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telluride lessons 3: what i learned about the black struggle for freedom

What I learned from my students and my co-teacher.

This is the last post in my series about what I learned from teaching an intensive six week seminar for really, really, really ridiculously gifted and talented high school students. Here, I’ll describe the actual content of the course and what I learned from teaching it.

Content: The course had two goals. The first was to examine the different stages of Black civil rights from colonial times to the present. It included examining both arguments for and against slavery and segregation. Thus, we worked through examples from abolitionism, the Reconstruction era, desegregation/classic civil rights, Black Power, and contemporary America. Second, we insisted on an interdisciplinary approach. So we read fiction, essays, and scholarly work. We also viewed films and documentaries.

Take away #1: In my reading, the big issue post-Civil War was enforcement of rights. In reading after reading from Civil Rights era authors (going back to Plessy and before), the central issue was the massive gap between having political rights and having them enforced. For example, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 didn’t actually introduce any new legal principles or rights into the American state, except perhaps to extend legal equality from state institutions (e.g., voting) to some areas of civil society (e.g., housing). But it didn’t really change the doctrinal terrain very much from what was enshrined in the 1st section of the 14th amendment.

What it did do was create a series of mechanisms for enforcing rights that were completely new, such as the EEOC. Once you realize this, then a lot of federal level domestic politics post-1970 makes sense. The goal of anti-Black politics, then, is to attack the various state mechanisms that exist for enforcing Black rights, whether they be in employment (slashing the EEOC budgets), voting (e.g., voter ID laws/felon disenfranchisement laws), or equality in the judicial process (e.g., not punishing police abuse, mass incarceration).

As a corollary, this also reinforces my long standing critique of conservative politics, which is that it really isn’t about small government at all. Rather, conservatives often use libertarian rhetoric to selectively criticize programs they don’t like while remaining silent on expansions of the state that they like. I strongly do not believe that conservativism is an ideology of racism, but in the post-Civil Rights era, it was way too easy to resist racial equality under the guise of resistance to state expansion.

Take away #2: The Civil Rights movement is a much deeper phenomenon than I had previously appreciated. A very long time ago, I had abandoned the view that the Civil Rights movement popped up in the 1940s and reached its peak in the 1960s. I knew that the NAACP itself dated to about 1910 and that there were strong movements against lynching and other racist actions.

What I did not appreciate was that people were doing “classic civil rights” actions a bit earlier than this narrative suggests. For example, when I was preparing for our discussion of Plessy, I read a little about the background of the cases. I learned that Plessy was a “staged” case – a New Orleans civil rights group, the “Comité des Citoyens of New Orleans,” wanted to challenge segregation of trains by getting a mixed raced, light skinned man arrested. He was supposed to be the Rosa Parks of the day. The Comité was a club of 18 New Orleans citizens, including a former Lieutenant Governor. This suggests to me that resistant to racial separation had deep roots, more than most people suspect.

Take away #3: I’ll finish this post with a brief comment about the role of education in post-Civil War Black rights. Today, we think of education as the epicenter for Civil Rights litigation, but that wasn’t quite right. The reason is that Jim Crow was built after the compromise of 1876, and even then, there were lots of moves to restrict Black rights before that point. However, the public school system as we know was built from about 1890 to 1930, when states started requiring attendance. Later, as schooling became a certification for the labor force, school segregation became a much more acute issue.

This comes out in multiple ways. For example, early Plessy era litigation, involved things like transportation and jobs. The “classic Civil Rights” cases that we now remember come about 40 to 60 years later. When you read historical accounts of Civil Rights strategy, you get the feeling that education segregation took Civil Rights attorneys by surprise in the early 1900s and this is even mentioned once or twice. Another data point: the way the NAACP got clients was to let people bring complaints to them about local issues. It was only until the 1940s or 1950s when you had lots of school based complaints, which you could then bundle into bigger cases like Brown. This suggests to me that while education based litigation is important for its intrinsic merit and usefulness for precedent, the bulk of racial segregation happens in other domains, like housing or employment or criminal justice.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist/From Black Power/Party in the Street 

Written by fabiorojas

December 20, 2016 at 12:01 am

telluride thoughts 1: what i learned from dr. abegunde

This past summer, I had the opportunity to teach a six week long seminar called “The Black Struggle for Freedom,” sponsored by the Telluride Association. The seminar is aimed at gifted high school students who want to immerse themselves in a particular topic. I taught a seminar that was an interdisciplinary exploration of how African Americans fought for their rights.

Telluride summer seminars are co-taught and my partner in crime was Maria Hamilton Abegdune. She’s a very accomplished individual – the first person to receive a Ph.D. in African American and African Diaspora Studies at Indiana, a published poet, a collector and curator of art, a counselor for doctoral students, university administrator, and a health care provider. Even this enumeration is a woefully incomplete account of my colleague. So I want to dedicate the first of my posts about teaching the Telluride seminar to what I learned from my partner in the classroom.

