Anti-racism: thought reform vs. social change

Minor revisions 5/24/2016

Aviva Chomsky wrote a good article for TomDispatch about the anti-racism movement on college campuses.   She discussed how it has come to focus on individual change rather than societal change, and is thereby less threatening to the powers that be.

In some of their most dramatic actions, students of color, inspired in part by the Black Lives Matter movement, have challenged the racial climate at their schools.

In the process, they have launched a wave of campus activism, including sit-ins, hunger strikes, demonstrations, and petitions, as well as emotional, in-your-face demands of various sorts.

Aviva Chomsky

Aviva Chomsky

One national coalition of student organizations, the Black Liberation Collective, has called for the percentage of black students and faculty on campus to approximate that of blacks in the society.

It has also called for free tuition for black and Native American students, and demanded that schools divest from private prison corporations.

Other student demands for racial justice have included promoting a living wage for college employees, reducing administrative salaries, lowering tuitions and fees, increasing financial aid, and reforming the practices of campus police.

These are not, however, the issues that have generally attracted the attention either of media commentators or the colleges themselves.

Instead, the spotlight has been on student demands for cultural changes at their institutions that focus on deep-seated assumptions about whiteness, sexuality, and ability.

At some universities, students have personalized these demands, insisting on the removal of specific faculty members and administrators.

Emphasizing a politics of what they call “recognition,” they have also demanded that significant on-campus figures issue public apologies or acknowledge that “black lives matter.”

Some want universities to implement in-class “trigger warnings” when difficult material is being presented and to create “safe spaces” for marginalized students as a sanctuary from the daily struggle with the mainstream culture.

By seizing upon and responding to these (and only these) student demands, university administrators around the country are attempting to domesticate and appropriate this new wave of activism.

Source: Aviva Chomsky | TomDispatch

(Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

This rings a bell for me.   Browbeating liberal white people to change get rid of their unconscious racist feelings will not do much to get rid of racial injustice in society at large.

I agree that everybody—myself very much included—can benefit by examining our unconscious attitudes and feelings.  I agree with the saying you should be the change you wish to see in society.  But people who are willing to do this are not the main source of social injustice.

Privilege is not just a matter of what demographic category you happen to fall into—black or white, male or female, straight or gay, old or young and so on.  It also is a matter of how the political and economic system is structured.

Changing the characteristics of the people at the top of unjust structures will not, in and of itself, change the structures.   It is, in fact, an effective way to validate the unjust structure.

The best way to overcome racial prejudice is for the majority of white and black people to recognize we have common interests and to work together for common objectives.


The Battle for the Soul of American Higher Education: Student Protest, the Black Lives Matter Movement and the Rise of the Corporate University by Aviva Chomsky for TomDispatch.


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