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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

UPDATED: Zandria Robinson Fired From University of Memphis for Saying Obviously True Things About Racism in America?

I agree with Zandria Robinson that there is no substance to "whiteness" apart from white supremacy. I say so in my classes and I won't stop saying so.

If, like me, you are legible as a "white" person in terms of the irrational rationality of race in America, you can be anti-racist but you cannot be not-racist: you are a beneficiary of white supremacy and positioned by whiteness to incarnate racist biases. There is no way to be "white" and also "right" when it comes to race in America -- this is a demanding and uncomfortable and often quite heart-breaking recognition -- but surely you will have noticed that to be "black" in white-supremacist America is also demanding, uncomfortable, and heartbreaking? There is no way to be right under racism. Racism is wrong. And the wrongness hurts.

It is surely a measure of white-privilege to fancy that you could opt out of racism in a way that would not cost you something, that you could simply decide your way out of racism by understanding it a bit better. You better believe that black people understand racism a whole lot better than white-allies do, and you certainly don't see that understanding rendering them immune to racist violence, exploitation, and bias. This sort of thinking is almost as bad as would-be anti-racist white folks who seem to expect to be petted and praised for trying to do what they say is the right thing, rather than simply trying to do the right thing because it is the right thing, or who expect special immunity from criticism when they fail to do the right thing because they say they are trying to do the right thing, rather than simply trying harder to do the right thing because they say they are trying to do the right thing.

Robinson's recent comments about the Confederate and US flags are easy for me to sympathize with as well -- I said some roughly similar things in public here. Nothing I am saying now is the least bit original or exemplary on my part. I try to be an ally to people of color in white-racist America but I cannot say that my efforts have ever been worthy of attention or are the least bit extraordinary. They are at best a matter of common decency with a bit of historical awareness thrown in. I don't expect to get fired for saying these sorts of things in teaching contexts -- as I very regularly do -- and nobody should. I don't expect to get a lot of grief for pointing these things out in writing here and there, though this is not the emphasis of my work or my politics.

As far as I can make out, it is nothing but obscene that Zandria Robinson has lost her job over her unpopular but useful public critiques, if that is what has happened here. I can't see that many people have even been paying attention to this apart from a lot of howling reactionaries (anti-civilizational Daily Caller and David Horowitz witch-hunting and book-burning for free-dumb types) who decided to organize to attack a vulnerable academic in anti-intellectual America for trying to teach her students to question their worldviews a bit in the service of equity-in-diversity. I hope she is supported by academic and activist communities and rises to new heights from this attack to continue her work.

UPDATE: The University of Memphis is now saying that Robinson was not fired but has left for a better position -- but their earlier announcement seemed to be shaped in response to right-wing pressure in a way the lead much of the right-wing to celebrate her leaving as a great victory. There would appear to be more to the story than we know now. I sure do hope Robinson was not fired and that she is already moving on to do better things with more support.

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