drug in Bombay affects people who’ve subsisted on the market for the latter, at the same time that other global capital flows reshape the city in other ways (by the novel’s end, for instance, the khana has been replaced by a call center owned by the khana owner’s son).
I say “version” because this is Thayil’s particular treatment of this shift, of course, and for the remainder of this paper I want to consider the particular narrative and representational choices he makes and their possible effects on readers—who, since the novel is only available in English, must largely occupy the upper and middle classes of India and (more likely) of Britain and the U.S. Indeed, Narcopolis has done rather well in the Anglophone literary prestige economy, winning the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature and having been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, the Man Asian Literary Prize, and the Hindu Literary Prize, the latter an indication of how the book has been received in religio-cultural contexts.
Akin Adesokan has claimed that “Commonwealth” novels that garner attention in the West are primarily concerned with representing, or relating to, “political or humanitarian emergency” (3). Further, he claims that these novels typically share five additional characteristics, among them a narrator or protagonist who is “culturally innocent or marginal” and who can thus register the “emotional consequences of familial or public upheavals” (4). These two characteristics are key for what they evade: “a culturally innocent” character by definition can’t recognize the structural contexts of his or her life, and though a “marginal” character may have a better vantage, the everyday challenges of marginalization may deter such awareness (I return to this point in my conclusion). On the other hand, if “emotional consequences” are prized, literally, by Western literary elites, then other consequences—political, economic, social—are not. In contrast to their politically unaware characters, however, the creators of these avatars seem to be quite aware of the politics of the awards market, adroitly leveraging them to achieve acclaim.
But, what, exactly, are metropolitan elites rewarding? What are northern readers getting from a text like Narcopolis—or, on a much grander scale, Slumdog Millionaire, also about strife in criminalized lifeworlds? In interviews, Thayil, born in Kerala, has cited his own experiences in Bombay’s khanas as his chief inspiration, but whether he was also influenced by Bollywood gangster films or a particular masculinist ideology is unclear, though he has said he would find “fist fights” between authors “more satisfying” than intellectual skirmishes (Ghose n.p.). Certainly his dada-subordinate character, Salim, styles himself after “two tough-guy actors,” namely John Travolta and Amitabh Bachchan, and Thayil gives him the opportunity to reference a (possibly invented) movie starring the latter called Polyester Khadi, “in which Bachchan played a policeman’s son who becomes a criminal because he sees how hard his father’s life is” (136-137). “You know what he tells his father, played by the veteran Sanjeev Kumar?” Salim asks a visitor to the shop that provides a front for his criminalized labor. “Are you a man or a pajama?” (137-138). It would seem, then, that Thayil has incorporated, at least in part, some of the overt signs of masculinism that the Shiv Sena produces and promulgates.
I go on to develop this point in the remainder of the paper, but The Act of Killing now gives me a generative new example to think through these questions of global psychic economy, and the ways that media can perpetuate, rather than disrupt, troubling reactionary political forms, whether in Indonesian, India, or the U.S.
And then my phone ran out of juice as we walked down the above block, which I happen to live on. (Would that I could've gone up and gotten a fresh phone.) The march continued east on 12th Street, north on 1st Avenue, west on 23rd Street, north on 6th Avenue, west on 33rd Street, and north on 7th one block to 34th Street, where we were stopped. I peeled off at that point but the march continued west on 33rd and then, from what I heard, to Times Square. No justice, no peace.
In this third and final excerpt from my recent work on U.S. national security, I consider the case of Assata Shakur, retroactively designated a "domestic terrorist" under the post-9/11 Patriot Act. The continuity between the national-security response to black radicalism and the present heightened response to Islamic radicalism made me think about security at large as an inherently racialized, racist form.
“We must define the nature and scope of this struggle or else it will define us,” President Obama said in his recent “dronetánamo” speech in which he laid out plans to scale back the war on terrorism. But the example of Assata Shakur shows how much terrorism already “defines us.”
