Facebook Death

Eren_BioPic By Colleen Eren

I deleted my account and disappeared from the facebook newsfeed suddenly 2 weeks ago. A message came into my e-mail the next day from a colleague, “hey, just checking to make sure you and your family are okay? I saw that you got off of facebook….” Several others expressed curiosity as to my rationale, as I am a regular participant.

Just as there is an emergent genre of “quit lit,” describing–in almost confessional manner—why PhDs and graduate students are choosing to leave academia, so too the declarations of abandoning facebook and rationales for doing so abound. I’m not attempting here to analyze the themes of facebook “quit lit,” why such announcements seem to need a public performance (although it is very sociologically interesting), or to make an impassioned argument for either continuing to use the platform or not. I’m also not going to wade into the discussion about whether social media platforms like Facebook strengthen democracy (such as its role in the Arab Spring) or weaken it (such as with Russian interference in the 2016 US elections.  My N=1.

I am an associate professor of criminal justice, I recently published my first book, Bernie Madoff and the Crisis: The Public Trial of Capitalism. I am in the midst of trying to get speaking engagements and interviews on podcasts and reviews. So why the abandonment? Don’t I need facebook to promote my work and my “brand”?  Won’t I lose potentially useful contacts or make them less interested in me as a friend or colleague because I am not interacting? Won’t I be all but completely unheard, irrelevant, for all intents and purposes—dead?

I will take not figurative, but literal death as the starting point for this very brief note. My father died suddenly, unexpectedly, in his sleep at the end of 2016. I fell down a vertiginous existential black hole, where other than the seemingly unending pain of the loss, everything else—including, yes, politics—no longer could cause me to feel anything. Having sat in the basement of a funeral home filling out with my mother the almost laughably paltry forms necessary to have a human being cremated—a human being with an entire life’s history of aspirations and struggles—the idea of caring about my book, a career, or other’s opinions of my life, became ridiculous. To interact with others on facebook at that time felt almost physically nauseating. Life became stripped down to its essentials, its entire meaning brought back to the simplicity of love, loss, deep friendship, family. I asked my partner to post a message just mentioning my loss and that I wouldn’t be on for some time. I didn’t look at it again for months.

Very few of my approximately 400 “friends” on facebook actually contacted me about my loss via a visit, phone, instant message, card, e-mail, or even text—in spite of the fact that my partner had explicitly written that I would not be on the platform. Instead, they chose to leave a comment. I wasn’t angry or even disappointed—I didn’t feel much of anything– but as the year passed, it emphasized for me the complete superficiality and (excuse the hyperbole) soullessness of the form, and the narcissistic individualism it cultivates, the false sense of significance. You don’t understand, you don’t understand, you don’t understand, I thought, otherwise, you wouldn’t be here on facebook. As I gradually returned to facebook, I did so at first with the sensation of looking into a fishbowl, an outsider. I had a heightened awareness of the disturbing way in which it falsely presents the image of a concerned community, a network somehow constantly embedded in each others’ lives. I wanted to play Jonathan Edwards, to break through the mystification, to announce “death comes unexpectedly!”

This feeling of dislocation, and of seeing the fatuousness of facebook, the sense of loss of a human community and of life lived independently of its performative social capital, continues for me. Perhaps it was the recent one-year anniversary of my dad’s death and its subsequent bringing me back into depression that subconsciously led me to feel the imperative to get off of facebook. I was reminded how the veil was lifted on the nature of my relationships following that day, how small the circle in fact became when mortality in all its unpleasantness greeted me, how few people who I considered “friends” went past what is understandable discomfort with grief to actually physically, or even emotionally be present with me.

Facebook, from my vantage point, does not solidify or create relationships which endure moments of crisis. It may well be useful for promotion. But even in my experience of promoting my book, one glaring observation I’ve made is that the people who show up are not those I’ve invited on facebook. During my book launch, for instance—of 55 people, the vast majority of those who showed up do not even have a social media account. They found out from me personally, responded to my e-mail announcement, or through word of mouth. Almost all of the invitations I’ve received to give a talk are from individuals who contacted me through e-mail and who are not friends with me on facebook. Facebook allows us that false sense of having participated by merely clicking “interested,” or giving an “RSVP,” regardless of whether we actually “show up” for our friends and family, or for that matter, for issues which we consider important. It also gives us the “out” of not having to explain our absence, contributing to a culture where flaking becomes customary.

