Is an African American political prisoner in the US. He was convicted of killing a police officer in the course of resistance work with the armed wing of the New African Liberation Army. He has been held in solitary confinement for the last 30 years, in violation of numerious international agreements, and under conditions that clearly constitute torture. Below is a letter from various Nobel Laureates calling for his release into the general population, and information on how to support him.
Yesterdary was International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
One of the many horrific consequences of radical evil is that it functions to let everybody else off the hook for their depravity. Thus, for example, the narrative that the United States and the Soviet Union could do no wrong because they had defeated the Nazis. Not something the tortured or dead victims in Castillo's Guatemala, the Shah's Iran, etc. etc. etc. or the people of Eastern Europe during that period would have understood in the least.
But remembering can have another function completely at odds with this, making us aware of our own historical complicity with the radical evil as well as the fact that the perpetrators of radical evil are almost always not very different from any other human beings. Americans in particular must see the Shoah in light of a prolonged genocide against the native peoples of this land, over two hundred years of slavery, another hundred of disenfranchisement and extreme economic injustice instituted by widespread terrorism, and over fifty years of post-civil rights disenfranchising retrenchment after that.
But what does the holocaust have to do with any of this? Please consider the following passages from two recent books.
[UPDATE, Sat 18 Jan 2014: 4:00 pm CST: Moving to front to highlight this very important post by Tommy Curry and John Drabinski, with thoughtful comments by Jason Stanley.]
Many people have already read this important piece in NYT's The Stone. I have seen a few online reactions as well, including this one and this one by Eric Schliesser. Here's one by Peter Levine. What I'd like to do here is offer the comments to further reactions and / or to links of other online discussion.
A few days ago, while trying to open the interwebs thingy to allow me to start entering my grades, I was prevented from doing so by a pop-up menu that referenced LSU's Policy Statement 67. The text included unsubstantiated and highly dubious claims such as that most workplace problems are the result of drugs and alcohol abuse by workers. And this was only a few weeks after all of the chairs at LSU had to provide verification that every single faculty member had read a hysterical message from our staff and administrative overlords that justified expanding the extension of pee-tested employees at LSU to now include faculty. The wretched communiqué justified pee-testing faculty because of new evidence showing that marijuana is harmful to 13 year olds.*
Anyhow, when I scrolled to the bottom of the popup, I had to click a button saying not only that I read the document but also that I "agreed" with it.
I honestly don't get this. Are my beliefs a condition of employment at LSU? There was no button that said I read it but didn't agree with it.
The debate around the Black Pete tradition in the
Netherlands rages on: while many outspoken voices have presented different
arguments on why the tradition should be at the very least severely modified (I
recommend in particular the pieces by Asha ten Broeke), a very large portion of
the population has expressed its support and fondness for the tradition as is,
in particular by ‘liking’ a Facebook page, a ‘Pete-tion’, defending the
continuation of the tradition. As of now, more than 2 million Facebook users
have ‘liked’ this page, and last Saturday supporters gathered for a rally in
Interestingly, in its most recent update, the Pete-tion FB
page (Pietitie, in Dutch) proudly announces that it is ‘against racism, let us
be clear on that’. Now, what they mean by ‘racism’ here must surely be
different from what Black Pete critics mean when they describe the tradition as
racist. More generally, and as often the case, it seems that those involved in
the debate may at least to some extent be talking past each other because
different meanings of ‘racism’ are floating around. (To be clear, I do not
think this is a merely verbal dispute; there does seem to be a core of true
disagreement.) Well, one of the skills we philosophers pride ourselves on is the skill of language precisification and conceptual analysis. So in what
follows I’ll attempt to distinguish some of the different meanings of racism
underpinning the debate, in the hope that such a clarification may somehow
contribute to its advancement. (Full disclosure: what I really want to accomplish is to
convince my many intelligent, well-meaning friends who do not see the racist
component of the tradition that it is there,
and that it is problematic.)
DN Lee has a blog with Scientific American, "The Urban Scientist" ("A hip hop maven blogs on urban ecology, evolutionary biology & diversity in the sciences"). She was contacted by someone at "biology-online.org" to see if she wanted to contribute to them. They discussed terms, and were unable to come to an agreement. The following exchange, along with other parts of the story, is available here (and here and here and many other places you can find on Twitter at #standwithdnlee):
DN Lee: Thank you very much for your reply. But I will have to decline your offer. Have a great day.
