tequila sovereign

10 Years of Casting Out: Comments

For the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, States of Emergence
(November 8-10, 2018), Saturday, 4:00-5:45

In my forthcoming book, The Red Scare: The Empire’s Indigenous Terrorist, I address the co-production of Indigeneity and terrorism in the United States and Canada. I want to think through how Indigenous people are subjected to racist and misogynist representations as threat and terror to the empire’s sense of social order and national security. I argue that these representations are figured prominently by the Kinless and Murderable Indian.

The Kinless Indian, including those who claim to be Indigenous and are not, severs the racialized link between the cultural authenticity and legal legitimacy of Indigeneity. Distorting the historical conditions of genocide and dispossession that make such claims possible, the Kinless Indian legitimates the undermining of Indigenous governance and territorial rights and recasts Indigeneity as a threat to the social order undermining state democracy.

The murderable Indian, including not only the criminal, violent, and lazy Indian but the thousands of missing and murdered Indigenous women in the U.S. and Canada, relies on an affectivity of terror that demands proportionately repressive, carcerally-centric state interventions and protections to reestablish and maintain public safety and national security.

Both the Kinless and Murderable Indian rearticulates its own genocide and dispossession in the name of ‘the greater good.’ This good is attached to particular notions of a civil, stable, and secure society measured by the vibrancy of white heteronormative property (entitlement, protections, status). This good demands severe forms of surveillance and counterterrorist measures to restore the democracy Indians sabotage while concealing the deeply imperialist and neoliberal designs such measures advance over Indigenous lands, resources, and bodies.

This book project is deeply informed by and in conversation with scholars, activists, and artists whose work addresses the politics of Islamaphobia and anti-Blackness in the mobilization of terrorism to rationalize all manner of invasive surveillance, militarized policing, and a whole swath of criminal punishments. I actually began thinking about this project in January 2014 when I participated in a delegation to Palestine. What struck me while there were the profound similarities not only in the racist caractitures of Indigenous, Black, and Palestinian people in the U.S., Canada, and Israel as terrorists, but the rather uninventive and repetitive script of who terrorists were in service of imperial ideologies and practices — the non-white, uncivilized, unchristian, violent, homophobic, sexist radical extremists out to destroy the societies they had so generously and graciously been taken into but who remain profoundly jealous and hateful of.

For example, the Indians of Standing Rock refused to acknowledge how much the U.S. had already given them (your lands weren’t stolen, you were conquered, get over it); the Blacks of Ferguson refused to acknowledge how much the U.S. had already handed out to them (you aren’t victims of the system, you are drug-fueled criminals); the Palestinians allowed to live (look at how we take care of you even though you try to kill us).

In each example, the state’s democratic benevolence is cast against the inherent barbarity and savagery of the terrorist other, shrouding the state’s ongoinggenocide, criminalization, and punishment of the terrorist other as a desperate attempt to protect the democracy and civilization it represents. In each case, the white heteropatriarchy of lawful and righted property feeds a deeply racist resentment and agenda to suppress that which challenges its claims and entitlements.

For instance. According to the International Center for Not-For-Profit Law, which tracks anti‑protest bills in the United States, 63 states have introduced bills to restrict public protest since the 2016 presidential election and in response to Indigenous anti-pipeline and Black Lives Matter efforts. The bills have included: protections for drivers who “unintentionally” hit protesters blocking traffic (North Dakota, North Carolina, Florida, Tennessee, Texas, Rhode Island); fines and prison time for “tampering” with oil equipment (Colorado);fines and prison time for trespassing in areas containing “critical infrastructure facility” (Oklahoma); fines and prison time for obstructing traffic (Mississippi); and a mandatory sentence of 60 days for actions that cause “economic disruption” (Washington).

The bills have also included one that would require public universities and colleges to expel students convicted of “rioting” (Oregon) and ban groups of 20 or more from public lands and schools (South Dakota). Many of these bills were lobbied and financed by the American Legislative Exchange Council(alec)and Energy Transfer Partners (etpbehind the Dakota Access Pipeline). alecand etphave been behind numerous bills with conservative ends, including Stand Your Ground legislation aimed at protecting gun rights and the criminalization of anti-pipeline protests. etphas also pursued lawsuits against Greenpeace and other environmental groups for damages over $900 million worth. The suits claim that anti-pipeline activities are part of a “criminal enterprise” whose organization and actions violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act or ricoof 1970.

At the same time, over 80 congressional representations sent a letter to the Department of Justice requesting that the DoJclassify anti-pipeline efforts as “domestic terrorism.” This was consistent with a report released by the Department of Homeland Security, Office of Intelligence and Analysis, on “suspected environmental rights extremists,” which labeled anti-pipeline actions as “criminal and violent acts” against the nation’s economic infrastructure and national security.[i]Black Lives Matter was similarly labeled “identity extremists” out to disrupt social order and kill police.[ii]The language of the congressional letter is almost identical to that of reports from private security contractors to oil and gas industry officials. TigerSwan, “an international security and global stability firm”hired by etpand working in North Dakota without the required state license during nodapl, repeatedly labeled anti‑pipeline activists as terrorists, likened their activities to those of radical “insurgents” in Iraq and Afghanistan, and called for fuller authority to operate domestically.[iii]

In understanding these processes of imperial formation, Sherene Razack’s Casting Outis key.[iv]Razack argues that the dangerous Muslim man, the imperiled Muslim woman, and the civilized European animate a story about,

the family of white nations, a civilization, obliged to use force and terror to defend itself… The story is not just a story, of course, but is the narrative scaffold for the making of an empire dominated by the United States and the white nations who are its allies. Supplying the governing logic of several laws and legal processes… the story underwrites the expulsion of Muslims from political community, a casting out that takes the form of stigmatization, surveillance, incarceration, abandonment, torture, and bombs. (5)

The state, in a permanent siege from terrorists, relies on racist thinking and logics to address the conditions of imminent attack. So horrendous are these conditions, spread across multiple threats, that the state is left with no choice but to cast terrorists out of its protections and into a geopolitical space in which they are without humanity and so human rights.

The dangerous Muslim man, the imperiled Muslim woman, and the civilized European holds together the otherwise frantic narrative of siege to reveal the constitutive role of gender in the empire’s formation. Feminism, mobilized by the state and its benefactors to justify counterterrorist measures and the casting out of terrorists from the international community of legal representation and protection, is centrally implicated in both the rationale and the practices of state “counterterrorism.”

The ideologies and discourses of civilization that (in)form these articulatory practices of imperial formation work across the communities of racialized others in the U.S., Canada, and Israel to propel and justify the state’s surveillance, incarceration, abandonment, torture, and bombing of Muslim people. The ideologies and discourses of civilization are deeply familiar to Indigenous and Black people in the U.S. and Canada who have long been figured as barbarians, savages, and uncivil in ways that serve projects of genocide, dispossession, enslavement, and sexual violence. We have many stories to tell about these familiarities and solidarities across our communities to challenge their normalization of racist ideologies and military/security practices.

