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understanding the next steps for black lives matter

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As a scholarly observer of social movements and a person who thinks that African Americans are mistreated by the criminal justice system, I have been very interested in what Black Lives Matter will do in the days and months to follow. The shootings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling highlight multiple problems – police officers with bad records on the beat, racial violence, and the over policing of society. The consequent shooting at the Dallas rally, which resulted in five more victims, show us that people can exploit a genuine effort to reform society in order to inflict more violence on others.

These horrid events are part of a larger pattern that Black Lives Matters protests yet there is a rare window of opportunity here. Once the media has shifted attention away from the violence, Black Lives Matter has a chance to broaden its coalition and extend its impact. Some like, New York Times writers Michael Barbaro and Yamiche Alcindor, conclude that the Dallas shooting undermined the positive attention the movement received after the Sterling and Castile deaths.

The opposite is true. Black Lives Matter has a chance to emphasize that it is above violence and that justice is truly its major goal. In the social sciences, we call this the “radical flank effect” – a movement may gain prominence when contrasted with a radical or violent manifestation of the movement. At this moment, a lot of people will want a voice that can focus on the basic injustices in the criminal justice system and maintain a distance from the most virulent forms of nationalism.

As a movement firmly rooted in the left, Black Lives Matter has some challenges.It rightfully celebrates Blackness, but that same strength might pose problems if the movement needs a White majority to reform police policy. Another challenge is the focus of the message. Many, such as myself, see Black Lives as a reasonable response to violent police. Yet, that message is bundled with others such as being queer friendly and celebrating the global Black community. I affirm many of these values while noting that external audiences may not. Perhaps a decentralized structure may circumvent this issue. Each local chapter can develop its own indigenous solutions to police relations and thus not have to balance these different needs.

Maybe the most profound decision that Black Lives faces is whether it wants to be full fledged national movement aimed at political reform, like the NAACP in the 1950s or the SCLC in the 1960s, or whether it wants to be more of a community oriented organization like the Black Panthers of the late 1960s. The official Black Lives website quotes Huey Newton, among others, which suggests that the movement aspires to both functions. If that is a correct assessment, then police reform is an anchoring point for a more thorough discussion of Black lives in a larger White society. It may be the case that this is enough to resolve the proximate issue of deaths at the hands of police, but it may be the case that a more thorough effort to build community is not the most appropriate tool for policy change.

I suspect that ten or twenty years from now, observers will see this period as a pivot point for Black Lives. After three years of emergence, Black Lives has become the face of police reform, but one rooted in the Black community and one rooted in cultural politics. The question is whether this is enough to affect the policy problems that generated the movement or whether Black Lives Matter will be an intermediary phenomenon leading to a broader de-policing of sciety.

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

Written by fabiorojas

July 13, 2016 at 12:01 am

the humanities are doing fine, but humanities scholars are underwater

I recently had the pleasure of spending a weekend in New York. I spent some of my time exploring the Bushwick neighborhood to see the cutesy shops, art galleries, and organic grocery store. I wandered into an art gallery and saw about five people sitting in a circle reading a novel. The gallery owner then greeted me and I played with her dog.

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Written by fabiorojas

June 16, 2016 at 12:19 am

racism at harvard and student protest

Jamile Lartey of the Guardian wrote an article addressing campus protest at Harvard and what students of social movements have to say current activists (see my post earlier this week):

For 80 years the family crest of the brutal slaveholder Isaac Royall Jr served as the official seal of the prestigious Harvard Law School.

Royall, whose endowment founded HLS in 1817, once instructed that 77 enslaved Africans be burned alive at the stake for an insurrection on his family’s Antigua sugar plantation.

In March, student protesters at Harvard notched a decisive victory in their fight to “decolonize” their campus, when administrators announced they would retire the Royall family seal, citing “the prospect that its imagery might evoke associations with slavery”.

Two months later, many of the students who pushed for the change say the decision is bittersweet. The removal of the seal sends a message, they say, but it doesn’t do enough to address the currents of racism on campus.

The article has a nice overview of current protest. Lartey also discusses From Black Power to Black Studies in some detail:

In his book From Black Power to Black Studies he chronicles how black activism and demands in the late 1960s led to the creation of new academic departments and disciplines like black studies, and later Chicano and women’s studies that exist to this day.

“Students are so into the adrenaline of protests and screaming at people but then you have to know when there’s an opening, when do we have a moment to actually get something reasonable in. You have to be prepared with something that will really work in the context of that institution,” Rojas said. “Social movements do not win by merely being expressive, they have to have a plan.” This, Rojas said, is different from simply having demands.