Ofek: Because we don’t pay for blog entries? Are you an urban scientist or an urban whore?
Most of you will have seen this fine Slate article praising
Stevie Wonder for his boycott of Florida as long as the ‘Stand your Ground’ law
is in place. It starts by pointing out the paradox of the position of African
Americans in the US society: American music (and one might add, sports) has
been dominated by African Americans for decades, which means that a small group
of African Americans are among the most respected and praised citizens of the
country, and yet as a group African Americans suffer systematic injustice and
exclusion at several levels. (Recall for example that they constitute an
absolutely disproportionate percentage of the prison population.)
This means that a few prominent African Americans such as
Stevie Wonder may be in a position to campaign (and be heard) against the
systematic exclusion of African Americans, and in particular to hit the
establishment where it hurts: hit them with music, or more precisely with the lack
thereof. Such a simple and yet coherent idea: as long as some segments of the
population do not treat African Americans with respect, they don’t get to enjoy
their music either. It’s only fair!
FURTHER UPDATE: In response to FIFA, the QSF has reversed its ban on turbans, saying that it was merely seeking clarification. OK, we'll overlook Brigitte Frot's prevarication on this point. We await the wisdom of the Right Honourable xenophobe, the Premier of Québec, Pauline Marois.
UPDATE: As antirealist points out in comments below, FIFA has now explicitly ruled that turbans are fine in Canadian soccer. So Brigitte Frot will have to let Sikhs out of their backyards to play.
In the meanwhile, Brigitte Frot, President of the Québec Soccer Federation, has said, by the way, that Sikhs who want to play soccer can do so in their own backyards. Frot said her group was simply taking its cues from FIFA, soccer’s international governing body. FIFA rules do not explicitly state a position on such headwear — which is neither banned, nor allowed. Frot said that if people want to change the policy they should take it up with FIFA.
FIFA doesn't explicitly allow turbans, but it does not exclude them either. Similarly, it passes over gloves in silence, which are often used in cold weather. I wondered who in the world banned Sikh soccer. (Not Canada, of course, and not India either.) I immediately found this:
Decades ago, in abysmal and shameful ignorance of the important contributions made by the Indian Army made in North Africa, the Canadian Legion prohibited the wearing of turbans in Legion Halls. And at about the same time the Royal Canadian Mounted Police banned turbans. Thank heavens we have gotten over that kind of stupid parochialism in Canada . . .
. . . Except in Québec, where completely out of the blue, the provincial soccer association has banned the wearing of turbans while playing soccer. This has kept over a hundred Sikh children off the pitch. The reason cited was safety, though upon questioning, officials of the Québec Soccer Federation were unable to point to a single instance of a turban-related injury, in Québec or anywhere else (India, for instance).
The Canadian Soccer Association has now piped up and suspended the QSF. This means that Québec teams cannot compete in the rest of Canada. And there are reports that in the national Capital region, teams from Hull (which is in Québec) can no longer cross the Ottawa River to play in Ottawa, which is in Ontario.
The separatist Premier of Québec, the bone-headed Pauline Marois (who non-coincidentally happens to be having a dreadful time governing her province) has predictably stepped in to the fray. "The Québec Soccer Foundation is autonomous," she says, "not subject to the Canadian federation." She lives in her own world, and in it Québec is sovereign.
Our very own Catarina has taken sides in the exchange between Rebecca Kukla (who started it in this very interesting interview), and Jennifer Saul. But in doing so, Catarina (a) endorses what I take to be a mythic origin birth of philosophy. (I hesitate to disagree with one of the great historians of philosophy of my generation!) This matters because consequently, Catarina (b) overlooks plausible alternative ways of doing philosophy available at the 'origin' of philosophy. But even if I were wrong about (a) and (b), Catarina's argument (c) tacitly embraces optimal institutional design (whereas I am skeptical that we can attain the circumstances in which we would endorse those institutions). At one point Catarina writes:
As Rebecca points out, this
argumentative model of inquiry is at the very birth of Western philosophy in
Ancient Greece. Philosophy has always been a dialogue of people disagreeing
with each other, and this is precisely what makes it a worthwhile enterprise.