Maybe I will miss out on some opportunity by not being on facebook. Maybe someone would have seen one of my self-aggrandizing, self-promotional posts and thought that I would be fantastic for a plum job I hadn’t even considered. But those scholars and activists I most admire, who write important work, who have a considerable audience, and who are deeply embedded in causes, such as my long time friend Silvia Federici, somehow have done so without needing to post about it, and have shown up for me in moments of darkness and joy. If we do important work, if we are engaged, if we are present—and not just in writing “so sorry for your loss” or “so happy for you!” in the comment section, we are not—even in our absence on facebook—dead. We are, in fact, more alive.

Colleen Eren is a sociologist and teaches criminal justice from a critical perspective at LaGuardia Community College, where she is an associate professor.


Responses to Privilege

Photographer By Angelique Harris

The purpose of this essay is to compare and contrast two cases which highlight the influence that race, class, disability, and privilege play in the responses to assaults targeting disabled students.

On October 23, 2015, a group of teens allegedly tortured and sexually assaulted a special-needs teen with a coat hanger in front of other students in a locker room in Idaho (http://www.cnn.com/2017/01/05/us/chicago-facebook-live-beating/). These assailants forcibly inserted the coat hanger into his rectum while another repeatedly kicked the coat hanger while inside the victim, causing damage which required medical attention. This was one of many horrible assaults the victim experienced at the hands of the assailants and his football teammates. In addition to being called racial slurs, he was forced to strip naked on a school bus in front of teammates. Nonetheless, law enforcement only focused on the sexual assault. Two of the assailants were tried in juvenile court while the other, the one who kicked the hanger, was tried as an adult. All three assailants were charged with forcible penetration with a foreign object, a charge which carried the potential for life in prison. We do not know the fate of the two tried in juvenile court, but we can likely base their sentences on that of their adult teammate, the assailant tried as an adult. Ultimately, he entered a plea deal for injury to a child and received a reduced sentence. He will serve no prison time and will not have to register as a sex offender, but will serve up to three years of probation. If he successfully completes the terms of his probation, his conviction will likely be dismissed. He will officially be sentenced on February 24th of this year, and legal analysts expect the judge to accept the plea. Again, if he adheres to the terms of his probation, charges will probably be dismissed.

Compare that case in Idaho to the case in Chicago that just unfolded earlier this year. Three teens and one young adult allegedly kidnapped, beat, and tortured a special-needs teen and streamed the assault live on the social media site, Facebook. After the victim was allegedly kidnapped, these assailants recorded the beating, kicking, and slashing of the victim for 30 minutes, all while yelling racial slurs. At one point, the assailants even carved a piece of flesh from the scalp of the victim; again, all of this, streamed live on Facebook. The alleged assailants have been charged with kidnapping, unlawful restraint, aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, and they were also charged with a hate crime. Legal analysts have suggested that these assailants can spend decades if not the rest of their lives in prison if convicted on all counts. As this incident has just recently happened – they were charged January 5th – we don’t know how it will turn out just yet, but it is likely they will serve prison time.

In both cases, the alleged victims were special-needs students who were violently assaulted in front of others in attacks likely motivated by disability and race. Although both cases are similar, their responses, both in the legal court and the court of public opinion, have been quite different. The Idaho case received little national media attention when it took place back in 2015. In fact, the assault in Idaho did not receive much media attention until the light punishment (with no one facing prison time) was made public. A likely reason could be that the victim was a minor and the perpetrators, with one exception, were juveniles at the time of the crime. Whereas, in the Chicago crime the victim and alleged assailants were all 18 and over. Or the difference in response could simply be that 2015 was a long time ago, in “media time,” and with the recent election and rise in White Nationalism, there has been an increase in racially motivated attacks and more attention being paid to these assaults. So now, racially motivated assaults are getting more attention. Or it could be because the victim in the Idaho case is Black while the assailants are White, and victim in the Chicago case is White while the assailants are Black.