Rojas cited the protests at San Francisco State College in 1968 as an example of the tenacity and organization required to effect meaningful change. A coalition of students of color demanded the school open a black studies department along with more ambitions demands like free tuition for all students of color. Students forced the issue with a “guerrilla campaign”, which included mass rallies spawning hundreds of arrests, physical intimidation and even small-scale bombings. They also threatened a strike. Ultimately administrators and students arrived at a compromise.

These demands were considered radical in 1968, but compared with the standard of some of last autumn’s student protests, they are comparatively mild. Students at the University of North Carolina, for example, demanded the “elimination of tuition and fees for all students” and the defunding and disarming of campus police.

Will today’s student protesters marshal the same leverage, patience and intensity to force these kinds of concessions? “Students can make change to these institutions,” Clayborne said. “It comes from small groups of committed people coming together and building it.”

Interesting.

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

Written by fabiorojas

April 15, 2016 at 12:01 am

commentary on a talk by john cage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Written by fabiorojas

April 1, 2016 at 12:07 am

steve vaisey and fabio go to asa

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

Written by fabiorojas

August 19, 2015 at 12:01 am

Posted in awesome, fabio, the man

cracked magazine discusses how the media makes people hate protestors

Cracked is one of the best mainstream media sources for good social science analysis (no joke). From their article about why people hate protestors:

Wait For One Of Them To Break The Law, Then Talk Only About That…

This might literally be the oldest trick in the book. I’m thinking powerful people have been doing this to protesters and activists since the days when getting gored by a mammoth was a leading cause of death. It plays out like this:

A) A certain group has a complaint — they’re being discriminated against, had their benefits cut, whatever — but they are not the majority.

B) Because the majority is not affected, they are largely ignorant and uninterested in what is going on with the complainers. The news media does not cover their issue, because it’s bad for ratings.

C) To get the majority’s attention, the group with the complaint will gather in large numbers to chant and block traffic, etc. This forces the media to cover the demonstration (since huge, loud groups of people make for good photos and video) and cover the issue in the process (since part of covering the protest involves explaining what is being protested). In America we’ve seen this tactic used by everyone from impoverished war veterans, to women seeking the right to vote, to the protests about police violence you’re seeing all over the news right now.

D) To counter this, all you need to do is simply wait for a member of the activist group — any member — to commit a crime. Then the media will focus on the crime, because riots and broken glass make for even more exciting photos and videos than the demonstrations. The majority — who fears crime and instability above all else — will then hopefully associate the movement with violence from then on.

And

Convince The Powerful Majority That They’re The Oppressed Ones… Last year a billionaire investor said criticism of the rich today is equivalent to the persecution of the Jews during the Holocaust. He’s not having a stroke; he’s under the influence of one of the most powerful techniques the system has in its arsenal. To get the majority to ignore complaints by any disadvantaged group, you simply insist that disadvantaged group has the real power and that the powerful majority is thus the underdog.

Mobilization should ask for reprint rights.

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

Written by fabiorojas

June 10, 2015 at 12:01 am

don’t look dumb: on the anxiety of asa meetings – a guest post by jeff guhin

Jeff Guhin is a post-doctoral scholar at the University of Virginia and earned his Ph.D. in sociology at Yale University. This post is a reflection on being an early career scholar at the ASA meetings.

Much like death, a meeting at ASA is generally short and anxiety-provoking for all parties involved. Think of the weird status distinctions of all of those friends-of-your-advisor meetings for the job market: sitting on a sofa in one of the halls, people watching so as to avoid too much eye contact. Passers-by wonder to whom that famous sociologist is talking (you! she’s talking to you!). Acquaintances of the high status individual feel permitted to interrupt. Your friends walk on past but ask about it later. All of these anxieties mask a much larger one: you’re a product at a market, and you damn well better not look dumb. If ASA is really about exchanging ideas and only secondarily about displaying cattle, then ASA isn’t working. It’s very hard to develop an idea if your primary goal in any conversation is not looking like an idiot.

To our discipline’s credit, the discomfort of those meetings is rarely the fault of the senior scholars themselves. The overwhelming majority of professors I’ve met at ASA have been extremely supportive and encouraging. I was shocked by how many made time to chat for a while in the halls. I recognize that I’m white, male, and straight, and also that I went to a top 20 program, and while believe these scholars would have been as kind to people in different contexts, I obviously can’t say for sure.

The majority of the people I met weren’t very famous sociologists anyways: they were the majority of the people I read, folks who write good articles about stuff I study too. These are folks who might or might not work in elite programs but who produce excellent work and come to ASA to talk about it, in their panels, sure, but also with junior scholars like me who want to get better at what we do.

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Written by fabiorojas

June 5, 2015 at 12:01 am

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