Against the Current, No. 32, May/June 1991
From the Ashes of Victory
— The Editors
— The Editors
Black Workers Organize for Justice
— Camille Colatosti
Defend Ina Mae Best!
— Phil Kwik
White Supremacy on Trial
— Christopher Phelps
Rebel Girl: Who's in Control Here?
— Catherine Sameh
Gorbachev's Authoritarian Turn
— David Mandel
Nicaragua Solidarity Now
— Midge Quandt
Guatemala at the Crossroads?
— Deborah J. Yashar
Immediate Response & Long-term Transformation
— Alan Wald
Racism Vs. Academic Freedom
— Elizabeth Anderson
Defeat Racism, Don't Censor It
— John R. Salter, Jr.
Eurocentrism and Its Discontents
— Ellen Poteet
— Hasan S. Newash
Was the Red Flag Flying?
— Janice J. Terry
East Timor: On Principals & Pretexts
— Alexander George
Iran: The Oil Workers' Strike
— Ali Javadi
Lech Peron? Polish Politics Today
— Samuel Farber
A Brief Rejoinder to Polish Politics Today
— Ernie Haberkern
Poland: An International Appeal
— Józef Pinior
Socialism and Individual Rights
— Ernest Mandel
The Ethics of Socialist Praxis
— Tom Smith
— Tom Twiss
Random Shots: Of Politics, Religion & War
— R.F. Kampfer
We're Winning--Don't Ask Where!
— Foss Tighe
George Rawick, Socialist & Historian
— Martin Glaberman
THE NATIONAL PRESS is slowly acknowledging what the radical press has warned for some time:(1) The end of the twentieth century is characterized by a dramatic increase in reported racist assaults on people of color in the United States, a fact confirmed by police surveys and documented by research foundations.(2)
For the left, this has meant a general recrudescence and reorientation of anti-racist movements during the past several years—a further movement away from the early demands for “Civil Rights” for African-Americans, and more toward a campaign “against racism” that affects all people of color. The change is quite noticeable on university campuses where vile racist attacks appear to many people to be incongruous with the ethos of “liberal education,” and where the tradition of political activism remains stronger than elsewhere in society.
In the initial phase of the campus anti-racist actions—from Massachusetts to Michigan to Wisconsin to Berkeley—the demands of the student movement focused on two issues. One was the demand that administrators take dramatic action in the form of curriculum renovation (such as implementing less-Eurocentric courses and hiring faculty qualified to teach them). The other was the formulation of punitive policies against explicitly racist—as well as sometimes sexist, anti-Semitic, and homophobic—behavior.
During the past two years there has been a backlash. Conservatives have denounced curriculum reform as “political indoctrination.” Some liberals have joined conservatives in charging that punitive policies to curb racist hate-epithets are a violation of First Amendment rights.(3) What strategies might be promoted by socialists who wish to participate in these struggles, responding with decisive immediate action yet also pushing long-term emancipatory possibilities to the limit?(4)
While I think that most activists would hold that, in the long run, the broader struggles to fundamentally change the culture of the university are more significant than punitive action, the mainstream as well as liberal news media (such as the New York Times, ABC’s “Night-line,” and the Nation) have focused debate on the legalistic aspect of the issue of “Free Speech.” This may be because debates over “Free Speech” lend themselves to more simplified and sensationalist reporting. But I also suspect that some news media see the “Free Speech” angle as attractive because it is a divisive sore point.
The question of whether and how to ban epithets that demoralize and may lead to violence aimed at students of color has tended to split anti-racist activists from civil libertarian and faculty allies in such a way as to make “good copy” suggesting that even the components of the left are so disunited that they can’t find agreement with one another. And the right wing has falsely painted efforts to the left to democratize the university atmosphere as if they were repressive attacks on “Free Speech” and “Academic Freedom.”
The Dynamic of the Struggle
Among the most publicized of such “Free Speech” cases has been that at the University of Michigan. There, in May 1988, in response to explicit racist incidents that had occurred on campus in 1987, an anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policy was put in place by administrators, only to be struck down by a U.S. District Court in September 1989.
The American Civil Liberties Union was the group that took on the University, on behalf a student who is now feted by right-wing academic networks; the judge ruled that such a university policy violated the guarantee of “Free Speech” provided by the First Amendment Since that time the University of Michigan has revamped its regulations on harassing and discriminatory speech, vastly limiting the areas of applicability.