It is first important to note, I am not arguing that one crime is worse than the other. The concern, on the other hand, is with the response to the crimes and the types of attention received. Let’s first examine the court of public opinion, otherwise known as social media. In the Chicago case, Glenn Beck and other conservative media commentators were quick to point out that the assailants were Black and blamed Black Lives Matter, using the #BLMKidnapping hashtag (http://www.theverge.com/2017/1/5/14177494/chicago-teen-torture-facebook-live-video-black-lives-matter), an odd association considering the assailants never mentioned BLM. It’s especially odd considering that the #BLM movement is focused on addressing police brutality and emphasizing the value in Black lives, neither of which have anything to do with assaulting Whites. Conversely, although some media were quick to point out the race of the White football players in Idaho and the Black victim, and media reported that he was made to sing KKK songs (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3608814/White-high-school-football-players-raped-disabled-black-teammate-coat-hanger-stripped-naked-bus-forced-sing-Ku-Klux-Klan-song.html) while being tortured in front of his football teammates, there has been no widespread call to associate the Klu Klux Klan with this assault (and, of course, the KKK is an actual terrorist group founded to target and terrorize Blacks). In particular, conservative media remained silent on this case.

In terms of the legal response, I am not a legal analyst. However, it is important to note that despite all of this, the White assailants in Idaho were never charged with a hate crime. Law enforcement emphasized that one of the reasons why the victim was attacked in Chicago was because of his mental disability, not necessarily his race, and that this was the primary reason for the hate crime charge (http://abc7chicago.com/news/hate-crime-charges-filed-against-4-in-facebook-live-torture-case/1687517/). If this is the case, the teen in Idaho was also mentally disabled and, according to reports, targeted in part because of it. Now of course, we are looking at different cities and states with different legal statutes and such, so I am not sure as to why this was the case. It is important to note that the assailants in Chicago have been charged, but have yet to be sentenced. However, unlike the alleged assailants in Idaho, it is unlikely that the three teens and one young adult convicted in the Chicago case will be able to enter a plea deal for lesser charges or have the possibility of having their convictions dismissed. 

Obviously both cases are horrible and absolutely disgusting, but the contrasting social and legal responses highlight the role that race and class play in public and legal discourse. Clearly we have two narratives: 1. good kids who made bad choices, and 2. thugs who beat and tortured a disabled kid because of his race and/or mental state. Consistently, privilege dictates which narrative gets attributed to the White assailants. So as opposed to being a group of thugs who target and tortured a disabled teen because of his race and disability, the assailants’ privilege keeps them from serving prison time. The assailants in Chicago do not have the privilege or the resources to rewrite the narrative to be simply kids who made horrible choices, and, given a chance, to be able to turn their lives around. Now this is not to sympathize with any of these alleged assailants at all, but rather, to emphasize how these cases clearly serve as examples of how race and privilege help construct vastly different responses to two very similar crimes.

Angelique Harris is the founding director of the Center for Gender and Sexualities Studies, the director of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program, and Associate Professor of Sociology in the Department of Social and Cultural Sciences at Marquette University. Her research and teaching interests include race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality, medical sociology, religion, urban studies, media studies, and social movements. Dr. Harris’s research examines social problems and issues within marginalized communities, primarily focusing on the experiences of women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ communities. She has authored and co-authored several books, including The Sociology Student’s Guide to Writing and AIDS, Sexuality, and the Black Church: Making the Wounded Whole.

On Inequality

karen_biopic By Karen Miller

A couple of weeks ago I observed a colleague’s Introduction to Sociology course. He was talking to his students about W.E.B. DuBois’ idea of the “racial wage.” He reminded them that they had already spent a significant amount of time talking about what race wasn’t, but this lesson was about how race worked. My colleague emphasized DuBois’ important point that poor and working-class whites only needed to be positioned slightly higher than African Americans within a brutal system of exploitation in order for them to see their interests as congruent with those of white elites. As DuBois put it, white capitalists “compensated the low wage earning whites with a sort of public and psychological wage.” Poor and working-class whites’ sense that they belonged to a “superior race” meant that they saw their interests as unrelated to the interests of their African American neighbors. The increasing disenfranchisement of African Americans alongside aggressive occupational segregation, the suppression of black wages, African Americans’ minimal access to industrial employment, and black criminalization all contributed to whites’ sense that African Americans were naturally inferior. White poor and working-class men and women in the South as well as the North embraced racial inequality as a foundational piece of their racial identity and saw its amplification as a way to build a better world.