On May 2nd, just weeks before the President’s speech, Shakur was added to the FBI’s “most wanted terrorist” list—40 years after her alleged murder of a New Jersey state trooper. Long in exile in Cuba, she was first designated a terrorist in 2005, under the Patriot Act’s reconceptualization of “domestic terrorism.” According to this new definition, which is U.S. law, an act of domestic terrorism must
A) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State;
B) appear to be intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and
C) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States. (“Patriot Act” 106)
But the FBI has never explained how Shakur meets part B of this definition. In its press release announcing her addition to its “most wanted terrorists” list, it simply calls her a “domestic terrorist who murdered a law enforcement officer execution-style” (Woodruff). Furthermore, Shakur was already convicted of this crime; she’s wanted for extradition to serve the remainder of her prison sentence. Finally, Shakur’s conviction—which the government pursued through three acquittals, three dismissals, and one mistrial on separate charges—remains disputed (“Who is Assata Shakur?”). After all, the FBI didn’t just act violently against black-radical groups, or foment violence between them. It also outright manufactured charges of violence, as in the 1969-1970 prosecution of the “Panther 21,” who were charged far in excess of their alleged plot to dynamite two New York City police stations and a school—and were acquitted largely because the jury recognized the defendants had been framed for political reasons (Zimroth 6-7). Given the FBI’s COINTELPRO initiatives against both black-radical groups and Cuba, the “most wanted terrorist” label, which comes with a poster of Shakur “prepared in English and Spanish” and a $2 million reward for “information leading to [her] capture and return” (Woodruff), seems designed to lay the groundwork for an illegal mission to retrieve her from a country imaginatively considered a state sponsor of terrorism. As the U.S. continues to violate other nations’ sovereignty in pursuit of its terror objectives, a well-compensated tip on Shakur’s specific whereabouts in Cuba might be all the FBI needs to get her.
Against such institutionalized, operative definitions of terrorism, which hold that the U.S. can never be the perpetrator of terrorism but only the victim of terrorism—whose national security is always at risk even as that national security is used as a pretense to make other nations insecure—there would seem to be no way out. Although COINTELPRO ended because of public exposure, the forms of national security today remain mostly hidden, classified and accessible to only those with the proper security clearance. And certainly the stakes are higher today given the wider reach of the global war on terrorism. The Citizens’ Commission members who stole incriminating files from an FBI field office were never apprehended, but if they had been, it’s not hard to imagine what they would’ve been charged with: burglary. That was the charge the Watergate burglars were slapped with in 1972, the year following the Citizens’ Commission action. Today, Bradley Manning stands charged with aiding the enemy, which carries a life sentence. Aiding the enemy “usually means material aid—the statute mentions ‘arms, ammunition, supplies, money, or other things’”; the last time someone was charged for passing information was 1863 (Davidson). Manning is also charged with violating the Espionage Act of 1917, the same charge the Justice Department is pursuing in its investigation into who leaked national-security information to the AP and other news outlets. It would seem the U.S. government is using all its power to stop the flow of its secrets to the public.
Manning’s contributions to WikiLeaks go some way toward detailing the excesses of the U.S. war machine abroad, but that’s just one aspect of the national-security apparatus. Within the “homeland,” national security is deployed in various ways: in the context of immigration and border security; nuclear and other weapons storage; currency and monetary policy; and, as we have seen, state secrets. It’s also deployed against U.S. citizens, as the NYPD’s comprehensive infiltration of Muslim communities in the New York City metropolitan area shows—an operation the NYPD, working with the CIA, has yet to be held accountable for (although it has admitted the operation yielded no useful intelligence). According to the Associated Press’s Pulitzer-winning coverage, which relied heavily on Freedom of Information Act requests, the NYPD’s action here bore the main hallmarks of COINTELPRO’s involvement with black-radical groups some 25 years earlier: specifically, a wide-scale surveillance program coupled with the use of double agents and informants. The AP’s reporting, and the raw files it obtained by FOIA, are available on a website (“Highlights of AP’s”), but the overall archive of the NYPD’s operation remains to be built. As a public investigation seems unlikely, that archive will have to be constructed with FOIA requests. Such a tactic suggests that opponents of the state of exception can use exceptions to the state’s rule by law to mount a counter-offensive.
Finally, it’s important to note that New York area Muslims aren’t the only people to be racially profiled by the NYPD. Though 9/11 gave the department a rationale to do so—the kind of rationale I’ve been calling imagined—it has systematically racially profiled people of color, via stop-and-frisk, over this same time period as well. Whether this means the NYPD’s exceptional response to 9/11 has influenced other forms of policing is unclear, but it does make me wonder whether the very notion of security—national or municipal, public or private, or intersecting versions of these and others—is inherently racialized. Given the settler-colonial origins of the U.S., in which security was established, materially and conceptually, in opposition to the brown bodies of indigenous tribal peoples, it would seem that the figure of security has always been white, and the figure of the threat to that security always of color. In this way, the FBI, CIA, and NYPD are only the latest figures of security, and Al Qaeda, Muslims, and black and brown New York City men—and radicals of all kinds—the latest figures of threat.
Cross-posted to my research Tumblr.
Previously: "National Security as Racism"