University of Michigan radical students, who tended in the past to be sympathetic to the banning of violence-producing epithets while they adamantly opposed all “codes” to monitor any other aspect of speech and behavior, are now confused about the matter A number of other universities considering such policies have also come under scrutiny and criticism.(5)
The issues complicating the debate over “Free Speech” and the anti-racist movement are many. First, the general dynamic of these struggles provides an important context for assessing certain aspects of the various proposals. The issue usually arises when student activists, often students of color, respond angrily to a racist attack of some sort on campus, mobilizing a constituency to demand action through demonstrations, press conferences, the seizing of a building, etc. Then the administration, embarrassed by local and national publicity that might hurt its reputation and thereby endanger admissions and financial stability, looks for the quickest and the least painful fix.
Of all the options raised by the students—which usually include a call for a dramatic increase in enrollment, support and financial aid for students of color, and the hiring of faculty of color and specialists in the complex issues of racism and ethnocentrism—the administrators are most agreeable to institutionalizing some sort of authoritarian “code” of behavior against students. Their impulse is to make it broader than many of the protestors intended, and to ignore demands that anti-racist activists and students who are the targets of racist assault participate in formulating and applying the policy (Here we should also point out that neither the University of Michigan anti-discriminatory policy, nor any of the others I have seen, make faculty or administrators accountable.)
At this point in the struggle, some civil libertarians, both in the legal profession itself and among the university population, have entered the picture. They accurately warn that policies that prohibit certain kinds of speech, even vilifying epithets, will establish a dangerous precedent After all, once the university administration has power to limit speech in one area, it can move more easily into other areas.
Since it is very difficult to determine in advance how a prohibitive policy will be interpreted, there is every reason to fear that punishment will be exacted primarily against the students of color themselves and the left—for example, against Nation of Islam students who may want to hold a meeting for Louis Farrakhan (who has made anti-Semitic statements); against critics of Zionism (who are frequently slandered as anti-Semitic); and against radical anti-CIA protesters (who have been accused of “harassing” and of “discriminating” against the rights of U.S. government representatives).
Beyond that, critics of anti-discrimination policies concerning speech charge that a focus on restricting individual behavior diverts energy to a symptom without addressing the real, underlying, social causes of racism.
From my experience, the events at the University of Michigan indicate that the fears raised by the civil libertarians must be taken seriously. The University authorities have a much stronger record of moving against protesters on the Left—such as participants in anti-CIA demonstrations and editors of the Michigan Daily who criticize Israeli state policy—than they have against right-wing racist activists.
With the signal exception of a campus radio station employee who was tape recorded (by African-American students) when he aired racist jokes, racists have never been seriously impeded in their activities. These include violent acts such as destroying the symbolic shanties built on campus by the United Coalition Against Racism, the Free South Africa Coordinating Committee, and the Palestine Solidarity Committee, as well as the distribution of racist flyers that physically threaten people of color with execution.
The central problem here, then, is a familiar one: Those who have been the targets of oppression and hence the quickest to decry racism and militantly mobilize against it, want immediate relief. Of course, their first response, which socialists fully support, is to mobilize the largest possible demonstrations on the campus and in the community to try to educate people and change the climate of the university. But one cannot expect people to mobilize day-in-and-day-out. Nor can one place the burden on people of color, or their allies, to find time to prepare a mobilization in response to every episode of racism.
In this context of institutionalizing sentiments expressed from the bottom up, many activists feel that a response, even in the form of administrative sanctions against racist verbal behavior, will be a victory, provide legitimacy, and encourage further fight-back.(6)
“Free Speech” and “Academic Freedom”
Of course, the civil liberties argument cannot be dismissed merely because of its frequent origin as part of the sideline commentary on the struggle. More problematic is that this approach, while presenting truths that have a general validity, simply does not respond to the issue of demanding immediate relief from outrageous language, threats and other verbal behavior that interfere with a student of color’s Fourteenth Amendment right to a hypothetically equal education.
