Scroll down to read the original 1/25/09 “Statement on Racial Violence in the Gaza Strip”
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 needs 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.