Friday, July 25, 2008

So the National Post's readers think that academics want to destroy their civilization...

First: full admission that there's a certain amount of self-satisfying wankery involved in any organized academic discussion. We use inaccessible language (which is often doubly ironic when we write about issues of social justice) and usually speak/write specifically for people who are already onside - meaning that we risk marginalizing the only-mildly curious and fail to give the apathetic any immediate or apparent reasons to care. We also nitpick at the mostly rhetorical differences that separate, say, a Marxist anti-racist from a Foucauldian anti-racist, or imagine that the divide between someone who feels that gender is the most foundational social variable as opposed to someone who feels that the social is actually organized around class is deserving of the sorts of arguments that result in anger and alienation - despite the fact that both would still agree that gender and class inequality are each really important topics that require our attention.

None of which is a good reason for the sort of reactionary bullshit that the (Toronto) National Post's readers are heaping on a call for papers by the Researchers and Academics of Colour for Equality (RACE), an academic organization for anti-racist scholars in Canada. There are the usual complaints that ask why the white tax-paying majority is funding a conference that is ostensibly opposed to their interests - though I could just as easily complain about the tax money that's funneled into the military, as 'economic relief' for big business, etc. - and responses that react with incredulity to the suggestion that racism is actually a problem. (Though at least one of the comments actually made me laugh: "why are they calling for new papers and abstracts? [...] Speaking as a white hegemonist capitalist, i can assure them I'm not trying any new tricks, just same old stuff.")

And then it's the commenters' turn to supply the irony. Y'see, the responses actually manage to provide proof of the need to continue the production of anti-racist discourse and dialogue:
  • a commenter unflatteringly compares the "bad English" of the CFP to that of "the same Nigerian princes who are always trying to make me a rich man" (the "bad English" crack could have escaped notice as a shot at academic language, if not for its being inappropriately linked to an African bank scam - the poor grammar and spelling of those bank scams is nothing like the inaccessability of a CFP, and so the disdain appears to be aimed at their ostensible authors)
  • another asks to the see the CV of the professor who's serving as the contact person (to which one would be within their rights to ask whether the same mocking request would be made of, say, me if my name were the one attached to the CFP)
  • one explicitly reduces anti-racist activists to "immigrants" wanting to "destroy Western civilization" and "change [Canada] to a third world country"
  • another argues that "Saudi money" is now being paid to Canadian Universities to fund "dangerous agendas" like Israeli Apartheid Week (and, presumably, this conference), making the same covert accusation as the above, but with just a smidgeon of subtlety
  • and then the reactionaries kick in with mocking calls to form groups like SPERM (Society for the Protection of Equal Rights for Men) and SPEW (Society for the Protection of Equal rights for Whites) - oblivious, I suppose, to the existence of such groups and the continued socio-economic dominance of white men and the institutions that maintain their dominance (or, for that matter, the thinly-veiled hate groups that already exist for precisely those purposes)
Ultimately, the way in which these people manage to inadvertently provide evidence for the continuation of anti-racist and feminist political projects almost certainly escapes them. And, once again, I'm mostly just poking fun at them for the benefit of people who already agree with me and can see this without my having to point it out. But sometimes you just need to laugh at it, right?

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