But I want to conclude my brief comments with a question about the important difference between the Indigenous, Black, and Arab/Muslim in the empire’s discourses of terrorism. Razack’s Casting Outtheorizes an imperial state defined by white kinship. Therein, the racialized other is always alreadycast out of political community of legal protections.

But what of the whiteness that appropriates and celebrates Indigeneity as its ancestral territorial right? That defines its whiteness through a memorialized integration of a nativity that has not only vacated the Indigenous but appropriated the Indigenous into its identity and kinship? That at once holds itself up as the original inhabitant, as the descendent of those it conquered, and does so as an affirmation of its civilization and democracy? What of the Indigeneity that is not cast out, even when or as it terrorizes and threatens, but that is reabsorbed in order to legitimate? How are Indigenous, Black, and Muslim communities activating opposition to the empire in respect of the flexibility of whiteness in animating our very different types of inclusions and exclusions as terrorists?

[i]Will Parish, “An Activist Stands Accused of Firing a Gun at Standing Rock. It Belonged to her Lover, An FBI Informant,” The Intercept(December 11, 2017). https://theintercept.com/2017/12/11/standing-rock-dakota-access-pipeline-fbi-informant-red-fawn-fallis

[ii]FBI Intelligence Assessment, “Black Identity Extremists Likely Motivated to Target Law Enforcement Officers,” Counterterrorism Division (August 3, 2017). https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/4067711-BIE-Redacted.html

[iii]Alleen Brown, Will Parish, and Alice Speri, “Leaked Documents Reveal Security Firms Counterterrorism Tactics at Standing Rock to “Defeat Pipeline Insurgencies,” The Intercept (May 27, 2017). https://theintercept.com/2017/05/27/leaked-documents-reveal-security-firms-counterterrorism-tactics-at-standing-rock-to-defeat-pipeline-insurgencies

[iv]Sherene Razack, Casting Out: The Eviction Of Muslims From Western Law And Politics(University of Toronto Press, 2008).


I believe Christine Blasey Ford.

I believed Anita Hill.

♦  ♦  ♦  ♦

Fear is not rational.

After a traumatic event, when one develops a phobia, one’s behavior in relation to the object of one’s fear is not consistent. One can be afraid of flying and still fly. One can be afraid of tight spaces and still get in an elevator.

This does not make you a liar.

♦  ♦  ♦  ♦

1979. I was 17 years old. A 26 year old man asked me on a date. I dressed for dinner and a movie out. He drove me directly to his apartment. He locked the door behind us. He kept the lights low. He made us strong drinks. With rum, I think. I didn’t like it. He tried to force me to have sex. He smelled of liquor and cheap aftershave. Everything in his apartment was in a shade of amber. We were on the couch, then in his bedroom. I said no. I thought he was going to rape me. I thought if I didn’t have sex with him he would hurt me. I was terrified. So terrified I don’t remember how I got out of there. And I still couldn’t tell you how.

♦  ♦  ♦  ♦

Memory must be a shapeshifter from another world.

It was only years later, in 2004, during counseling, that I remembered putting the clothes I had warn that night into the trash afterwards. I hadn’t remembered that before. All I remembered was bound up with this overwhelming fear of being raped, of wanting to get away, and of not remembering anything about how I got away or got home.

After a traumatic event, some things about it you remember in perfect clarity. His odor. The scratchy couch. The amber lamp shade. And some things you will not.

This does not make you a liar.

♦  ♦  ♦  ♦

2004. I am 42 years old. I was meeting friends for dinner and drinks at a restaurant with a separate bar. I had arrived a bit early and needed to use the bathroom. You had to walk through the bar to get to the bathrooms in the back. I don’t know if he followed me in there or was waiting for me. He grabbed me from behind. He threw me against the wall. He broke my wrist. He bruised my ribs. He tried to rape me. I kicked him in the groin. He was drunk. He lost his balance. I fled. Out the bathroom, into a dark narrow hallway, and out to a parking lot in the back. I ran around the building, over a gravel road, to the street. I ran away.

♦  ♦  ♦  ♦

I don’t like it when men sneak up behind me.

I don’t like it when I can’t see an exit.

I don’t like using public restrooms.

This doesn’t make me a liar.

♦  ♦  ♦  ♦

I really hate it when people say that “rape isn’t about sex, it’s about violence.” Really? Then why does it involve violent sex? Of course it is about sex. Sex is many things and one of the many things that sex is about is its use as a violent enactment of oppression.

Rapists use sex to control through force and humiliation. It matters that Kavannaugh and his peers raped in packs. That they laughed together at the women. That they were drunk. That they egged each other on. That they celebrated one another’s conquest.

It was about using sex by force to humiliate and shame women. It is about putting women in their place.

To remind us where our place is. To tell us, in so uncertain terms, that our experiences, our concerns, our feelings do not matter. That we were expected to resist, just a little, to embolden their resolve and sense of self, but finally to submit. To submit so thoroughly that we would keep our mouths shut. Forever. Or be made a spectacle.

♦  ♦  ♦  ♦

I drink man tears with breakfast. I find them best with a side of partisan blame games and yelling obsenities and self-pitying victimhood. Sometimes I even add a garnish of self-important tragedy. How dare the world hold me accountable.

I refuse the spectacle.

I chose to stand with survivors. And vote in November.

♦  ♦  ♦  ♦

Further Readings

Kavanaugh is Forcing the Legal World To Finally Face its Weinstein Moment

The Delicious Salt of Brett Kavanaugh’s White Tears

Women React

What A Good Boy

Violence Against Native Women is Not Traditional

Violence on the Land, Violence on Our Bodies

A Red Girl’s Reasoning

Barker Got Your Back
Joanne Barker, “Got Your Back” (2018) Digital Drawing

Decolonizing the Mind

Decolonizing the Mind (an excerpt)

RETHINKING MARXISM, Vol. 30, No. 2 (2018), 208–231, https://doi.org/10.1080/08935696.2018.1502308


Everything is art. Everything is politics.

Ai Weiwei

There is nothing new under the sun, but there are new suns.

Octavia E. Butler

Being asked to write about one’s artwork is unsettling. I felt unsettled. In part because it feels pretentious. In part because the writing feels like it will assign a static meaning and equivalence between image and imagined, rendering something that was experientially and intentionally meant to be visceral, problematic, and possible into something stagnant. Something that was sensual into the detached. But then I thought about Ai Weiwei and Octavia Butler and realized that there was no difference between my writing and my artwork and my politics and so what was the fuss all about?

This essay makes use of several genres of writing — analysis, storytelling, memoire — to provoke, not explain, meaningful, contextualized engagement with the images I include. Those images are organized into five collections; 1) The Land; 2) Sky Woman; 3) Violences; 4) The Sacred (Pleasures); 5) Indigenous Futurism (see the Gallery). I think, throughout the images, I would define my artwork in context of my struggle to “decolonize my mind,” decolonize my emotions, a struggle that includes but is not contained in artwork as a language, a form of communication, a mode of cultural practice and resurgence.[i]A struggle to reclaim a future that is not about the future at all but a present in which Indigenous territories, stories, bodies, and sensualities are unoccupied and uncivilized: I want to live there; that is where I live.


