Today I’m attempting to inject the “energy” into Energized Academic. Yesterday, as I followed the news about Charlottesville, VA and the white-supremacist, Nazi march and ensuing violence around the removal of a statue commemorating Confederate General Robert E. Lee, my desire to work or think or write plummeted. Sorrow and rage can be paralyzing (1) and they certainly feel that way to me. But I talk to academics about building meaningful lives that honour their values both inside and outside their jobs, so paralysis is not an option.
When paralysis hits, I like lists. A place to start, a progression of sorts, a selection of options.
1. Know your values.
Ok; Nazis and white supremacists are bad. Duh. But explaining that they are bad in a way that, say, antifa and religious and social justice groups on the other side, are not is going to be necessary for some.
Students and student groups may have questions and be forgiven for having them, given that the president of the US (gack) baldly stated that groups on the left were equally to blame for the outbreak of violence in Charlottesville over the weekend.
So, we make clear: Nazis and white supremacists believe in a hierarchy of race, religion, and ethnicity that puts them at the top of the cultural evolutionary ladder and brown, black, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, &c, &c, at the bottom. This is neither democratic nor humane.
Because it is not humane, because these ideologies literally DEHUMANIZE others, they do not deserve to be discussed and debated on equal footing in any intellectually serious or rigorous environment.
2. Establish ground rules
I don’t think Nazi vs. anti-Nazi is legitimate turf on which to debate whether liberal voices have “too much authority” on university and college campuses. If people are suggesting that we need to listen to arguments “from all sides,” where “all sides” doesn’t mean (fiscally, socially, scientifically, &c) conservative and cautious, but rather blatantly dehumanizing, racist, sexist, and violent, then they are enabling the rise and legitimization of Nazi hatred on campuses.
Trying to parse the line between conservative and Nazi shouldn’t be difficult. However, the revolting human being who is the president of the US has made drawing that line between the GOP, conservatism writ large, and the horror show of white supremacist rage and violence increasingly visible in the nation incredibly difficult.
So, while engaging debates between conservatism, liberalism, libertarianism, socialism, and so on in legitimate discussion about policies and values and such should be encouraged in civil society and on campuses, we obviously have to proceed with caution once we acknowledge that white supremacy and Nazism have been creeping up on us (me?) under the cloak of the GOP and electoral politics.
Free speech means the government can’t persecute you for saying something it disagrees with. If government funding only makes up 24% of your institution’s budget, maybe they don’t get to make all the rules, eh? To my mind and I hope to the mind of any morally whole human being, establishing that people are not permitted to spout dehumanizing, violence-inciting, hate-filled speech at their fellows should not be controversial.
Humane is the key word.
3. Form coalitions.
Nazis on campus. Guns on campus. Senior administrations cowed by claims of First and Second Amendment rights.
This puts faculty and staff and junior administration in tenuous and precarious positions, from which it is difficult to claim truth or speak truth to power. So don’t go it alone. Find your allies.
4. Become an ally.
If you’re an outraged white person, activate that outrage in productive venues, working together with POC activists who have been on the ground doing this hard work for ages. If the town you live in is too small to support its own Black Lives Matter group, you can find virtual communities of allies and resources for anti-racism work all here:
(1) I realize that paralysis contains within it the acknowledgment of my privilege as a cis, hetero, middle-class, educated white woman. My inaction would not harm me or my chances of success in this world. But I also know that inaction from paralysis—which means confusion and frustration and suggests some sort of surprise shock to the system—would damage my soul and not in any way contribute to the healing of the world that I hold as my highest ideal.