Adjuncts Aren’t Slaves. Let’s Stop Saying They Are.
December 4, 2013
Amid the rightful discussion of our shift toward an entrenched, disposable academic laboring class, some adjunct advocates are making a striking analogy. Adjunct labor, they say, is a form of new slavery.
The comparison has become increasingly visible on blogs and within comment sections. Here’s one more example, from Langston Snodgrass: “It has been said that, ‘Adjuncts are the slave labor of higher education.’ This is factually true beyond doubt. Adjuncts are disrespected as teachers, as individual human beings, and as professionals in terms of what adjuncts are paid.”
So let’s be clear about this: Adjuncts are not slaves, and being an adjunct is not akin to slavery. Exploitation? In many cases, yes. Slavery? Absolutely not.
Slavery was (and continues to be) a system of forced labor, of lifelong servitude, of denied compensation and violence. Those who deploy the term as part of a rhetorical strategy are joining PETA, anti-choice crusaders, the G.O.P., Sarah Palin, Ben Carson, and a myriad of anti-Obamacareites by doing so. They are blinded by their cause, by historic myopia, and often by the privilege of whiteness.
Throughout history, slavery has been embedded within society. It has governed law, economic and political structures, and everyday realities. White supremacy has been a guiding ideology, a way to rationalize the exploitation and violence experienced by enslaved African and African-American people. Daily abuse, torture, sexual violence, and death have all been part of a system of slavery in the United States, and terror and violence were instrumental in maintaining a system of mass enslavement.
“Slavery for Black Americans was traumatic,” noted Patricia Moody Jefferson, a doctoral student in the Ethelyn R. Strong School of Social Work at Norfolk State University, during a recent discussion I participated in on Facebook. “Children and whole families were sold like animals. People, human beings were killed. Africans who were enslaved lost much of their identity.”
It should go without saying that being an adjunct is nothing like this.
It should go without saying that the ideologies and narratives leading to more and more contingent faculty don’t seep into every aspect of life. It should go without saying that violence and terror aren’t part of the adjunct experience, nor is being legally owned as a form of “property.” It should go without saying that being an adjunct isn’t a birth-to-death reality, one passed on to future generations. The analogy falls flat on its face. Not only does it deny and erase the history of enslaved Africans and African Americans within the United States, but it also obscures the real issues facing adjuncts in our contemporary system of higher education.
Usually a trendsetter, Madonna follows the actions of Paula Dean, Michael Richards, Riley Cooper, Richie Incognito, countless co-workers, neighbors, and college students to use the “n-word.” With her Instagram photo, she has become yet another white person who either doesn’t understand the meaning and history, or simply doesn’t comprehend or care about the harm, pain, and violence that comes every time a white person utters the word.
Either way, her use of the word provides a window into what Leslie Picca, a professor at University of Toledo, and Joe Feagin, a professor at Texas A & M, describes as “backstage racism” – the utterances, slurs, racial jokes, and other dehumanizing language that is rarely seen or heard, yet has consequences.
A picture is worth a thousand words, especially with a racist hashtag.
Used to caption a picture of her son boxing, she noted, “No one messes with Dirty Soap! Mama said knock you out!” she wrote in the Instagram posting, to which she added the hashtag “#disni–a.”
The combination of her son boxing and the use of this word reflects the entrenched nature of racial stereotypes. I cannot help but wonder if her seeing blackness in relationship to boxing, violence, and physicality prompts her use the “n-word” here. Did the associations of blackness to hip-hop (“Mama Said Knock you Out”) and boxing inspire her to mark this activity with this particular hashtag?
One will never know her intentions and, in fact, her intent is irrelevant. She used this word, and she used it in association with her son boxing. Would she have used this hashtag had her son been practicing piano? What if he was preparing for an equestrian competition or polo match? What about preparing to take a test or audition for the ballet? I doubt it.