Collection 1: The Land

What do I mean by “the land”? I do not mean the land in the terms of capitalism’s inheritable patrilineal estate, the terms of Marx’s property as an alienation from community, or the terms of the left’s public commons. These lands are not Indigenous land. They belong to European and North American economics, histories, and politics, bound conceptually to patriarchal class hierarchies and their gendered and racial oppressions as well as the resistance movements that have mobilized against the states they uphold.[ii]

As represented in the work of Leanne Betasamosake Simpsonand Mishuana Goeman, Indigenous land is not property or a public commons, it is a mode of relationality and a related set of ethics and protocols for lived social responsibilities and governance defined within discrete Indigenous epistemologies.[iii]As Vine Deloria, Jr. argued, the epistemological difference that Indigenous land makes in Indigenous governance and society is its designation of responsibilities, not rights.[iv]These responsibilities include ceremonies of reciprocity to specific places, hunting and fishing practices, water access and use, and the terms of human and nonhuman relations.[v]

Because of U.S. imperialism and colonialism — historically and presently — Indigenous relationships and responsibilities to the land are difficult at best. In maintaining life practices that are land-based, Indigenous people come “face-to-face with settler colonial authority, surveillance and violence because, in practice, [land] places Indigenous bodies between settlers and their money… Being a practitioner of land as pedagogy and learning in my community [is] a process of learning how to be on the land anyway.”[vi]While Indigenous people may assert rights against the settler and their money, in the terms that authority understands and conditions (blockades of pipelines, divestment campaigns, et cetera), rights are a tactic and not the strategy of lived responsibility to the land.

I am Lenape, Turtle Clan. The Lenape were relocated to northeastern Oklahoma, at the end of seven forced relocations by treaty with the United States between 1778 and 1866 and an agreement with the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma in 1867. While currently the Lenape (Delaware Tribe of Indians) possess the legal status and rights of a federally recognized tribe, they have experienced two “termination” periods at the political behest of the Cherokee.[vii]They have no trust lands or other recognized, organized territory. Their original territories, in what is now the northeastern region of the United States, is called Lenapehoking.

I write from Oakland of Alameda County, Chochenyo Ohlone territory.[viii]The Chochenyo Ohlone are indigenous to the east bay of San Francisco including Alameda County. Neither the Chochenyo Ohlone nor any of the other Ohlone peoples of the bay area are federally recognized and so are not recognized to possess any relative governance or authority over any part of their original territories. As a result of the complicated histories informing this situation, the Ohlone work to revitalize their language without any infrastructural support and struggle to protect their cultural sites against development and exploitation without any requirement on the part of the United States or its agencies to consult or respect.[ix]

I claim and am claimed by Lenapehoking. But neither Lenapehoking, Oklahoma, or Oakland are “my land.” These lands define my relationships and responsibilities. They define my scholarship, activism, fiction, and artwork. They define me. (Figure 1: Lenapehoking: A Love Story; Figure 2: Lenapehoking: An Imprint.)


Lenapehoking 01
Figure 1: Lenapehoking, A Love Story


This and other artwork available at http://society6.com/joannebarker


[i]Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, Decolonising The Mind: The Politics Of Language In African Literature(East African Publishers, 1994): “Language as communication and as culture are then products of each other. Communication creates culture: culture is a means of communication. Language carries culture, and culture carries … the entire body of values by which we come to perceive ourselves and our place in the world” (16).

[ii]See Glen S. Coulthard,Red Skin, White Masks: Rejecting The Colonial Politics Of Recognition(Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014); Robert Nichols, “Theft Is Property! The Recursive Logic of Dispossession,” Political Theory(2017): 1-20; Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, “Land as Pedagogy: Nishnaabeg Intelligence and Rebellious Transformation,” Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society 3, no. 3 (2014): 1-25; Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Dancing On Our Turtle’s Back: Stories Of Nishnaabeg Re-Creation, Resurgence And A New Emergence (Arbeiter Ring Publishers, 2011).

[iii]Simpson, “Land as pedagogy” and Dancing On Our Turtle’s Back; Mishuana Goeman, Mark My Words: Native Women Mapping Our Nations(University of Minnesota Press, 2013).

[iv]Vine Deloria, Jr., Custer Died For Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto(Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1969).

[v]Vine Deloria, Jr., God Is Red: A Native View Of Religion(Fulcrum Publishing, 1973).

[vi]Simpson, “Land as pedagogy,” 7, 19.

[vii]See Joanne Barker, Native Acts: Law, Recognition, and Cultural Authenticity(Duke University Press, 2011).

[viii]See the Segorea Te’ Land Trust, at http://sogoreate-landtrust.com. I serve on the board of the Land Trust, “an urban Indigenous women led land trust in California’s east bay.”

[ix]See Michelle Steinberg, director, Beyond Recognition(2014).

The Analytic Constraints of Settler Colonialism

Video script. The text of a video edit of a conference paper for the annual meeting of the American Studies Association, Denver CO, November 17-20, 2016. Running time: 20:53.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Black bodies. Indigenous bodies. Male. Female. Queer. Trans. Other.

Military occupation, invasion, relocation, genocide. Abduction, slavery, torture. Forced assimilation. Segregation, lynching, criminalization. Homelessness, unemployment, predatory lending, foreclosures, debt. Surveillance, harassment, detention, arrests, incarceration. Mass incarceration. Police killings. Sexual violence. All the while, sexual violence.

1 in 2. 1 in 3. 1 every minute. Hour. Day. Month. Year.

Post traumatic stress disorder. Except the trauma is ongoing. Transgenerational. A future foreclosed. A past vacated. And we can’t find a way to talk to each other about it.

Your slavery, my lands. Our bodies. Fodder for social media and corporate news that trim it down to fit neatly between commercial breaks as commercials of their own. Images of our death and dying, pain and grief, pleading for a life worth living. Pleading for a life worth.

And the really fucked up thing about it all is that we are reassured by the attention. Are made to compete for it. Humanized only within the terms of the sensational. Humanized by human interest stories that render us human only in the final, worst moments of our lives. Ending.

It is false recognition. An ideology par excellence. Marxist theory calls it false consciousness. Statistics and likes and shares tell us nothing about who we are or what our experiences have been. They invite us to misperceive our relationships to one another in a way that serves our domination — to accept the terms of capitalism’s gospels: greed is good, money is life, exploitation is normal. We cannot see the oppression game we’ve been thrown into – one in which the losers are the winners.

The work of racist ideology and practice can inform our theoretical frameworks and methodological approaches. We refuse historical and social comparisons as anti-blackness, we deflect solidarity as a compromise of Indigenous sovereignty. We have been pitted against one another by discourses aimed at subjugating us to the lies of humanist recognition.