The current debates about whether race or class can help us understand Trump’s victory in the Electoral College misses the inextricability of race and class that DuBois so effectively explained in Black Reconstruction. Not all white workers or poor people side with elites and against people of color who live in similar economic circumstances. But, in order to understand those who do, we need to remember the affective power of the racial wage. Trump supporters believe in inequality. So tax cuts to the rich are a win if you may be rich one day, and if you believe that white wealth is a marker of superiority. Meritocratic fantasies can be soothing because they make the world make sense, even if you, yourself, will not benefit materially from Trump’s organization of wealth and power; even if you will lose out as the state’s redistributive programs are defunded and dismantled. Trump supporters will find deep, deep solace in knowing that racial inequalities are amplifying. Part of the affective draw of his demagoguery is that it’s built on the fundamental belief in inequality. In this system, racial inequality, which Trump and his supporters cast as normal and natural, also needs to be upheld. Understanding that in spite of our national creed, Trump and his supporters believe in inequality, and particularly in racial inequality, is absolutely urgent.

All this needs to be understood at the same time that we should see that whites who voted for Trump were disproportionately better off than those who did not. The median income of the white Trump voter was $72,000. Statistically, poorer whites were more likely to have voted for Clinton. They see their interests as more in line with a redistributory state. The racial wage gap is smaller for them, and is less able to animate their politics.

Still, understanding the racial wage helps us see why a white middle or lower-middle class person who depends on government programs like Medicare, social security, state-funded education, roads, garbage pick-up, mail delivery, bridges, tunnels, mortgage interest tax breaks, the Affordable Care Act and other non-means-tested benefits may vote for a party that promises to defund the non-militarized aspects of the state.

I strongly believe that the political answer here is to mobilize people who have not voted by developing a far stronger commitment to redistribution than the Democratic Party is willing to embrace in its current state. We cannot fight the racial wage by telling whites that it is a myth because sadly, with the current organization of power and resources it is not a myth. They do benefit from their whiteness and those benefits, while not always monetary, are material and real. The only way to fight the racial wage is to first imagine and then produce new realities that undercut its power. That is only possible through radical struggles for economic and racial justice – ones that recognize that these political categories can never be disentangled. The time is now.

Karen Miller is Professor of History at LaGuardia Community College and in the MALS Program at the CUNY Graduate Center. She is currently writing a book about internal labor migration and the US colonial state in the Philippines. Her first book, Managing Inequality: Northern Racial Liberalism in Interwar Detroit shows that white northern leaders embraced egalitarian ideas about race in the 1920s and 30s at the same time that they helped build racially segregated and unequal cities. Dr. Miller’s articles and reviews have appeared in the Journal of American History, The Middle West Review, The International Journal of Critical Pedagogy, The Michigan Quarterly Review, Michigan Feminist Studies, and Against the Current and the edited collection, Groundwork: Local Black Freedom Struggles in America.

“Choice” and the Limited Sphere of Presidential Electoral Politics

karen_biopic By Karen Miller

I think Trump and Clinton will be equally bad on foreign policy. Both firmly believe in American Empire (which by the way is not in decline). Their differences are superficial, as are the differences between the parties generally when it comes to international engagement. Promotions of free trade, consensus that the massive exploitation of workers globally serves the “interests” of the U.S., zero commitment to climate justice, or any other forms of justice, accountability only to the ruling class, the full-on embrace of different forms of global racism, misogyny, and I could go on and on.

That being said, I think that while the Dems are awful, there is some tiny tiny way they need to stay accountable to their progressive flank when it comes to domestic politics. Tiny. Don’t get me wrong. So for me, it’s that tiny space that has me wanting Hilary to win over Trump.

I also think presidential voting is not a site for real politics. It’s a site for assessing which aspects of the ruling class may be open to some form of accountability from “the people.” I know that there are millions of examples of the ways that Clinton has failed to be accountable. Of course. But the question for me is not about those failures. It’s about the 3 times she may have been open to even pretending she cared. It’s about the little-bit-less-reactionary judge she may appoint. It’s about an anti-union NLRB rather than a union busting one. It’s about tokenism rather than (like we see in the Brazilian coup) the full on rejection of any compensatory gestures from the state.

