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We welcome all thoughtful, informed and reasoned comments to our departmental statements. The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the views of all faculty and graduate students at the Department of Ethnic Studies, the Regents of the University of California, or the University of California, San Diego. Please post your comments on our blog: http://ethnicstudiesucsd.wordpress.com/

Response to Racist Graffiti on UCSD Campus-April 8, 2016

The Ethnic Studies Department condemns in the strongest terms the racist graffiti at UCSD and, more broadly, the newly virulent forms of racism, Islamophobia, misogyny and homophobia that characterize contemporary politics. The most recent incident of hateful speech seeks to intimidate and harass Latinxs in particular, and it fosters a hostile climate that threatens to compromise the right of students to pursue their educations, and the ability of faculty and staff to do their jobs. We offer our steadfast support to the Raza Resource Center, and to student communities of color most directly and intensely affected by these events. We ask campus administration to undertake an investigation of this incident and to take swift disciplinary action against any found responsible for such acts.

On Friday April 8, at the start of Triton Day weekend, the sidewalks in front of the Raza Resource Center and along Library Walk were covered in implicitly and explicitly anti-Latinx slogans. Vandals wrote in chalk statements including “Trump 2016,” “Deport Them All,” “Build the Wall,” “Mexico will Pay,” and “f**k Mexicans,” deploying the racist rhetoric used especially by the Republican Presidential candidate who has called Mexican immigrants “criminals and rapists,” and who has pledged both mass deportations and to build a wall on the US/Mexico border and make Mexico pay. A slogan written on a chalkboard and denigrating an introductory Ethnic Studies course was also witnessed on Triton Day.

These incidents at UCSD are thus not isolated, but are part of a larger pattern of similar events at dozens of colleges and universities encouraged and facilitated by the Trump campaign.   Meanwhile, Black and Latinx student protesters at Trump rallies have been subject to extreme verbal and physical assaults:

--Trump recently rented facilities for a rally at Vodosta State University of Georgia and forcibly ejected 30 silently protesting Black college students.

--Immigrant rights activists at Iowa State University protesting Trump’s appearance at a college football game were confronted by Trump supporters who shouted “send the illegals back to where they came from!,” while one of them tore up a protester’s sign.

--Latinx students from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond protesting a Trump rally were shoved, spat on, and told to “Go back where you came from” by the candidate’s supporters.

--At a rally in Louisville Kentucky a group of white men led by an infamous white supremacist shouted racist and misogynist insults at Shiya Nwagnguma, a Black student from the University of Louisville, before finally shoving her out of the building.

--In Miami Ariel Rojas, one of eight immigrant rights protesters from Florida International University, was kicked and violently dragged out of a rally by a Trump supporter.

--At numerous high school athletic contests, slogans similar to those found at UCSD have been used by white students as racial epithets to taunt their Black and Latinx opponents.

In the current political climate, and with the express encouragement of several political candidates, conversations about race and immigration have become increasingly anti-Mexican. The champions of this rhetoric have forged a climate of impunity while simultaneously making public spaces dangerous for people of color, particularly Black, Latinx and Arab/Muslim people. The racist graffiti covering the public space outside the Raza Resource Center and Library Walk intentionally extended that hostility to UCSD, in clear violation of our “Principles of Community,” but more importantly with the express desire to intimidate and harass not only existing UCSD students, faculty, and staff but also (by timing their inscriptions to coincide with Triton Week) prospective students and their friends and families.

As a department with a longstanding commitment to educating about and confronting this kind of racism on our campus, we recognize that these incidents are not limited to a single political campaign, but are part of broader social divisions in our society that produce racism, sexism, classism, homophobia and discrimination against those with disabilities. In 2010, a series of racial incidents following the so-called “Compton Cookout” produced a crisis on campus that students, staff, and faculty described as a Racial State of Emergency. Student demands resulted in the creation of the Raza Resource Center, the Black Resource Center, the UCSD Inter-tribal Resource Center, and a new diversity requirement. More recently, students have demanded an API-MEDA resource center, for which UCSD has just now agreed to try to locate space. We thus invite the larger campus community to join us and allied departments and programs as we continue to formulate constructive solutions to problems of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and we call on the administration to support departmental programs and proposals to expand teaching and research on these issues and engender a campus climate based on openness, tolerance, and mutual respect.

Response to UCSD Sun God Incident involving Native American Cultural Appropriation

Ethnic Studies Faculty and Student Response to UCSD Sun God Incident involving Native American Cultural Appropriation

As faculty and graduate students in the Ethnic Studies Department at UC-San Diego, we strongly condemn the appropriation of Native American attire and cultural symbolism as a purportedly celebratory gesture at the recent Sun-God festival. We are especially dismayed that such displays of insensitive and inconsiderate behavior should follow so closely on the heels of not just the Compton Cookout, but more importantly, the large-scale educational efforts launched by communities of color and allies last quarter. Such displays of “playing Native” are an example of chronic problems and archetypes that degrade Indigenous communities. As is the case of the recent controversy at the 2010 Olympics – when white Russian figure skaters donned native gear as their attempts to ‘honor’ Aboriginal peoples – such displays, rather than being respectful gestures, risk in fact performing a mockery of Native culture through daffy performances typical of ‘playing Indian.’

Whether intended or not, we, as a campus community, need to be accountable to each other in recognizing the forms of symbolic violence perpetuated against marginalized communities by our choices and actions. While lack of intent, knowledge, or understanding, are not particularly acceptable excuses, they do, however, signify a larger institutional and societal problem that allows such incidents to re-occur ad infinitum.Consequently, it becomes incumbent upon us as students and educators – but more importantly, as critically responsible social actors – to educate and hold each other accountable about the implications and consequences of our actions. It is in this spirit, that we support the NASA statement as well as offer a constructive critique to the response published in the Guardian.