How do we address the violences of anti-blackness and anti-Indigeneity as co-produced social forces of the U.S. imperial formation without rendering the violences against Black bodies and Indigenous bodies less relevant, less significant on their own but also to one another?

I don’t know exactly how to get there, but I do know I need to begin somewhere else, with something else:

For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. — Audre Lorde (1993)

So, I am going to begin again.

The Twelve Little Women


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In the cliffs, amidst the caves, at the mouth of the Delaware River was the home of twelve little women. When any man sailed by, the women came out and struck up a conversation. If they received a kind reply, the man would go on with good wishes. If he was impudent or disrespectful, they would run him down. If they caught him, they plucked out every hair on his body. If they were unable to catch him they would call upon their uncle, the great serpent who lived in a deep in the ocean, just beyond the mouth of the river. Their uncle always came. He would raise his head above the water, draw in a deep breath, and pull the insolent man into his mouth.

Afterwards the women made bags of the hair they had taken from the men. They took the bags with them to the shore where men were fishing. They asked each one for something to put inside. If the man gave willingly, he caught so many fish afterwards that he didn’t know what to do with them. If he complained or refused, he caught no more fish. When the women returned home and emptied their bags, the fish – which, on going in, became so small that thousands of them would fill a little bag – returned to normal size. The women were never hungry.

There were many stories of resentful, grumpy men whose hairs were plucked off or fish given to the women. In all of the stories, to all of their complaints, the elders refused to punish or exile the women. “They don’t hurt good people,” they would say. It was a way of telling.

One day, after a number of men came home bleeding from the loss of their hair, they sat alone together and complained. “We must get rid of these women.” “I can put an end to them,” said one. The next day the man passed by their home and was rude to the women. They chased him all over but could not catch him. So they called upon their uncle.

The man had already made up his mind to be swallowed by the serpent, so he yielded himself to the serpent’s breath and went in. Inside the man cut his way out. In pain the serpent thrashed about, creating large channels off the river where he fell to the ground. Finally the man freed himself and ran.

When the women saw the serpent’s trouble they began to weep. They hurried down to where he was and stayed with him as he died. While they were mourning, the man went to their home and burned it to the ground. The women, seeing the destruction of their home and the death of their uncle, gathered their things together and readied to leave.

Many people gathered on the shore opposite where the serpent lay dead. The women cried out to them as they left. “If you had left us in peace, we would have taught you many things. We could have taught you how to deal with those who will come from across the great ocean. A hundred years from now they will come and drive you away and you will have no lands any longer. You will be poor. This is what will come of you for driving us away.” By the time the people crossed the waters to comfort the women, the women were gone. They were never seen or heard from again.

The Analytics


The Lenape’s story of the twelve little women is about the human need for respect – for others to hear us when we explain what our needs are and define perimeters for how we want to be treated, for others to hear our needs in our own terms. For others to see us as we are.

[Not this.]

I’d like to re-frame my critique of the constraints of settler colonialism with the twelve little women in mind. I am going to try to show that a certain analytic within the studies has, however unwittingly, foreclosed and even chilled understandings of Black and Indigenous histories and identities in ways that derail our understandings of U.S. imperialism as a social formation and so our work with one another. One of the consequences of this goes to our ability to think through how #BlackLivesMatter, #SayHerName, #NoDAPL, and #MMIW are co-generative — even as I recognize the reasons why each of these movements have at different times demanded we respect their particularity.

Drawing from Marxist structuralism, Patrick Wolfe defines the settler colonial society through two key differentiations.

The first is between the structure and the event of invasion. Wolfe maintains that the permanence of invasion distinguishes the structure of a settler society, which originates with the withdrawal of the empire and the rise to power of a land-holding class who always intended to stay. Wolfe defines the ideology that cements this structure together as the logic of elimination. The settler exploits Indigenous labor but more importantly seeks to eliminate all vestiges of Indigenous land claims by the elimination of Indigenous cultures and identities.

The quickest way I can explain my concerns with Wolfe’s definition is to mark how it rearticulates the problematics of structuralism. It treats society as a fixed, coherent thing that can be objectively described. The descriptions are simultaneously over‑determined by the historical event of the empire’s withdrawal and the exceptionalism of a permanent invasion. We’ve been in this trouble before – we know structuralism generates all kinds of ahistorical and apolitical problems, not to mention essentialisms, even as it is conditioned by the intersectionalities of originary events and political identities.

For instance, Lorenzo Veracini argues that settler colonialism is “characterized by a settler capacity to control the population economy” as a marker of sovereignty and that this situation is “associated with a particular state of mind” and “narrative form” so powerful that “the possibility of ultimately discontinuing/decolonizing settler colonial forms remains problematic.” Veracini maintains that “settlers do not discover: they carry their sovereignty and lifestyles with them. As they move towards what amounts to a representation of the world, as they transform the land into their image, they settle another place without really moving.”

I would argue that the settler colonial is a contested and unstable concept. Drawing from critical Indigenous, race, and feminist approaches — such as those developed by Jodi Byrd, Mishuana Goeman, Jennifer Denetdale, and Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers — that understand colonialism, racism, sexism, and homophobia as permanent features of U.S. society, I would argue that society is not an objectively settled structure to be described, nor an imaginary that travels as an integral whole around the world. It is a set of contested meanings caught up in struggles over power and knowledge.

And resistance is most certainly not futile.

The second differentiation on which Wolfe’s settler colonialism rests is between the settler and the Indigenous. While many assume the settler to be white – and perhaps more so to be a white heterosexual male – Wolfe, Veracini, and others characterize the settler as both white and all other non-Indigenous people irrespective of gender and sexuality. Pressed on the politics of such characterizations, particularly of figuring Blacks as settlers, Wolfe explains:

Willingly or not, enslaved or not, at the point of a run or not, they arrived as part of the settler-colonial project. That doesn’t make them settlers in the same sense as the colonizers who coerced them to participate—of course not—but it does make them perforce part of the settler-colonial process of dispossession and elimination. — Patrick Wolfe (2012)

As the work of Circe Sturm, Tiya Miles, Sharon Patricia Holland, and so many others have demonstrated, Black and Indigenous histories and identities (not necessarily distinct) are intersectional messes of racialized and gendered contestation over and within the ongoing colonial forces of U.S. imperialism. We need their analyses to understand these histories and identities and the ways we have inherited them. We need to be careful about grouping all racial, ethnic, diaspora, and immigrant communities in with settlers and pitting them and their presumably shared struggles for civil rights against Indigenous sovereignty and territorial claims. The kinds of polemics that result are not helpful. What if reparations and return are not antithetical political objectives? Who decides their antithesis?

Creation, Generation


In 1985, during a speech at the United Nations Decade for Women Conference in Nairobi, Lilla Watson said:

If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.

Watson, a member of the Murri indigenous to Queensland, has said since and repeatedly that she was “not comfortable being credited for [saying] something that had been born of a collective process” and preferred that the words and their meaning be credited to “Aboriginal activist groups, Queensland, 1970s.” She thus held herself – and the practice of citing her – accountable to the community to whom she belonged. That ethic is further reflected in her — in her community’s — perspective that genuine decolonization will happen as our movements address our shared conditions of oppression. Our liberation is bound together.

