- Racial/Colonial Genocide and the “Neoliberal Academy”: In Excess of a Problematic
My place of employment reflects how the U.S. academy remains constituted by its gendered racist, apartheid, colonial foundations. As several students and colleagues remind me, the desecration of Indian burial grounds has guided the construction and expansion of the land grant institution at which I work, the University of California, Riverside—that is, desecration is not an incidental and fleeting moment in the campus’s creation, it is the continual condition of UCR’s existence as such.1 Second, recent UCR police practices are saturated with antiblack racism and “racial profiling,” landmarked by a set of early-2000s exchanges between renowned African American historian Sterling Stuckey and then Chancellor Raymond Orbach. Stuckey detailed the UCRPD’s yearlong harassment of one black graduate student in particular (detained multiple times by campus police while walking to the library), remarking that “circumstances at UCR [have] made it impossible for me to go on recruiting black graduate students.”2
These local examples express the academy’s paradigmatic ordering of bodies, vulnerabilities, and intellectual hierarchies. That is, such everyday dehumanization illustrates the systemic logics, institutional techniques, rhetorics, and epistemologies of violence and power that undergird the academy’s racial and colonial foundations even—especially—as they resurface in our current working and thinking conditions. These dehumanizing violences exceed the effects of the academy’s neoliberalization; they require an urgent, strategic, mutual centering of the analytics of racial/colonial genocide. Framed in the long historical scope of modernity, racial/colonial genocide is a logic of human extermination that encompasses extended temporal, cultural, biological, and territorial dimensions:3 the mind-boggling body counts associated with commonly recognized “genocides” are but one fragment of a larger historical regime that requires the perpetual social neutralization (if not actual elimination) of targeted populations as (white, patriarchal) modernity’s premise of [End Page 809] historical-material continuity. This is why Indian reservations, the U.S. prison and criminalization regime, and even Arizona’s ban on ethnic studies need to be critically addressed through a genocide analytic as well as through focused critiques of neoliberalism’s cultural and economic structures: the logics of social neutralization (civil death, land expropriation, white supremacist curricular enforcement) always demonstrate the capacity (if not the actually existing political will and institutional inclination) to effectively exterminate people from social spaces and wipe them out of the social text.
To appropriate a well-known phrase, I’m advancing an abolitionist praxis without guarantees—of either victory or survival. Here “abolitionist” invokes and identifies the genealogies of freedom struggle that emerge in direct, radical confrontation with genocidal and protogenocidal regimes: lineages of political-intellectual creativity and organized, collective (and at times revolutionary) insurgency that have established the foundations on which people have relied to build life-sustaining movements to liberate themselves from racial chattel enslavement and its extended aftermath, colonialist conquest and contemporary settler states, apartheid (Jim Crow), the prison industrial complex, militarized border policing, and so forth. If the ethical imperative is to abolish (rather than merely render temporarily survivable) the social logics and institutionalized systems of violence that are mutually structured by the genealogies of neoliberalism and racial/colonial genocide, then there are places of collective power that can be cherished at the same time that they are critiqued and transformed.
For better or worse, the U.S. academy (both the specific institutional site of the college/university and the broader, shifting political-intellectual terrains of “the academy”) may be one fruitful place from which to catalyze this work. Activisms that form in confrontation with the academy’s long historical complicities in racial/colonial genocide might be understood within an “urgency imperative” that seeks to denaturalize and ultimately dismantle the conditions in which these systems of massive violence are reproduced.4 There are thriving circuits of radical thought that aim to do just that: for example, the very presence of anticolonialism, black radicalism, Native American feminism, and prison abolitionism as recognizable streams of scholarly and pedagogical labor within institutional spaces—and more importantly, the vibrant and urgent ways in which many (though still far too few) people inhabit these spaces...