A Response by Dylan Rodríguez to “Abolitionist University Studies: An Invitation”
I appreciate being invited to any party, but one full of folks like this? Damn.
I’m offering a piece of writing that’s taken from the opening pages of a manuscript i’m finishing tentatively titled White Reconstruction, pt. 2: a Counternarrative. (I’m conceiving this creative-polemical book as a follow up to a forthcoming book from Fordham UP titled White Reconstruction: Remaking Racial-Colonial Violence.) As i read An Invitation, i kept coming back to the gravity of what seems to be a structuring, institution-constituting confrontation between radical creativities of being (including formations of praxis-based communities of insurgency and conspiracy) and the self-sustaining adaptations, appropriations, and low-intensity violences committed by the liberal (white/multiculturalist/diversity-animated) human/humanist under the auspices of the university and its epistemic comportments. So, here it is…
We are planning something now, as word spreads that there will be an unannounced demolition. The ones behind frosted glass doors are revealing nothing. In their public appearances, there is grating monotone: hedging, announcing, reassuring. The gap grows.
Here, there are planners of yet another insurgency of survival. Over there, the administrators of something horrible, continuing. The logic of the latter’s managerial routines quantifies the constant turnover of life (the biological as well as the lived, everyday grind): actuarial tables of calculated misery, estimates of legal liability for violations of already-fragile bodily integrity, revisions of policy to accommodate the liberal need for nontransformative egalitarian flex.
Some see through the protocols of continuity, we know their rhetoric of sustainability is a colonial commandeering of the future, and our planning shifts away from suasion and peace to counter-intelligence and guerilla war.
I volunteer, because you have already done the same. I am no soldier, but i will wage war. I know the intricate wiring of this network, the rear entry to his house, the motherfucker’s parking spot.
There is the one time i see the man with empty eyes wander across the street into the building; he has on the brown suit, his khakis are tight on his drooping ass, the pattern baldness reflecting the glare of a mid-afternoon sun. He leaves his car unlocked, his lights are on, his fat face is smug, like he just ate the good lunch with a glass of white wine. His last name sounds like mine, a dumb fact that makes my blood boil. The coldest, heartless, blank-faced white zombies—fellow administrators—love him, they reward him in the currency of loyalty and deputized police power. He could be my uncle or older cousin from another hemisphere, similar colonial origins, same employer. He has more white man in him, he channels its soullessness, hones the mechanical evil, refines the spoken art of saying nothing while surrounding you with surveilling eyes, threats of negation, a climate of aggressive negligence. He is an almost perfect manager, a colleague in the administration of white supremacist order whose skinsuit and colonized ethno-name diffract the origins of violence and violation, because when it comes down to things, he can make the irrefutable moral claim: he is on your side. He loafs across the pavement inside the pleasure of this entitled multiculturalist power, though not purely pleasure, because it is his dutybound order.
I drag my mailbox key hard across his driver side door, i push it into the paint and metal with the weight of my stride. It is my sharpest key, the force of my body’s leverage makes my fingertips crack against the edges. I swear i will do more damage next time.
There is a difference between a preoccupation with mortality and an obsession with death. The planners know the difference. This is why they are so focused on the capture. Yours, and the ones near you, are sneaking into ether, dissipating in the state’s overflows into a net of widening blades, failing the fullness.
They sense we are coming now.
We gag at their odor, it traps us as we dream presently. I join you because it moves and soothes me.
Suspicion and accusation are a minimal disturbance to a force that spills endless violations of spirit, memory, and flesh. There is no state of exception, just a grinding normal that concedes reform in the demand, inventing and refurbishing a Civilizational imperative. White supremacy is but a minimal term for this extended order of things. Its dangers become refined and acute under changing protocols of recruitment, retention, expulsion, elimination. The White nationalist imperative surges and retreats. Contrary to liberal narratives of the reaction’s periodic and exceptional rise on waves of mobilized xenophobia, misogyny, and populist racialized “hate,” the white national form is constantly in evidence, everywhere, shaping the multiculturalist diversity initiatives that re-embody the inheritances of 1619 and Manifest Destiny.
The depth of this condition reaches beneath the semi-literacies of phobia and violent entitlement, because it is enmeshed in the nervous system of inheritors as well as the disinherited and the owned—it is epigenetic, socially induced, though no less physiologically bound than the epidermis itself. My conspiratorial pseudoscience is a late response to their eugenics, but they cannot acknowledge this linkage: doing so would reveal their allegiance to the sociologics of eugenics, even as they selectively condemn its scientific fraudulence.
Lee Atwater (political strategist, advisor to Presidents Reagan and Bush I, Chair of Republican National Committee), 1981:
[Y]ou have to analyze the nature of Southern politics since the 1940s…. Race didn’t become an issue in the South, again, until 1954…. [E]veryone was operating within the framework of a segregated society. So race never became an issue.
Obviously, from 1954 to 1966, in that period, race was the issue…. Once you had the Voting Rights Act in ‘64 and ‘65, by ‘66 Blacks were participating enough in the system…. What happens is a guy like Reagan who campaigns in 1980 on a 1964 Goldwater platform, minus the boo-boos and obviously the Voting Rights Act, TBA, and all that bullshit…. So Reagan goes out and campaigns on economics and on national defense, the whole campaign was devoid of any kind of racism, any kind of reference….
I’ll say this, my generation… we’re the first generation of Southerners that’s not been racist. Totally.…
Now once you start out, and now you don’t quote me on this, you start out in 1954 by saying “nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger,” that hurts you, backfires, so you say stuff like “forced bussing, states’ rights” and all that stuff…. Now you’re talking about cutting taxes and all these things. What you’re talking about are totally economic things, and the byproduct often is Blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it… but I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract and that coded, that we’re doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. Do you follow me?
