Open Letter to Nancy DiTomaso

Dear Prof. DiTomaso,

I was deeply disheartened to read your op-ed in The New York Times. I very much wish that you would reconsider the fundamental perspective of the work that you are doing. I feel that, as it stands, your work provides a deeply myopic and ultimately misleading idea of how white supremacy functions in the present context. If I’m being particularly generous, I’d call your work a missed opportunity. Social networks do indeed play an immediate function in determining hiring and ties of association do indeed lead those on the inside of social hierarchies to hire people who look like them without ever having to think of themselves as racist. Of course. So what’s the problem I have with your work then? The glaring fact that the segregation of social networks takes place in, by, and through white supremacist violence.

As I see it, to leave your argument as it stands is to ignore, dismiss, and obfuscate the very real violence that is inflicted upon persons of African descent in this country everyday, especially at the hands of law enforcement and under the auspices of The Drug War. In fact, you provide cover for white supremacist violence by perpetuating the tragically false idea that racism just happens magically. I fear that such an argument is little more than an attempt at a self-fulfilling prophecy, one which, even if we were to accept, only makes us less able to address the issue in a real way.

You need to dig deeper. How did social networks get so racially segregated in the first place and how are they kept that way today? You need to examine the manner in which The New Jim Crow, geographical segregation, and the gross racialized disparities in the educational system relate to the division of social networks that you encounter. Otherwise, you’re just giving white people an excuse for not redressing our society’s blatantly white supremacist outcomes and I find that abhorrent.

I hope that a public apology for the misleading nature of your arguments will be forthcoming. In any event, I very much hope to dialogue with you on this matter further as I feel profoundly unsettled by your grievous erasure of the systematic violence that provides the essential basis for white privilege.

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Posted in Economy, Education | 2 Comments

I wish I was more irrelevant

It’s been a funny night. As the sun started to set, I stepped out of the house in order to see that the first print copies of my new book Economies of Whiteness had arrived. As a physical object, it does indeed look beautiful. There’s always something other worldly, or unhomely at any rate, about encountering an object of your own labor as… well… an object. It’s terrifying and exalting and embarrassing and gratuitous and gratifying. And then, once the shock wears off, there’s a certain insistent nagging that takes over. The nagging is not so much about the faults of one’s labor for as real as such faults no doubt are, the most exceptional of these faults will remain sheer blindnesses to you until someone else points them out to you–for, after all, if such faults were obvious you would have corrected them in the first place. No, the nagging that one is left with after encountering the object does not so much concern the object’s faults as it does the more fundamental, more simple question of the object’s relevance. Did I really need to go to all this trouble just to say these things? Isn’t everything that I said in this object completely obvious to anyone who’s paying attention? Such were the nagging thoughts running through my head this eve, and then…

I had the misfortune of reading the following opinion piece in the NY Times: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/05/05/how-social-networks-drive-black-unemployment/

If I can say nothing more for this op-ed, and really I can’t without succumbing to a relentless string of expletives, let me say that in one fell swoop the author convinced me that my book is indeed relevant. Sadly, tragically, all too relevant. 

Read the article for yourself and see what you see. What I see is this: the outcomes of 400 years of some of the most brutal VIOLENCE ever to occur on the face of the earth being justified as simply a result of the mere fact that the perpetrators of that violence just happen to all know each other! Well isn’t that something! Fuck the New York Times and fuck white liberals trying to excuse the white supremacist violence that surrounds us every fucking day! I have no idea how you write an article like that without mentioning The New Jim Crow. Fuck you Nancy DiTomaso! I’ll tell you right now: you’re full of shit and the only reason you’re still in business is because rich folk will always pay for another layer. Get a REAL job you worthless white liberal! 

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Falsifiability anyone?

Ask a neoclassical economist this: Take any actually existing economy. What action would your model recommend and what result would make you abandon your model? Southern Europe was told by these intellectual clowns that their economy would magically heal once government spending was cut. And yet, somehow, taking money out of the economy made things worse, as even the IMF now acknowledges. After watching this take place, the politicians in the United States responded by cutting government spending and raising taxes on the poor (i.e., those who actually spend their money). In other words, knowing what came from austerity in Europe, our leaders decided they’d give us a taste of the recipe. Presumably, we’re to believe that everyone who recommends this policy now is hoping for a different result than it has had on nearly every observable occasion. Would it be too rash of us if we started to wonder at the goodness of our leaders’ intentions?

