On the one hand, over the last few weeks, we have seen some of the worst type of racism rear its head under the guise of "civility" and "professionalism", where colleagues who are part of the elite Establishment and prestige networks have been trying to use those networks and their connections to hinder the work of, silence, and harm our current SCS president, who just happens to be the first Black woman president, and one of only a handful that have come from Small Liberal Arts colleges in my memory (though I will be honest that there are numerous past presidents I have never heard of). On the other hand, I witnessed an event last night that represents to me the best of what a field can offer if it chooses--community, care, even love. These two hands sit in constant tension and make me want to withdrawal into just a tiny corner, the corner of my direct relationships, but even here the ugly sometimes intrudes.
I do not understand how anyone in our field can call themselves intelligent or astute or how we can trust their powers of analysis when they cannot see even through the lens of "optics" how bad it is for a whole gaggle of White or Whiteness-invested prestige wielding Establishment power players in the field to be using their names, networks, and institutional authorities to attack a Black woman colleague. And doing it so disingenuously. Because, of course, their bald uses of power and privilege are civil and professional. Except, of course, when it isn't. Because nothing screams "professionalism" or "civility" to me like screenshotting a tweet and attacking (or planning attacks upon) them among a "small group" of powerful, established members of the field. Except, of course, when attempting to undermine any authority being SCS president may have by declaring that the one currently holding the position is "illegitimate" over and over in personal and even professional communications--primarily because they think they themselves should be or should decide who is the proper president through institutional CHANNELS and not membership at large through a petition process and then popular vote. Except, of course, when using a public FaceBook group for a professional org to accuse "some Black classicists" of being anti-semitic while simultaneously using "other Black classicists" as cover (the worst sort of "I have Black friends"). All of this has me trying not to gag.
Did we not just live through the collective White backlash against a Black US president? Did we not just try to have some sort of reckoning with the continued fact of anti-Black racism in America? Do we not see how the dynamics work? Are we incapable of seeing the racism when we ourselves are enacting it? When it is dressed up in personal grudges or civility politics and claims to professionalism? Can we not see how this is our Tan Suit™? Did we not live through the clearly and evidently unbalanced world of "antifa is the real enemy" BS? Why are we reenacting it in our discipline now? We are always a bit behind the times, sure, but the current displays to me are just stunning in their self-indulgence and lack of self-awareness. All this has me trying not to gag. It also makes me want to withdrawal even further from the mechanisms and institutions of the discipline than I already have.
But then something happens to remind me of all the very amazing people in this field, of the ones whose slow and steady and careful work and care make the spaces around them better for everyone, even though they owe this to no one and are often the ones most vulnerable in their positions or being. Last night, the AAACC-WCC held a Solidarity Against Anti-Asian Violence event over zoom. And there was truly solidarity in that space, a community of care. It was a good reminder that these are our colleagues as well (not only the Establishment ones) and they are the future of our field so long as the rest of us care enough to not drive them out, so long as the rest of us try harder to not use whatever power and authority we have to punch down at them (feel free to keep punching up or across). So long as the rest of us don't insist on taking over spaces with our loud voices, our "well, I've been an ally for a long time so you all know I am good" self-perception and self-promotion. So long as we do the work to make our actions match our words. So long as they can feel, truly feel, that they are valued, that they and their work matters.
This is how I am feeling today.