The act of ‘playing Indian’ draws from a long “cultural heritage” in symbolic appropriations of Indiannness and Native iconography that serves to replace, and keep invisible, the brutal history of genocide, settler colonialism and oppression about which many today remain unaware, and too few are taught in school. This history includes such official policies as the Dawes Act, which divided Native reservation land into individual plots in order to deracinate and destroy tribal/familial ways of life while giving leftover land to white settlers; the environmental hazards and economic devastation produced from mineral mining in Indian reservations without their consent; cinematic depictions, especially in the Western genre, that made entertainment out of shooting and killing Indians; the ongoing historical struggle over broken treaties which created most of the “free” land upon which the United States, including UCSD itself is plotted; the forced removal and Americanization programs that were forced upon American Indians; decades of so called boarding schools in which the US government stole children from their communities and sought to eradicate their cultural traditions through violent programs in white-washing and forced assimilation.  That Sun-God is supposed to evoke Indigeneity without ever speaking directly to indigenous issues speaks volumes about the ways in which Indigenous and Native bodies and lives are constantly re-presented in ways that are ultimately designed to wipe out the historical violence perpetrated upon them; to whitewash the violent relations through which U.S. nationhood was/is made possible; and to recuperate nativeness/indigeneity so as to recall the romanticized figure of the “noble savage” as a consenting ancestor of the nation, and willing playmate of UCSD students.

A recent student editorial in the UCSD Guardian is symptomatic of the historical marginalization of indigeneity within the context of American understandings of race. While the writer recognizes the significance and severity of the Compton Cookout which targeted Black students, the article suggests that the Sun God incident constitutes an entirely “different story,” one where students merely threw on their old “Pocahontas” costumes and ‘paid respect’ to the festival by sporting Sioux-inspired gear because it was deemed cool. The author suggests that this act was one of flattery not mockery, since it reveals the melting pot heritage and tradition of America – one that represents our collective right to appreciate the art and culture of all communities, including Native Americans. This ‘appreciation’ of art and culture, however, rarely, if ever, translates into a collective recognition of Indian politics and history, one bound to unresolved demands by Native tribes for economic, environmental, and legal justice. Indeed, the Sun God festival itself is a display of “honoring” San Diego’s Native tribes without publicly educating people about the struggles that confront them.

Moreover, the article does not account for the ways in which structural and institutional issues of race impact Native and indigenous communities. Indeed, while issues of symbolic racism are deemed to affect African Americans, Asian Americans and Latinos, they do not seem to equally apply to Native Americans. This is especially insidious considering that Native Americans constitute a less visible demographic (less than 1% of the student body at UCSD is Native American), despite San Diego County’s distinction as having the largest number of Native American reservations — communities rich with histories, and contemporary cultures and politics, that few in the UCSD community ever learn about. In this context, one becomes free to pick or “borrow” cultural traditions, based on the assumption that the represented other has no say in such acts, thereby emptying such appropriative performances of any meaning.  If, however, one actually listens to the NASA students on campus or Native American community members who are our neighbors, we would hear both the opposition to such representations and voices of active self-presentation.

The disregard for native presence and sovereignty is further demonstrated by the University of California’s refusal to formally repatriate the remains found at the Chancellor’s House, under the terms of NAGPRA (the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act). The reduction of the remains to “scientific artifacts” – those to be collected, studied, circulated and commodified – represents a continuation of the violence of academic research and knowledge production native people remain positioned as objects of anthropological research and curiosity. In the context of such institutional indifference, it becomes particularly imperative that we reformulate our practices of knowledge production and the practices we use in fighting for libratory social justice even or especially when we assume that our politics already adequately address every subaltern group in the United States. Coalitional politics among communities of color, the project underlying Ethnic Studies, must be based on honest assessments of how our communities are racialized, gendered, sexualized and colonized in very different ways if we are truly to achieve libratory futures for all. Just as the problem with the ‘Compton Cookout’ was not simply the party, but the party line, we will continue to call for the repatriation of the Kumeyaay remains, greater resources for recruiting and retaining Native American students, and greater integration of contemporary Native American concerns into the UCSD curriculum, in Ethnic Studies as well as other disciplines.

The cultural appropriation of Native American culture is not simply a symptom of a process of racism, but rather represents a multiplicity of issues, described by Native feminist scholar Andrea Smith as the three pillars of heteropatriarchy, settler colonialism, and white supremacy. Indeed, Native issues are often conflated or reduced to an effect of racism when questions of land rights and tribal sovereignty do not coincide or align with our usual understandings of “race,” racism, and the civil rights-based framework. Yet, if we are, as a campus community, to take seriously the critical complexities that surround issues of social justice, then we must develop a serious understanding of and commitment to the incorporation of Indigeneity in the intellectual and political struggle for a more equitable and just world.

Response to UCSD Campus Crisis Precipitated by the Event Dubbed the "Compton Cookout"

Ethnic Studies Faculty and Student Response to UCSD Campus Crisis Precipitated by the Event Dubbed the "Compton Cookout"

As faculty and graduate students in the Ethnic Studies Department at UC-San Diego, we unequivocally condemn the February 15th off-campus party, dubbed the "Compton Cookout," as an example of racist, classist and misogynist stereotyping that degrades Black people through disparaging representations of so-called "African American culture."  Like similar events thrown on college and university campuses across the United States, this "theme party" in one quick, broad stroke reduced the complex lived experience of a heterogeneous racialized community to a caricatured depiction of cultural deviancy. All the more troubling, this particular themed party was intentionally organized to mock ongoing celebrations of African American History month in the U.S. and specifically here at UC San Diego.