“But,” Oklahoma-based Black activist tells me, “I want Indigenous peoples to take responsibility for the way they enslaved Black bodies and internalized white racism towards Blacks in the conduct of their tribal sovereignty.” “But,” Mississippi Choctaw scholar says to me, “I want Blacks to take responsibility for the way they grabbed at Indian lands after the Civil War. For the way the U.S. illegally and violently acquired the lands from us that they promised to give to Freedmen. That Freedmen and their descendants ignore this when they call for reparations.”

But… I’m still trying to figure out how in the difficult moments when the transgenerational trauma of land dispossession, slavery, and racism so profoundly precludes our perceptions and expectations of one another, we can find a way to affirm one another’s concerns and move our liberation struggles forward.

A way that rejects the “respectability” of U.S. recognition and the containment politics of financial settlement. As Glen Coulthard argues, recognition is a bullshit lie of capitalism that dresses up exploitation in liberal inclusion. As Alyosha Goldstein argues, settlements “foreclose the lineages of historical injustice” and “individualize” in liberal fashion what is a matter of collective and sovereign claims to territories and economic reckoning.

A way that rejects the kinds of legally and economically inconsequential responsibility-taking performance of church and government apologia. A way that refuses to be settled up or settled down to negligible levels of financial compensation that change nothing.

I believe we must draw from what Leanne Simpson argues are our cultural teachings for behaving towards one another. She offers compassion, generosity, and humility as the points at which genuine restoration of ourselves and our relationships are possible. From there, as Coulthard argues, we must carve a way forward through a “disciplined maintenance of resentment,” a “politicized anger” towards state oppression that refuses to accept guilt ridden, meaningless gestures of acknowledgment and payouts for genuine reparations and land return.



This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As a conclusion I want to think about Black Lives Matter supporting the #NoDAPL actions at Standing Rock.

I don’t think it’s an accident that it is water that has brought the movements together. As the Black community of Flint and the Lakota peoples of Standing Rock have taught us, water links us together in our struggles for life. It points our attentions to what is destroyed by military, security, and corporate concerns in Ferguson, Mexico, Palestine, and British Columbia; what highlights the illegal seizing of lands for the illegal construction of pipelines; what has been contaminated with hubris in the Delaware River basin, Flint Michigan, the Dakotas, and too many other places to name.

Melissa Nelson writes that,

Most of us find it easier to separate ourselves from nature than to embrace the liquid mystery of our union with it. As freshwater disappears on the earth, so do the water stories that remind us that we too can freeze, melt, conceive, and evaporate. We too can construct a confluence of cultural rivulets where the natural and cultural coalesce. — Melissa Nelsen

Perhaps we too can embrace the life of water to recognize the ways our movements co-generate, to find our coalescence.



Trump-Elected Stress Disorder

Having experienced sexual harrassment and an attempted rape, and working within Native American and Indigenous Studies and with Native and Indigenous people, I am familiar with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a psychological, spiritual, physical, and transgenerational condition resulting from the experience of sexual violence.

The National Institute of Mental Health defines PTSD as “a disorder that develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event” or a “sudden, expected” experience including the death of a loved one. (NIMH) Symptoms can begin early or years afterwards and can become chronic. They generally involve “re-experiencing” the trauma, such as through flashbacks, bad dreams, or frightening thoughts. To avoid “re-experiencing” the trauma, an individual may attempt to stay away from particular places, events, objects, or people or avoid certain kinds of thoughts and feelings. These efforts can result in an individual being easily startled, feeling tense or “on edge,” insomnia, and anger. They may also include trouble remembering key features of the traumatic event; negative thoughts about oneself or the world; distorted feelings like guilt or blame; loss of interest in enjoyable activities. PTSD is often accompanied by depression, substance abuse, or other anxiety disorders (NIMH)

For those with PTSD resulting from sexual violence, the discourse of this presidential campaign has provided a steady supply of prompts to rememeber and re-experience the violence — in the moments of news reporting Trump’s behaviors, attitudes, and talk and reviewing federal lawsuits and in the moments of Trump’s supporters dismissing and trivializing the allegations and disparaging the women.

For myself, I had a particularly difficult in the moment of hearing Trump brag about sexually violating women (“grab her by the pussy”) and Trump apologists dismissing the behavior as ‘men will be men’ ‘locker room talk’. (Youtube) It was the proverbial last straw for me after a long year of hearing the allegations of sexual violence from underaged girls and young women, from strangers on planes and business associates and employees, spanning decades and social situations. The audible record of Trump’s sexual assaults and sense of patriarchal entitlement to women’s bodies folded too neatly into another round of public dismissals of its seriousness and relevance, in effect affirming its normalcy and inconsequence.

A part of me believed, though, that voters would care. At least I hoped they would.

But while not all men are Trump, the fact that Trump earned as many popular votes as he did, that the electoral college chose to throw down for him and override the popular vote, and that there has been a rash of hate crimes by Trump supporters towards Latinx, Arab and Muslim immigrants since Tuesday, have made it very clear to me that not only do “We don’t care about you” (as an individualizing of sexual violence) but “we don’t care about sexual violence as a political issue.”

Tuesday’s result was an affirmation of the normality and banality of sexual violence in U.S. politics — of the centrality of rape culture in setting the norms for social behavior and attitudes.

Sexual violence is a rampant, epidemic condition within the United States, particuarly for women of color and Native American and Indigenous women who have a one in three chance of being raped in their lifetimes.

Trump-Elected Stress Disorder is the realization that that sexual violence is altogether unimportant to U.S. voters and their electoral college, at least of the “white” identified voters both male and female who overwhelming supported Trump, those who apparently care more about punishing the system than they do about sexually predatory behavior and attitudes towards women.

Trump’s Sexual Assaults, Harrassments, and Misconduct

For those who haven’t heard the stories, I think it’s important to listen to the women who have spoken up about their experiences of being assaulted by Trump.