In particular, the ACLU spokespersons in the University of Michigan case, when calling on students to focus instead on the “real” problems of racism, offered little but platitudes. When a local ACLU Board member commented on the complex cultural issue of racism, he revealed only a superficial grasp of the debate.(7)
Moreover, even socialists who adhere to a general civil libertarian orientation but who have been part of the anti-racist struggle, among whom I count myself, have not really come up with satisfactory short-term responses to the demand for immediate relief following the important first step of building mass mobilizations against the racism that prevents freedom of expression on the part of its targets. Among the more substantial problems currently faced by the campus anti-racist movement are the following:
• There is still a simplistic reliance by some activists on very abstractly-defined categories of “Free Speech” and “Academic Freedom”; this is a dubious concession to the perpetuation of concepts lending themselves to a variety of contradictory interpretations depending upon relations of power.
The problem is that both liberals and conservatives tend to throw these terms about as if they described conditions already extant and now in danger of being overthrown if radicals succeed in making people accountable for racist and sexist behavior. But in fact the speech and academic work of students, faculty and staff as well as the general culture of the university, are shaped, determined, limited, and unconsciously censored by a host of legal restrictions (for example, against slander, obscenity, death threats), customs, material resources, and the “norms” of academic disciplines.
At most universities, there are real, material reasons why students do not have the “Freedom” to study Chicano History as seriously as that of European elites; to concentrate on the Native American Indian novel without first going through required indoctrination courses in Shakespeare, Milton, et al; to moor in Socialist Revolution; etc.
In bourgeois society, “Free Speech” and “Academic Freedom,” provide important openings for the Left but also function as the means by which the dominant ideology is naturalized. Of course, the task of socialists is not at all to abandon the call for “Free Speech” and Academic Freedom,” which also have historical connotations and emotional weight in our culture that are favorable to the Left, but one must not passively accept their conventional usage, either.
Instead, socialists should struggle to redefine the content of “free speech” and “academic freedom” so that they change from unchallenged weights of domination, basically ratifying the status quo (and readily curtailed in time of war), to active instruments that give voice to exploited people in society who are shut out by the present relations of power.
The use of racist hate-words should not be equated with the expression of “Free Speech,” but, rather, understood as creating a situation in which “free” expression is impossible for those who have the most impediments to gaining expression in the institutions of our society.
Moreover, in the history of U.S. universities, socialists have fought to interpret “Academic Freedom” as the right of dissident scholars to maintain their teaching positions in spite of the fact that their political views are at odds with the rulers of the society and sometimes of the university (regents, trustees, wealthy backers, etc.). So far as! know, the issue of “Academic Freedom” for faculty first became a national concern when professors opposed to U.S. policy in World War I were fired from schools like the Wharton School of Business (Scott Nearing) and Columbia University (from which Charles Beard resigned in protest).
The issue was raised a few times in the 1930s when pro-Communist or merely pro-labor faculty came under attack, and then with greater force in the period of the McCarthyite witch-hunt when U.S. government committees collaborated with university administrators across the country to cast out academics who would not “name names” and serve as stool pigeons.(8)
In the 1960s and 1970s there were also a series of “Academic Freedom” cases, such as the one at the University of Maryland where Bertell OIlman was denied an appointment as chair of the Political Science Department due to his Marxist views, and the one at Boston University where the prominent radical pedagogist Henry Giroux was denied tenure. In addition, there continue to be “Academic Freedom” cases where women and people of color have received unfair treatment due to institutional racism and sexism by administrators.
True, in some cases, right-wing faculty have claimed to be persecuted in ways that violate their “Academic Freedom” to propagandize for imperialism and carry out research for various death machines, just as several decades ago there were Cold War liberals who claimed their freedoms were being limited by student protests. Moreover, in the 1960s some portions of the left either fell for a popularized version of Herbert Marcuse’s idea of “Repressive Tolerance” (against “anti-social” forces) while others cited Stalin, Mao and even Trotsky to justify the banning of reactionary speakers and films through mobilizations to “stop fascism.”
For the most part, however, due to relationships of power, I feel that historically and in the future, “Academic Freedom” is a cause that ought to be associated with the left and the anti-racist movement (although it will have to be reconceptualized to some extent to deal more precisely with racism, sexism and homophobia). This is because these groups stand for the empowerment of the economically and otherwise disenfranchised in opposition to the ruling elite.
Therefore, rather than defend and celebrate such abstract ideas as conditions that already exist and must thus be defended, we ought to assiduously strive to impart to them contents consistent with anti-racism and empowerment of the population.