 

Indeed, it is difficult to deny the possibility that despite his effervescent protestations to the contrary, Obama is in on the shakedown. Whenever he so chooses, he can raise the debt ceiling by invoking the 14th amendment, as even a neoliberal as otherwise dedicated as Bill Clinton has recommended to him. The fact that Obama does not do so and instead goes along with the Republican charade means that he is enjoying scoring political points by portraying himself as the populist (if only by comparison) and/or he thinks that cutting social security is the right thing to do for neoliberal reasons and he appreciates having the political cover in order to do just that. Aside from the small issue of his complete and utter moral depravity, one certainly has to marvel at Obama’s artistry. (I won’t repeat here the argument concerning why the debt is not in fact the problem with the economy. Anyone who needs clarity on that point can read any of Paul Krugman’s columns for the last four years. And for an in-depth explanation of why cutting social security through chained CPI is both a bad idea and has nothing to do with the non-existent deficit problem, read Dean Baker’s excellent remarks on the subject.)

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Michael Hudson “Government Debt and Deficits Are Not the Problem. Private Debt Is”

The invaluable Michael Hudson illustrates the political economic consequences of the conversion of the American working class into a rent-servicing one:

“When it comes to analyzing comparative advantage among nations, the key no longer is food or prices for other goods and services. Financial charges and taxes are the key. The typical blue-collar family budget provides the explanation for why the United States is losing its industrial advantage.”

  Housing (rent or home ownership) 40%
  Other bank debt 10 to 15%
  FICA wage withholding 13%
  Other taxes 15%

 

…. The ultimate question to be posed is thus whether the economy really needs Wall Street and the banks to be made whole on credit that has been created largely to inflate asset prices (the Bubble Economy) and to gamble on derivatives and computer programs (Casino Capitalism)”

http://neweconomicperspectives.org/2013/03/government-debt-and-deficits-are-not-the-problem-private-debt-is.html

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Why is there job growth amidst austerity?

236,000 jobs were added in February. Now, while this sounds like “good news,” let’s not get too excited too quickly. Even if these numbers hold up and even if this rate of job growth continued every month for the foreseeable future, it would still be many years before unemployment is at levels sufficient to return the majority of discouraged workers back to the labor market. Beyond that improbable outcome, still many many more additional jobs would be necessary to provide full time employment to all the part-time workers who would like it. Reaching such a goal would take nothing less than an act of God (which is to say a completely new set of political priorities, if not political parties). And even assuming that such a goal is reached thanks to divine intervention, it would take yet another series of acts of intelligent and sustained political will before more or less all workers were employed at the highest level for which they are qualified. 

I know I probably sound like a curmudgeonly curmudgeon in the face of the rather rare occurrence of hearing what can be construed as “good news” with respect to the economy but sorry… I gotsta keep it real. More than raining on anyone’s parade, I want to ask the deeper question concerning why it is that now, of all moments, when our politicians of both persuasions have at long last led us to austerity (which, we know, unquestionably, will decelerate the economy) is the private sector finally hiring? If they haven’t been hiring until this point, it is most certainly NOT because they haven’t had the capital on hand. If you’re a bank, as opposed to a citizen or a business, the FED spigot of near zero-interest loans has been wide open for years.  So why might it be that banks are finally starting to invest some of their (for all intents and purposes infinite) capital in places where it actually leads to hiring workers? Who the hell wants to spend money on hiring workers when you can make a lot more money (at least in the short run, which for capital is the only consideration there is) simply making a bunch of debt bets? Indeed, that has been the banks’ heavily preferred strategy for the past 4 years. Why change now (if indeed they are in fact changing–i.e., if this month’s numbers aren’t simply a fluke)?