This "monstrosity" (as some of the organizers called it) has a violent and racist history that began with blackface minstrel shows in the U.S., starting in the early 19th century, heightening with popularity during the Abolition Movement, and extending into 20th century theater and film.  Both blackface minstrel performances and parties such as the “Compton Cookout” reinforce and magnify existing material and discursive structures of Black oppression, while denying Black people any sense of humanity, negating not only the actual lives that exist behind these caricatured performances but the structural conditions that shape Black life in the US.  Far from celebrating Black history, events such as this one are marked celebrations of the play of power characteristic of whiteness in general and white minstrelsy in particular: the ability to move in and move out of a racially produced space at will; the capacity to embody a presumed deviance without actually ever becoming or being it; the privilege to revel in this raced and gendered alterity without ever having to question or encounter the systemic and epistemic violence that produces hierarchies of difference in the first place. Moreover, like their blackface minstrel predecessors, the organizers and attendees of the “Compton Cookout” demonstrate the inextricability of performances of white mastery over Black bodies from structures of patriarchy: by instructing their women ‘guests’ on how to dress (“wear cheap clothes”), behave (“start fights and drama”), and speak (“have a very limited vocabulary”), these young men not only paint a degrading and dehumanizing picture of African American women as so-called “ghetto chicks,” but offer a recipe for the objectification of all women—made permissible, once again, through the appropriation of blackness.

Contrary to what some have claimed, the recent "Compton Cookout" is neither an aberration nor unique. Rather, it is best understood as part of a broader social reality that despite the celebrated juridical/political advancements achieved by people of color in the United States through centuries of struggle, full racial justice remains a goal, rather than accomplishment. The same month that we witnessed Barack Obama sworn in as the first Black man to reach the White House, the number of Black men imprisoned in the United States reached one million. Meanwhile, the backlash against affirmative action in public institutions that began a decade ago in the state of California has reduced representation of people of color in institutions ranging from the University of Michigan Law School to the New Haven Fire Department to public school districts across the US, making the criminal justice system the only state institution in which African Americans are still sought after and included in large numbers. Indeed, the unacknowledged slow reversal of the promise of Brown v. Board of Education is evident here at UCSD: Black students currently represent less than 2% of the undergraduate population here at UC San Diego, a percentage that is scarcely better than the 1% representation of Black people among faculty and academic professionals. Given this, despite the protestations of its organizers, events like the "Compton Cookout" are never “harmless fun.”  Rather, they are the cultural matter through which raced and gendered hierarchies of difference are reproduced and instantiated; they are the venues in which white privilege is rationalized through the representation of African Americans as less civilized and more deviant, less human and more animalistic, less deserving of education and more worthy of satire.

Indeed, the “Compton Cookout” demonstrates that as a country and as a campus, we have yet to create the institutional systems that would make places of higher education more accessible to and less alienating for Black students and other students of color. Indeed, if recent events on campus are any indicator, as a campus, we have only begun the work of recognizing our own complicities in the problem at hand. As scholars of race and power in the United States and transnationally, the faculty and students of the Ethnic Studies Department and our affiliates are well-versed in the history and intersectional analysis of events such as this recent party, and the continuing raced, classed, and gendered structures of inequality that it represents. We remain ready to assist the administration in not only developing "teach-ins" but also institutional policies capable of radically changing the campus climate within which such events can be conceived of as ‘harmless’ and be carried out unchecked.

In that vein, the Department of Ethnic Studies calls upon the University of California, San Diego administration to view this event not as an incident of wayward students violating the principles of UCSD’s community, but rather to engage this event as a moment to re-think the logic of institutional accountability: who is responsible for creating a campus climate of permissibility around racial/gendered representational violence, and who pays the price of such a climate? We applaud the intellectual, political, and emotional work that is already being done by students, faculty and staff around the party and the broader issues it points to; at the same time, we recognize that moments such as this place additional and exhausting demands on a limited number of bodies, in part due to administrative expectations that students, faculty, and staff of color will serve as educators and crisis-managers, counselors and public representatives of the University. We therefore call upon the administration to model institutional accountability at the highest levels by taking concrete steps to make UCSD the educational and social environment promised by the Principles of Community—a university that is not only accessible to and affordable for African Americans and other students of color, but one in which students of color can feel valued, safe, and protected.

Other Responses to the UCSD Campus Crisis

On UC and Public Education

Ethnic Studies Faculty Statement on UC and Public Education

The UC San Diego Department of Ethnic Studies endorses and will actively support the September 24th walkout of staff, faculty, and students across University of California campuses. Over the past two decades, the state of California has been a testing ground for national and global efforts to privatize public institutions and resources in ways that disproportionately affect the state’s most vulnerable populations.

In this context, the University of California’s recent actions—drastic fee hikes, unequal pay cuts for workers, and the reduction and/or elimination of crucial University services—cannot be excused as a singular response to a fiscal ‘state of emergency’ brought on by state budget cuts. Rather, the adoption of the Higher Education Compact must be understood as an extension of the logic through which elected and appointed officials make political decisions about which public resources “deserve” protection and which are expendable; which communities can be abandoned and which constituencies may carry on business as usual.

By instituting a pernicious combination of fee hikes and salary and financial aid reductions, state and University policymakers have effectively shifted the financial burden of public needs to private parties—UC students, workers, and their families. For many current and future students, particularly those from historically under-represented communities, this ‘compact’ has seriously endangered their already-limited access to a UC education.

For these reasons, we support the September 24th Day of Action, and urge our colleagues, students, and other San Diego community members to join us in demanding that the State Legislature, Board of Regents, and the University of California administration be held accountable for these regressive measures. We recognize that the very future of public education is at stake, and we call on all concerned to make every effort to ensure that all Californians are guaranteed access to their university.

Coverage of the September 24 Walk-out/Teach-in: Hear students, faculty, and staff express their concerns about UC and CSU budget cuts and their impact on education and California's future on this video excerpt from Fox coverage of the UCSD walkout/teach-in on September 24.

Refuse to Report your Furlough Days

Refuse to Report your Furlough Days

UCSD will require faculty to report which days they take their furloughs. But any such report would be a fiction.

We’re forbidden to take furloughs on days we teach and we can’t take them on the days we prepare for class without sacrificing the quality of instruction.

We can’t take furloughs on service days or research days unless we want to diminish our chances for tenure and promotion, since the requirements for promotion will stay the same.

We can’t take furloughs over the holiday breaks because that is when we go to conferences and prepare for the classes that will take place the next quarter.

This amounts to a Catch 22, a rule that presents the illusion of choice while precluding any real choice. If we report our furlough days we become complicit with this illusion, render our labor invisible, and violate our sense of personal and professional integrity.