The “Fighting Words” Argument
• Another problem with some approaches to the issue of racist hate-words is the separation that some believe can be clearly drawn between fascist/racist “actions,” which may be suppressed by law, and fascist/racist “speech,” which must be tolerated as a necessary evil to prevent suppression of our own controversial speech.
Unfortunately, racist ideology is so deep, ugly and intertwined with the dominant culture of the United States, that in some contexts certain epithets and types of speech are triggers to action. In other words, due to the concrete features of U.S. history, there does not exist a formal “equality” of epithets.
In the case of most groups of people of color in the United States, there is an historical past that somewhat resembles a “colonization” process in which the epithet/violence connection played a central role. An intensive indoctrination of the white population with the view of people of color as objects and barbaric was necessary to rationalize kidnapping, invasion, conquest, enslavement, massive land theft, and the outlawing of indigenous language, religion and culture. Vile epithets were institutionalized along with the punitive techniques of branding, castration, and mutilation.
Four centuries ago as well as today, real or threatened violence ineluctably appears when invoked by cultural symbols and verbal expressions. Whereas the original verbal levers of such violent oppression involved imputing of sub-human qualities to people of color, today the associations are more along the lines of connecting people of color to a permanently degenerate “underclass” of gangs, prostitutes and drug addicts.
A residue of this remains even when we move into the realm of academic discourse. When a Yale University English Professor was cited by critics for characterizing accused African-American rapists as “uneducated monkeys who aren’t ready for civilization,” and a University of Michigan Professor of Sociology allegedly characterized Malcolm X in his classroom as a “red-haired pimp,” it is hard not to feel that the choices of words were especially upsetting to students of color because the signals they touched off are associated with horrendous patterns of oppression and exclusion.(9)
On the other hand, racist expressions against whites, such as that of the CUNY chair of Black Studies who characterized whites as “ice people,” materialistic and intent on domination, in contrast to Black “sun people,” who are humanistic, seem in the context of U.S. history to be tragic and disorienting, but not the ideological counterpart of systematic discrimination against and violent physical assaults on Euro-Americans.(10)
Even the more dangerous Nation of Islam expressions of anti-Semitism are deluded frustrations of a beleaguered group, not the excrescence of centuries of entrenched patterns of horrendous domination of Jews by African-Americans within the United States. Whatever abstractions may be offered about the need to be “color blind” and to judge all ethnocentric talk “equally” racist epithets in the U.S. concerning people of color have a specificity that requires somewhat separate categories of analysis, evaluation and response from other forms of ugly prejudice.
Moreover, it is hard to take into account these specificities with the abstract civil liberties language of “rights,” which often relies to a large degree on notions of formal equivalence, reciprocity, and universality. At the least, the use of certain epithets on the part of white students that has been documented in the university incidents that have received national attention—”Coon. Nigger Porch monkey”—is so intimately linked to violent suppression in our society that a student of color who is exposed to these epithets may understandably feel fear, demoralization, or anger that is a major block to his or her realizing an education.
The designation by some legal experts of certain words in certain contexts as “Fighting Words” (words that inflict injury or incite immediate breach of peace) or “Words That Wound” (language interfering with the ability to function), and the banning of these epithets from the university community, has a measure of validity as a strategy that is not so easily countervailed by the argument that this action undermines “Free Speech” in the same way as the banning of other, merely disgusting and repulsive, offensive speech.
The Campus and the State
• Another confusing argument is that some activists blur significant distinctions between a university and the capitalist state—a state that socialists, of course, never trust. While any notion that the university is an ivory tower, apart from the mainstream of society, is ridiculous—and disproved at once by the presence of virulent racism at universities, in spite of all the official propaganda against it—important differences between the campus and the state are worth considering.
Since the university is a workplace of a very specific type, it has considerable potential for becoming the site of “liberated space.” In particular, students are relatively freed up from nine-to-five work hours and direct parental supervision, so that they can devote more time to the work of organizing, mobilizing, and demonstrating. Faculty are sometimes veterans of the student activist movement themselves and may have special areas of expertise and material resources that can aid student anti-racist struggles. Campus facilities exist for student-controlled meetings, news reportage, cultural publications, political speakers, and educational events.