Jessica Leeds. “More than three decades ago, when she was a traveling businesswoman at a paper company, Ms. Leeds said, she sat beside Mr. Trump in the first-class cabin of a flight to New York. They had never met before. About 45 minutes after takeoff, she recalled, Mr. Trump lifted the armrest and began to touch her. According to Ms. Leeds, Mr. Trump grabbed her breasts and tried to put his hand up her skirt. “He was like an octopus,” she said. “His hands were everywhere.” She fled to the back of the plane. “It was an assault,” she said.” (New York Times)

Rachel Crooks. “Ms. Crooks was a 22-year-old receptionist at Bayrock Group, a real estate investment and development company in Trump Tower in Manhattan, when she encountered Mr. Trump outside an elevator in the building one morning in 2005… Aware that her company did business with Mr. Trump, she turned and introduced herself. They shook hands, but Mr. Trump would not let go, she said. Instead, he began kissing her cheeks. Then, she said, he “kissed me directly on the mouth.” It didn’t feel like an accident, she said. It felt like a violation.” “It was so inappropriate,” Ms. Crooks recalled in an interview. “I was so upset that he thought I was so insignificant that he could do that.” (New York Times)

Kristen Anderson. “Anderson was deep in conversation with acquaintances at a crowded Manhattan nightspot and did not notice the figure to her right on a red velvet couch — until, she recalls, his fingers slid under her miniskirt, moved up her inner thigh and touched her vagina through her underwear. Anderson shoved the hand away, fled the couch and turned to take her first good look at the man who had touched her, she said. She recognized him as Donald Trump: “He was so distinctive looking — with the hair and the eyebrows. I mean, nobody else has those eyebrows.” At the time of the incident, which Anderson said took place in the early 1990s, she was in her early 20s, trying to make it as a model. She was paying the bills by working as a makeup artist and restaurant hostess. Trump was a big celebrity whose face was all over the tabloids and a regular presence on the New York club scene. The episode, as Anderson described it, lasted no more than 30 seconds. Anderson said she and her companions were “very grossed out and weirded out” and thought, “Okay, Donald is gross. We all know he’s gross. Let’s just move on.” (Washington Post)

Barbara Cockoran. “The 67-year-old real estate mogul shared that the Republican presidential candidate, 70, once compared her breast size to that of his second wife, Marla Maples, during a business meeting. “I’ve never been in a room with him alone except on one occasion. I was pregnant with my first child at the time, and so was his second wife,” Corcoran said. “He compared my breast size to his wife by putting his hands in the air. I was in a business meeting! I was shocked.” (CNN/People)

Cathy Heller. “Claimed that in the late 1990s, she was attending a brunch at Mar-a-Lago with her in-laws and children when her mother-in-law, a club member, introduced her to the businessman. Instead of a handshake, though, Heller told PEOPLE that Trump pulled her toward him to deliver a kiss on the mouth. When she pulled away, Trump allegedly got “angry” and said, “Oh, come on.” “He really grabbed me and he was holding me very tight to kiss me on the mouth,” she charged, noting, “I was able to turn my head a little, so he didn’t get my whole mouth.” (People)

Mariah Billado. “Four women who competed in the 1997 Miss Teen USA beauty pageant said Donald Trump walked into the dressing room while contestants — some as young as 15 — were changing. “I remember putting on my dress really quick because I was like, ‘Oh my god, there’s a man in here,’” said Mariah Billado, the former Miss Vermont Teen USA. Trump, she recalled, said something like, “Don’t worry, ladies, I’ve seen it all before.” (Buzzfeed) Temple Targett,

Jill Harth. “A makeup artist, has stayed quiet for almost 20 years about the way Trump pursued her, and – according to a lawsuit she instigated – cornered her and groped her in his daughter’s bedroom.” (The Guardian)

Karena Virginia. “Alleged in a New York City press conference that Trump touched her breast while she waited for a car at the U.S. Open in 1998.” (People)

Mindy McGillivray. Groped by Trump at Mar-a-Lago 13 years prior, when she was 23. (Palm Beach Post)

Natasha Stoynoff. During a 2005 trip to Mar-a-Lago to interview Trump and wife Melania — who were celebrating their first wedding anniversary — the PEOPLE writer alleged that Trump assaulted her. (People)

Jessica Drake. “Adult film star Jessica Drake accused Trump of sexual misconduct during a press conference with her lawyer Gloria Allred in late October. Drake claimed that Trump had tightly hugged and kissed her without her permission at a Tahoe, California, golf tournament in 2006.” (People)

Ninni Laaksonen. “Told Finnish newspaper Ilta-Sanomat that the businessman groped her before both appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman in 2006, according to a translation of the interview in the U.K.’s The Telegraph. “Trump stood right next to me and suddenly he squeezed my butt,” claimed Laaksonen, who is now 30. “He really grabbed my butt. I don’t think anybody saw it but I flinched and thought, ‘What is happening?’” (People)

Summer Zervos. “Season 5 The Apprentice contestant… charged last month that Trump assaulted her at a Los Angeles hotel in 2007. Zervos said that she reached out to Trump after being “fired” from the popular reality show, and asked him to grab lunch while she was visiting New York City. Instead, Trump invited Zervos to her office, where he greeted her with a kiss on the lips, she alleged. The incident, she said, was just the beginning. Trump later phoned Zervos at her California home, and asked her to visit the Beverly Hills Hotel, where he was staying, for a business meeting. After arriving at Trump’s hotel room, Zervos alleged that Trump began kissing her “very aggressively and placed his hand on my breast.” Despite pushing back, Trump tried to pull her into the room’s sleeping area, and put her “in an embrace.” “I pushed his chest to put space between us and I said ‘Come on man, get real.’ He repeated my words back to me, ‘Get real’ as he began thrusting his genitals. He tried to kiss me again and with my hand still on his chest I said ‘Dude, you’re trippin’ right now,’ attempting to make it clear that I was not interested.” (People)

Cassandra Searles. “Miss Washington 2013, Cassandra Searles wrote in a June Facebook post, which was screen grabbed by Yahoo, that Trump treated the pageant contestants like “cattle.” “Do y’all remember that one time we had to do our onstage introductions, but this one guy treated us like cattle and made us do it again because we didn’t look him in the eyes? Do you also remember when he then proceeded to have us lined up so he could get a closer look at his property?” she wrote. “Oh I forgot to mention that guy will be in the running to become the next President of the United States.” Searles further alleged in the post’s comment section, “He probably doesn’t want me telling the story about that time he continually grabbed my ass and invited me to his hotel room.” (People)

Salma Hayek. “Said Donald Trump repeatedly called her asking for dates. She claims he befriended an old boyfriend of hers to acquire her number. When she turned him down she said he planted National Enquirer story. Hayek claims he contacted her again afterwards to insist story wasn’t true.” (Daily Mail)

Jane Doe. “An anonymous “Jane Doe” filed a federal lawsuit against GOP presumptive nominee Donald Trump last week, accusing him of raping her in 1994 when she was thirteen years old. The mainstream media ignored the filing.” (Huffington Post)

For further information, see:

  • Michael Barbaro and Mehan Twoheymay, “Crossing the Line: How Donald Trump Behaved With Women in Private” (New York Times).
  • Lindsey Kimble, “Everything You Need to Know About the Sexual Assault Allegations Against Donald Trump Before Election Day” (People).

Trump’s Talk and U.S. Rape Culture

Even before his presidential campaign launched, Trump’s open prejudice towards women’s bodies, particularly those who are considered “overweight,” was well-known. He publicly criticized Tara Conner and Rosie O’Donnell for being overweight, ugly “losers.” (CNN) He used this same language to challenge the credibility of his accusers, some of whom he said were not attractive enough to warrant his unwanted sexual attentions.

