Publius is on the Wrong Side of History: A(nother) Response

Publius is on the Wrong Side of History: A(nother) Response

By Chris Conrad '21

Dear Publius,

I am not here to call you evil. I am simply here to ask you a question:

Whose side are you on?

You say that you support the struggle for racial justice.

But it seems like you support the police more than you support the social movement that wants to end racial injustice on Haverford’s campus.

Here’s the odd part: I’m sure you believe that you support racial justice. You probably consider yourself a left of center moderate and voted for Biden (if you were a die-hard Republican, you probably wouldn’t say you support racial and social justice to begin with).

But here’s the thing.

Your beliefs have to translate into action for them to mean anything.

The white pastors who criticized Dr. King in the 60s for being too radical and disruptive, who advocated gradual change instead – they also thought they supported racial justice.

I’m going to posit something – our history is a history of victorious social movements.

If you’re just looking at the US, you have the abolitionists, civil rights, the suffragettes, second and third wave feminism, the labor movement, LGBTQ+ rights, the environmental movement, indigenous rights, disability rights, immigrant rights, BLM, and too many more to list. 

You (hopefully) agree with me that the victories of these movements – the end of slavery, the Civil Rights Act, women winning the right to vote, gay marriage, and much more – these were enormously good things. These are the events in our national history that we applaud ourselves for! Freedom, democracy equality, justice, these are the movements that fought for those lofty ideals – and (partially) succeeded!

But the white moderates criticizing Dr. King were not the ones who got the Civil Rights Act passed. The civil rights movement was.

Because this is how it always is. There are people who understand that movements get shit done, and there are those who only criticize the movement despite claiming to be on their side.

Because I guarantee you, for every white person arrested for protesting segregation, there were lots more who instead said “calm down, come to the negotiating table, you’re being unreasonable, your demands are too radical, don’t you see that your opponents have good intentions, that they’re doing the best they can, you’re being too disruptive.”

As Dr. King wrote, “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is… the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice… who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom.”

There is a long history of people too busy clutching their pearls worrying about the parts of the movement they don’t like, saying they support the goals of the movement in theory, but gosh, I just can’t support their methods, couldn’t they just go about it a different way?

But when we look back at history, we wonder how anyone could have been a bystander by while the injustice of slavery, racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism were staring them in the face.

Being a bystander in the face of injustice is immoral. You are complicit.

So when a social movement on Haverford’s campus demands racial justice, queer liberation, better support for disabled students, you have to ask yourself: how will history remember people like me?

Will I be on the movement’s side, fighting for justice, or will I be the white moderate, the bystander who supported their goals in theory but took every opportunity to criticize and work against the movement? Whose first reaction was to point out problems and conclude the strike was bad?

You may have reservations about some of the demands, you may intuitively disagree with some of language being used.

I do too! But I still support the strike, and think everyone else should.

Because at the end of the day, this movement is the type of movement that gets good shit done while moderates sit on the sidelines.

Don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good. Because the strike’s demands or rhetoric or tactics may be imperfect, but they are good.

Let me briefly deal with some of what you’ve said.

Two problems pervade your argument.

First, there’s a hell of a lot of “what about-isms” in your argument. When the movement finds real and significant problems with Wendy’s email, you say “what about the administration’s good intentions?!” When students speak of racial injustice, you say “what about the harm done to me by the strike’s moralizing rhetoric and repression? What about the reverse racism of the striker’s demands?” When students protest police brutality, you say “what about the good police officers? What about social distancing?” By the way – this police officer thinks there are no good police officers, and this econometric study found that the George Floyd protests didn’t increase COVID cases.

You seem to have entirely ignored what the movement on Haverford’s campus has been saying for years about the plight of BIPOC students on campus, engaging in the same rhetorical tactic that Kellyanne Conway uses in interviews – don’t criticize Trump, what about Hillary’s emails?

Second, you seem primarily concerned with aesthetics.

You deplore the rhetoric of people who chanted “no good cops in a racist system,” calling this a “a sickening disregard for the individuality of police officers.” You complain that the response to Wendy’s email was over the top and unreasonable. You decry that dissent is repressed by over the top moralizing. You cherry pick part of one demand to repeat the conservative trope of calling demands for racial equity “reverse racism.”

In other words, you have found some things some people have said that have rubbed you the wrong way. But you seem unable to come up with a substantive argument against the strike – that the tactic is counterproductive or ineffective, that a majority of the demands are bad, that the movement’s goals are bad.

