Last night many friends of mine dropped everything and went to airports to protest the ban on people from seven Muslim-majority countries entering the US. I wrote on Facebook that as an immigrant myself, I am proud of, and grateful for, everyone who did so.
Over the last few months, however, whenever I’ve expressed fear about the attacks on immigrants and positioned it in relation to myself and my own status, some smart-aleck has helpfully pointed out that I’ll be fine because I’m white/European. I’m beginning to lose patience with these comments. And not just because it implies I’m only scared for my own safety, rather than the safety of others.
Yes, as a white British person I have enormous privilege. I would not have been able to live in as many foreign countries as I have if I didn’t carry a British passport, and my reception would have been less welcoming if I had not been white. However, it is important to be precise about the threat that this restriction on individuals from certain countries poses, and to understand what it is stemming from. This is not just racism as usual.
The current situation in the US is racist, fascist, and misogynist. It is the latest and most threatening manifestation of deeply rooted traditions of white supremacy, Christofacism, and disaster capitalism. This new Republican Trump/Pence regime can be all these things at once, but it is important not to conflate them all into one. We need to know exactly what we are dealing with to avoid being blindsided by things like the totally predictable restriction on Green Card holders and citizens (through the ban on duel citizens).
This frightening week started with Trump’s announcement of a new National Day of Patriotic Devotion, which immediately attracted scorn and disgust on both sides of the political spectrum for its fascistic vernation of the cult of the nation and expectations of ‘total allegiance’.
It got me thinking about Patriotism, a feeling I would swear I’ve never felt. I associate the word primarily with the First World War poetry we studied in school. Thanks to somewhat repetitive coursework of my English and History GCSEs, the concept of loving one’s country will be forever ingrained in my mind with Wilfred Owen’s poem Dulce et Decorum Est, written sometime between the end of 1917 and the beginning of 1918.
A hundred years ago this month, in January 1917, Wilfred Owen left his training camp in the UK in high spirits and headed for the gas, the mud, and the rotting bodies on the front line in France. He was dead less than two years later.
That’s what I think of, when I hear Trump talk about Patriotism. In a twisted way, I think that’s probably what the Republicans are thinking of too.
But perhaps, as an act of resistance, we should use this new day of Patriotism to imagine the kind of country we would feel proud of. What kind of country we want to live in.
Following on from my earlier post, this is a preliminary list of three ways we can utilize our existing expertise and institutional strengths as anthropologists, specifically our existing roles as researchers and teachers in universities and colleges. Importantly, these are extensions and tweakings of the work we already do, so are accessible to those who might not be able to engage in overtly political work. I’m thinking of people like myself who are non-citizens on visas, but equally can apply to those who are worried about a backlash from conservative employers.
I’m hoping to make these are accessible to anthropologists who are working in all kinds of positions: including administrative/support roles, contingent faculty, non-tenured faculty, postdocs, and grad students. The emphasis is on working with your institution, whether that be a liberal arts college, a public university, a private research university, a community college, etc., to make use of resources and expertise that might already exist.
In the last couple of weeks since the election, many of us have been talking, organizing, and planning what to do next. J and I have been focused on connecting with our three main networks of colleagues and friends: those in anthropology/academia, the Chicago-based theater community, and a group of friends who work in more traditional policy fields.
We’ve talked about dividing our efforts into three levels.
1. Engaging with existing democratic institutions and actions
Basically, being a citizen (or an approximation of one, if you are an alien…) and continuing to go through the normal channels, even when it feels hopeless, as a means of asserting the continued necessity of democracy.
Ok, I’m an anthropologist, and basically still an anarchist, so I certainly have plenty of critiques of our existing democratic institutions. But this is not the moment to undermine them, when they are so perilously in danger of collapsing. Therefore by engaging with existing democratic institutions I mean insisting on them doing their job as they are meant to, and challenging the normalization of any shift into fascism.
So: making phone calls to your political representatives on the one hand. And on the other, actively calling out centrist news organizations like NPR, the NYT, the Guardian etc. (i.e., the one’s who consider themselves to be on the left and therefore would be more amenable to pressure) on social media or through writing old fashioned letters to the editor, when they normalize explicit racism.
2. Engaging with local communities and organizations, and doing face-to-face work.
Finding local groups, joining up with them in person rather than just online, asking how we can help. Even if we can only commit to one day a month, doing something in real time where we can also build in-person solidarity and community.
3. Tackling the underlying culture of white supremacy, colonialism, and patriarchy.
Wow! That sounds like a lot for a single bullet point! But basically that means working on the bigger picture problems, which is actually something that anthropologists and artists both have the expertise to do. So creating art that challenges racism, educating students about the history of colonialism. This is the long-term project, but it’s actually one that we have the most expertise and ability to work on, if we put our minds to it.
I hope to be able to share discussions and ongoing work about each of these groups on this blog over the months that follow.But obviously the first group—anthropologists and academics—is the one I know most about, so I’m starting with that.
The AAA in Minneapolis this November was a much needed tonic: from the exhilarating and inspiring keynote address by Melissa Harris-Perry, to the many intense conversations I had with good friends and colleagues I get to see in person so rarely.
At the AAA, and in the weeks since, there have been several organizing efforts; in large part organized around local and national-level political work that we can engage in as anthropologists. These are important, and I hope the momentum continues over the coming weeks and years.
I’ve also, however, been thinking about the kind of work anthropologists and academics specifically can do, that a) draws on our existing expertise and institutional power; and b) is also accessible to those of us who are in less secure positions (e.g., anthropologists who are non-citizens, in non-tenure-track positions, working in conservative institutions that might be hostile to ostentatiously political work, or who are already over-stretched).
I’ve put some of those together in a separate blog post, and very much welcome any comments, discussion, or feedback anyone has, either in private or on this blog. I’ve got a couple of things cooking in my own institution, and will try to update as I make progress.