First, Abegunde, as she prefers to be called, has a completely different classroom presence than I do. I do a lot of lecturing in large classes and my small classes tend to be technical, like network analysis. As a result, I am either a “transmitter” of information or I have to be an entertainer, where I try to encourage students to be comfortable in class and not be scared of the material. In contrast, Abegunde has a much more interactive classroom presence. She can have students do close readings of texts while opening up a very personal dialogue. The result is that her classroom is a very emotionally open space that is simultaneously rooted in the slow and laborious task of textual interpretation. That’s very hard to accomplish.

Second, Abegunde is extraordinarily attuned to the emotional contours of the classroom. This turned out to be extremely important since the class  was composed of high school students. To give one example, our class met the day after Philando Castile was shot and the class was devastated. In my view, Abegunde helped manage the conversation in ways that allowed people to express their frustration in constructive ways. Not surprisingly, Abegunde is adept at allowing people to fully feel the emotions that emerge and then channeling that in a constructive way.

Third, Abegunde represents a very different intellectual model than I do. As a trained humanist and creative writer, she approaches her teaching in a very “thick description” way. Her class discussions are full of allusions to pop culture, African culture, diaspora culture, literature, and a whole lot more. I am a bit more positivist in my teaching in that I focus on social science theory and method. I think we make for an interesting contrast that shows how you can be intellectual, rigorous, and engaged in two very different ways.

I think that Abegunde’s teaching method emerges from her varied experiences. Her graduate work in the humanities and active poetry career provide her with a rich language for contextualizing reading. At the same time, her work with traumatized populations allows her to fully appreciate the emotional depth of her students and the work they need to do that will help them get the most from the class and their lives. Spending a lot of time with Abegunde has also taught me a lot. As a teacher, I try to more fully understand where my students are emotionally. On an academic level, I am much less hesitant to fully jump into a more humanistic presentation of the material.

Next week: what I learned from the students.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street 

Written by fabiorojas

December 6, 2016 at 6:13 pm

just in time for Nov. 8, election day in the US

Hot off the press, a study about how interactions with law enforcement and prison impact political participation in the US:

“RACE, JUSTICE, POLICING, AND THE 2016 AMERICAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION”

by Kevin Drakulich, John Hagan, Devon Johnson, and Kevin H. Wozniak

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S1742058X1600031X
  • Abstract

    Scholars have long been interested in the intersection of race, crime, justice, and presidential politics, focusing particularly on the “southern strategy” and the “war on crime.” A recent string of highly-publicized citizen deaths at the hands of police and the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement have brought renewed visibility to this racially-driven intersection, and in particular to issues involving contact with and attitudes toward the police. Using data from the 2016 Pilot Study of the American National Election Studies, this study explores how contact with the criminal justice system and perceptions of police injustice shape political behavior in the modern era, with a specific emphasis on prospective participation and candidate choice in the 2016 presidential election. The results indicate that being stopped by the police—an experience that can feel invasive and unjust—may motivate political participation, while spending time in jail or prison—an experience associated with a marginalization from mainstream civic life—appears to discourage political participation. Perceiving the police as discriminatory also seems to motivate political engagement and participation, though in opposite directions for conservative versus liberal voters. In addition, perceptions of police injustice were related to candidate choice, driving voters away from Donald Trump. Affective feelings about the police were not associated with candidate choice. Perceptions of the police appear to act in part as a proxy for racial resentments, at least among potential voters in the Republican primary. In sum, the intersection of race, justice, and policing remains highly relevant in U.S. politics.

Written by katherinechen

November 7, 2016 at 5:44 pm

black lives matter moves to cultural nationalism: analysis and forecast

Let’s start with a quiz. Guess which policy demands are from the Black Lives Matter platform and which ones are from the original 10-point plan from the Black Panthers in 1966:

  1. We believe that this racist government has robbed us, and now we are demanding the overdue debt of forty acres and two mules.
  2. An end to the privatization of education and real community control by parents, students and community members of schools including democratic school boards and community control of curriculum, hiring, firing and discipline policies.
  3. We believe in an educational system that will give to our people a knowledge of self. If a man does not have knowledge of himself and his position in society and the world, then he has little chance to relate to anything else
  4. We believe we can end police brutality in our Black community by organizing Black self-defense groups that are dedicated to defending our Black community from racist police oppression and brutality.
  5. A reallocation of funds at the federal, state and local level from policing and incarceration [specific programs omitted] to long-term safety strategies such as education, local restorative justice services, and employment programs.
  6. Institute a universal single payer healthcare system. To do this all private insurers must be banned from the healthcare market as their only effect on the health of patients is to take money away from doctors, nurses and hospitals preventing them from doing their jobs and hand that money to wall st. investors.
  7. Racial and gender equal rights amendment.

Answer: BLM – 2, 5; BP – 1, 3, 4. Trick question: 6 & 7 are actually from a list of Occupy Wall Street demands. If you got some wrong, don’t worry. A lot of these demands are interchangeable and all three groups have promoted some version of most of them.