Trump is building his political career on his claim that he has no interest in being accountable to POC, working people, etc. etc. at all. And while I don’t believe that Hilary is even remotely adequately accountable (I hate her as much as you do), I do believe Trump when he says that he is accountable to the forces of reaction. If we had a stronger movement of workers and disenfranchised people this would not be our choice. But we don’t. And it is.

Karen Miller is Professor of History at LaGuardia Community College and in the MALS Program at the CUNY Graduate Center. She is currently writing a book about internal labor migration and the US colonial state in the Philippines. Her first book, Managing Inequality: Northern Racial Liberalism in Interwar Detroit shows that white northern leaders embraced egalitarian ideas about race in the 1920s and 30s at the same time that they helped build racially segregated and unequal cities. Dr. Miller’s articles and reviews have appeared in the Journal of American History, The Middle West Review, The International Journal of Critical Pedagogy, The Michigan Quarterly Review, Michigan Feminist Studies, and Against the Current and the edited collection, Groundwork: Local Black Freedom Struggles in America.

Liberal Growth Machines and the Production of Urban Racial Segmentation

karen_biopic By Karen Miller

New York City is whitening. Poor and working class people of color who were maligned for staying in urban “ghettos” a generation ago are now being pushed out of their previously denigrated neighborhoods as rents skyrocket, boutique coffee shops open, and access to affordable housing shrinks. FIRE (finance, insurance, real estate) sector leaders cast these shifts as natural outgrowths of urban desire. “People,” they suggest, now prefer cosmopolitan living and more densely populated spaces, amenities that suburbs cannot provide. So, cities are filling back up with the well appointed. Since the American class system is also a racial caste system, wealthy migrants are majority-white. Debates over urban development – both residential and non-residential – are sites of struggle over how resources, production, and commerce should be organized in cities. These are spatial and racial debates over urban power, ownership, and access.

Mayors and council members of large and medium-sized cities are often self-identified liberals who cast themselves as allies of working people, align themselves with the interests of disenfranchised communities, and talk convincingly about their belief that cities should remain both interracial and class diverse. But, these urban liberals are presiding over economies that are harshly exclusive and housing markets that are expanding rather than reducing class and racial segmentation. Ultimately, liberals’ embrace of the market-logic thinking that FIRE leaders, and their allies, promote compromises their ability to offer meaningful alternative programs or visions.

I live in New York City, and have watched urban leaders foster wealth creation and promote increased property values as working people of color get shut out of more and more neighborhoods. At the same time, these elites have stripped away or gutted programs like public housing and rent regulations that have eased working people’s exposure to these inflated “market” prices. For twenty years, Republicans held onto Gracie Mansion, but these practices can be traced back before their tenure. Ed Koch, a liberal, certainly embraced them, and they have continued under de Blasio, a self-styled “progressive.” De Blasio’s affordable housing plan requires developers to build “affordable housing,” but at prices that will exclude many working people, especially people of color who are both less likely to own their dwellings, and more subject to predatory landlords. Supporters of this plan argue that liberals are limited by the realities of the market and suggest that nothing can be done about its racially differential impact. The history of discrimination that has produced these inequalities, they imply, is not their responsibility to address. But, as always, activists call on de Blasio to embrace a different vision, one that recognizes that his rezoning plan is essentially a subsidy to the wealthy. “By greatly increasing the value of the land,” Jonathan Westin argues, “we need to be capturing that value and converting it into a public good.” One that will be distributed with a history of both discrimination and racial exclusion in mind.

In my book, I examine the historical precedents to these dynamics. White liberal leaders’ commitment to urban growth in interwar Detroit both reinforced existing racial inequalities and produced new forms of racial segmentation. When I talk about white liberal leaders’ support for “growth,” I am talking about their interest in sustaining and expanding capitalist forms of accumulation. Specifically, I demonstrate that local, state, and federal officials, in dialogue with industrial leaders and other elites, promoted a vision for how to organize production, labor, and space that fostered increasing economic inequality and stratification. At the top, wealthy white urbanites – owners of the means of production – amassed spectacular fortunes and fought to consolidate their control over city resources and political power. Near the bottom, workers earned wages and some benefits in exchange for their labor and their submission to a punishing discipline both inside and outside of factories. These inequalities took on an increasingly racial cast between the two World Wars as the First Great Migration brought African Americans and other southerners flooding into northern cities. City leaders used racial segregation as a tool for labor management, lending it new life and a new set of meanings in the North, and integrating it into their vision of urban growth. These same urban elites – including politicians, businesspeople, and philanthropists – came to adopt the language of race neutrality and increasingly embraced the idea that a gradual move toward racial equality was morally good. At the same time that a majority distanced themselves from the most egregious expressions of racism, none supported any form of state intervention into practices that upheld racially unequal relations of power, or the increasingly racially segregated spatial order.