The UCSD Ethnic Studies Department will thus refuse to comply with the demand that we report nonexistent furlough days. Instead, we propose to in effect donate our furlough days back to the students, their families, and the people of California by dedicating a portion of our teaching, research, and service to the project of defending public education. We urge other UC programs and departments to do the same.

"Indigenous Studies Engages Ethnic Studies" Mission Statement

"Indigenous Studies Engages Ethnic Studies" Mission Statement

On Friday, May 8, 2009, UCSD's Ethnic Studies Department is hosting a day-long symposium: "Indigenous Studies Engages Ethnic Studies." Following is the Symposium mission statement; for more information about the symposium schedule and events please check the event blog: http://iss0509.blogspot.com/

As scholars in the Ethnic Studies Department at UCSD, we stand incredibly proud of the cutting edge critical race and ethnic studies work developed in our department, and in its potential to push the limits of the larger Ethnic Studies project. In this spirit, we find that in order for Ethnic Studies to move beyond the usual emphasis on immigration, diaspora and slavery paradigms, the critical potential of Indigenous Studies should become an integral part of our intellectual agenda. Just as the scholarship ‘about’ people of color does not describe our notion and practice of Ethnic Studies, scholarship ‘about’ indigenous people must reflect more than merely the violent history of the academy within indigenous communities. It must, in fact, engage the sophisticated indigenous theories, which have been circulating for many years, especially those that confront the ways in which colonial power still operates in nation-states. In the last few years, a number of graduate students and faculty have taken important steps towards facilitating this integration. These include the creation of the “Voicing Indigeneity” podcast, the Post-colonial Futures in a Not-Yet Post-colonial World Conference, and the proposal for an indigenous studies focused cluster hire. Building on these efforts, we are organizing a one-day critical indigenous studies symposium to be held on May 8, 2009. The symposium focuses on native feminism scholarship because we believe it offers a critical perspective missing in both indigenous studies and in most analysis of race, gender, sexuality, colonialism and citizenship. We have invited Andrea Smith, Audra Simpson and Noenoe Silva, scholars who are at the forefront of this field of thought. Additionally, we have invited 3-4 senior graduate students who are not only moving the field in new directions, but more excitingly are doing so by employing theories emerging from our Ethnic Studies department, thereby highlighting the critical possibilities that lie at the interstices of these fields. Furthermore, this symposium anticipates our desire to improve the recruitment of indigenous graduate students, post-docs and faculty.

We hope the department will actively participate in this symposium in order to push the limits of our scholarship and political commitments, whether they directly fall within what is traditionally seen as the indigenous field or not. Ultimately, this symposium is an invitation to engage in a productive troubling of the ethnic studies project as well as to expand our understanding of what indigenous studies can be.

Addendum to the “Statement on Racial Violence in the Gaza Strip”

Addendum to the “Statement on Racial Violence in the Gaza Strip”

Scroll down to read the original statement (posted on 1/25/09)

The Department of Ethnic Studies “Statement on the Racial Violence in the Gaza Strip” has elicited a great deal of comment since it was posted in January of 2009.  We have followed the responses with great interest and, in response, offer the following addendum to the original Department Statement on Gaza, with the goal of providing a context for our original statement.

As described in its vision statement, the intellectual and political goal of the Department of Ethnic Studies at UC San Diego is to pursue the “comparative, relational, and interdisciplinary” study of “fundamental theoretical and political questions regarding the critical conceptualization of social categories…in order to interrogate questions of power, violence and inequality.” The department’s “Statement on the Racial Violence in the Gaza Strip”  exemplifies this larger intellectual project of critical engagement in the interests of social justice. All too often, outside and within the University, commentators express confusion regarding the ‘appropriate’  role of academic scholarship in controversial or political issues. As the University of California’s Policy on Academic Freedom reminds us, sound scholarship need not be "dispassionate," "disinterested" or concerned only with "the logic of the facts."  Rather, sound scholarship "can and frequently does communicate salient viewpoints about important and controversial questions" (http://www.ucop.edu/acadadv/acadpers/apm/apm-010.pdf). It is in this continued spirit of rigorous intellectual critique, and in the interest of maintaining productive dialogue, that we offer the following with the goal of clarifying our statement:

Ethnic Studies is an interdisciplinary field that seeks to produce and engage scholarship about how power operates in the production and execution of subjection and subjugation, including its most visceral enactments through institutional and individual practices of violence and death. Emerging out of the late 20th century political struggles of people of color in US and colonized peoples globally, ethnic studies scholarship understands the process of racialization and the implementation of racial violence as integral to the execution of power. In this sense, ethnic studies is neither a multicultural project to include ‘different peoples,’ ‘different cultures,’ ‘different races,’ and ‘different nationalities,’ nor does it simply teach about histories of oppression, struggle and resistance. Rather, it is an intellectual project that uses race as a modality through which to understand how power works through the production of difference to construct, reproduce, and transform social formations.

Key to this project are the following concepts:

Race is a social construct that makes meaning of relations of power and difference. It is often signified through, but is not necessarily related to phenotype or notions of biological difference, as it was in 19th and early 20th century Europe and the Americas. While race is a social construct, it manifests in material inequalities in the form of racisms.

Racialization represents a social process in which racial meanings are extended to new sites and bodies. By producing seemingly natural categories of inside and outside, superior and inferior, racialization works to demarcate the limits of social existence and political enfranchisement.  Racialization operates in historically and geographically specific ways; the process by which modern US ‘races’ (black, white, native American, Asian, Latino, Arab etc.) have been naturalized as social categories is only one version.

Racism deploys codified concepts of group difference in order to assign lesser or greater value to the lives and epistemologies of different populations, thus both producing and rationalizing structures of material inequality.

Racial violence is a state-sanctioned and/or extralegal mode of power exercised in order to control, subjugate or exterminate a people due to the idea that the latter always already pose a threat to the civilization of the former. Racial violence can take many forms, some of which are immediately recognizable (imperialism, enslavement, genocide) and some of which may appear less immediately tangible (economic deprivation, infrastructural abandonment, profiling, incarceration).

