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Noel Ignatiev’s Long Fight Against Whiteness | The New Yorker
“In the eighties, the economy began to shift. Automation took root, and plants began laying off workers. Contemplating the large, industrial workforces of prior decades, Ignatiev had been able to imagine workers forming councils, seizing the means of production, and deposing their bosses. But, as factories emptied out, he no longer knew where to look. In his forties, he, too, was laid off. He decided to go back to school. A friend from S.T.O. who had been admitted to Harvard’s Graduate School of Education persuaded the administration to admit Ignatiev, despite the fact that he lacked a bachelor’s degree. Ignatiev enrolled, then transferred to the history department, where he worked toward his doctorate.

Ignatiev was now a student at the most prestigious university in the world. But he still believed in creating literary projects unencumbered by the traditional press and its credentialled demands. In 1993, he and his friend John Garvey, a former New York City cab driver whom he’d met on the radical labor circuit, started Race Traitor, a journal with the motto “Treason to whiteness is loyalty to humanity.” John Brown, the white man who led a small militia of black men as they raided an arsenal, at Harpers Ferry, in hopes of sparking an armed slave rebellion, became their lodestar—an example of what it might look like to reject one’s whiteness. Ignatiev and Garvey, who is also an editor at Hard Crackers, called for an “abolition of the white race.” This prompted the expected outrage from right-wingers, who heard a call for extinction, but also upset liberals, who saw them as impractical troublemakers.

In 1995, Ignatiev finished the dissertation that would become “How the Irish Became White.” Not long ago, someone asked him why he had written the book. “The country is divided into masters and slaves,” Ignatiev wrote:
A big political problem is that many of the slaves think they are masters, or at least side with the masters at crucial moments—because they think they are white. I wanted to understand why the Irish, coming from conditions about as bad as could be imagined and thrown into low positions when they arrived, came to side with the oppressor rather than with the oppressed. Imagine how history might have been different had the Irish, the unskilled labor force of the north, and the slaves, the unskilled labor force of the South, been unified. I hoped that understanding why that didn’t happen in the past might open up new possibilities next time.

The book was a hit, by academic standards. Ignatiev now had a powerful platform. But he was also a decade removed from the steel mills, and he was unsure how much a book could really do. Privately, he questioned the value of his new life in the highest reaches of the academy. His on-campus provocations—which included a 1992 incident in which he called for the removal of a kosher toaster oven in a student dormitory—only caused bewilderment among students and administrators.

By 1998, it was time for him to move on. He accepted a post at Bowdoin College, a small school in Maine that mostly catered to white New England prep schoolers. The first class he taught there was a freshman seminar on the making of race; his most adoring student that semester was me, a naïve, vain eighteen-year-old Korean immigrant from North Carolina who desperately wanted to live outside the confines dictated by his race and his own privilege. Ignatiev, with his stories of working in the steel mills, his scorn for credentialled people, and his unwavering belief that a society free from white supremacy was possible, provided a model of a life worth living. I attended all of his office hours, learned to idolize John Brown, and read everything he put in front of me. In my dorm room and in the cafeteria, I talked excitedly to my confused friends about revolutionary politics and abolishing whiteness. At the end of that year, I dropped out and enrolled in Americorps, in hopes of becoming a radical.

I learned, ultimately, that I didn’t have the strength of his convictions. I could never see a new society in my co-workers or, perhaps more importantly, in myself. Even so, I kept looking for traces of what Ignatiev was talking about. There are moments—observing a seemingly small gesture of kindness between two protesters in St. Paul, or noticing the elegant design of the food halls at Standing Rock—when some great possibility seems to reveal itself. When that happens, I think immediately of Ignatiev and his belief in the revolutionary potential of ordinary Americans.

Acouple of months before he died, I drove up to see Ignatiev at his home, in Connecticut. His illness prevented him from swallowing, but he wanted to cook dinner for me in his back yard, where he had fitted a large wok over a rusty propane ring. “Even though I can’t eat anymore, I still find it relaxing to cook,” he told me. As we chopped up the vegetables in a light rain, we talked about all the things we had discussed in his office—John Brown, labor movements, the need to break away from credentialled society. Just as he would a few weeks later, at Freddy’s Bar, he expressed doubt about whether his work had amounted to anything.