Liberal political leaders often aligned themselves with the interests of the “downtrodden.” However, they were careful to divorce their concern for the less fortunate from critiques of private property and capitalism. Instead, they cast elite political power and control over resources as natural and legitimate outgrowths of urbanization and industrialization. These dynamics, they conceded, produced problematic excesses like poverty and unemployment that were especially acute among African Americans, but they did not call into question the morality of profit and inequality themselves. White liberal politicians did not live up to their promise to produce a more racially equitable society because they did not believe in a racially or economically redistributive state. Even as they (often ambivalently) embraced the language of racial equality and expressed empathy for the plight of people of color, they embraced a class vision that equated urban growth with the accumulation of wealth at the top of an unequal, racially stratified pyramid.

Karen Miller is Professor of History at LaGuardia Community College and in the MALS Program at the CUNY Graduate Center. She is currently writing a book about internal labor migration and the US colonial state in the Philippines. Her first book, Managing Inequality: Northern Racial Liberalism in Interwar Detroit shows that white northern leaders embraced egalitarian ideas about race in the 1920s and 30s at the same time that they helped build racially segregated and unequal cities. Dr. Miller’s articles and reviews have appeared in the Journal of American History, The Middle West Review, The International Journal of Critical Pedagogy, The Michigan Quarterly Review, Michigan Feminist Studies, and Against the Current and the edited collection, Groundwork: Local Black Freedom Struggles in America.

The Purpose of Higher Education


Mehmet_BioPic By Mehmet Kucukozer

The Behavioral Sciences Department (BHS) at Dutchess Community College (DCC), of which I am faculty, runs a seminar series each semester called A Conversation Across the Disciplines. The idea is to invite faculty of the various departments to speak and share perspectives from their respective areas of study on various topics of academic and social significance. We, the organizers, thought it would be timely to have an event on “the purpose of higher education,” as the State University of New York is pushing system-wide curricular reforms to which, as a member college, we are subject. We saw it as an opportunity to address some of the long-term implications of restructuring that emerge from the current drive to edit credits, courses, and course requirements.

As one of the invited faculty at the event providing a sociological perspective, I made the case that key ideas within the sociological tradition have served as vital philosophical and conceptual foundations for education, and that those ideas, perhaps more than ever, need to play a role in structuring the future of education. I draw on the seminal work of the French sociologist Emile Durkheim who defined the critical function of education as developing engaged and active citizens for the formation of democratic societies. I follow up with references to the works of Howard Zinn and Paulo Freire in illustrating how Durkheim’s conception of education can be put into practice in the classroom. My hope is to spur further discussion and reflection.

To be sure, the influence of the sociological tradition in education during the twentieth century is well acknowledged.  It is indeed present in our college’s banner and motto: “Towards a Democracy of Excellence.” This echoes Durkheim’s view that education instills “the respect… for the ideas and sentiments which are at the base of democratic morality”[1]. At its core for Durkheim, education has a moral quality in developing the kinds of people who through obtained beliefs and knowledge can act in ways that benefit the public good[1]. As humans are inherently social beings, morality is measured by peoples’ participation in society. The important questions that emerge for us educators are these: To what extent is a democratic morality currently the foundation for classroom instruction? How is then such a system of education to be structured in the classroom?

Certainly, the twentieth century, being the most destructive period in human history, has brought to the fore significant concerns about the (moral) purpose of knowledge and thus education. Indeed, the great social historian Howard Zinn notes, “In 1937 sociologist Robert S. Lynd wrote a little gem of a book entitled Knowledge for What? In which he attacked the divorce of scholarship from the problems of his day… In the interim the world has experienced Auschwitz and Hiroshima and Birmingham, yet the accusation in that book against the world of scholarship remains exactly as true in every line”[2]. As these words were written close to fifty years ago, one can argue that this divorce is still in effect. Sociologists who explicitly look to apply their research to solving social problems are seen as doing something distinctive, and their work is labeled “public sociology.” In general, such scholars are known as “public intellectuals.”

