Friday, February 12, 2016

Forty Seven Years Ago

On January 29th of this year, there was, in the evening, a symposium that took place on the Oklahoma University campus. It featured presentations from a number of student activist organizations.

These various student led organizations are all focused on advancing the needs and visions of people (students) who are identified by the dominant white culture (and also by the predominantly white university) as belonging to groups designated as a minority. Minority, here, is referencing power differences, not population variances.


The graphic above was circulated as the invitation to this event. There were 5 time slots scheduled and 6 presentations were given during each time slot for a total of 30 different learning opportunities. Since there's only one of me...I did not get to attend but a sampling of the offerings by the groups. They were all stimulating and interesting....and...in one an observation by a young woman that made me want to weep.

She noted this true...but dismal...fact during the presentation by a group called Unheard. A researching of the history of activism by black students on the OU campus indicated that a group had formed some 40 years ago (it was 1969) and that the various demands for changes they presented were essentially the same demands that OU Unheard is presenting now.

That's 47 years ago that the university was put on notice that things needed to change. And here we are...with the exception of some cosmetic dabs...still dealing with the same old face of indifference...if not hostility...toward the college experience of black students at Oklahoma University. What happened?

In this post by Alph Ko over on the Aphro-ism blog she writes this phrase: "...de-contextualized and re-framed through a narrative that makes the dominant class comfortable." These processes of de-contexting and re-framing (among others) are so profoundly insidious and powerful in the patriarchal white supremacist culture (the dominant social culture here in the U.S.)  and are both efficient and potent in terms of supporting the status quo. 

The practices of de-contexting and re-framing are aspects of something Dr. Charles W. Mills references in his book, The Racial Contract. He writes:

on matters related to race, the Racial Contract prescribes for its signatories an inverted epistemology, an epistemology of ignorance, a particular pattern of localized and global cognitive dysfunctions (which are psychologically and socially functional), producing the ironic outcome that whites will in general be unable to understand the world they themselves have made”. p 18.

When I read this quote I am reminded of Audre Lorde's often repeated observation that the master's tools will not be able to dismantle the master's house. One meaning I take from this is that we (mainly white people) will not be able to neither understand/comprehend the society we've created nor will we be able to fundamentally change it using the approaches associated with the epistemology of ignorance we white people invoke when thinking about race and racial oppressions. De-contexting and re-framing exemplify "the master's tools" regarding the maintenance of the racial contract's epistemology of ignorance...so does invisibling.

Another 'tool' is historical amnesia...which...interestingly enough has no specific entry on Wikipedia. I didn't realize that until I started looking for a linkable definition. There are multiple entries that use the historical amnesia phrase...but no specific entry titled historical amnesia. That's just an accident...right? Gore Vidal wrote a book with that phrase in the title which is focused on imperialism but Wikipedia, so far anyway, has yet to tackle writing about the meaning of the phrase. Maybe they forgot to do so.

I ran across a brief (around 13 minutes) but excellent video by Dr. Cori Wong talking about the epistemology of ignorance that informs the racial contract. In it she wonders/suggests that maybe there are epistemologies of ignorance not only associated with race/racism but also structures of deliberate and cultivated ignorances associated with other practices of oppression and dominance (e.g. sexism, homophobia, etc.). Each set of awful behaviors has its own customized methods of getting you to believe they aren't awful or that they don't exist or to cause/maintain confusion when attempting to comprehend them.

Multiple epistemologies of ignorance that are in place that serve to assist in implementing and supporting the practices of various oppressions and dominances? That support and maintain...for instance...the invisibility of privileges, the spooky and ubiquitous obliviousness of white people to the racism that permeates U.S. society? That participating in an epistemology of ignorance is part of the racial contract and...if you dare to attempt to opt out of this ignorance you will be seen...if you're racialized as white...as betraying whiteness? Hmmm....

Let me make some suggestions for you. You might tackle Dr Mills' book but if you do you may, as I do, find it to be hard going because he is an academic and professor of philosophy and his writing is rich and dense and erudite. The content is terrific but getting to it requires (at least it did/does for me) looking up lots of words and re-reading many passages. If that seems not quite right...you might want to read this entry about bell hooks and then get one (or more) of her books. Her first would be a good one. She's also an academic and a professor but her writing style is (for me anyway) more accessible and engaging.

If you prefer not to wade into a book...there are a myriad of videos available with various people expounding on these matters. I have thoroughly enjoyed videos of bell hooks and Robin DiAngelo and Joy DeGruy and those videos address the issues I've written about in this post. You can also watch this video by Robert Jensen.

If you want...you can watch this brief video of Professor Mills offering a quick summary of the popular conceptualizations of U.S. social and economic history. In fact, definitely watch the video by Dr. Mills. It is both amusing and horrifying. The horror is that he summarizes the version of the racial and economic history of the U.S. that was presented to me in grades 1 through 12...and he does this in just 3 minutes and it is pure nonsense. it's a wonderful example of how promoting and teaching ignorance dresses itself up as presenting 'knowledge'.

Forty seven years ago students were asking for changes at the University of Oklahoma...and, except for superficial efforts, those changes have yet to occur. What a terrible and abysmal statement that is about we here in the U.S. who are racialized as white people. Shame on us.




 







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