The word and its use in association with boxing highlight the entrenched nature of stereotypes. As Mark Anthony Neal notes in his book Looking for Leroy, blackness is often only visible as athlete, as violent, and as a physical body: “When we think about black men and boys, when we see them in certain kinds of roles we don’t even think twice about it,” noted Neal, a professor of African American Studies at Duke University. “When we see a black man with a basketball we don’t even have to process that… we know exactly what that means. If we were to see a black man with a violin that gives us reason to pause.”
For Madonna, her son boxing illustrated his blackness; his whiteness notwithstanding, his body was legibly black. The fact that Madonna saw her son as black, because he was, because it illustrates the power of stereotypes; the fact that she sought to identify this blackness with a racial slur tells us how un-post racial we are.
The faux apology is also a reminder of how far we have to come with regards to race in this country. Responding to the criticism, Madonna sampled from the greatest hits of non-apologies, noting “I am sorry if I offended anyone.”
Worse yet, she apologized for giving “people the wrong impression.” While claiming there is “no way to defend the use of the word,” she does just that with references to her intention and what she “meant.” #Weak! Rather than taking responsibility for her words, choices, and actions, she instead focused on how others may have (mis)perceived her “provocative” words.
Clearly, Madonna is preparing for her next album: “Confessions of White Privilege.” Her intentions for using the word are irrelevant, and to be clear, the word isn’t “provocative,” it’s seeped in a history of racism and white supremacist violence. She doesn’t have the power – much less the right – to simply say, “I mean it to be something else,” or to say, “it’s a term of endearment.”
I can hear the responses already; all of which will emphasize how she is a victim of “political correctness” and that this illustrates America’s racial double standards. Ignoring the fact that this entire piece is “one of endearment,” let me respond: America is a nation founded on double standards that provide daily benefits and structural advantages to whites in America. Madonna’s latest post is just more of the same #whiteprivileged #entitlement.
N-Words, R-Words and the Defense of White Power in the NFL
by David J. Leonard and C. Richard King | NewBlackMan (in Exile)
At best the recent news that the NFL would consider instituting a penalty for use of the N-word on the playing field is ironic or contradictory. This from a league that has maintained an active defense of the R-word as a legitimate and honorific name for one of its more popular franchises is At worst, each word highlights the entrenched racism of sports culture, and society at large, and a refusal to confront white power.
One word is read a racial slur, and only a racial slur, and must not be uttered even as the structures of violence, degradation and inequality remain entrenched in society; the other word, despite linguistic, historic, and psychological evidence, is framed as anything but a racial slur which can be used in marketing, media coverage, and fan cheers.
The former word is taken to be a reference to the bad old days of racism, best forgotten; a reminder of the unresolved history of slavery and the social death that rendered Blacks as property to be exchanged and exploited. The latter word is defended as a tradition, ideal or so it is claimed to the so-called time after race, the raceless present, and more a trademark, a valuable piece of property from which Dan Snyder, the league, media conglomerates, and countless others make obscene profits from distortion and dehumanization.
And it is hard not to see in this pattern that some kinds of racism matter; some types of utterances elicit discomfort and unease; some can be seen and described, and demand public action, while others remain invisible, unspeakable, and unmoving.
After a season that began with a white player, drunk at a concert, calling a security guard a n****r because he felt slighted, and ended with a damning report on the culture of the Miami Dolphins’ locker room–in which use of the same word figured prominently in the bullying of Jonathan Martin–it is perhaps understandable that the NFL wants to be responsive to “incivility,” if not outright hate.
Yet, the NFL’s refusal to deal with violence, to deal with racism in its many forms, points to the true motives here. This is ultimately about regulating (black) players’ – their utterances, their agency, and their bodies. Just as the Palace Brawl was used to rationalize and justify the NBA Dress Code, the elimination of straight from high school players, and countless other initiatives that disciplined and punished the NBA’s primarily black players, Goodell is using Riley Cooper, Richie Incognito and the growing debate around the N-word to increase his power.
This is all about bout respect, decency and discipline, as defined by Roger Goodell and his corporate partners. This is all about control, it’s about power, the politics of respectability, disciplining and punishment, selling it’s corporate multiculturalism, and regulating the voices and bodies of its primarily black players. This is why the focus has been on black players, on discipline, on the lack of respect that “today’s players” show for the game, each other, and social norms.