I am not so vain as to believe that Noel’s influence on my life provides proof that his work, in fact, made a difference. If his ideas about whiteness and of “white privilege” became fashionable within the academy, they later took on forms he could barely recognize, and oftentimes, despised. He was bewildered by the rise of a style of identity politics that reified the fictions of race and, through its fixation on diversity in élite spaces, abandoned the working class. And as a lifelong radical he took little solace in the rise of a young, insurgent left drawn to the reformist revolution of Democratic Socialism. These movements, I imagine, must have felt like defeats to Ignatiev. We are very far from the abolition of the white race, and there are very few people who believe that changing the minds of five, much less five hundred thousand people, could potentially revolutionize the world.

And yet, from another perspective, there is no political or literary trend—or President—capable of derailing Ignatiev’s true lifelong project. In his writing, and in Race Traitor and Hard Crackers, Ignatiev demonstrated the transformative power of working-class stories. His radicalism was always tethered to specific people, who, in their own ways, inspired sympathy and a desire for connection. That specificity will always be relevant; it may be especially so at a moment of cynical alienation, when identities have become recitations rather than communities. There is enduring power in the narratives he collected and shared—the stories of people he met as a child, in Philadelphia, or in the plants and mills of Chicago, or in his classrooms. My favorite of these stories is included in the introduction to “How the Irish Became White”:
On one occasion, many years ago, I was sitting on my front step when my neighbor came out of the house next door carrying her small child, whom she placed in her automobile. She turned away from him for a moment, and as she started to close the car door, I saw that the child had put his hand where it would be crushed when the door was closed. I shouted to the woman to stop. She halted in mid-motion, and when she realized what she had almost done, an amazing thing happened: she began laughing, then broke into tears and began hitting the child. It was the most intense and dramatic display of conflicting emotions I have ever beheld. My attitude toward the subjects of this study accommodates stresses similar to those I witnessed in that mother.

Sometimes, while walking around gentrifying Brooklyn, I will see young, white progressives talking to the people whom they are displacing. There’s an officiousness—an almost disingenuous toadying—to these interactions that I, with my modern, fashionable prejudices, find a bit funny and gross. Do they believe that the contradictions between their stated politics and their actual lives can be cleansed through ritualistic bonhomie? Or are they just saying an extended goodbye to their temporary neighbors? Ignatiev might have looked at those same conversations and seen people who desperately wanted to be saved from their whiteness. He might have walked by, with a generosity of spirit that I do not possess, and dropped a few leaflets at their feet, filled with enthusiastic, optimistic provocations, and unreasonable demands.”
jaycaspiankang  2019  noelignatiev  irish  history  race  racism  whiteness  marxism  socialconstructions  society  class  radicalism  us  clrjames  work  labor  privilege  whiteprivilege  behavior  expectations  falsehoods  kingsleyclarke  affirmativeaction  sto  johnbrown  johngarvey  credentials  convictions  kindness  democraticsocialism  abolition  abolitionism  organizing  workingclass  cv  classwarfare  radicals  unschooling  deschooling  labormovements  connection  sympathy  alienation 
18 days ago by robertogreco
We need reasoned debate on affirmative action, not mockery | Office of the President
Over the next few months, we will likely be engaging in conversations and debates about affirmative action and if, where and how it should be practiced. I am on the record in support of repealing provisions of I-200, which would allow us to take race and gender into account, as one of many other factors, when admitting students and hiring faculty and staff. This is something that all private universities in our state do, so do public universities in many other states. Indeed, at this time when we are beginning to learn more about the advantages that legacy status, monetary donations, participation in elite sports, or being the child of a faculty member can provide in gaining admission to some of our most elite institutions, allowing some consideration for race seems benign by comparison. The intent is to level the field, not advantage one group over another.
AnaMariCauce  I200  affirmativeaction 
may 2019 by laurenpressley
Why an ‘Affirmative-Action Bake Sale’ Prompted This President to Speak Up - The Chronicle of Higher Education
Q. If the ban had been in place then, would that have given you pause?
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A. I can’t imagine that it wouldn’t have. Because of the message it sends, because my research has focused on students of color, youth of color in high-risk situations, I would have wondered, How would this affect my ability to recruit and hire graduate students who would be able to carry out the work that I was doing at the time? There’s no question in my mind it would have given me pause. Can I say it would have been the deciding factor? I don’t know.
uw  I1000  I200  anamaricauce  affirmativeaction 
may 2019 by laurenpressley
Twitter
RT : Heads up! Coming on Monday, my research team and I will be releasing our Syllabus! You want to l…
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february 2019 by jeremydfranklin

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