First, I doubt that a "dialogue of people disagreeing
with each other" is "precisely what makes" philosophy "a worthwhile enterprise." I believe it's the searching after certain ends (truth, illumination, liberation, beauty, good, etc.) and the various to-be-expected by-products it generates (wonder, joy, insight, self-doubt, critical stance, etc.) that make philosophy a worthwhile enterprise. Second, Catarina endorses here an origin-myth of philosophy that is quite plausible if we focus on Platonic dialogues, but less so if we take a more expansive view of the origins of philosophy. For example, Parminedes' poem is very philosophical (with important reflections on the nature of reason). It certainly has dialogical elements in it. But its predominant mode is a magisterial stance.
So Nine does not simply insist that the collective in question adds
material and symbolic value to the land and is in turn shaped by its
ways of dealing with the land. While land-use patterns are important,
what matters is that these land-use patterns are geared towards the
establishment of just communities. To illustrate, in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings,
the evil Orcs build a sophisticated underground system of dungeons and
mines in preparation for future misdeeds. When the Ents (tree-like
beings that keep the forest) flood and thereby destroy these structures
during the Battle of Isengard, they are disrupting established land-use
patterns. But since the Orcs did not build this system to advance
justice, no loss of moral value occurs.--From this review by Mathias Risse of Cara Nine, Global Justice and Territory.
From Risse's description it is not entirely clear if the example is in Nine's book (a quick search suggests not). Let's stipulate (a) that the Ents waged a just war in self-defense and (b) that as a matter of fact the Orcs' land-use patterns do not advance justice (regardless of the Orcs' views on such matters). I am, however, troubled by the final claim that "no loss of moral value occurs." For it seems that cultural genocide is endorsed in the example. (Quite a few, unnarmed Orc laborers also die--most of the Orc warriors of Saruman were fighting elsewhere.) Here are three reasons for concern: first, we should not be blind to Tolkien's racialized stereotypes--the Orcs are dark-skinned 'others.'
Apparently, they had
voted to ratify the amendment in 1995, but someone forgot to file the
It took Dr. Ranjan Batra, an associate
professor of neurobiology and anatomical sciences at the University of
Mississippi Medical Center, to set the wheels in motion for the state’s
eventual ratification of the amendment to abolish slavery.
Dr. Batra saw the
film, "Lincoln," and wondered about the rest of the story. He did some googling and discovered that
Mississippi had “ratified the amendment in 1995, but
because the state never officially notified the US Archivist, the ratification
is not official.”
this influence, and despite the
reception Dingler's ideas found in Paul Lorenzen's constructivist
“Erlangen School” from 1950 on, today neither philosophers nor
historians take notice of Dingler's original approach. One reason for
this might be his concessions to National Socialist politics,
which pale, however, in comparison to those of a certain Martin
I strongly support the aims of this petition—to end
the unjust exclusion of women from conferences and edited volumes. And I
agree that aggressive action is needed, since it’s just too easy for
people to be complacent about the problem. I do worry, though, that this
campaign, should it take hold, will mean even fewer keynote invitations
to people of color. I would therefore prefer a broad based
inclusiveness campaign (one that takes into account race, ethnicity,
gender, disability, etc.) over a gendered campaign. Still, no such
action is perfect, and I support this one, but with one qualification.
I’m a senior black male philosopher, and so I would not refuse a keynote
invitation solely on the grounds that the other keynote is a white man.
(And I sincerely hope that no conference organizers will decide not to
invite a man of color just to ensure that at least one of their keynotes
is a woman.) I do however pledge to use whatever leverage I have
(should gentle advice and encouragement prove ineffective) to ensure
that the conferences, volumes, special issues, and so I participate in
are suitably inclusive.--Tommie Shelby (Harvard)
In response to my post yesterday on Defending the Culture, Lisa Shapiro provided a link to a discussion of the issue on CBC Radio's outstanding morning show, The Current. (You'll need this instruction only if you are as inexperienced as I: click on the listen button top-right.) It is particularly worth listening to for the truly witty interventions of Esther Delisle (not to mention the introduction). But it is also a reminder of just how distinct a society Québec is—all three discussants live in Montréal, a vibrantly liberal world city. And this is what they said:
Daniel Turp, an unconstitutional lawyer (sorry!), says that Sikhs can make a choice between forgoing the turban and staying in the civil service. Their rights are fully respected because there are other places to find jobs. (He said this in an exceptionally reasonable tone of voice.)