Not surprisingly then, some see in these contradictions as self-serving, even callous cynical hypocrisy. While acknowledging these patterns, we think they are part of a larger, unmarked problem, namely white power. And the proposed rule change and the defense of the Washington DC franchise both must be read as efforts to protect white power while maintain control over discourse and keeping the voices and bodies of people of color in their prescribed places. Despite appearance to the contrary both the refusal to #dropthename and the push to #droptheslur reflect a refusal to challenge racism. Each seeks to preserve white power and the profitability of the NFL; each privileges white desire ahead of anything else.
With Nelson Mandela’s funeral on the television, Sammy, who is 6, turned to me with a question that quickly grabbed my attention. Having already discussed his death, his activism, and apartheid, Sammy was very aware of Madiba’s struggles for justice. Listening to the commentators praise Mandela for his courage and beautiful spirit, he asked, “if he was so good, why would they put him in jail.” Inundated with messages that prisons are for bad people, he was clearly processing what felt like an incongruity of a heroic Mandela being locked up in a place that is suppose to be for bad people. This wasn’t the first time we’d engaged this topic, having pushed him to think about how PlayMobile imagines the world within its “police set,” which has police and robbers. We spent many minutes discussing why someone might steal and how such choices don’t inherently make someone a bad person. These conversations are never easy; they are messy and complex, which is made that much more difficult by the simplistic messages disseminated within kid’s culture. This past summer, I was hopeful when I learned that Sesame Street would shed light on the issue of mass incarceration.
Reflecting its history of engaging broader social realities (divorce, AIDS, death, perpetual war culture), Sesame Street broke the mainstream media’s relative silence regarding children of incarcerated parents in 2013. It introduces viewers to Alex, whose father is in jail. Upset by queries from friends about “where his Dad is,” Alex eventually tells the group that he’s in jail. Sofia notes that her dad was also “incarcerated” leading Abby Cadabby to ask, “what’s carcerate?” In response, she notes, “When someone breaks law, a grown-up rule, they have to go to prison or jail.” In another segment Murray and Nylo talk about the emotional difficulties of living with a family member in prison, emphasizing the importance of conversation and love. Another segment documents a little girl visiting her father, describing the bus ride, the rules, the sights, sounds, and emotional trauma of only getting to see a loved one within these conditions. Given the erasure of the impact of incarceration on families and the refusal to humanize those “made to disappear,” Sesame Street’s intervention is important.
The reaction to the Alex character was predicable; it highlights the importance of challenging dominant representations of prisons and incarcerated people and the dialects between America’s prison nation and its collective consciousness regarding those locked up.
Mainstream American racial discourse loves conflict between marginalized groups. Turning every instance into a spectacle, these narratives erase the tensions and material conflicts, often times pathologizing communities for an inability to get along with one another. From the media to Hollywood, from the halls of Washington to the ivory towers, discourses around interracial conflict deny/erase/ignore the context of racism, letting power, governing ideologies, and dominant institutions off the hook. We have seen this with media discourses around Blacks and Latinos, Blacks and Jews, and Blacks and Asians. Of course, the centering of blackness is instructive given the centrality of narratives of pathology and efforts to imagine blackness as a destructive and undesirable pollutant. Not surprisingly there is little room to discuss resistance, to document coalitions and shared struggles against white supremacy, and the articulation of “freedom dreams” (Kelley 2003).
Dr. Gaye Theresa Johnson, with Spaces of Conflict, Sounds of Solidarity: Music, Race, and Spatial Entitlement in Los Angeles (UC Press), steps into this narrative vacuum. Challenging the erasure of resistance efforts that sought to claim foreclosed space, Dr. Johnson offers an important discussion of a history that remains “illegible” (Neal 2013) given the hegemony of narratives of conflict, hostility, and pathology. Spaces of Conflict, Sounds of Solidarity“examines interracial anti-racist alliances, divisions among aggrieved minority communities, and the cultural expressions and spatial politics that emerge from the mutual struggles of Blacks and Chicanos in Los Angeles from the 1940s to the present.” Challenging “institutional and social repression” that has resulted in “both moments and movements” “Blacks and Chicanos have unmasked power imbalances, sought recognition, and forged solidarities by embracing the strategies, cultures, and politics of each others’ experiences.”