Racial logic functions so that an entire people are made to embody the antinorm: deviance, primitiveness, irrationality, violence, etc. Constructed as both outside of and threatening to the presumed ideals of modernity and interests of ‘civilization’ and ‘humanity,’ these populations are thus rendered ‘disposable.’ Racial logic is integral to how acts of racial violence can be represented as ‘normal,’ ‘reasonable,’ or ‘necessary.’

In accordance with our commitment to the study of power, violence, and inequality in the interests of social justice and with respect for the history of ethnic studies as an academic field born from the convergence of activism and intellectual labor, the department has regularly issued collective statements on our website in response to contemporary political, social and cultural events. These include statements on the uneven impact of the 2007 San Diego fires and the 2005 Hurricane Katrina across racial, ethnic and class groups; the importance of protecting academic freedom precisely at times of political conflict; and the issue of immigrant rights. This list in no way represents the limits of our critical scope but stands as an example of the various and diverse sites in which racism results in uneven access to equality, freedom of movement, and survival. While the precipitating events may be diverse, each of these statements share the following characteristics:

  • Each has been issued in response to incidents of racial violence, and uses the analytical tools at our disposal as Ethnic Studies scholars to unpack the racial logics underpinning the event in question.
  • All emerge out of the ethical and political imperative that drives the praxis of critique as a critical tool for intellectual and political discourse.
  • None target individuals or populations, but rather offer a critique of structural formations—nation-states, governmental entities, the media.

The Department of Ethnic Studies’ statement on the recent invasion of Gaza by the state of Israel is, like each previous statement, a critique of racial violence. Rather than suggesting that Israel’s latest act against Gaza is unique, the statement seeks to contextualize this state act of violence within a global history of racial violence that includes not only historical genocides (such as those against indigenous peoples in the Americas; Jews, Roma, and others in mid-twentieth century Europe, and the minority Tutsi in late twentieth-century Rwanda) but African chattel slavery, US military and economic policies in Latin America, and the continuing economic deprivation, infrastructural abandonment, and wholesale incarceration of Black, brown, and poor people in the US.  Our critique is of the use of racial power and racial violence (as defined above) by the state of Israel; it is not an attempt to label Israelis or Jewish people as racist. Indeed, as scholars we recognize that social justice often demands critical attention to the dangers of nationalism when used to conflate the state with its individual subjects in order to justify, undergird, or rationalize violence against the few in the name of an imagined many. As a study of our previous statements reveals, we do not consider Israel alone to be a state that executes racial violence; we have provided similar critiques of state and extra- legal institutions within the United States time and again.

In making this statement, the Department of Ethnic Studies joins a national and international groundswell by academics at colleges and universities across the country who have felt impelled to offer an intellectual, political, and ethical critique of the Israeli State’s actions toward Palestine (links to some of these statements are available on the sidebar adjacent to this post). By exercising our academic freedom in this manner, we are continuing a tradition within the academy punctuated by other large public campaigns for social justice, such the anti-apartheid movement on campuses around the country in the 1980s. We engage in this critique within the spirit of critical theory, the philosophy of cultural critique first introduced by the German Jewish intellectuals of the Frankfurt school, which believes that it is our ethical responsibility as intellectuals to critique, rather than merely explain society. Critical theory is an ethical praxis to which we have committed ourselves as intellectuals striving to achieve the highest level of excellence in our scholarship. That excellence is only achievable if we are able to apply our collective knowledge toward social justice.

On the Racial Violence in the Gaza Strip

UCSD Ethnic Studies Department Statement on the Racial Violence in the Gaza Strip

The faculty and graduate students in the Department of Ethnic Studies at the University of California San Diego condemn the most recent actions by the State of Israel in the Gaza Strip, commencing with the air strikes that began on December 27, 2008 and the ground invasions, which started on January 4, 2009. Both have resulted in the death and mutilation of a large number of Palestinian civilians. While Israel argues that it is targeting Hamas militants, the astounding number of civilian deaths (exceeding 900 as of January 13, 2009) shows a blatant lack of concern for Palestinian lives. They result from Israel’s targeting of hospitals, mosques, schools, residential buildings and other civilian locations, a practice that cannot be supported by the self-defense argument reproduced by media outlets and endorsed by the US government.

As critical scholars in the field of racial and ethnic studies we interpret these violent actions as an indication of how, in the global order, people of color and the places they live are irrelevant to international legal instruments and moral principles. In short, the most recent deployment of the Israeli military arsenal constitutes nothing more nor less than another episode of racial violence. For this reason, we believe that the current military aggression cannot be divorced from Israel’s overall policy of violence against Palestinians, which includes the strategies deployed during periods of “cease fire” such as tactics that deny access to basic necessities including food, water and health care for the Palestinian residents of the Gaza strip. The recent aerial bombing and ground invasions further this systematic practice of racial violence preventing the Red Cross, the UN and other humanitarian organizations from providing urgently needed assistance to the people of Gaza.

In this unique historic moment, on the eve of the inauguration of the first African-American president, we expect the United States government and the American people to condemn such practices of racial violence in no uncertain terms. Unfortunately, we hear a repetition of the argument that Israel is exercising its right to self-defense. It is inconceivable that a society that prides itself on its respect for human rights, and now celebrates another milestone in the road towards racial justice, fails to recognize that Israel’s military objectives, the destruction of Hamas, cannot justify the indiscriminate killing of men and women, young and old, just because they live in the Gaza Strip, because they are Palestinians. This generalized construction of the enemy is at the core of racial violence. It criminalizes a whole population. It aliments existing representations of Arabs, Muslims, and Brown people in general as ‘criminal/terrorists.’ In sum, it justifies otherwise morally untenable acts of total violence.

We hope that the Obama administration will remain consistent with its call for change, that it will issue a forceful condemnation of Israel’s killing of Palestinians, and will review long-held US policies, cutting the military, economic, and political support that provide implicit and explicit backing of Israel’s practices of racial terror.  We are convinced that only such a stance will reflect a true commitment to peace in the Middle East. More importantly, it will signal the seriousness of the call for change that is the hallmark of the incoming Obama administration.  Any policy that accepts Israel’s right to self-defense as a justification for racial massacre, in this case the systematic extermination of Palestinians, favors complicity over change.