Moreover, while one cannot forget the murders at Jackson State and Kent State in 1970, the conventions of university life may still act as a buffer against the use of armed force and other direct repressive measures as readily on the campus as elsewhere in society. The reason for this is partly because the university still functions in loco parentis with undergraduate students regarded more as children (whose parents are paying the university to “care” for them) than employees (to be fired and replaced at the university’s convenience), and also because of the popular idea that debate and controversy are more acceptable at universities.
Thus it is reasonable to consider that mobilized students, faculty and staff maybe able to devise procedures for insuring that the banning of “Fighting Words” occurs more democratically and with fewer dangers to other rights than is currently possible when dealing directly with the state and its own legal system.
Some Strategic Options
The experience of the last few years suggests to me a number of tactical and strategic points that socialists ought to take into account and perhaps promote as participants in current anti-racist struggles on university and college campuses:
• Socialist anti-racist activists should not become the allies, against the activist movement, of the particular kinds of professional civil libertarians, armchair academics, and sideline critics who only seem to step into the struggle in order to raise objections at the moment when immediate action is demanded by students of color for relief from racist abuse.
However, simu1taneously, socialist activists should base their support for immediate relief on an awareness of the double-edged nature of any repressive legislation—whether aimed against merely action or against racist hate-speech itself—when the power of interpreting that legislation is mainly in the hands of administrators who identify their self-interest with the corporate world and not with the general population. Some University of Michigan radicals have suggested that, as a result of administration claims that it wishes to provide better “protection” through an anti-discriminatory policy and the deputization of a university police force, the environment has become far less free for the left.
• If the demand of the activists of color is for immediate relief from harassing and intimidating language, the concept of “Fighting Words,” if it can be defined so as to be restricted to racist epithets against people of color in a context threatening violence, demoralization, or exclusion, provides a legitimate starting point for a policy.
Despite its dangers, such a policy may be necessary because of (1) the special nature of racist oppression of people of color in the U.S.; (2) the fact that violent racist speech perpetuates an environment in which “free speech” is anything but a reality and inhibits rather than promotes alternative perspectives; and (3) the need to support the right of anti-racist activists of color to set their own agenda. (In other words, the Euro-American component of the anti-racist movement should not try to make the banning of racist hate-speech a demand for the anti-racist activists of color, but should accept it as a demand when it arises naturally, from the anti-racist activists of color themselves. Of course, it does not follow that socialists automatically support any and every demand raised by victims of racism; principles of class solidarity, internationalism, opposition to sexism and homophobia, etc., must also be taken into account.)
Moreover, the precise application and limitations of even the “Fighting Words” argument remain in question, which is why lam unenthusiastic about raising it unless under duress. For example, the Constitutional Law expert at Stanford University Law School, Thomas Gray, insisted to Nation correspondent Jon Weiner that the use of “Nigger” constitutes “Fighting Words,” but that “‘Black son of a bitch’ won’t do,”(11)
In another variant of an attempt to restrict punishment to personally-harassing language, the most recent version of the University of Michigan anti-discrimination guidelines gives four examples of racist discourse, the first three of which are now deemed to be acceptable at the University: A student announces in class that cranium size is an indicator of intelligence, a student praises in class the holocaust on the grounds that it destroyed ‘an inferior religion”; a student tells a racist joke during a class discussion; and a white student uses a racial epithet to tell an African-American student just before an exam that she should “go home and stop using a white person’s space.”
According to the new University of Michigan policy, only the fourth example can be considered for disciplinary action because the goal of the epithet was not exchanging an opinion but “affecting a particular student’s performance on an exam … .”(12) But it seems to me that a much wider range of behavior than that exemplified by the fourth example might affect a student’s performance on an exam, and also that it would be a highly unusual occurrence for a student to decide to spew out racist filth with such a precise focus in mind. However I do hold the opinion that, if a student believes such outrageous ideas about cranium size or the holocaust, it is far better to allow him or her to express the views openly where they can be thoroughly refuted, rather than intimidate them into private conversations among friends who may reinforce them.
* The ambiguities of even the “Fighting Words” approach to prohibiting violent verbal abuse underscores the frailty of the whole strategy of calling on institutional regulation. “Immediate relief ” from racist verbal harassment can’t be the primary axis of the anti-racist struggle, but only an emergency stop-gap that serves largely as a symbol of a willingness to see the seriousness of the whole matter of racist culture—a life and death matter for people of color in this society. Regulation is one way of registering the anti-racist opinion expressed through anti-racist mobilization, given the impossibility of most people to mobilize day-in-and-day-out, whenever a damaging episode occurs.