Obviously, movements must be somewhat self-critical to succeed, they need to iterate and improve their tactics and framing. Some level of disagreement is healthy. But that’s not what you’re doing – you aren’t trying to improve the movement’s effectiveness so it can better achieve racial justice, you’re just saying the movement is bad.

What I’m left wondering is: why are these aesthetic things you complain about a reason to oppose the strike? Since when was not respecting the individuality of police officers more important than the black people police officers literally murder every day?

It’s telling that your aesthetic problems with the strike have trumped your supposed support for racial justice, just as the aesthetic problems that white pastors found with Dr. King’s tactics trumped their concern for racial justice.

So, I ask you again: Whose side are you on?

Do you mean it when you say you support racial justice?

Because if you do mean it, then act like it. Words are cheap, action isn’t. Instead of saying you support racial justice, actually do something to further the cause of racial justice.

Movements get shit done. If you’re always the person telling a movement “I support your goals, but…” then your words in support of racial justice will be just that: words.

And words without action are meaningless.

6 thoughts on “Publius is on the Wrong Side of History: A(nother) Response

  1. “Obviously, movements must be somewhat self-critical to succeed, they need to iterate and improve their tactics and framing. Some level of disagreement is healthy.” This may be true, but it’s hard to see how that self-criticism can take place in a movement that says this: “You either support the liberation of Black people and other POC or you don’t. Restorative processes exist only for those who are willing to listen and learn and especially for those who have invested time and energy into their own education over the issues of BIPOC both on and off campus. There’s nothing trivial about this. There are no gray areas.” If the very act of criticizing the strike merits, at best, restoration to the community, where is this criticism going to come from. The movements you cited all changed minds; how can a movement that sees disagreement as grounds for ostracism do that?

  2. Dear Chris,

    Thank you for your text. And I hope you and your loved ones are keeping well.

    Here I have got three separate reading lists for my “viewing several” and myself (Allow me to brag a little bit once more … I return to Them quite often, actually).

    Let’s read/peruse, talk, reflect, learn, & act together for positive, solidaristic change.

    Cheers,
    Your Most Peculiar Comrade Sir Dandy Bugbear
    ——————————————————————
    Section 1. Crises In Higher Ed (Reality Denial, Hubris of the Well-Credentialed, Professional Managerial Culture, etc.)
    1) On fake meritocracy, co-authored by a college student and a professor
(https://damagemag.com/2020/08/31/meritocracy-agonistes/)
    2) Again, on the fake meritocracies, this time from the perspective of a former “overachiever”
(https://bit.ly/3mIBa6q)
    3) On the college bubble and the idea of mimetic contagion (first articulated by Prof. René Girard who briefly taught at Bryn Mawr in the 50s; http://danwang.co/college-girardian-terror/)
    4) On certain ****annoying, Annoying**** aspects of bourgeois procedural liberalism (https://www.tabletmag.com/…/articles/woke-language-privilege)
    5) “Moral Cruelty and the Left” (https://www.tabletmag.com/…/…/judith-shklar-politics-of-fear)
    6) “Sympathy for the Masochists: On ‘White Fragility’ and the psychology behind the critical reception to anti-racist reading lists” (https://bit.ly/3oG6fJQ)
    7) “The Half-Formed Thought and the Beginning of Wisdom” (https://www.athwart.org/the-half-formed-thought-and-the-be…/)
    8) My own articulation of some serious stuff, which is tenth-rate (either that or second-rate, I suppose) by all means (https://medium.com/…/a-pronouncement-2-those-who-care-8d4e6…)
    9) “Tryhard Latecomers” (https://bit.ly/3kNClRF; a hard-hitting critique undoubtedly)
    10) “Moments of Interruption,” a short video featuring Dr. Cornel West who briefly taught at Haverford in late 80s (https://bit.ly/34Mu9vr, which contains a unifying message)