This work is less invested in the formation of organizations or specifics mobilizations but instead the everyday resistance, the “hidden transcripts” (Scott) and “informal infrapolitics” (Kelley). The focus here leads readers to see the genealogy of resistance, to see the many ways that spatial foreclosure and the denied rights of citizenship were consistently inspired opposition that moved across racialized lines.
Building on a myriad of works that have documented the history of race within Los Angeles, and race relations in the city of Angels, Dr. Johnson brings an important focus on space, the sonic, and micro-politics. From Zoot Suits to community newspapers, from car culture to graffiti, from punk music to hip-hop, Black and Latino youth have carved out spaces of resistance, challenging not only dominant representations and everyday violence but the refusal to recognize their “collective entitlement to national membership” and citizenship.
Dr. Johnson chronicles a history of Blacks and Latinos in postwar Los Angeles as one defined by immobility – segregation, job dislocation, economic stagnation, mass incarceration, and confinement. It is equally a history of space, evidence by the destruction of public transportation, the construction of freeways at the expense of communities of color, the privileging of the needs of capitalism ahead of the needs of people (Chavez Ravine), the movement of manufacturing plants from urban to suburban (& into transnational spaces) and the role of the police/criminal justice as the principal arbiter of ownership and access to space. The discussion of mobility, place and space are so powerful within this book, as Dr. Johnson highlights the interconnections between space, mobility, power, and citizenship.
In this context, Dr. Johnson highlights the importance in the development of spaces of congregation. Faced with growing state and police power, which sought to disrupt interracial mixing (crackdown on Central Ave; freeways dividing communities), Blacks and Latinos created spaces in opposition. In 1948, John Dolphin responded to racism within the Los Angeles music industry. Realized that “most music stores in Hollywood and downtown Los Angeles refused to carry records by Black artists” he established a record store in South L.A (p. 49).
Naming it “Dolphin’s of Hollywood,” this store would not only emerge as a place of gathering, of cultural exchange, and the production of “shared soundscapes” (p. xiii) but it would articulate a shared grievance regarding segregation and racial exclusion. Far from Hollywood, the decision to name the store “Dolphin’s of Hollywood” offered a powerful source of resistance. “He reasoned that although blacks were unwelcome in Hollywood, he could ‘bring Hollywood to the Negroes’…. The glamour previously attached to Hollywood as a physical place could not travel across town as a component of discursive space” (p. 49).
Similarly, the rearticulation of “freedom” and democracy by Charlotta Bass, editor of The California Eagle, LA’s largest black newspaper, and Luisa Moreno, a prominent activist, advanced a rhetorical space that spotlighted shared grievances, shared experiences, and shared struggle against racism in a postwar moment. Deploying the language commonplace during the war, Bass and Moreno offered “rhetorical strategies of interethnic affiliation.” Through rhetorical framing and organizing, they “shaped the narrative of the Black-Brown political alliance and its cultural corollaries for years to come” (p. 5). That is, their work, and their emphasis on shared experiences with white supremacist violence reflects Dr. Johnson’s idea of “spatial entitlement,” in that it allowed for the “imagining, envisioning, and enacting” of “discursive spaces that ‘make room for new affiliations and identifications” (p. 1).
Similarly, Spaces of Conflict, Sounds of Solidarity reveals the powerful ways that culture operates as a space of not only interracial gathering but a process where the necessary frames, identities, and shared grieves were articulated. For example, Dr. Johnson explores the ways that Black, Latino, and Jewish youth donned zoot suits in the face of exclusion, violence, and invisibility. “Space, sound, and racial politics were powerfully intertwined with the music associated with the political moment and with zoot suit culture more specifically, which included Black, Brown, and Jewish working class populations,” writes Johnson, an associate professors at UCSB. “Linking human rights to soot suit culture,” these sartorial choices and the contested meaning “became a culmination of intersecting constellations of decades-long struggles over style, body, and public space” (p. 26).