Racial Emergency: 2007 San Diego Fires

Racial Emergency: 2007 San Diego Fires

The Department of Ethnic Studies at the University of California-San Diego acknowledges the losses suffered by all of those directly affected by the 2007 fires. As Critical Racial/Ethnic Studies scholars, however, we see as our duty to read beyond headlines, sound bites, and quick camera shots. While dealing with the fear of having our homes burnt to the ground; wondering about relatives, friends, and neighbors – even if safe with friends that offered us refuge – we could not miss how the local, national, and international media have chosen to highlight how middle and upper-middle class white San Diegans have been dealing with the havoc these fires brought to their lives: the shot of a yellow Porsche rescued by overworked firefighters; descriptions of the congenial atmosphere at the Qualcomm Stadium; the heroic male rule-breakers that stayed to save houses or returned to rescue vintage automobiles the never-ending reports on the predicament of those who did not know how to find shelters for their cats, dogs, and horses.

After watching the effects of Hurricane Katrina, however, most of us know that this is not the whole story. Certain neighborhoods, districts, suffer more losses due to their location, the materials from which they are built, a smaller tax base, and a general reluctance to tax for common protection coupled with decisions to commit resources to projects more likely to be enjoyed by the privileged few. In the aftermath of these disasters, some will have deal with insurance companies that set up all kinds of impediments to meet their claims; on the other hand, others will not have any insurance and will have to deal with government agencies that, for the most part, fail to ensure access to needed resources in a timely fashion. We can very quickly guess the racial and socioeconomic make up of the communities who will deal with insurance companies and the ones who will have to face FEMA’s redtape.

Fire and water have no political or ideological allegiances; they do not distinguish between the rich and the poor. They hit black, brown and white people on their path: Embers fly. Levies break. We are all in it together, so it seems. But why? Natural disasters do not happen in an empty space. They abruptly disclose economic and symbolic materializations of centuries of institutional (legal and corporate) decisions that position people of color in a subaltern condition. When looking at actual and symbolic effects of the 2007 San Diego fires, we cannot but notice the racial text – in its socioeconomic and symbolic dimensions – that underlies the un-mediated commentaries, especially in the media, that explicitly and implicitly compare to San Diegans to the reactions of New Orleans residents to the devastation that Hurricane Katrina brought to their lives. The racial text functions to explain the process of unmarking those whose bear an unequal burden during disasters like hurricanes, tsunamis, and wildfires, in a manner that makes them invisible.

Yet it seems that this ‘lesson’ from Katrina has been missed. For the past week, we have been exposed to a parade of privilege all the while pinpointed by comments about how much this situation differs from the aftermath of Katrina. We hear the staff of donation centers asking people not to give any more, telling them that Qualcomm Stadium is overwhelmed by their demonstrations of concern. What we don’t hear, however, are references to how the fires have affected working San Diegans of color, about whether and where they found refuge, speculations about how many might have lost their homes and other mementos of a lifetime. Why don’t we? That they live in the area is certain because they work in the County as janitors, nannies, cooks, gardeners and farm-workers; much of the wealth we saw parading on TV also embodies their labor power. Why don’t we hear more from and about them? We know there is a donation center operating in Chicano Park that, unlike Qualcomm Stadium, needs more donations. We know that the fires hit at least eleven of the county’s eighteen Indian reservations. We know that the border patrol has been very active, despite public denials, looking out for undocumented workers, even removing them from among evacuees at Qualcomm Stadium. We know that many of them will not seek relief because they fear ‘la migra’ and the Minute Men. We know that migrants perished in the fires without access to reverse 911 calls, official evacuations, or welcome at shelters, although we may never know how many.

We know so much while the media tell us so little about working-class San Diegans of color precisely because the prevailing representation of how San Diegans deal with natural disasters is framed by a racial text, an interpretive framework of the US social space that provides the meanings we capture when seeing or watching wealthy whites and economically dispossessed black, and brown folks in any situation. Because this racial text provides all necessary meanings, a ready-made symbolic apparatus, there is no need for explicit racial comparisons. The mere mention of Katrina by a newscaster, after a report on how much the wildfire refugees at the Qualcomm Stadium are enjoying the break from their daily routines, is enough to produce the image of San Diego as, in the words of one of our graduate students notes, a ‘model community.’

As mentioned earlier, our objective is not to minimize the impact of this disaster upon all San Diegans, including those of us who were not directly affected by the fires but had our daily lives disrupted by closed highways, bad air quality, etc. Our goal here is to unsettle the racial text by identifying its operation and commenting on that which it silences. The links below will take you to some of the analysis a number of us have produced and gathered while, like many San Diegans, we watched on TV or heard on the radio descriptions and interpretations of how San Diego County deals with the fire this time.

Statement on Immigrant Rights

Ethnic Studies Department Statement on Immigrant Rights

We, the Department of Ethnic Studies at UCSD, stand firmly in support of the current mass demonstrations for immigrant rights. We believe these mass actions—the largest in California history—affirm the vital importance of immigrants to our national social, cultural, economic, and political life. Current proposed immigration legislation that increases the militarization of the border, restrict access to social safety-net programs including health care, and keep children from equal access to education, function to unjustly criminalize individuals and their families. This legislation is far-reaching given the precarious boundary between “legal” and “illegal” status within many families. Such criminalization is particularly chilling in a post 9/11 atmosphere in which immigration and criminalization is often conflated with terrorism. While the current debate is focused on Latinos, these issues affect the health of social citizenship for all ethnic and racial groups. This legislation contributes to the further erosion of human rights and protections for all members of the United States.