Rachad Antonius, a sociologist at UQAM, was born in Egypt. He says many Iranian women would like to ban the hijab in Québec because they have seen how terrible the Islamization of a nation can be. (Kemal Mustafa is one of my heroes, but for God's sake, he's been dead awhile. Is this what we have to do to keep Ahmedinajad away?)
Esther Delisle's gratitude to a Sikh doctor (tending her cracked rib) was so intense, she says, that it wouldn't have mattered if he had been "from the Moon." (I am trying to think how to break this to my handsome and respected colleague, Gurpreet Rattan.)
Delisle explains all of this as follows: since separatism is truly dead, the PQ has to find something interesting to talk about, and they have found it . . . . "us."
If this election continues as comic as it has been to date, I hope it never ends.
The moral imperatives of defending and preserving unique cultures should not be minimized. But trouble arises when such cultures are taken as defining a state. I am sorry to open with so vapid a truism, but said trouble is bursting out all over.
1. In socially liberal Québec, the nationalist/separatist Parti Québécois seems to lead a close election campaign. Yesterday, the leader of the PQ, Pauline Marois, said she want to create a Charter of Québec Secularism that would (in the words of the Montréal Gazette) "bar public servants from wearing turbans, kippahs or hijabs, but not — God forbid — the crucifix." (As the Gazette said: "What hooey.") At the same time, PQ candidate, Djemila Benhabib, said (in apparent contradiction, but possibly for satirical effect) that she would also remove the famous cross that hangs in the National Assembly. Not to be outdone for comedic excellence, the Mayor of Saguenay, Jean Tremblay, said (on a radio show): "What's outraging me this morning is to see us, the soft French Canadians, being dictated to about how to behave, how to respect our culture, by a person who's come here from Algeria, and we can't even pronounce her name." (The radio host tried to help him with the last disability.)
So let's be clear. Sikhs and many Muslim women will (in the name of Secularism, no less) be excluded from the Québec civil service. (Thankfully, Canada has a Charter of Rights, so this is not actually going to happen.) This is particularly sad when one recalls the struggle that Sikhs went through to gain (in 1990) the right to wear turbans in the RCMP, and in time the Canadian Forces and other police services, and to wear them in the Canadian Legion, which did not for decades respect the service of Sikhs in the North African campaigns of 1941-2. The PQ leader is proposing to reverse their triumph. (Perhaps this is a prejudicial way of putting her intention, since in all likelihood, she hasn't even heard of these events.)
Steve Champion, now Adisa Akanni Kamara, is an inmate on death row at San Quentin. He has been in prison for 30 years, since he was 18 years old. His essay, “The Sword into a Pen,” narrates his transformation from a gangbanger into an intellectual, poet, storyteller, and activist.
Together with Anthony Ross, now Ajani Addae Kamara, and Stanley “Tookie” Williams, he read and studied work by Plato and Fanon, Heidegger and Che Guevara, Marx and Machiavelli. “We had gone from thugs to bookworms,” he writes (65). How did this transformation happen?
Together, King, Wallace and Woodfox are known as the Angola 3. Their struggle for justice is not set in a repressive dictatorship on the other side of the world. It is not a horror story from the U.S. War on Terror. It is happening in our own backyard, at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, otherwise known as Angola Prison.
Angola Prison is named after the slave plantation upon which it was built, which in turn was named after the Portuguese colony where the first slaves on this land were transported. Even today, the forced labor of black prisoners working in the cotton fields of Angola Prison conjures up images of slavery.
And now, something much more serious from The Guardian: an opinion piece by African-American mathematician Jonathan Farley on racism in mathematics.
[T]here are no black winners of the Fields medal, the "Nobel prize of mathematics". [...] In reality, black mathematicians face career-retarding racism that white Fields medallists never encounter. Three stories will suffice to make this point.
He then goes on to narrate three very depressing stories, the last one about himself. It makes for sobering reading, and it does resonate with the stories we've been hearing about what it's like to be a member of a racial minority in the philosophy profession as well.
UPDATE: On a positive note, it occurred to me that, in this context, it would also be fitting to highlight the Infinite Possibilities series of conferences, whose aim is to celebrate and promote diversity in the mathematical sciences both on the gender and the ethnic/racial dimension. It is a conference "designed to promote, educate, encourage and support minority women interested in mathematics and statistics." The latest installment took place a few weeks ago, and had my fellow country-woman Valeria de Paiva among the keynote speakers. A wonderful initiative!