Evident here, and elsewhere, power rests in how Blacks and Latinos responded to disempowerment, disenfranchisement, and limited access to space with the construction of spaces that allowed for displayed humanity, legible grievance, shared “freedom dreams.” She describes these spaces of resistance as follows:
When the decimation of neighborhoods and the loss of leisure spaces could not be regained in physical space, people from disenfranchised groups claimed the kinds of spaces that were available to them, and in those spaces often created important democratic and egalitarian visions and practices. This did not translate, usually into permanent spaces. But spatial claims could manifest in temporary locations that announced the relevance and rights of Black and Brown people on the landscape of postwar Los Angeles . . .. Enacted entitlements of space took place on Whittier Boulevard in East Los Angeles, where Chicano cruisers congregated in a neighborhood that was once theirs; at an A & W drive-in among Black, Brown, and white car club members; and in El Monte and Pacoima, where music revues attracted interracial audiences outside city limits, where they were relatively free of police harassment (p. 65)
It is within these spaces that readers are pushed to look at various artists that cut across a multitude of genres – WAR, Ozomotali, Rage against the Machine, Señor Soul, & Thee Midnighters – that provided an “important register of shared grievances and interconnected struggle for social space and new liberatory identities” (p 95). These artists created songs that made you think and groove; songs that compelled people to dance and demand a freedom; artists that inspired artistry and movements of change.
They, like Gaye Theresa Johnson, envision a “good day.” That is, “in the midst of this political upheaval, cultural workers created new places and spaces through street demonstrations, mural self-defense groups, consumer collectives, and sites for performing music, theater and poetry” (p. 195).
This is evident in murals that are still visible throughout Los Angeles, or in the music that found a home at “Dolphin’s of Hollywood” or KDAY; it can be seen in the historic legacies of interracial organizations and the formation of ethnic studies at UCLA, USC, and countless California State University and community colleges in Los Angeles; it can be seen in the development of the Garden, or in the development of dance crews, or swapmeets, or in the shared histories on basketball courts and baseball fields. The history of Los Angeles is not one of a Hollywood film, whether that of white wealth or Black-Latino-Asian conflict, but one of everyday resistance and the ceaseless agitation for visibility and space, mobility and inclusion, understanding and the realization of “freedom dreams.” Gaye Theresa Johnson Spaces of Conflict provides a necessary and important counter to these ubiquitous narratives, shining a spotlight on the many interventions and spaces of resistance that have demanded justice and full-citizenship. Like the artists and individuals documented in this book, Johnson powerfully offers readers “freedom dreams” to be experienced inside and outside of academia.
Brennan Linsley/Associated Press – Hundreds of people in line for the
Jan. 1 opening of the 3D Cannabis Center, a legal retail outlet for
marijuana in Denver.
If you’re white, that joint probably won’t lead to jail time
By Stacey Patton and David J. Leonard, Published: January 10, 2015
Has the new year started out on a high or a drugged-out low? The decriminalization of marijuana in Washington and Colorado has been heralded as the end of prohibition — and alternately lamented as the rock-bottom of America’s morality.
But few have acknowledged the obvious: The media’s images of mostly scruffy-looking, smiling people, lined up to score some newly legal dope, are overwhelmingly white.
Now imagine the reaction — from the media, your mother and the Justice Department — if these lines were filled with young Hispanics or African Americans with cornrows, do-rags and sagging pants? We can almost hear the conversation shifting from warnings about the health risks of the munchies to panic over marijuana as a “gateway drug” — and the violence, gang activity and criminality it sows.
What’s happening in Washington and Colorado isn’t a shift so much as a formalization of what has long been a reality: If you’re white, you can do drugs with relative impunity. No one law or state initiative will be the nail in the coffin of America’s failed war on drugs — and sadly, black and Latino Americans will continue to get locked up while others are getting high.