The most egregious is the Sensenbrenner Bill (HR 4437), which would not only make being in this country without documentation a felony, but also label anyone who assists an undocumented individual as a felon. This proposal is unfortunately similar in intention to many others before it that assumed that punishing immigrants will somehow “control” the border. This bill, and others like it, is misleading and ineffectual because it blames individuals who immigrate to help their families survive, instead of the policies that impoverish the immigrants’ homelands and force them to leave. This legislation obfuscates the role of the United States in creating the global flow of migration in the first place through international interventions, including trade agreements such as NAFTA, which affect other nations’ domestic policies in the pursuit of global capital. It is clear that the global movement of people accompanies the global movement of capital. And, it should go without saying that people who migrate—like all people—have the right to expect dignity, respect, and hope regardless of which border they cross.

Scholars Make a Statement on Academic Freedom

UCSD Ethnic Studies Scholars Make a Statement on Academic Freedom*

It is during times of political conflict and social upheaval when our most cherished national values are tested. Since the events of September 11, 2001 our nation has been struggling with the balancing act of ensuring our national security while upholding our hard fought constitutional protections such as the freedom of speech. This tension emerges quite palpably on university campuses and in the media in public discussions over academic freedom and whether scholars have the right to voice opinions that are in deep conflict with those held by much of the citizenry. We must guard steadfastly against the desire to curb our most basic freedoms in these times. This applies most especially to those of us who may wish to exercise dissent, whether it be in the town square, in a public hearing, in a place of worship, on the airwaves, or in our nation’s centers of higher education. As university scholars, we have dedicated our lives to education—through our teaching, writing, and service—and its critical role in creating and sustaining democratic societies. For this reason, we find it a reprehensible distortion of the most revered principles of education to encourage students and faculty to make lists of teachers and professors labeled as “radical” or “conservative,” instead of engaging them intellectually. Academics have an obligation and responsibility to promote critical thinking in university classrooms and in the public sphere. In other words, one of the most important parts of our job is to encourage students and publics to ask difficult and sometimes troubling questions about our society. Finally, we would also issue an urgent reminder to those who would tread on the academic freedom of others, that the very nation they wish to shelter from controversial expressions of opinion (excluding hate speech, of course) by some individuals and groups, is most at risk when we fail to also protect the rights and freedoms of those persons.

*The University of California’s own policy on academic freedom guarantees these rights as well

On the Hurricane Katrina Crisis

Ethnic Studies Department Statement on the Hurricane Katrina Crisis

The recent natural disaster of Hurricane Katrina and the humanitarian crisis that followed have weighed heavily on our hearts. As scholars who study issues of race, class, gender and inequality, we know that the extent of devastation felt by gulf coast communities is linked directly to social and economic structures.

Local, state, and federal governments failed to act to protect the safety and dignity of the tens of thousands of people left stranded in the gulf region. It is a human tragedy that so many of “the poor, the elderly, the sick, the young, most of them African Americans” were essentially abandoned in places like New Orleans, left to fend for themselves and try their best to survive. We recognize the ways in which racialized groups have historically been criminalized in our society and we are deeply saddened and angered by the media's repeated portrayals of African American victims of Hurricane Katrina as lawless and as looters. We are also outraged by the lack of aid, language-sensitive emergency information, and media attention given to other underrepresented communities that were also devastated along the gulf coast such as Vietnamese and Latino immigrant communities.

We call on the ethnic studies community to remain critical of the federal administration's response to the crisis and also of the media's portrayal of victims. Race, class and gender played a significant role in this catastrophe, an event that has brought to the public eye the stark socioeconomic inequalities that persist in our society. We hope that as recovery and rebuilding continue, we can also carry on open discussions on these issues as we strive for greater social justice in our world.

HOW YOU CAN HELP?

Below is a list of organizations with a strong record of working with underrepresented communities:

  • Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN) 1-888-HLP-LEAN (457-5326)
  • LAST (Louisiana Advocacy Support Team) Relief
    (Assist foster and adoptive parents who have lost everything in the hurricane)
    Linda Christmas, 610B S. 16th Street, Monroe, LA 71202
    (318) 340-0230 or (888) 655-9564
  • The People's Institute for Survival and Beyond
    Send donations to: Peoples Institute NYC, P.O. Box 250809, New York, NY 10025.
  • Habitat for Humanity
  • People's Hurricane Fund/Community Labor United (Louisiana/Mississippi)
  • The Southern Relief Fund
    c/o The Mississippi Workers' Center for Human Rights
    PO Box 1223, Greenville, MS 38702
    (662) 334-1122
  • S.O.S - Saving Our Selves
    Att: Beni Ivey
  • Center for Democratic Renewal, PO Box 50469, Atlanta, GA 30302
    (404) 221-0025
    Alejandro Rosales
  • Oxfam regional organizer for the hurricane relief, with a focus on immigrants
    Biloxi, Mississippi
    (818) 434-6495 or
    E-mail: Emily Parry of OxFam, eparry@oxfamamerica.org

Other Resources

New York Collective of Radical Educators. Unnatural Disaster: A Critical Resource Guide for Addressing the Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in the Classroom.
To download a copy, please visit http://www.nycore.org

The National Alliance of Vietnamese American Service Agencies has created a Katrina Relief Effort Forum (http://www.navasa.org/board) that allows postings of topics in reference to Hurricane Katrina (e.g. Volunteer Services, Donations, Fundraising Events, etc.).

Ethnic Studies Statement on Proposition 54

Ethnic Studies Statement on Proposition 54

The Department of Ethnic Studies focuses on the fundamental theoretical and political questions regarding the social construction of categories of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, and nation. We have dedicated ourselves to studying these issues in a comparative, relational, and multidisciplinary fashion in order to critically analyze questions of power and social justice.

Proposition 54 will compromise three fundamental commitments that the U.C. system has made to the citizens of California:  1)  to provide information to the public in order to make possible evaluation of the University and its operation;  2)  to promote and guard the freedom of intellectual exchange governing all teaching and research activities performed by the University;  3)  and to achieve and maintain the highest standards of academic excellence.