How does education suffer if democratic morality is no longer the underlying principal? Democratic morality provides a basis for an intellectual orientation that can only fully develop if two key interrelated components are the focus of classroom instruction. These two components are developing a student’s (1) ability for critical analysis, and (2) his/her sense of agency to effect positive social change as citizen. The best illustration of this comes from an observation in which Zinn describes a classroom scene in one of the “Freedom Schools” set up by civil rights activists during the summer of 1964 in Mississippi:

One day, it was an editorial in the morning’s Clarion-Ledger, charging that civil rights workers were teaching people to break the law. “What do you think of the editorial? Is it true? If you could write a letter to the editor about it, what would you say?…Here’s paper and pencil, go ahead. We’ll pick out one or two and really send them to the editor.” This was not education for grades, not writing for teacher’s approval, but for an immediate use; it was a learning surrounded with urgency. And the students responded with seriousness, picking apart the issues: Are we for the law? When is civil disobedience justified? Then the teacher explored with them the differences between statutory law, constitutional law, “natural” law[3].

The style of instruction here is promoting critical thought and agency by sparking what Paulo Freire refers to as a dialogue between theory and practice[4]. Theory is understood as a framework for knowing and explaining the world. In this case, the students are learning and questioning the theory of law: What is its purpose? How is it structured? How does it relate to the concept of rights?

Theory serves as the basis for practice. Without knowing, one cannot act. Practice is action, or the (re)structuring of the social order in action. Education that focuses on the dialoguing of theory and practice forms what Freire calls the “ontological vocation” for students[4]. Through knowledge obtained in the process of learning, the student becomes a “subject” with the capacity to shape his/her world and thus create history. Thus students are imbued with a sense of agency, which constitutes the essence of democratic citizenship. In Zinn’s classroom observation, students are given the tools to act through their learning of law.

Within the sociological tradition, as put forth by Durkheim and echoed by others, the purpose of education is to foster an intellectual orientation for effective participation in society.  “Effective” comes from those who have developed the capacity to exercise a democratic morality, an ability to engage in an ongoing dialogue between theory and practice—more specifically, an ability to critically assess theory in terms of its moral application to social practice. This tradition of education is perhaps becoming more important as we sail into an increasingly uncertain global future.

[1] Cladis, Mark S. “Education, Virtue and Democracy in the Work of Emile Durkheim.” Journal of Moral Education. 1995, Vol. 24 Issue 1, p. 37, 16p.

[2] Zinn, Howard. “Nonviolent Direct Action.” Howard Zinn on History. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2011[1966].

[3] Zinn, Howard. “Freedom Schools.” Howard Zinn on History. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2011[1964].

[4] Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. (Trans.: Myra Bergman Ramos.) New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2012 [1970].

Mehmet is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Dutchess Community College, SUNY, currently teaching Introduction to Sociology, Social Problems, and Sociology of Religion. His areas of interest include historical comparative analysis of resistance movements, social change, and political economy.

How to Be a Left Wing Apologist for Antisemitism

Spencer_BioPicBy Spencer Sunshine

A few days ago some Socialist friends alerted me that the new Green Party vice presidential pick Ajamu Baraka had an ugly history of doing media work with a Holocaust denier named Kevin Barrett. Lefty media had already pointed out that Baraka was a vulgar anti-imperialist who has supported Syrian mass murderer Bashar al-Assad and a conspiracy theorist who has labeled various tragedies as “false flags.”

This was not terribly surprising as, by the mid-00s, the U.S. Green Party had been swamped by 9/11 Truthers and various conspiracy theorists, including those who espoused thinly veiled antisemitic criticisms of Israel. In recent years, numerous Green Parties around the world had already had their own scandals regarding Holocaust denial and antisemitism, including in Canada and Britain.

As an antifascist and a critic of the Left/Right crossover movements, I have spent years calling out Leftists who traffic in antisemitism. This had once been a fairly marginal phenomenon. However, now with Baraka’s candidacy, we see those with clear antisemitic links moving into the highest levels of the national Left, and it has been met with silence.