The purpose of the quiz is to illustrate how the recent Black Lives Matter platform draws heavily from Black cultural nationalism and progressivism. It also shows that the Black Lives Matter movement is now evolving in a direction very similar to these groups. Like the Panthers in 1966, Black Lives was founded specifically in response to police repression. But it framed itself in Marxist terms and soon expanded to offer social programs. Similarly, Black Lives Matter started in response to police shootings and has now offered a fairly comprehensive list of demands rooted in the Left.

There are differences of course, but I think we can now articulate a framework, or baseline, for thinking about BLM. It is a progressive, community oriented movement, not a movement that primarily focuses on police reform. It is also a movement that will have wide appeal on the Left, but less appeal to the middle and the Right.

Since we’ve had a number of movements like this, we can look at their history. We’ve had the Panthers in the 1960s, the anti-globalization movement of the 1990s, and the Occupy movement of 2010s. These movements tend to be brief, but intense. They have wide cultural impact, but limited policy or electoral impact. The impact of BLM will be very concentrated in a few places and otherwise widespread and diffuse. Time will tell if the comparison with BLMs ancestry is an adequate guide to their future.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street 

Written by fabiorojas

August 11, 2016 at 12:01 am

the pull of nationalism and the drift from king

I just spent the last six weeks teaching the Telluride Association Sophomore Seminar. The topic was “The Black Struggle for Freedom: an Interdisciplinary Approach.” Along with my co-teacher, Maria Hamilton Abegunde, we spent a month and a half reviewing abolitionism, civil rights, black power and “post-racial” America from a number of perspectives. In this post, I want to summarize a few thoughts I had on on how people perceive black power and civil rights today.

So here is what we did. We had students work with various written, visual, and audio materials. For civil rights, we spent time reading famous court decisions (e.g., Plessy or Brown), read historical summaries, and watch videos. For Black power, we did the same. Read the Panther’s 10 point program,  watch videos on Black power activism, and read academic treatments of various Black power initiatives, such as Scot Brown’s book on the Us Organization or my book on Black studies.

We then had a discussion and got to the issue of what people took away from the readings. A few things jumped out at me. First, while most students clearly understood the importance of civil rights, the highly legalistic approach to social change meant that people didn’t appreciate much of what the movement was about. For example, a constant theme in civil rights activism is enforcement, which came up in Plessy, in Thurgood Marshall’s speech to the NAACP, in Brown and its aftermath, and in the text of the 1964 civil rights act. “Racism is bad” is something everyone can appreciate but “we are trying to create state and civil mechanisms for rights enforcement” is something that does not grab the attention of people. It is easily lost in collective memory.

Second, the SCLC/Kingian approach to social change is easily misinterpreted by modern readers, much as it was back then. Basically, a lot of people equate non-violence with passivity. This is clearly not the case as King’s actions were highly disruptive and extraordinarily confrontational. There is also the mistaken view that King did not believe in self-defense. Rather, King is very clear that non-violence is a tactic that makes sense in a specific context. Like most non-violence proponents of his era, he supported use of violence against exterminationist regimes such as the Third Reich.

Third, there is an aesthetic and interactional aspect of nationalism that has more appeal than civil rights activism. For starters, there is something sensational and breath taking about the best images from the Panthers. It’s really inspiring and uplifting to see people stand up for themselves. Second, as one student put it, King talks at you “from above” while Stokley talks “with you.” This isn’t to say that the Panthers, or other Black Power figures weren’t theoretical. Indeed, they could be, as the careers of Angela Davis and Huey Newton show, but the *average* person is more likely to be affected by the rhetoric and iconology of the Black power when it was direct.

So, to summarize, here are three reasons  that Black Power has an edge when appealing to people in the present:

  • Civil rights was articulated as legalistic and process oriented form of social change, instead of direct intervention. Civil rights is presented as a fairly abstract argument about law, equality, and segregation. Black power is remembered as a dynamic movement that empowered people directly.
  • Civil rights and non-violence is seen as passive strategies that do nothing when applied to instances of violence, such as police shooting.
  • Black power is more enjoyable in that it depicts direct action, not non-violence. Black power writings are more direct and speak to experience.

In the coming weeks, I’ll use my teaching experience to delve more into Black social movement politics, American history, and teaching.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street

Written by fabiorojas

August 1, 2016 at 12:17 am

joyce bell on black power professionals

Joyce Bell, a sociologist at Pitt, is one of the leading scholars on Black Power. Her new book, The Black Power Movement and American Social Work, discusses how the Black Power movement changed the profession of social work and gives us insights into how cultural nationalism shaped organizational fields in the 1970s. Here is an interview with Bell at The Society Pages.

Other discussions of Black Power: I praise and critique Josh Bloom & Waldo Martin on the Black Panthers; I am interviewed about Black Power and higher education; Bryan Caplan discusses From Black Power; a sort of institutionalist take on Black Power by me and Carson Byrd.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street

Written by fabiorojas

August 3, 2015 at 12:01 am