The problem here is not an abstract moral one—that one must protect the right even of bigots if one is to protect everyone else’s rights—but that the methods of the short-term immediate response approach are foreign to the socialist project as a whole. That is, relying on university administrators to “catch” somebody in an explicit act of a certain kind is simply not an expression of the dynamic of “socialism from below” The latter is more accurately defined as empowering in a liberatory fashion the targets of racism and their allies by garnering numbers and material resources. These are the means to giving power and legitimacy to anti-racist (or, from another angle, internationalist) views on the campus. Here we must affirm as a general policy that the route to liberation will come through “using, not curtailing free speech.(13)
Toward this end we have to look more seriously, albeit critically, at the experiences of anti-racist centers or counter-institutions, such as the Ella Baker/Nelson Mandela Anti-Racist Center at the University of Michigan, and the Third College at the University of California at San Diego. Certain features of these counter-institutions may point toward the eventual creation of alternative centers of real power on the campus. But this will only happen if such centers can develop so that, in contrast to the universities themselves, their functioning is under the democratic control of students, faculty and staff, with stron4 representation from people of color and a clear commitment to a liberatory culture that is opposed to authoritarianism.
• We must also take into account that, while explicit racism periodically erupts on many campuses, several recent studies suggest that the real axis of campus racism may rotate around far more subtle issues. We know that the preponderance of racist physical attacks occur not at the university at all but when a person of color accidentally enters neighborhood turf controlled by gangs of young white males (as in the now famous cases in Queens and Bensonhurst).
In contrast to that urban pattern, are recent study conducted by the University of Michigan School of Public Health claims that the most pressing preoccupation of many students of color is the classroom situation in which an issue of race and racism is clearly implied by the material under discussion, but where no one is willing to raise and confront the issue except students of color A second preoccupation of respondents was that, when an issue of race did come up, the students of color were then looked upon to provide expert testimony on “the Black experience,” etc., which in the eyes of the Euro-Americans seemed to be exclusively equated with poverty and deprivation.(14)
This suggests that, for all the theoretical advances made by scholars of color and others in various aspects of sociological, anthropological, cultural and literary research, the bottom line is still a profound ignorance on the part of most Euro-American students and faculty. For all the administrators’ glib talk about “tolerance” and “diversity” for all the insistence that the majority of the university is anti-racist and the bigots are a tiny minority with “bad ideas,” the fact remains that misconceptions remain widespread that prevent the university community from appropriating the vocabulary and analytical perspectives necessary to discuss racism in an atmosphere conducive to productive exchange.
In my view, this is largely because the explanation for modern racism—as an ideology elaborated to rationalize super-exploitation of people in those parts of the world conquered by European elites—requires a basically radical critique. If the analysis is carried out consistently, it threatens the view of U.S. capitalist society and the role of Europe in world history that is the basis of the academic ideology of the university.
Hence, any expectation that top-down administrative solutions to racism are going to be crucial to eradicating racist practices is misguided. The prime focus for socialists must be on developing a sort of cultural revolution from below, in the sense that material forces must be gathered, organized and set in motion to progressively alter the culture of the university at its roots. This alteration should include every aspect—the decor, names of buildings and physical locations, relation to the community, composition of faculty and staff, nature of the curriculum at the foundation (organization of disciplines, models of “academic excellence”), how knowledge is validated (including the abstract/formal approach to “Free Speech”).
Moreover, the strategy and tactics for such a momentous undertaking, which cannot proceed to fulfillment without major changes outside the university as well as in the center/periphery relations of the capitalist world, can best be characterized as “liberatory,” not “repressive This is in spite of the fact that the goal, from Day One, is to disempower racist behavior.
For example, while there is a sound case to be made for demanding that the entire university community participate in required courses that take up the complexities of racism, socialist activists should fight against the insinuation that the sole object of such courses is to force students to face up to the horrors of racist oppression and deprivation.