By the time we hear Trump brag about sexually violating women (“grab her by the pussy”) during his campaign, we were not surprised. (Youtube) He dismissed the talk as “locker room” banter. But isn’t that the point? Talking about women that way, bragging about sexual misconduct of underage beauty contestants, bragging about his physical prowess and successes, are considered normal for men in a culture that tolerates sexual violence against women.

As the video of his comments replayed over news and social media, it was difficult for survivors not to re-experience the event of their assaults and harrassments. Every time someone on the news or in social media minimized Trump’s remarks and behavior as “normal” or irrelevant, they affirmed the remarks and behavior.

The importance of Trump’s remarks and behavior go to the place of sexual violence within the United States. So tolerant are we that Jane Doe, who charged that she was raped by Trump when she was 13, withdrew her complaint because of mounting death threats against her attorney Lisa Bloom and herself. And no one cared.


If I hear one more person tell me that I need to care about or learn to talk nicer to the “white middle class” or “white men” or “white women” or “white feminists” who voted for Trump…. These categories of people are the categories protected in the law and in society. Everything is already about them and their interests.


If I receive one more invite to a hand-holding meditating anti-Trump gathering…. The time is for organizing direct action against Trump and his policies. And I’m sorry. If that organizing doesn’t address sexual violence and rape culture, I’m not interested. And if you don’t understand why sexual violence is a core social condition on which Trump’s empire is going to be built through pro-oil/gas, anti-immigration, anti-Muslim, and anti-Black policies, then you have some work to do.

If one more person tells me I need to participate in an overhaul of the Democratic party…. I don’t care about the DNC and it’s autopsy and musing over how to make it better for the next election cycle. The RNC and DNC have made themselves irrelevant. And no. I don’t care about third party politics either. We need something else.

Photo by Dallas Goldtooth.
Photo by Dallas Goldtooth.

From Flint to Standing Rock

Comments made at the NoDAPL action at SFSU on September 15, 2016.

The residents of Flint, Michigan, cannot drink or shower in their water because the state switched their water supply to a river known to be contaminated with lead poisoning. The decision caused major pipe corrosion that is irreversible — meaning that the lead will stay in the water for the foreseeable future. It has also caused, primarily in children and the elderly, learning disabilities and mental and behavioral problems.

Home owners and farmers in Dimock, Pennsylvania can light the water coming out of their faucets and showers and in their toilets on fire because it is contaminated with the several hundred unknown chemicals used to extract natural gas — hydraulic fracturing or fracking. They and their pets and livestock, and the animals and birds that live in the surrounding area, lose their hair, develop skin sores, suffer high rates of cancer and birth defects, and experience disorders of the nervous system. Some of these conditions are fatal.

In California there has been an extended drought evidenced by disastrous wildfires and a snow pack at its lowest in recorded history. It has gotten so severe that the state has declared a drought emergency and imposed water restrictions on individuals. But it has also lifted water restrictions on cities, permitted Nestle — on a $524 a year permit fee — to extract 36 million gallons of water from a national forest to sell as bottled water, and allowed over 70 million gallons of water to be used in fracking.

As countless academic and independent studies have demonstrated, there is not a single oil or gas extraction method that is safe for water (the land or air, but I’ll focus on water for here).

Hundreds of deregulated chemicals are used in oil and gas extraction. The millions and millions of gallons used in the process of fracking contaminates the land and aquifer systems for thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of years. The water cannot be returned or reused.

We are creating our own conditions for intergenerational trauma. We are destroying the waters for ourselves and for thousands of generations to come.

This is part of why President Obama halted the Keystone XL Pipeline project.

Since 2010, over 3,300 incidents of crude oil and liquefied natural gas leaks or ruptures have occurred on U.S. pipelines. These incidents have killed 80 people, injured 389 more, and cost $2.8 billion in damages. They have released toxic, polluting chemicals into waters and aquifers.

Over 1,000 of these incidents occurred on pipelines carrying crude oil. The spills and ruptures have released over 7 million gallons of crude. One of the largest spills happened in North Dakota in 2013 when lightning struck a pipeline, which leaked over 840,000 gallons of crude onto a wheat field.

Nearly half of America’s crude oil pipelines are more than 50 years old, increasing the chance of corrosion and failure. Human error and failure of operators to act on potential vulnerabilities in their pipelines also contribute to accidents. So do natural phenomena like lightning and earthquakes. (Regions of Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma are experiencing their first ever earthquakes because of fracking.)

Only 139 federal pipeline inspectors are responsible for examining over 2.6 million miles of pipelines.

Additional funding for inspections is an important step. But even if we throw more personnel and money into the infrastructure we are still not addressing the basic issue.

We need to shift to renewable energy sources.

And why don’t we?

Because this society is based on the capitalist, imperialist premise that greed is good, money is life, and there are no consequences or social problems that money cannot fix.

They are killing us with it.

In fiscal year 2015, U.S. military spending was projected at 54 percent of all federal discretionary spending: $598.5 billion. Military spending includes all regular activities of the Department of Defense; war spending; nuclear weapons spending; international military assistance (including the 38 billion dollar military aid package just approved for Israel); contractors including security and construction; technology, vehicles, supplies, and all other Pentagon-related spending.

I leave you with this:

• The military makes its surplus supplies available to local police and even state transportation agencies like BART. Did you know that in 2014, the UN Committee Against Torture condemned US police brutality and the excessive use of force by law enforcement?
• The Department of Defense is the largest single consumer of energy in the world, responsible for 93% of all US government fuel consumption in 2007. The DoD’s uses 4.6 billion gallons of fuel a year or 12.6 million gallons of fuel per day.


Water Is Life.

I am donating all proceeds to support #NoDAPL actions at Standing Rock.

Budgets Are Politics by Other Means


The day/after my previous blog was posted, UIUC President Timony Killeen sent out an email blast to university employees informing them that the university has “no budget” and that they could expect severe (necessary) cuts and changes in the coming academic year.

In The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Naomi Klein posits that crises — both natural and financial — are used by government and corporate officials to re-engineer the operations they oversee to advance free market ideologies and practices (i.e. inflationary profits). Those who pay the price are laborers and customers; those who benefit are officials, financial CEOs, and their compatriots:

“The theory of economic shock therapy relies in part on the role of expectations on feeding an inflationary process. Reining in inflation requires not only changing monetary policy but also changing the behavior of consumers, employers and workers. The role of a sudden, jarring policy shift is that it quickly alters expectations, signaling to the public that the rules of the game have changed dramatically – prices will not keep rising, nor will wages.”

Faculty, Staff, Student Debt: Bring Your Own…

In the context of university funding, it is faculty, staff, and students who bear the burdens of debt.

Since I graduated high school in 1980, I have been an undergraduate student (1980-1991), a graduate student (1992-2000), and a faculty member (2000-present), all in the state of California. I was an undergraduate student on a part-time basis at a community college and a private liberal arts college (1980-86) before earning my B.A. degree from a public institution in 1991 (in southern California). I did my doctoral studies at a public insitution (in northern California). All the way through, I had to work part to full time to afford rent and basic living expenses. On my salaries and fellowships I could never afford to pay for what was expected of me in relation to my professionalization — attending and presenting at conferences, conducting archival and field research, buying books and software and updating my computer. Those things I did on student loans, loans which I will carry “to the grave.”

