So, some of the data used to prompt my decision to engage: that at the time of viewing the initial post from Rob, 39 people had seen this and not engaged; that the anonymous email turned Medium article makes a claim that these types of dialogue don’t happen; and that I have been actively engaged in anti-racist work as a function of peacebuilding and community development for over 20 years.
What follows would be what I would say if I were face-to-face with the speaker; if I were face-to-face with Rob; standing directly in front of anyone, except a Nazi (oddly coincidental that they would be white in this context, right?) because I would likely punch that person. In that way, I am anti-fascist as I will exemplify the problematic of extremist views: I don’t tolerate lack of acceptance as a primary socio-political stance.
What I do in engaging conflict is seek shared understanding, so, in framing my response, I moved through the article as I would in the fashion of peer review minus some of the considerations I would heft in terms of literature.
In the work I’m doing right now, I’ve already given up too much time in crafting this response. There are more important things like people dying in the streets as a direct result of police funding. Law enforcement colleagues, I assure you, I am not gentle in my criticism of a force historically steeped in racist practice and protected by qualified immunity and the stripes of brotherhood. I am a military dependent who identifies as a queer man within the Asian diaspora. I am intimately aware of how enforcement institutions operate and the ways in which they normalize violent responses to dissent.
This serves as an important transition to my critical response to the article: the experiential frame—the space where we exemplify participation and demonstrate its impact—is a site of cultural value, which should be centered in normative dialogue. Within PACS/CRS, it is an ontological necessity. What we see in this article implicitly recognizes this and then follows with a lot of work to try to devalue other interpretive frames, crafting a story that speaks to the ways we define problems in public policy and reify ideological stances in conflict.
“Overwhelmingly, the reasoning provided by BLM and allies is either primarily anecdotal…”
The data we gather from interviews—structured, semi-structured, open and so on—is primarily anecdotal. While we have ethical obligations to frame our interpretations with that operational assumption, doing what we can to validate and verify, we are ethically bound to accept the veracity of experience. Does the acknowledgment and acceptance of anecdotal evidence refute all of the claims that we have across a wide spectrum of experience? If we parse that only certain types of data are accessible to reshape discourse, are we actually interested in concepts like justice? I won’t dig too deeply into the contentious nature of outputs and outcomes within racist frameworks but attempting to create some kind of indictment based upon assertions around the invalid nature of anecdotal data undermines our field in particular.
“However, if we use the precise same methodology, we would have to conclude that the criminal justice system is even more anti-male than it is anti-black.”
Most of the queer and black feminists I know and have read call for abolition—the absolute removal of institutions like policing and prison exactly because it is both anti-black and anti-male; the predominance of the rise in the BLM movement calls to speak the names of trans victims for similar reasons: the system seeks to actively strip individuals of their own ability to live in truth within their experiences to comply with some sort of ideal that, as we will continue to find in this response, was constructed by men, often white and usually cisgender (meaning they are biologically aligned with their gender presentation, i.e. no dissonance in experience which reduces tensions within Sites’ and Sandole’s constructions of basic human needs, thus little to no access to the experience of deprivation).
“If we claim that the criminal justice system is white supremacist, why is it that Asian Americans, Indian Americans, and Nigerian Americans are incarcerated at vastly lower rates than white Americans?”
We can examine cultural practices to resist this implication. Individuals within this diaspora—as I myself am—maintain collectivistic connections which would allow for sublimation of individual desires to greater causes like social order and, hopefully, peace; definitely the comfort the “American Dream” alludes to as penultimate success. That my “anecdotal” experiences in the performing industry have created a heuristic—a shortcut—that lets me know that there are some shows, roles and companies for whom I should not audition is causally related to continued demonstrations within the industry, centering itself around white ideas, white creators and white bodies. Even a cursory glance at industry-elite awards systems and producer pipelines will demonstrate that individual agency cannot be confused with systemic inertia. Systems theory teaches us that social order seeks to replicate itself, and, as we continue through this counter, counter-narrative, we’ll see more ways that racism and white supremacy in the United States of America (many hazard across the globe) continue to exert undue influence by the simple perpetuation of what we perceive to be American (social) order.
There are challenging implications once we step into crosstabs and attempt to utilize quantitative methodologies to underscore an understanding of both relational contexts and the experiential frames of individuals within those systems. Without an overarching examination of the underlying assumption—that prisons are necessary—and positioning around that dialogue, it is difficult for me to understand how we might effectively drill down to consensus around what prisons and statistics borne of their study, mean. But, whatever, it’s anecdotal, right?
