studying the ethnics

by tobybee

There was recently a conference at UC Riverside entitled “Critical Ethnic Studies and the Future of Genocide:
Settler Colonialism/Heteropatriarchy/White Supremacy”
. It looks simultaneously all kinds of amazing and all kinds of overwhelming/exhausting. As in, great title, and great title for some of the papers and plenaries, but when there are 21 parallel sessions, well, it’s just a bit much… (give me 5 parallel sessions at a conference and I balk).

Anyways, some lovely folk sort-of liveblogged the conference, and it’s pretty great to go back and have a read of what some people were thinking: of the critiques of a conference that sets itself up as a counter-space, a space of dissent and inquiry. So, one person writes:

Having just returned from the so-called Critical Ethnic Studies (Association) conference and being completely mentally and physically exhausted, all I want to say at this point (to a certain somebody) is:

Don’t speak to me of the future of genocide(s), the failures and trappings of revolution/desire/imagination, and the need to fuck off the academic-industrial-complex, as you speak from a podium as the Chair of an Official Academic Department sponsoring this Major Conference; wearing a barong and invoking Lapu Lapu (because somehow you are exempt from your own critiques and somehow your performance isn’t an appropriation of the symbols of Spanish/American genocides or doesn’t reproduce a “false” ancestral connection to the indigenous Filipino); willfully ignoring the material, affective, and intellectual labor of women of color feminists and queer of color theorists (some of whom are sitting behind you cleaning up your shit as you speak); creating strawmen to cut down (those strawmen being a monolithic Filipino American Studies and a non-critical, pre- or post-political Ethnic Studies that has no real basis in reality) when there are other much bigger and more powerful fish to fry (did we forget about Anthropology/Sociology/Political Science/Area Studies/History and….); while deploying the hateful, masculinist and violent rhetoric of warfare, death and “fucking” that relies on the same logic and discourse of this genocidal, militarist surveillance state that you can’t see any way out of or offer any possibilities for surviving.

Even if what you’re saying is true— and certainly some of it is, to a point— I don’t want to buy what you’re selling. And don’t pretend that this conference is about creating an Association, for you said yourself you don’t believe in collectivities (because that’s too old school and nostalgic, right?)— this conference was about selling yourself and your department as an intellectual vanguard to guide the rest of us wayward sheep (or rather should I say lemmings because we all need to jump off this genocidal cliff with you to be critical and important). Who’s complicit in genocide, the perpetuation of the neoliberal university, and structures of domination and subordination, now? Oh right, you and that (onto-epistemological) horse you rode in on. So, to borrow from your language, get the hell out.

One more thing- DR, you may call ‘86 a failed revolution, and you’re right, but when I look at this photo, I see hope, possibilities, and the will and practice of survival in the face of death. Photos like these give me sustenance and strength to continue surviving in this academy, of living on despite the daily assault coming not only from those big bad whiteys but from academics of color like yourself who should damn well know better by now. I channel these ancestors, and not your hate, to continue my praxis of solidarity, accountability, and ethical exchange with the folks that matter, the ones you can’t see as anything but already dead or already failed in some way. I’mma let you finish, but you can take your “critical” ethnic studies and I’ll just continue doing mine.


And someone adds to that “On a lighter but related note, if you`re going to have a conference that is heavy on the genocide and the heavy emotions, there definitely needs to be more wine”. So true.

So from these writers I found the term ‘Academic Industrial Complex’ (which I so love. And if you want a discussions from elsewhere on the disaster situation that is applying for jobs within that Complex, have a read of zunguzungu here. I’m going through the same rejection process and (in so many ways) it sucks.), had the ableism of such a mammoth and exhausting conference raised, thought about the ways that ‘critical ethnic studies’ can exclude the very people being ‘discussed’, and many other things as well. It’s worth taking the time to read all the posts on the tumblr – they’re really great.

Because of course I am well aware of the limitations of academia, and of the limitations on what I could possibly hope to achieve by spending the rest of my life reading and writing and teaching. but all lives are limited, I guess. so it’s important for us to constantly challenge academia, and challenge ourselves to consider what we want out of being a part of it. is it just a race to acquire that great job that means that i never have to apply for another job again in my life? in what ways do i become compromised by acquiring that job? in what ways does my work – the very ideas of diasporism and exile that i think about, and with – become just mere bits for thinking with if i got a job that put me at the center? can i, or ‘we’, honestly think of the liminal when we perpetuate a system that so obviously excludes. for now, in part, i wear my (partial) exclusion from the system as a sign that i’m doing something right (i also carry it as a heavy weight of rejection) – but what happens if i stop being excluded, if I become part of the people doing the excluding? can we be both queer feminist diasporists and academics? i think there’s ways (there’s got to be!), but it’s a constant challenge to find them.

update: i don’t mean to suggest that i don’t already carry a whole lot of contradictions, and uncertainties, and impossibilities when i think about diaspora. my grandparents might have been exiles (which they were), but i certainly haven’t ever faced anything like the exile they (and many others have) felt. i might in some ways be on the margins, but i also carry a lot of privilege. i’ve already got one foot in the door of academia, as well as many other sites of white, middle-class privilege. so i don’t want anyone to think that i think i’m not aware of the ways in which i’m already in the center, away from the margins of life. but in other ways, yes, i’m definitely on the margins. and wondering what happens if i move further into the center…