    Section 2. On Epistemic Harm, Deep Economic Subjugation, and the Hubris of the Well-Credentialed
    * Mr. Bruce A. Dixon (activist; thinker; former Black Panther Party member) “Intersectionality is a Hole. Afro-Pessimism is a Shovel. We Need to Stop Digging.”
(https://www.blackagendareport.com/intersectionality-hole-afro-pessimism-shovel-we-need-stop-digging-part-1-3)
    * The Bellows Conversation with Adolph Reed Jr. and Walter Benn Michaels (https://youtu.be/6SRSmufe-I4)
– 1. The Crisis of Labour and the Left in the United States (https://socialistregister.com/index.php/srv/article/view/22109)
– 2. “Driven from New Orleans: How ****Nonprofits**** Betray Public Housing and Promote Privatisation” https://www.upress.umn.edu/book-division/books/driven-from-new-orleans
– 3. “Labor Party Time? Not Yet.” http://www.thelaborparty.org/d_lp_time.htm
    * Kelefa Sanneh’s thorough fisking of both Kendi and DiAngelo (https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/08/19/the-fight-to-redefine-racism)
    * Thomas Chatterton Williams on Ibram X. Kendi’s work (https://twitter.com/thomaschattwill/status/1271797793896742912?s=20)
    * A moving, nuanced, provocative conversation with Thomas Chatterton Williams on unlearning race, the politics and poetics of belonging, resilience, & victimhood, the complexities of the Self, and relating to different *and* universally human worlds through literature (https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/the-singular-power-of-writing-a-conversation-with-thomas-chatterton-williams/)
    * Jesse McCarthy and Jon Baskin. “On Integration”
(https://thepointmag.com/letter/on-integration/)
    * Matthew McKnight writes about Albert Murray’s ‘The Omni-Americans’(https://www.tabletmag.com/sections/arts-letters/articles/the-omni-americans)
    * Simone de Beauvoir The Ethics of Ambiguity (1947)
(https://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/ethics/de-beauvoir/ambiguity/)
    * Chloé Simone Valdary. “Whiteness is Blackness, and Blackness is Whiteness” (https://www.commentarymagazine.com/articles/chloe-simone-valdary/whiteness-blackness-blackness-whiteness/)
    * Adolph Reed Jr. “Socialism and the Argument against Race Reductionism”
(https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1095796020913869?journalCode=nlfa)
    * Matt Taibbi. “The American Press is Destroying Itself”
    (https://taibbi.substack.com/p/the-news-media-is-destroying-itself)
    * Glenn Loury’s “When Black Lives Matter: On the Persistence of Racial Inequality in America,” lecture at Brown University’s International Advanced Research Institutes
(https://youtu.be/8IEsCnsSnxg)
    * Wesley Yang
1. on certain aspects and consequences of “cultural entrepreneurship”(https://twitter.com/wesyang/status/1271482801850847234?s=20)
2. on some certain controversy at Conde Nast (https://twitter.com/wesyang/status/1272070458628767749?s=20)

    Section 3. Progressive Politics in America
    Cornel West and Adolph Reed Jr Speak on Higher Education (https://youtu.be/5fEa1QCaYkU)
    2. “Race and Class in the Age of Obama” Adolph Reed Jr’s lecture at Villanova (https://youtu.be/iF6ruCDHxuU)
    3. Thomas Frank on Anti-Populism, Plus Biden’s Most-Stoned Moment Ever (https://youtu.be/v5mIKZZrNoo)
    4. Crashing the Party: From the Bernie Sanders Campaign to a Progressive Movement (https://youtu.be/CCGuCGh_8MI)

    1. Why do you keep haunting haverford related facebook groups and now this blog with you, your weird alias, and your cryptic unproductive messages??? Go do something with your life…..

  3. Dear Chris,

    First, I applaud you for constructing an argument. Some of the opponents of Publius responded to their article with insults and accusations of prejudice, whereas you decided to attack the matter with a level head, deploying arguments over bullying. Even better: you use history in your argument, something for which I commend you. I would like to address your piece in good faith so that we may have a healthful and productive conversation.

    You claim that words mean nothing on their own, and action is, ultimately, what counts. To you, I will charge no hypocrisy. To your peers, however, I would like to ask them what actions they took to ameliorate the following social ills:

    1. The underpayment of undocumented Mexican immigrants by upper-middle class families.
    2. The transformation of undocumented Mexican immigrants into a virtual underclass by upper-middle class families.
    3. The gentrification of Harlem at the hands of the black upper-middle class.
    4. The appointment of Kamala Harris to the vice-presidential ticket despite her worrying record on mass incarceration of black people in the community in which she served.
    5. The virtual enslavement of women and children in East and South Asia by MegaCorps in order to drive down commodity prices.
    6. The systematic underpayment of employees working in service and delivery sectors, particularly by Amazon.
    7. The continuing monopolization of technology and media by companies such as Disney, Twitter, and Google.
    8. The reduction of the liberal arts education into an institution that spits out technocrats over independent thinkers.
    9. The bi-partisan opposition to a second relief package for working Americans in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
    10. The systematic disintegration of worker’s protections and unions at the hands of the upper classes.