“Increasingly, we are being called upon to comply and subscribe to BLM’s problematic view of history…”
Every view of history is problematic because, to instill order is to establish a line of formal logic within the scope and scale of the interpreter’s systems view AND exclude “outliers” (i.e. I only really know history within the context of a US examination which includes/excludes and weights events differently than the narratives of Native Hawaiians as a nation and a kingdom). It is important to question the rationale for classification as outlier, much as we would be ethically obligated to consider it in quantitative analysis. What we find in further study of the dynamics of constructing historical narratives (take Duckworth’s History, Memory and Conflict if you want to learn) speaks to the complications of reductionist views of history that likely support this speaker’s perspective though it does not, in actuality, defend the position. What might be important to consider is what is centered within the BLM narrative construction and, ultimately, ask ourselves how it aligns with or refutes our stakes in justice, reconciliation, restitution and healing.
“I am certain that if my name were attached to this email, I would lose my job and all future jobs, even though I believe in and can justify every word I type.”
At this point, we see the introduction of the very anecdotal evidence the speaker uses to refute earlier claims from counterpoints. “I believe” rises out of the experiential frame, yet it can only be used to bolster the speaker’s position. Rhetorically, the position is weakened because essentially, readers are told, “I know…” while being asked to refute other perspectives that begin with “I know…” In my (anecdotal) experience, these types of constructions are utilized to create a looming specter of “What next? What’s this speaker going to reveal that will inexorably alter the fabric of social relationships and order in the US?” Similar to faith as a blind, optimistic tool in social control, it preys upon the readers needs as witness and lays a groundwork for false equivalency.
And keeps us reading.
“No discussion is permitted for nonblack victims of black violence, who proportionally outnumber black victims of nonblack violence.”
Another anecdotal claim because I, personally, have at least three counterpoints that illustrate and demonstrate that discussion is happening specifically in the Bay Area where there are contesting social forces including anti-immigration sentiment and the policing (distorted mediating) effect of patriotism and nationalism in diverse communities.
“The claim that black intraracial violence is the product of redlining, slavery, and other injustices is a largely historical claim.”
Isn’t everything a largely historical claim when it comes to social order? When we talk about Jews, we must reconcile that the ethnic and religious nation has historically been involved in finance (and if there’s one thing that is central to unity and consensus in the US, it’s money), so much to even illicit criticism within white supremacist circles like 4chan, 8chan and so on. To act as if white bodies—some would say “under some circumstances”—don’t weaponize difference in this country and then pretend that there isn’t diversity in response to conflict seems at least a little problematic, doesn’t it? There’s also further irony in this paragraph/section because the speaker is having the discussion, right? And trying to again utilize crosstabs as an underlying methodology for reinforcing the current social order, highlighting, yet again, that Nigerian Americans who happen to have black skin, can account for the disparities experienced by millions. This underscores the ethical importance of not scaling experiential data—quantitatively measured or qualitatively explored—to generalize (historically demonstrated as a tool used within the scope of white supremacy, to divide and minimize social capital).
Again, the speaker highlights what we might assume to be personal experiences (“disagreement with it is racist…”) as evidence for claims of victimhood. The intimation that history must be all-inclusive refutes contemporary analysis and further anecdotal evidence that provisions historical accounts for the winners. Never mind that there are certain experiences like the Tulsa, OK massacre or the race riots caused by white bodies in the 19th century, that are excluded and excised from dominant historical narrative. So, at best, this argument is obtuse in that it is an indictment of an academic discipline raised, as so many of the natural and social sciences have always been: steeped in the musings and closed dialogues of dominant (read: white) power classes. In the case of the USA and most of our constructions of the “Western” world, we can ALWAYS default to white, cisgender males. That’s one of the gifts of being a young nation: it’s hard to deny that it wasn’t until the 13th Amendment that there was national impetus to confer full citizenship to black bodies—and that’s the simplest interpretation. We won’t speak about voting rights for women or BIPOC populations. We won’t touch on the intersections of further oppression because the speaker centers the conversation around silenced whiteness (this is by no means an assumption that the speaker is white; more an identification that whiteness is as much visual diversity as it is political ideology).
