- Home Is the Crucible of Struggle
Creating home, or what may also be described as a struggle to belong, has always been political in the United States. In a country founded on the extermination of its indigenous population, whose wealth was derived from the forced labor of the enslaved, and for whom that wealth was multiplied a trillion times over through the violent expropriation of waves upon waves of immigrant labor—to stay or belong has been brutally contested and valiantly fought to achieve. In other words, we share a history of repression and resistance in the elemental, human struggle to belong, to be home. Those various battles over land rights and citizenship; the right to work and housing; the right to vote, speak, and organize have all been in an effort to reshape or reform the injustice and oppression that shapes the daily lives of most people in this country.
In this persistent quest, we now enter into a period of both certainty and uncertainty. We can be certain that the administration of Donald Trump will pursue policies that will make the lives of ordinary people substantially harder. We can be certain that his administration will attack immigrants. He has promised to restore law and order, which appears to be an invitation for the police to continue their assaults on Black and Brown communities. Trump has bragged about sexually assaulting women while decrying their rights to reproductive freedom. Trump and his cohort have all but declared war on Muslims in the United States and beyond. We have seen a revival of the white supremacist Right and an unleashing of open racial animus. In the month after the election of Trump, over one thousand hate crimes across the country were reported. Since he has taken office, Jewish cemeteries have been desecrated; mosques have been burned; and swastikas have been brandished in acts of vandalism and intimidation. What is uncertain is the extent to which Trump will be able to follow through on his threats against a variety of communities. This uncertainty is not with Trump's intention to inflict as much pain and harm on the most vulnerable people in the United States; rather, it is based on a calculation that our ability to organize and build movements will complicate, blunt, and, in some cases, thwart the Trump agenda. [End Page 229]
The challenge is in using the spaces we occupy in the academy to approach this task. There will be many different kinds of organizing spaces developed in the coming years, but there is a particular role we can play in this moment. This organizing possibility exists only when we recognize the academy, itself, as a site of politics and struggle. Those who ignore that reality do so because they have the luxury to or because they are so constrained by compartmentalization that they ignore the very world they are living in. In the last two years we have seen the flowering of campus struggles against racism, rape, and sexual violence, amid campaigns for union recognition and the right of faculty to control the atmosphere of their classrooms. Whether or not we on campus see them as political spaces, the right wing certainly does. They have raged against "safe spaces" and what they refer to as "political correctness." While reasonable people may debate the merits and meaning of concepts like safe spaces, we should not confuse those discussions with an attack from the right that is intended to create "unsafe spaces" where racial antagonism, sexual predation, and homophobia are considered rites of passage or, as the new president describes as it, "locker room" behavior. These, unfortunately, are only smaller battles happening within the larger transformation of colleges and universities into the leading edge of various neoliberal practices, from the growing use of "contingent labor" to the proliferation of online education, to certificate and master's programs that are only intended to increase the coffers while adding little to nothing to the intellect or critical thinking capacities of its participants.
Robin Kelley reminds us that universities will "never be engines for social transformation," but they are places that often reflect, and in some situations magnify, the...