Restriction of publicly available U.C. data

At present, the University of California must comply with a number of Federal affirmative action regulations in order to qualify for Federal grants, contract, and other financial programs.   The initiative exempts these data gathering and reporting requirements [Sec. 32 (i)], and this exemption would presumably allow the U.C. campuses to continue to develop and maintain a written affirmative action plan covering staff, faculty, and other academic employees.   U.C. campuses currently fulfill Federal reporting requirements by the collection of racial/ethnic statistics on employees and new appointees and may also be exempted under . To the extent that derivation of state level availability pool figures depends upon racial breakdowns of UC degree recipients, collection of these data might be allowable as well.   Finally, at present, participation in Federal financial aid programs obliges UC to assemble statistics on the racial composition of the enrolled student body.

However, Federal regulations do not mandate that the University collect information on the racial and ethnic composition of applicants and admittees, and  the gathering or reporting of this information is specifically prohibited in the initiative [Sec. 32 (a), (d), and (k)], unless specifically exempted by a 2/3 vote of both houses of the California legislature [Sec. 32 (b)].

In this regard, Proposition 54 seeks to prohibit the State of California from the voluntary collection of data on the race and ethnicity of its own citizens. As a public institution, UCSD has an obligation to ensure that all Californians have fair and equitable access to its campus and its benefits.  Forcing the University to cease to collect data on the race and ethnicity of applicants and admittees to U.C. campuses deprives the public of the information needed to assess fully the equitable operation of the mechanism that determines the makeup of the U.C. student body, a process that has already been affected by restrictions on the use of race and ethnicity in admissions decisions brought by the passage of Proposition 209.  The prohibition against collection of such information would impede equally the enforcement of State anti-discrimination laws, and enforcement of State Proposition 209, which prohibits discrimination and preferential treatment on the basis of race and ethnicity in university admissions and all other aspects of University operations.

Compromise of academic freedom

Proposition 54 places the University of California in the position of making unavailable to the citizens of California, whose tax dollars provide a substantial share of it operating funds, information that would allow for the public evaluation of admissions policies and outcomes on the basis of race and ethnicity.  The issue of equitable access to the U.C. system though the admissions process has always been a matter of vigorous public debate, debate which has only increased as a result of the passage of Proposition 209.  As a matter of principle, the University of California should oppose any attempt to restrict or prohibit areas of research or the free exchange of intellectual ideas.

The language of  demonstrates its intent to restrict or prohibit certain kinds of research precisely in order to obscure the effect of common race/ethnicity-based practices and policies.  Section 32 (g) allows "law enforcement officers, while carrying out their law enforcement duties,” to describe “particular persons in otherwise lawful ways".  While permitting law enforcement to describe people by race, ethnicity, color, or national origin in the performance of their duty, the same clause effectively prohibits them or their employers [Sec. 32 (k)] from collecting data on this practice.  The initiative prohibits any state official or agency from requiring entities that use race, ethnicity, color, or national origin to classify individuals "to maintain records that track individuals on the basis of said classifications".  While specifically allowing classifications by race and ethnicity in practice, the initiative denies potential researchers access to data collected by law enforcement agencies that would allow them to assess public issues such as Police profiling on the basis of race and ethnicity.

Other exemptions in the initiative, such as that for "[o[therwise lawful classification of medical research subjects and patients" effectively establish within the University of California classifications of areas of knowledge subject to research into "legitimate" and "illegitimate" categories on the basis of whether they depend on data voluntarily collected by the state or its agencies that report information by race, ethnicity, or national origin.  In an e-mail message sent on 27 March 2002 to U.C. Academic Senate Chair Chand R. Viswanathan, U.C. Regent Ward Connerly explained that, [a]s one of the proponents of the initiative, I specifically wanted to ensure that legitimate areas of research could be conducted, assuming the passage of [Proposition 54 ]."   Since the passage of Proposition 54 would hamper any research that depended on current data based on "separating, sorting, or organizing by race, ethnicity, color, or national origin" [Sec. 32 (c)] collected, assembled, or contracted by the State of California, the effect of the initiative would be to make these areas of U.C. research "illegitimate".

Although Regent Connerly's communication of 27 March 2002 claimed that "research that takes place in the classroom or that is conducted by a member of the faculty is not subject to Proposition 54’s definition of ‘public education,’" which is in the operative clause (Section a) of Proposition 54 , we remain concerned that such assurances are not reflected in the actual language of the initiative.  In fact, the combination of Sec. 32 (a) "in the operation of public education" and (k) "'state' shall include …public university system, including the University of California", leaves open the interpretation that the initiative prohibits faculty, employees of the State of California, from "classifying", that is "separating, sorting or organizing by race ethnicity, color or national origin including, but not limited to, inquiring, profiling, or collecting data on government forms." [Sec. 32 (c)].

Regardless how individuals feel about the merit and relevance of any particular research produced by U.C. faculty members, researchers, or graduate students, the future of lines of academic inquiry and areas of legitimate research should not hinge on an eventual judicial interpretation of whether the meaning of the terms used in the initiative cover faculty duties as a part of their employment by the state.  We should oppose any policy that compromises this public educational institution's freedom to explore any and all avenues academic inquiry and areas of knowledge.

Elimination of Social Science perspectives from Public Policy arena

Over the last century, significant scholarship within the disciplines of Sociology, Anthropology, Political Science, and History have developed around concerns for the way in which racial and ethnic processes have affected all dimensions of U.S. society and culture.  Studies that use precisely the kinds of data prohibited by Proposition 54 have figured crucially in most important legal decisions and public policies (e.g.  Brown v. Board of Education [1954], Welfare Reform [1996]). 

Research that uses the best available scientific data analysis to comprehend the structure and processes of America’s multiethnic/multiracial society is fatally threatened by the amendment to the California constitution embodied in Proposition 54.  Rather  than investigating in order to critically analyze questions concerning the distribution of power and aspiration for social justice, social science researchers are told by Proposition 54 that their work is unnecessary, that the important questions have been answered, and that all critical problems are already resolved.  The initiative, which purports to protect California citizens from arbitrary government classification by race, serves instead to use the power of the state to hide information that its citizens need in order to participate democratically and to advocate for equity and social justice in California and elsewhere.