This is highly, highly speculative, to the point that I can only even offer such a thought in the form of a What If question (as, at this point, there is not yet sufficient data to attempt to falsify such a speculation). These warnings aside, here it goes: What if capital itself is attempting to offset the effects of government imposed austerity (in the immediate form of the spending cuts and tax raises from sequestration and in who knows what form to follow)? Such a possibility suggests that a significant amount of the total supply of private capital is now concentrated in such a few number of hands that, apart from the actions of the state (upon which, of course, these actors parasitically depend), private actors themselves can attempt to regulate not just how they adapt to the business cycle, but the business cycle itself. If the corporations (at the dispensation of the banks) institute countercyclical spending when the state can no longer do so (above all because of the influence of corporations in making continued govt spending politically infeasible) is there any longer a meaningful distinction between corporations and the government? It would seem that, if capital attempts, albeit in its own niggardly way, to bail us out because it knows that unless it does so we will not have any money to pay its bills down the road, then for all intents and purposes capital is the state. Regardless of the intentions of such a course of action, whether the private investments that created job growth are a conscious attempt to head off the otherwise impending downturn brought on by austerity or, more simply, if our corporate masters are rewarding us for swallowing the bitter pill of austerity that they thrust upon us so that we may pay still more for their sins, it does indeed suggest that not only do corporations run our government but they are also prepared to act in a coordinated fashion  as if they are the government. 

 

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Gun Control Needs to Start with the Police

With all of the public discussion of gun violence that has come in the wake of recent mass shootings, not enough attention is being paid to a particular segment of the population that is far more likely to carry a gun than any other. This exceptionally, indeed uniquely, armed group is called: the police.

It is true that police do not commit the majority of shootings in the United States. Unfortunately, however, gun violence is an all too common form of police violence which is itself a tragically common feature of many communities throughout the country, as the residents of Anaheim can certainly attest. The facts clearly show that police gun violence is not simply a matter of a few isolated incidents. Police officers are drastically more likely to commit a lethal shooting than the average person–approximately 20 times more likely in fact (607 fatalities from shootings in 2011 by 800,000 law enforcement officers vs. 11,000 fatalities from shootings by the US population of 310,000,000). One might think that, unfortunate as this statistic may be, it is more or less to be expected given the dangerous nature of police work. However, if rules of engagement were followed with regularity—i.e., if police were only using lethal force in situations in which they were in legitimate danger—one would assume that police officers would be fatally shot in approximately equal number to the amount of fatal shootings they commit. This was certainly not the case. In 2011, only 67 police officers were killed in the line of duty by gunshot. In other words, police were nine times more likely to fatally shoot others than they were to be killed by gunshot.

These numbers speak to something that you may have observed with respect to your interactions with law enforcement: just how physically fearful today’s cops are of nearly anyone and everyone. Ask a police officer a question of the most innocent sort and the response you’ll get will most likely be marked by an aggressive, jumpy, paranoid, suspiciousness as if such a state of heightened anxiety was perfectly natural. Imagine what it’s like for men of color! Police today routinely approach the communities in which they serve as if they are just as foreign and just as dangerous as Afghanistan. The unjustified, all-pervasive fear that law enforcement project upon their environment in turn provides the basis for their disturbingly common use of preemptive violence. In reality, here’s what rules of engagement effectively amount to on the streets of most of our cities: ANY use of force is legitimate as long as there is even the most minuscule chance of a cop being in the position of possibly getting injured.

What is it that makes the people who are supposed to put their bodies on the line to protect us so fearful of injury to the point that they are all too likely to endanger us? This irrational fear is a logical extension of the militarized training and equipment that have become common features of American policing, particularly since 2001. This equipment and training instills a particular mindset which posits that power is reducible to technology. Tasers, pepper spray, less-lethal munitions, handguns, shotguns, rifles, tear gas, batons, shields, bullet-proof vests, helmets, noise weapons. Possessing these extraordinary and diverse technologies of protection/aggression/death in turn breeds fear in the possessor with respect to the weakness of his own body in comparison. He who possesses these technologies knows what they are designed to do to the human body, sees what they do to the bodies of others, and inevitably imagines one’s own body as their possible target. The more armor is put on to guard against this fear, the greater the fear becomes for the presence of the armor is itself an indication of the body’s vulnerability. In sum: the more munitions, the more armor, the more the body itself seems weak in comparison.

It is this technology-induced bodily cowardliness which so starkly separates today’s police and military from the warriors of old whose power stemmed from their confidence in their bodies to hold up to and overcome physical injury. Sword and shield were extensions of the body, effective only when used in concert with the attributes of the battle-tested body. This is not to say that there is anything to romanticize about the power of bodily force, as it was (and still too often is, e.g., with respect to domestic relations) part and parcel of the domination of the physically weaker by the physically stronger. The point is that today’s technologies of force result in a fundamentally different attitude towards the body.