Since earning my Ph.D. in 2000, I have been appointed as a full-time lecturer (2000-01 at a CSU campus), an assistant professor (2001-03 at a UC campus), and am now a professor (2003-present at a CSU campus).

At no point in time, at no institution, did the state government or campus administration not claim that there was an economic crisis of funding. Repeatedly the crisis was/is used to justify student tuition hikes, hiring freezes or erasures of faculty lines, cuts to student or faculty support, program dissolutions, and/or campus-wide reorganizations. Sometimes all at once.

In the few moments I have seen of alleged financial ‘recovery’ (early to mid 2000s), I have seen the money ‘return’ from the state to the university administration — not to the classroom, not to labor, not to students. To the administration. Especially ironic given the ever escalating expectations of faculty to serve on committees and task forces that essentially run the university.

As the California Faculty Association has shown time and again, these budget ‘returns’ never make up for previous cuts. They almost always normalize new baseline lows of financial support and instructional operation for the university system as a whole and at individual campuses. All the while they increase classroom size — demanding greater faculty workload and providing compromised learning environments — while decreasing faculty research and instructional support. (Keep in mind that that research is important not merely for publication but for teaching.)

Some examples:

  • I use to receive funds for instructional materials (books, media, the like) and participation in professional associations (travel, membership dues, conference registration).
  • My normal class size used to be 35 students, now it is 49-120 (without paid assistance)
  • If I were a lecturer in the CSU, I would be expected to teach five courses a term to be considered full time (that’s 245 students a term). I’d have to teach full time for 6 years to earn ‘tenure.’
  • In 14 years at SFSU, my total raises outside of promotion have not exceeded about ten percent (meaning, they have not kept pace with inflation and I live in the SF Bay Area so you do the math — in relation to cost of living I probably earn less now than I did in 2003. I certainly pay a greater percentage of my salary to rent than I ever have and I cannot afford to buy — back to the student loan thang).

Public Funding: Education For Whom?

State and federal officials have systematically underfunded, devalued, and minimized public higher education.

From California’s “master plan” commitment to fund public higher education in 1960, to the systematic defunding of the CSU and UC system ever since, to the rise of for-profit rationales, public higher education has become virtually unaffordable for both labor and student.

Faculty, staff, and students are forced into near-constant organizing efforts to defend and advance their jobs, their benefits/supports, their curriculum/programs, and their lives. (See here and here for more information.) Not only are work loads irrational, but we are forced into fighting to protect those workloads in a near-constant state of financial duress.

And then there is the all-the-way-through-it devaluing of critical ethnic and indigenous studies, disability studies, and gender/sexuality/feminist studies. Whenever administrators imagine financial cost cutting or restructuring, it seems to come at our expense. Just watch a few of the testimonials from the SFSU community to get a sense of how that devaluation works in the lives of our students.


In two moments of recent SFSU history, university administrators have claimed financial dire straights to propose drastic restructuring of programs at the department and college level.

In 2011, when the university proposed and then carried out a complete overall of college organization that resulted in college and department mergers, staff reassignments and early retirements, and increased faculty course loads. As reported in the SFSU student paper, the Golden Gate Express, the California Faculty Association appointed a professor of accounting to analyze the university’s reorganization plan and budget:

Howard Bunsis, a professor of accounting at Eastern Michigan University who has done similar analyses at CSUs Humboldt and Dominguez Hills, was appointed by the California Faculty Association SFSU chapter to evaluate campus spending. He detailed his findings that state there is no reason for cuts to faculty and students but rather costs of the administration. “The idea that SFSU is broke is absurd. It’s an absurd notion,” Bunis said. “As we’re going to show you, the only thing that’s broke are the priorities of the administration.” According to Bunsis, SF State currently has $78 million in restricted reserve funds and $20 million in unrestricted reserves. Cuts should be made in a particular order, but should begin with assessing reserves, he said… “Reserves should be used for short-term unexpected declines in revenue or short-term unexpected expenses,” he said. “That’s what they’re there for.” The University accounting office, Bunsis said, has documents detailing budgetary issues, but is not allowing those affected by them to see them. “They exist and they have them, they’re just not showing them to us,” he said. “It’s immoral to do so.” With the average cost per member at $230,000, he said, the administration is the largest academic unit with 214 employees. Bunsis noted that with a 20 percent reduction in administration positions, the University would save $5 million.

Despite criticisms of the proposal, SFSU administrators proceeded on course.

In 2016, when the university proposed to gut the College of Ethnic Studies, Howard Bunsis again reviewed and reported that there was no crisis justifying the proposed cuts. As covered in the SFSU student paper, the Golden Gate Expressand the California Faculty Association:

Bunsis announced that SF State was not operating at a structural deficit like administration officials previously claimed, and that money should not be cut from any of the colleges.  “The idea of a college owing money or having a deficit is completely made up,” Bunsis said. “There’s no empirical evidence for it. Show me where the revenues are and where the expenses are and where is that structural deficit.”…During his analysis, Bunsis emphasized that SF State and the CSU are doing well financially. “SF State is in solid financial condition; they have sufficient reserves,” Bunsis said. “This institution does not have a financial crisis.” Bunsis brought up SF State’s assets, operating cash flow, enrollment rates and tuition costs, all of which were at adequate levels compared to the rest of the CSU system. Bunsis repeatedly put SF State in the middle in regards to its financial ranking. Attending the meeting were students and faculty from Defend and Advance Ethnic Studies, who were frustrated with administration’s lack of transparency concerning the 2016-17 budget and the financial issues surrounding the College of Ethnic Studies.

Only after a well-publicized student hunger strike and series of actions on campus did the SFSU administration back-track and restore some funding to the College.

But the SFSU budget remains a mystery — it is near impossible, even for the faculty union or mid-level management — to secure accurate information or details. This seems inherently problematic when it is the budget that is being used to justify the proposed cuts.

Austerity Capitalism

Returning to Naomi Klein, it is difficult not to be cynical or pessimistic when university officials claim that there is “no budget” when proposing or enacting dire cuts to programs that have such profound impact on particularly racialized, gendered, classed communities of faculty, staff, and students.

Budgets are politics by other means.

So if Klein is right we have to begin with the premise that the financial crisis is produced not organic. That serious choices are being made that do not only trickle down but flood. And that those who are barely or un- able to float are, well, not going to be mourned when they drown. For faculty, they’ll turn to temporary laborers within minimal contractual protections and no benefits; for students, they’ll raise tuition and increase international admissions.

Public higher education institutions like the CSU and UIUC have been (re)defined by free market ideologies and capitalist dreams. Maybe it is the communities and scholars who are working to change that as a given who are being thrown out of the boat first? Maybe the histories and cultures that challenge those goals as evolutionary wisdom are the ones being held under water?