According to a report by the American Civil Liberties Union, there were 8 million marijuana arrests in the United States from 2001 to 2010. These arrests were anything but colorblind: Eighty-eight percent were for possession, a crime for which black Americans are almost four times more likely to be arrested than whites. While white and black Americans use marijuana at roughly similar rates — though whites ages 18 to 25 consistently surpass their black peers — arrest rates are nowhere near comparable. As of 2005, according to the American Bar Association, African Americans represented 14 percent of drug users (and of the population as a whole), yet accounted for 34 percent of all drug arrests and 53 percent of those sent to prison for a drug offense.
Not a day passes without my questioning my abilities: as a writer, a commentator, and—most of all—as an academic. I wonder if I have talent, or am I just faking it?
Despite those insecurities, I don’t feel like an impostor. On paper, I fit the profile of an academic. I am a white male. I trod a typical school-to-university path that—in addition to providing ample opportunities and advantages—normalized becoming an academic. I have been taught over and over again that my identity fits that of a scholar.
From Good Will Hunting to The Paper Chase, representations of professors in popular culture look like me. When I walk into a classroom, no one questions that I’m the professor. When I go to get a book from my office late at night, security doesn’t even blink an eye. My whiteness and maleness matter because I am rarely made to feel like a guest, an impostor, as someone not worthy of inclusion in the academic fabric. Self-doubt aside, my privileges insulate me from impostor syndrome.
The author and impostor-syndrome expert Valerie Young says the condition “refers to people who have a persistent belief in their lack of intelligence, skills, or competence.” She continues: “They are convinced that other people’s praise and recognition of their accomplishments is undeserved, chalking up their achievements to chance, charm, connections, and other external factors.”
While Young’s definition is important, it obscures the centrality of race, gender, and culture. Given the ways that intelligence and competence are defined in and around racial and gender stereotypes, and given the dominant image of the white, male academic, it is impossible to talk about impostor syndrome in universal ways. Impostor syndrome is not just about feeling out of place or unworthy—it is a symptom of a culture that falsely defines success and worthiness through the myth of meritocracy.
“I always feel like I do not belong, or am not supposed to be here,” notes Tamura Lomax, a visiting assistant professor in the department of gender, sexuality, and women’s studies at Virginia Commonwealth University. “I imagine this is felt for a variety of reasons, ranging from my race, sex, class and gender.” In other words, it is impossible to approach issues of belonging or impostor syndrome in a race- or gender-neutral way.
Many of us may feel insecure or unsure of our worth, but that insecurity and unease is not produced equally. Race and gender are crucial to understanding impostor syndrome, but so are ability, body size, sexuality, nationality, and class. Monica J. Casper, a professor and chair of gender and women’s studies at the University of Arizona, writes:
I was a first-generation college student; daughter of a truck mechanic and a steelworker. I had no idea how to prepare for college; many of my friends were going to state schools or not attending college at all. Some joined the military. I joined the student body of the University of Chicago, on a hefty scholarship, and learned to find my way. I loved it; a whole new world opened up. And then I went on to graduate school and am now—23 years later—a full professor. And we know the stats on gender and full-professor status. White privilege is surely part of my story, but class privilege is not, nor is gender privilege. As a small stature person of good humor and a “kind” disposition, it’s been a long battle to secure some measure of respect. Even now, I have moments in the classroom or at conferences where I feel that sense of “I don’t belong.”
It is crucial to note that impostor syndrome stems not just from the mismatch between the representation of an academic and one’s identity, but also from the daily experiences in which faculty, students, and administrators convey that you don’t belong, or that you don’t have what it takes. From the refusal to refer to faculty of color as “Dr.” or “Professors,” to the ubiquitous questioning of “credentials” or knowledge, these messages are endless.
Universities need to address not only the emotional and the psychological realities but the campus climate as well. There is little conversation in graduate school about feelings of persistent insecurity and unworthiness. It is rare for the myths of meritocracy to be challenged; it’s also rare to have conversations about race and gender’s impact on higher education. Instead, we are taught to be insecure faculty members.