The period of revival is a passing moment of transparency. The force of White Being scripts and revises the stories of good intentions, while the hopeful liberal narrations of the supremacist episode sprinkle capsulized condemnations of hate, “mean spiritedness,” “bullying,” and “brutality” across the political text. These accompany the effusions of belief in the redemptive capacities of galvanizing the better folks around the nobilities of democracy, equality, respect, tolerance, dignity, common peoplehood. This refurbished patriotism rings hollow with most inhabitants of democracy’s underside: they know such noble words are not meant for their ears; liberal dreams are attributed to their bodies only after significant contortions and wardrobe changes.
Against the populist reactionaries’ energetic planning for a post-colored, post-queer, counter-feminist world, the responsible liberal-progressive position busily gathers a gravity of consensus: the exceptional nation must be the exemplar of the modern humanist promise, which in turn pivots on the obligation to extend an assimilating generosity to the involuntary bearers of the Modern Human’s imperial-chattel legacies.
A circuit of debate is thus fabricated, periodically electrified by spectacles of mass protest and framed by public contestations of the parameters of belonging and the ornaments of respected personhood. Exclusions are refuted by invitations, and while the reactionary elements push the limits of common sense further toward the plantation/frontier, the liberals find partnership with the left-progressives. Another future vision is at stake, the fate of the children is in our hands, and the nation must be rescued from the wrinkled, clammy hands of these dead-eyed plutocrats and megalomaniacs. It is a generic case study in the unifying premises of a white supremacist disagreement, because there is a common investment in the integrity of a white nation’s futurity (that is, its capacity to assume a tomorrow after tomorrow, rather than stare into oblivion’s possibility).
Their statements are casual. There is no gravity in their voices. To say all of this is nothing to them. I am nothing to them. Others are worse than nothing to them. I feel legacy in their words. A Black child is killed by a white vigilante, and they are all saying, over and again, that they would have pulled the trigger too. The kid was asking for it. Fuck this. The jury already agreed with them. The killer is free. So why do they keep saying this? There is something else at stake in their loud announcements of identification with the killer. They are outraged at the very possibility that the act—this child-killing—could even, for a moment, have been considered a crime.
They have been telling a story for years now. It is a wretched narrative, one that abbreviates with force.
White voices surround. Not merely ambient—unlike formless and constant white noise—closer to militarized. Their arrogance is toxic. They always feel so free to announce impatience for others’ cries of violation, injustice, suffering. An hour ago i was introduced to a wrinkled, cocky fifty-something white piece of shit from New Jersey who told me my line of work was “a bunch of bullshit.” He was smirking, a blinking Bluetooth headphone in his right ear. I told him that what i do is illegal in Arizona, so, yeah, a lot of people agree with him. I spent 22 years in school for this. I forgot to ask the asshole what he does for a living. Always defensive, my violent aggressions arrive three hours later. I punch the drywall, yell at my kids, hide in the bathroom sweating and ashamed.
White supremacy yields nothing, though its resident planners and intellectuals (co-conspirators at scales of impressive transferability, from conference room to legislature to laboratory to drone) busily debate the terms of continuity versus flexibility: there is solidarity amidst apparent confusion and dysfunction, and this is the source of the ideological magic that reconstructs white supremacy as a social imagination that finally blurs invitation and repression. Multiculturalist white supremacy is as much an anticipation of imminent sociality as it is a martialing of partners in the global project(ion) of white being. It is an opening of institutionality and rearticulation of power that presumes the necessity of exclusion, closure, enclosure. Upon reaching certain thresholds of justifiable violence, its explanatory capacity concedes an incommensurability to the historical text: the nominal abolition of United States apartheid has been followed by more than half a century of proliferating, innovative, and sometimes authentically new regimes of gendered racial domination and state sanctioned racist violence. Against all apparent and sometimes spectacular evidence of its absurdity, there is a resilient narrativeof national racial progress, characterized by the insult of an insistence.
The depth and
normalcy of the interdisciplinary, multimedia, terror-inducing methodologies of
racist reaction are not mere resurgences or disruptions, but are affirmations
that a script of racial progress is unfolding in our midst, because there is
accompanying affirmative resistance—it is an industrialized resistance, armed
with 501c(3) and NGO status and a seemingly impenetrable adherence to the
protocols of the nonviolent demand. In
fact, it becomes an article of generalized faith that those two
methods—nonviolence and demand—are the inescapable limit-practice of any feasible
or effective resistance that intends to survive the generalized symbiosis of
the white supremacist trinity: law,
police, and racist common sense. Some
will tense and rage over the sacrifice that is made: a tacit suspension of futurity for those who
fit the civil-enemy profile of the domestic war, the racial domestic war, the
gendered racial domestic war in perpetuity.
Survival is a question raised for the absolute present tense, and the
edge of the insult is in the dull liberal insistence that there is a future to
be shared, that, in fact, there is a “humanity” within the deadly span of
raciality that can ever even be remotely common, familial, or universal.
 An explanation is owed you, generous reader, for the disruptive whispers, visions, dreams, and stories appearing in pieces, fragments, and gestures throughout the following pages. These are matters close-held, usually isolated and compartmentalized to the inner recesses, maddening revelations of alienation from the pageantry, frictions, and fictions of an oppressive common sense. So much of it i want to forget, even as i indulge in sharing; i am paranoid, hostile, pathetic, angry, sad as fuck, finding reason for joy in some of it, contingent on who is near; i am vulnerable to condescension, ridicule, dismissal; still i suspect there may be measures of peace and power to be found in the accidental resonance with some of you. This is still not enough, but i cannot apologize for the modest attempt.