On Delany’s account, the effect of the Fugitive Slave Law, at least as Judge McClean interprets it, is to subject all unowned black persons to the domination of all white persons. For by requiring that the self-proclaimed slave catcher be taken at his word, the law leaves unconstrained the ability of any white person to arrest and seize any black person. In effect, it renders all titularly free blacks vulnerable to the power available to all whites in exactly the way that, according to Frederick Douglass, a black slave is vulnerable to the power exercised by his or her white master.
The affinity to the Trayvon Martin incident is perhaps obvious. Chief Lee’s statement that Zimmerman was not arrested for lack of evidence sufficient to challenge his claim that he had not acted in self-defense (“We don’t have anything to dispute his claim of self-defense”) appears to imply that, absent such evidence, a white or otherwise non-black man (there is some controversy as to whether Zimmerman should be identified as white, or Hispanic, or both, although no one seems to be claiming he is black) claiming self-defense after killing a black man is simply to be taken at his word. It is hard to resist the thought that race matters here, for who believes that, had an adult African American male killed a white teenager under similar circumstances, the police would have taken him at his word and so declined to arrest him?
I wanted to pick up on Mark Lance's rant with a rant of my own, and to invite further rants from readers. I kep thinking about the horrible shooting death of Trayvon Martin, and about the calls for justice in the wake of his murder. There is no doubt in my mind that, if Trayvon had pulled the trigger, he would have been arrested immediately, and the full force of the law would have been brought down upon him. And I agree that Zimmerman should be arrested, and the whole situation should be investigated. But at the same time, I keep thinking: What would justice look like for Trayvon? Would a murder charge for Zimmerman amount to justice?
So this post is really just ranting. But the song is kind of perfect for the latest racist attrocity.
To recap, for those who haven't been watching the news: 250 pound white guy - part of "neighborhood watch" - is driving in his car and sees a 140 pound, unarmed 17 year old black kid walking in the rain. Calls police. Told not to follow. Follows. Gets out of car with his gun and confronts kid. Multiple witnesses hear kid begging for help. Shoots and kills kid. Local police say that there is no evidence it wasn't self-defense.
Tears ... anger... Sure as hell the time for something around here.
Professional pressures exist for some of us to pass as mainstream philosophers.
Academic passing is the performance of legitimating one’s projects as “properly” philosophical by attempting to conceal or neutralize what might be perceived as threatening identities, positions, topics, and/or methodologies (Dotson 2011 [or here]). Some strategies for passing concern taking great care to travel only trails blazed by previous philosophers, showing emphatically that one’s ideas flow from professionally acceptable intellectual traditions, when in reality they are inspired by rather different ones. For example, I know colleagues whose philosophical ideas spring from the writings, histories and social realities of members of their own non-European communities. Yet career maintenance requires them to show these ideas as being the natural outgrowth of some tradition in epistemology or political philosophy or phenomenology, for example, when in fact they are not.
While examples abound the issue I explore concerns a specific question that often prompts academic passing. That question, often asked of a paper written or presented by someone with a Ph.D. in philosophy, is “How is this paper philosophy?”
Brazil in the news again: this week the Economist has an interesting article on race and racism in Brazil, which I highly recommend to anyone interested in the variability with which the phenomenon of racism manifests itself in different places. (It illustrates well some of the points I was trying to make here, in the post and in comments.) An excerpt:
Unlike in the United States, slavery in Brazil never meant segregation. Mixing was the norm, and Brazil had many more free blacks. The result is a spectrum of skin colour rather than a dichotomy.
Few these days still call Brazil a “racial democracy”. As Antonio Riserio, a sociologist from Bahia, put it in a recent book: “It’s clear that racism exists in the US. It’s clear that racism exists in Brazil. But they are different kinds of racism.” In Brazil, he argues, racism is veiled and shamefaced, not open or institutional. Brazil has never had anything like the Ku Klux Klan, or the ban on interracial marriage imposed in 17 American states until 1967.
In the context of our recent discussions on how to make the philosophy profession more diverse along the race dimension, I’d like to put forward a modest suggestion for everybody’s consideration. It has in fact been put forward by a commentator in a NewAPPS thread quite a few months ago (unfortunately, I don’t remember the name of the commentator in question), and remained in the back of my mind since. Now that we are explicitly discussing these issues, it seems like an appropriate moment to bring it to the fore.