On the contrary, such courses should be presented as an opportunity to expand the participants’ grasp of the forces that shape their own lives and possibilities of experience. The “required” aspect of such courses is only a necessary concession, and hopefully a temporary one, to the fact that the university is permeated by a system in which (1) making a course a “requirement’ is a necessary qualification to gain serious attention and appropriate resources, and (2) existing “requirements,” fundamentally based on Eurocentric notions (often most pernicious where least acknowledged because the subject matters are allegedly `Value-free)” as in the teaching of composition skills or the hard sciences), are already firmly in place and will therefore take precedence over non-required courses in a student’s schedule.
In summary, the strategy of mass militant mobilization and formulating demands to prioritize a human culture on the campuses remain the foundation of any movement that hopes to defend learning, understanding, and freedom in the concrete. In my view, racism against people of color constitutes a special and horrendous category of assault Therefore if activists of color themselves raise the demand to provide immediate relief by banning certain violence-provoking epithets—the unique verbal instigators, facilitators, and allies of material oppression—socialists should be supportive and suggest ways in which the university population as a whole, especially the targets of racism, can play the major role in monitoring and interpreting such restrictions against wounding epithets.
However, the main concern of socialists must be to mobilize forces to strike at the unequal resources that empower the racist conceptual foundations of the culture of the university. To that end, we should also work toward the creation of counter-cultural centers under control of those who have been targets of racist assault and ideological domination, animated by the kind of thinking that for some has been roughly symbolized by books such as Samir Amin’s Eurocentrism and Martin Bernal’s Black Athena.
- Author’s note: I am grateful to the editorial of Against the Current for criticisms of an earlier dealt of this article, and to Ann Arbor Solidarity members Matthew Schultz and Ellen Poleet for a number of specific suggestions. However, l alone am responsible for the argument and analysis. Following the completion of the essay, I was given a copy of “If He Hollers Let Him Go: Regulating Racist Speech on Campus,” by Stanford Law Professor Charles R. Lawrence III, which appeared in the Duke Law Journal (Spring 1990): 901.952. This thorough study by an African-American specialist in First Amendment rights provides a number of useful legal arguments for the view that racist hate-speech is not a legitimate expression of “Free Speech,” but rather an activity that denies constitutional rights to the targets of racism vilification.
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- Daniel Goleman, “As Bias Crime Seems to Rise, Scientists Study Roots of Racism,” New York Times, 29 May 1990, B5-7.
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- See “Dean Delays Changes in Disputed Civil-Rights Course, New York Times, 30 July 1990, B4; and Jon Weiner, “Free Speech for Campus Bigots?” Nation, 26 February 1990, 272-76.
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- Space restriction as well as limitations on available information require me to focus this article exclusively on racism against people of color. However, struggles against sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism and other forms of prejudice and bigotry have obvious parallels. Readers who wish to respond to this essay are welcome to comment on strategy for dealing with those issues as well.
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- See Weiner, op. cit.; see “University of Michigan Interim Policy on Discrimination and Discriminatory Conduct by Students in the University Environment,” available from the Office of the President, University of Michigan.
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- Of course, if one happens to live in an environment where regular mobilizations are feasible, or where only a relatively few mobilizations can be a successful means of eliminating racist activity, there Is no need to go further. However, most of the places where I have witnessed anti-racist actions are in the long run subject to the weight of the larger culture, so that following even the biggest anti-racist mobilization racist patterns gradually reassert themselves.
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- In his essay “Should the University Punish Discriminatory Behavior? Code Misses the Point,” local ACLU Board Member James S. Johnson argues that the issue is “bigotry’ rooted in “ignorance,” a view similar to that of the U-M administration, which treats racism as a form of intolerance that can be overcome through sensitivity workshops, etc. In contrast, the anti-racist movement at U-M has been at-suing that racism is rooted in material conditions of exploitation with historic, ongoing and international dimensions. See Consider (Summer 990), 2.
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- See Ellen Schrecker, No Ivory Tower (New York: Oxford 1987).
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- See Nina Morrison, “Poison Pen,” The New Journal, 20 Oct 1909, 12-14.
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- See “The Self-Defeating Ideologies of Racism and Anti-Semitism,” In These Times, 2-8 May 2-8 1990, 14.
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- See Weiner, op. cit.
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- University of Michigan Interim Policy, op. cit.
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- James Lafferty, letter to the editor, Guardian (U.S.), 29 August 1990, 2.
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- A Report of Concerns About issues of Rare and Racism in the School of Pubic Heath at the University of Michigan (April 1990).
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May-June 1991, ATC 32