I won’t dignify the Democrat/Republican dialogue. Again, as the current president illustrates, major metropolitan areas, as a result of urban (white) flight and the construction of municipal economics, are consistently weakened by fiscally conservative policies on local, state, regional and national levels; even more evidence for the social order the speaker is trying to refute by identifying the unified voices in support of BLM, as oppressors.
“The patronizing and condescending attitudes of Democrat leaders towards the black community, exemplified by nearly every Biden statement on the black race, all but guarantee a perpetual state of misery, resentment, poverty, and the attendant grievance politics which are simultaneously annihilating American political discourse and black lives.”
That’s why I, personally, don’t support Joe Biden and, quite frankly, have difficult times supporting any white body that does not speak up specifically and vehemently as anti-racist. This is about the only section that makes sense to me because it indicts capitalism as part of the problem—from private industry to the social sector, to public institutions. No one should have to compete to survive in a human society, yet, we see this outdated idea we can historically link to the advancement of Western science (again, steeped in the problematics of (white) supreme social orders).
“MLK would likely be called an Uncle Tom if he spoke on our campus today.”
More opinion and supposition—possibly even hyperbolic—to attempt to evince support for the identity of the speaker as victim.
“As a final point, our university and department has made multiple statements celebrating and eulogizing George Floyd.”
Let’s not pretend that people don’t utilize erasure and social amnesia to cope with loss. We sugar-coat suicide and we make grand gestures of commemoration for people we disliked and even hated. Hell, even George W. Bush is getting glossy in the midst of all this. We are all guilty of losing the “all-inclusive” history, yet this really speaks to what is a consistent misunderstanding of BLM: George Floyd is just ONE example of a string of Black bodies, thousands of years old that represent the many ways dominant systems (even as documented in the Bible and other grand historical constructs) turn such bodies into chattel, or relabel them as essential workers, so the grind of the system can continue on, benefitting the comfort of the under-classes and the mobility of the upper classes.
To act as if death is commensurate to trying to pass off a $20 bill or being stopped for driving while intoxicated, is absolutely counter to the ethos of our field. Otherwise, why do we even care what happens post-conflict? Why does it matter what happens if the winners get to set the stage—if the prevailing social order maintains? Why do we bother with exploring reconciliation if social order deems criminality as an immutable state of being rather than the product of choices, as influenced by any number of factors?
This underscores the fallacy of the speaker’s position within the context of peace and conflict studies, conflict resolution, management and transformation. Again, the underlying assumption being that there was justifiable use of force because laws—the product of anecdotal evidence (because it’s ALL anecdotal and politicized evidence if we try to split hairs) turned into public policy—say something is “wrong”.
Yet, we sit on a nation with a Constitution amended 27 times because the words weren’t clear enough and absolute power corrupts absolutely. We sit in a nation where power is brokered by the extremes to ensure that interpretations–not justice, not equality, not the principles as outlined in the Constitution—align with political narratives.
I won’t devalue the speaker’s perspectives as they are outlined at the end of the piece. In that regard, I see purchase in the political critique. I also know from my conversations and collaborations with other BIPOC as well as my own experiences, that wrestling with the dissonance that is being a marginalized (NEVER minority) body and experiential frame within a white supremacist society, is difficult to say the least. That the speaker and I don’t align fully upon interpretation and experience doesn’t refute any claims around the problematic nature of Democratic leaders and policymaking. It does, on the other hand, highlight for me the fact that we have always struggled to claim American exceptionalism (propagated and promulgated—propped up–by white bodies—remember Cotton Mather’s “City Upon a Hill?”) and that the fact that social order in this country ever saw slavery as an acceptable social and economic practice, no matter the global or historical context, speaks to distance we have to go to be better.
To do better. And to do right—to enact justice, equality and the opening of dialogue to include everyone.
I share this for a number of reasons: 1) diversity work is hard and we don’t always see immediate outcomes that align with profit, mission or vision; 2) I hear within the piece—and the post—an interest in engaging in constructive dialogue to foster some sort of mutual understanding; 3) to let it go by in my feed was an ethical line I was unwilling to forego: if I truly believe the work I have done “in the field” (please note the construction of this concept in light of racialized dialogue: Who was in the field? What kind of work were they doing? Who benefits from it? What are the parallels in academia?) and in the classrooms at NSU, I have an obligation to engage in this dialogue for as constructive an outcome as possible.
I am not in this dialogue to win AND I am not here to educate. I am simply sharing my response to what has been presented.
Take what you like and leave the rest.