    It seems that your peers are racist and classist if they have not taken concrete, empirical action against these things. Maybe they are. I challenge them to admit it.

    The next point: this is not well-circulated knowledge in our society, which still has not outgrown the British Enlightenment, but aesthetics are almost as crucial as content when it comes to any cultural phenomenon. We are material beings and we live in a material world. As a particular set of aesthetics makes the rounds in society, the material manmade world changes along with it. Why do we have giant glass towers in our cities? An aesthetics of efficiency and minimalism. Why is Haverford College’s campus so beautiful? An aesthetics of humility and harmony. The rational content of a movement is of course important, but we would be remiss to overlook aesthetics.

    But for now, I shall return to my coffin, and await the end of the world.

    1. “It seems that your peers are racist and classist if they have not taken concrete, empirical action against these things.”

      Hamlet, there’s a lot I could say, but for now I’ll focus on just a response to this statement and your list of injustices.

      FIRST: Students coming to Haverford are typically between the ages of 17-19 as freshmen. How do you expect them to have taken “concrete, empirical action against” these manifold institutions of racism and injustice? Why are you trying to saddle a bunch of young people emerging into this world with every single problem of injustice you can think of in this moment? What benefit does your list and your challenge offer right now other? (Spoiler: you’re not helping anything here.) Here are a group of students trying to make some real, tangible change, and focusing on a very valid starting point–their own community–and you’re acting like just because they aren’t talking about every single issue at this very moment, that somehow makes them racist. They’re banding together to tackle injustice at a PWI with a long history of racism and that is no small task.

      SECOND: Even despite my first point, you clearly don’t pay a single mote of attention to what students care about and what they are doing to take action against injustice. I’ve seen countless conversations about and motions made by students to combat these sorts of injustices. I’ve boycotted Amazon and other companies alongside my fellow students, and gotten others to boycott with me, in protest of the underpayment. I’ve had conversations with Haverford friends about the women and children laboring in South Asia for companies like Apple and worked with them to do what we can to remedy this. Haverford students DO take concrete, empirical action against injustices around the world. We converse, we share, we read, we educate ourselves, we build movements, we pressure politicians, we march, we protest, we fight for our rights and the rights of those disenfranchised. But I imagine you won’t even listen to this point, because you’re just listing all of these injustices as a distraction. This whole list does nothing but try to take away from what’s happening right now and from the fight that students are fighting right now, in the present, as they seek better treatment.

      THIRD: How do you even come to the point that we’re “racist and classist” for not focusing on all of these goals right now? Obviously you’re correct that we as a society, a nation even, should be working to end these injustices, but here we are trying to do SOMETHING at least. What are you doing other than hiding behind a screen complaining that we’re not doing everything? If you want to change these things, why don’t you start or join a movement of your own? If you’d bother to work on something other than detracting from what people are trying to change you’d find plenty of Haverford students who would love to work on that with you.

      THE BIG POINT: You’re doing nothing in this post but trying to distract and detract from the goals of the strike. Go stay in your “coffin” and stop trying to draw our attention away from this movement.

    2. My dear Bernardo,

      You did not understand the purpose of that rhetorical move. My point was not to actually insinuate that all of the HC students are racist and classist. Far from it. My point was that, according to Chris’s logic as expressed in this piece, you would HAVE to conclude that all our students were racist and classist because they took no action against these things. According to Chris, and others, “Being a bystander in the face of injustice is immoral. You are complicit.”. Well, we’ve known about many of the above abuses for a long time. Looks like everyone is complicit. And people have said elsewhere that complicity is tacit racism.

      My point is not to accuse Haverford students of racism and classism. That would be utterly silly. My point is to expose the flaws of the thinking in this piece and others. If you agree with the logic of this piece, you must conclude that Haverford students are racist and classist. You do not have a choice, my dear Bernardo. You cannot have your ideology a la carte. Either complicity is racism, or it is not. You have to decide for yourselves.

      Regarding your history of activism: well done my friend! We need more active, hardworking students such as yourself to labor for the cause of social justice. But you are not everyone, my dear Bernardo, unfortunate as that may be. There are many who follow trends, and do nothing more.

      Regarding your last point: my goal was not to take on the entire point of whether or not I support the strike, but to address this article in its particularity. I am a Prince, not a King; I only have one mote of courage per day, which I expended in a reply to the original Publius article. If you would be so kind as to give it a look, you’ll understand how I feel about the strike.

      Yours from the coffin,
      Hamlet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

css.php