I was going to write a Facebook post about this and leave it at that, but it started to be reposted widely. Then a Green Party national co-coordinator endorsed suppressing the post from Green Party online forums, and came onto my own Facebook page to claim that I was engaged in an attempt to “run interference for apartheid in Israel.” (None of the conversation or criticism had anything whatsoever to do with Israel, Palestine, or Zionism.)

This was the first of many attempts to delegitimize criticisms of Baraka, and thereby kosher the presence of antisemitism in progressive circles (if the Greens can claim to be that anymore). Many Facebook arguments followed, with defenders of Baraka utilizing a variety of arguments to attempt to either shield him from criticism, or simply to justify what he did. Having been through these arguments for years, I decided to write them down as a guide for future debates.

Baraka and Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein have refused to answer me via webpage inquiries, contacts, or Twitter. Finally, when Gawker contacted Baraka, he admitted he had been on Barrett’s radio show and had authorized his essay to be in the Holocaust denier’s anthology – but claimed he was unaware of Barrett’s views. In the original interview, Baraka did not, however, acknowledge that the Holocaust happened. (Only later did he send Gawker a follow-up note, affirming that he acknowledged that the Holocaust happened.) See: http://gawker.com/stein-campaign-says-running-mate-didn-t-realize-he-was-1785157203.

It shouldn’t take days of a media campaign to get progressive leaders to acknowledge that it’s wrong to work with Holocaust deniers and to admit that the Holocaust happened.

But it does.

Welcome to #Dystopia2016.

For more information about the links between Baraka and Garrett, and the Green Party’s original defense of this and attacks on me, see: https://radicalarchives.org/2016/08/10/ajamu-baraka-holocaust-denial.

For your reading pleasure, here is a list of the arguments that Leftists have used against me in an attempt to defend Baraka from criticism:

  1. Denial. Simply deny that there are any legitimate facts involved, which is kind of projection when Holocaust denial is being discussed.
  1. Attack the platform. Claim the platform where the evidence is presented is unreliable, especially if this isn’t true.
  1. Livingstone formulation. When the claims of antisemitism have nothing to do with Israel/Palestine, insert this into the conversation and claim you are being attacked because of your views on it. (For more on this technique, see https://engageonline.wordpress.com/2010/10/05/david-hirsh-the-livingstone-formulation).
  1. Cry “Zionism.” Claim that the source of the information is “Zionist” and therefore should be ignored. Only criticisms coming from anti- and non-Zionists will be acknowledged. Since 99% of Westerners, most Jews, and the vast majority of people who monitor antisemitism believe that Israel has a right to exist in some form (two states, etc.), you can invoke this and delegitimize most critics in one fell swoop – without ever engaging in the substance of their criticisms. This creates an information silo.
  1. Claim “smear.” Ignore the facts on hand and claim that the call-out is motivated by some other agenda.
  1. Unfair “guilt by association.” Claim that any link – including appearing directly on a platform with someone and working with them directly, with pictures, video, publishing info., etc. – is simply “guilt by association.”
  1. Redirect. Claim that the “real” work you should be doing about antisemitism is debunking claims from the Jewish community about antisemitism in the Palestine Solidarity movement.
  1. Bait and switch. Claim that the callout says something it doesn’t, and then say the critic is a liar.
  1. Unattainable standards of proof. This has been my favorite and has been used repeatedly. This is also a common tactic used against women who complain about sexual harassment and people of color who complain about racism. The apologist agrees that there IS antisemitism on the Left, but they set the bar so high for evidence, that in no particular instance can it ever be proven. This allows them to have it both ways: seem like they are sympathetic, but in reality koshering antisemitism in every instance.
  1. Hide behind a Jewish person. Since antisemitism is a narrative, anyone can repeat it, and many Jews will tolerate their colleagues espousing it. So if a Jewish person is around you, claim you can’t possibly be antisemitic.
  1. Justification through false equivalency. Compare being on a Holocaust deniers’ radio show to being on FOX News. Seriously, multiple people have done this. I was actually flabbergasted by this one.

Spencer Sunshine (www.spencersunshine.com) is an antifascist researcher who lives in Brooklyn, New York. He is currently working with the Rural Organizing Project in Oregon to develop community-based responses to Patriot movement and militia organizing. Follow him on twitter @transform6789.