Today, technologies of protection/aggression/death are viewed as something alien to and other from the body. In many respects, it was the advent of the gun all those centuries ago that opened the way for this development. The bourgeois liberal merchant class greeted the gun as something of an emancipatory device in that it meant that the physically weaker–provided they had access to the various sorts of credit necessary for commerce–could protect themselves from the physically stronger, hence the 2nd Amendment. Prior to this technological innovation, the landed aristocracy maintained its position in the social order thanks to a loyal warrior class whose power lay first and foremost in their bodily capacities. The enforcement of contracts was and, in the post-gunpowder, bourgeois era, still remains the primary purpose for the majority of acts of physical force. What’s changed is the nature of the human body involved in the violence of enforcement as those bodies have increasingly come to rely upon simpler to use and easier to wield technologies of violence.

More or less any body can shoot a gun. While the defining function of police and military is indeed their role of enforcing contracts through the use of physical force, advances in technologies of aggression/protection/death mean that the particular abilities and capacities of particular human bodies play less and less of a role in instituting this force. In turn, police and military are no longer necessarily definable as the physically strong who use their strength in service to the sovereign.

As physicality became less necessary for the performance of their contract enforcement function, police and military jobs in turn underwent a transformation into professionalized, bureaucratic careers. Seemingly so little of what the average police officer does today requires a gun—e.g., traffic enforcement, reviewing reports, interviewing witnesses, questioning suspects, harassing young, poor, black, and/or brown people— and yet without guns, police would scarcely be free to do the work they do. What would a police officer be without a gun? Some curiously self-righteous cross between a meter maid, a security guard, a paralegal, and a social worker? If carrying a gun is so necessary for any of these duties, why isn’t it also routine for others who perform similar roles for similar populations? Could it be that social workers are simply more physically courageous people than police officers?

If police were legitimately interested in earning back the respect of the public they serve, they would insist upon refusing to carry guns. Implicit in every interaction with the police at present is the tacit threat made by the presence of their guns: “I could kill you if I wanted to and there’s not a damn thing that you could do to stop me.” Might it make their job more dangerous if police didn’t carry guns? Yes, it probably would. But, as the above statistics show, at present police pose a greater danger to the public than any danger they face in the course of conducting their job. Also, it is important to keep in mind that police work is at present a far less dangerous job (in terms of fatalities per year divided by number of workers) than many other jobs such as mining, fishing, and logging and it would likely remain so even if police did not routinely carry guns. In any event, given that the number of gunshot deaths caused by police is so much higher than the number of police deaths from gunshot, disarming police would almost certainly result in a significant number of saved lives.

The recent push for gun control legislation has provoked intense responses from persons who feel that their high-capacity semi-automatics offer an essential and irreplaceable form of protection from the government. Now, statistically, we know that it’s much more likely that gun owners will injure themselves (and/or friends and family) with their guns than they are to ever need them for protection. Nevertheless, the number of gunshot deaths that police inflict every year shows that those who fear the government are not entirely without justification. Perhaps many people who fear violence from the government would be willing to give up some of their more deadly guns if the police gave up theirs.

If we want a less violent society, someone has to take the first step. The more technologies of death that we surround ourselves with, the greater our fears of one another and the more those fears are justified. Many of us go through our whole lives without guns and find that the less we fear other human beings, the less is their fear of us, and the less cause we have to fear. Police can show their courage and set a powerful example for how to create peace in the world by refusing to carry their guns on duty. By doing so, they would almost certainly find themselves the recipients of much greater respect and cooperation from the community. And they could grow these dividends further by doing something as simple as living in the communities in which they serve.

There is no reason that disarmament has to happen for all police all at once. Disarmament is a process that can take place over time. Perhaps, for the time being, given the pervasive presence of guns in our society, there may still be a need for SWAT teams to carry guns in order to deal with particularly extreme situations. However, at present, a great deal of harm is caused by police who are trained and equipped to respond to the most quotidian of encounters as if they are in imminently life-threatening danger. Any police officer anywhere has the opportunity to send a powerful message demonstrating his or her desire to live in a less violent society by refusing to carry a gun on routine duty and encouraging his or her fellow officers to do the same. Tragically, responding to a police culture in which violence and corruption are the rule rather than the exception, Christopher Dorner had no idea that he had such a choice.

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An article I wrote about the dearth of teachers in California schools.

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