Saturday, July 22, 2017

If We've Fallen Down A Rabbit Hole, Does It Have A Bottom?

Maybe I'm just getting old. I mean I am 71. And it happens to everybody -- until they die. And I'm still producing more than the average person I know. After all, I taught six courses to three hundred students this spring, including one that turned ten students into social change agents and ended with a performance titled "Truth Be Told" -- on speaking truth to power (with no holds barred).

The end of May, I went to Havana, Cuba, for nine days to work on organizing a conference there for sociologist/activists from all over the world to meet, learn from, and network with each other for five days in November. I've taught two more rapid-fire Intro courses online this summer already while healing a broken foot, getting over a hellified parasitic invasion I dragged back from Cuba, and recording my book on race relations so people can buy an audio edition (it's been out as paperback and Kindle editions for two years). I'm still sending money to a family I know in Haiti, to Black Lives Matter, and to build an underground hospital where women can more safely birth their babies in Syria while U.S.-provided bombs fall often and without warning from the sky.

But it's never enough when reading your Facebook feed becomes an exercise in shock-and-awe, dead bodies all over the place with no repercussions, things just getting weirder and weirder in Washington, and the police reaching new heights in horror and new lows in morals daily. The prisons have become physical and emotional pressure cookers, where men, women, and even children are being par-boiled in their own juices in a summer determined to prove that climate change is real, with or without scientists to tell us so.

So everybody I know is either stumbling through their lives in a state of numb acceptance, doing what has to be done to pay the rent, but little else. Or they're careening through a tsunami of one kind or another trying not to wind up unemployed, incarcerated, or dead. I'm trying to soldier on, but what the fuck? I mean, really, what the fuck?

But I don't feel like I can whine when I'm functioning relatively well, and others I'm close to are under direct fire. My friend Johnny Eric Williams, for example, who just happens to be the Program Chair for the conference we're putting on in Cuba, has been marched through a Kafka-esque nightmare for weeks now and it shows no sign of flagging.

A month or so ago, on Facebook, he was doing what many of us do routinely: calling for the end of White Supremacy. It seems as if it ought to be unimaginable that there are still people in this nation that want to defend, protect, and maintain that brutal system that is disgusting by any civilized standard and is going to make us look like monsters in the history books someday. But they're out there, everywhere, and increasingly, now that we have one in the White House.

In the heat of the moment, Johnny (a tenured professor who's been at his university for more than two decades) linked his short post to a longer one by a blogger who has no fucks left to give. Why anyone would expect Black Americans to just roll over and play dead -- or be dead -- without a whimper after 500 years of continual attacks is beyond me. And the blogger in question in this case had written something along the lines of "If White people don't care if Black people die, why should Black people care when White people die?"

Harsh? It depends on how you look at it, doesn't it? Young Black people who hit the streets with signs that read Black Lives Matter have been castigated, gassed, beaten, arrested, and even killed for daring to suggest that Black people have a right to "matter" at all. Yet if one of them writes, "Why do White people get to matter if we don't get to matter?" all hell breaks loose.

What Johnny Williams did is done daily by many thousands of academics who encourage critical thinking about social issues. Why he was singled out of all the rest for the treatment he received is a matter of conjecture. He is Black. He is intelligent. He is unapologetic. But he is not somehow more insulting, more threatening, more wrong-headed, or more dangerous than any number of others. So why him? Who knows? In fact, that should give us all pause. You don't have to try to get in trouble with the "alt-right." Like psychotic villains in a comic book, they are sniffing constantly for fresh blood and when a target is identified, the pack closes in. It could happen to anyone. Which is exactly what they want us to be afraid of.

So a right-wing, reactionary website attacked Johnny Williams full tilt, called for his firing, threatened his life and that of his family, published his home address online so that he had to take his family into hiding, and succeeded in calling forth enough minions that they are still snarling and snapping at his heels as I write. Even a couple of legislators got caught up in the frenzy and called vehemently for his firing.

What did the administration at his university do? The President closed down the campus for a day, railed at Johnny publically for failing to uphold some unnamed fundamental value of the institution, and suspended him pending an investigation that was clearly intended to look for an excuse to "let him go" from a position he's held for more than twenty years. Much pressure was brought to bear by supporters from coast to coast and the investigation ruled in his favor, so the suspension was ultimately lifted. But the dust, needless to say, has not settled.

One reason for this is that the President never issued the kind of strong statement that would have sent the message that universities must serve as a bulwark of critical thinking in the interest of justice for all. As long as administrators don't send that message -- loud and clear -- the dogs of hell will keep baying at the moon and wreaking havoc in the academy. Additionally, the President did not issue an apology for her treatment of a highly respected member of her academic community while he was under attack for doing his job: provoking critical thought.

Right-wing reactionaries cannot successfully accomplish their objectives without the tacit approval of administrative decision-makers who panic under pressure. Fascists are dangerous to the common good, but those who buckle under their pressure and try to throw a person of integrity under the bus are no less so.

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