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Some quick thoughts on the MAA thing

10 August, 2010

Some quick thoughts on the MAA thing (updated)

I have an internet connection at the moment, so thought I’d belatedly say my piece on the MAA going to Arizona. To sum it up, I’m pissed off and disappointed, but mostly, I’m upset at being surprised.

I’m NOT surprised that the meeting is going on. A big chunk of money had been spent already, and I can see that the organization’s leadership might have felt that they could not simply write off that kind of investment. I can even see that they would think that it was important to some of the putative presenters’ careers to give papers at the meeting, although at this point, I doubt it would have affected anyone’s funding for travel.

What I AM surprised at, and what really guts me, is that the letter, written by committee or not, expressed absolutely no reference to the laws that those of us who opposed holding the meeting in Tempe objected to, except as some sort of bullshit “collective political action.” This upsets me, I think, because to me, the laws are clearly wrong in a moral sense (and in a constitutional one), and are not at all “political.” And to a certain extent, because I am acquainted with a couple of the members of the Executive Committee, I feel a little sick at not knowing if they willingly characterized racial discrimination as ‘political’ or if they were somehow argued down. It’s not a good feeling.

I’m also upset and, perhaps naively, surprised at how this entire thing has been characterized by some, especially in the Inside Higher Ed comments, as being a ‘leftist’ issue, or a case of ‘political correctness.’ I don’t know how people who have read the US Constitution and know anything about US history can see a support of equal rights and equal protections as being ‘leftist’. Admittedly, I have a dog in this fight — my family includes people of color who are Southeast Asian, African-American, Afro-Caribbean, and Latino. Some of my family members are also gay. But of all of those people, only the Latinos are likely to be personally affected by SB1070. This is a big country, though, and it’s not all about my family — it’s about anybody. I don’t see that this is any different morally than making ethnic minorities wear identifying clothing or denying people of a certain skin color the right to eat with Anglos. Shouldn’t we have reached a point where civil rights are seen as patriotic, rather than partisan?

So that’s why I’m saddened. Not so much about the decision to go on, but about the apparent unwillingness of the leaders of an organization to which I belong to publicly recognize that this is a moral issue at all, or even, at the very least, to publicly recognize that this is a moral and ethical issue for a fair number of the membership. This lack of acknowledgement of something clearly very meaningful to at the least a sizable and vocal majority minority comes across as a lack of respect and a dismissal that is entirely unwarranted and at best, very uncollegial.


Today, Jeffrey Jerome Cohen posted a piece on his reactions and why he is maintaining his membership in the MAA. It is thoughtful, and very convincing. Jeff also noticed something that I had not in the CFP that came out yesterday: an acknowledgement of the moral concerns for some of us. It’s a far cry from the condemnation that I feel is necessary, but it’s something. And, as Jeff says, it probably indicates that there are rifts on the council. Again, knowing that some of my senior colleagues seem not to think it is one is disturbing to me. And I hope I shall one day find out who argued which way, because that would at least relieve the sick feeling of wondering, but would replace it with the sick feeling that colleagues whom I respect didn’t find Arizona’s racist laws (and I’m talking about the whole passel of them, not just SB1070 — a law that requires teachers to have ‘a correct accent’ seems ludicrous at best to a left-coaster who’s lived in the Deep South, and we know it’s code for non-Anglo English) morally objectionable. In the meantime, I have been informed via a listserv that three members of the local program committee have resigned, because they cannot give their support to a meeting in the state where they live as long as the laws are racist. They also point out, for those who have forgotten, that a boycott worked to get Arizona to recognize Martin Luther King’s birthday as a holiday. So yeah, I’m boycotting, but not quitting.

eta: I missed my eighth bloggyversary. Happy eight years!

8 Comments leave one →
  1. 10 August, 2010 4:14 pm

    Hear hear, ADM!I think your point about "the apparent unwillingness of the leaders of an organization to which I belong to publicly recognize that this is a moral issue at all" is what sticks in my craw, too. I don't even think boycotting the meeting or the organization is the right thing to do — largely b/c I think it hurts medieval studies and medievalists rather than the Arizona laws and economy — but *man*, that lame letter pisses me off no end. And did you see their equally lame response to The General's resignation letter? The General posted it in the comments to her guest post on my blog (currently the top post). It adds insult to injury by not even addressing her concerns as a person of color! And then it basically says, "Well, no one's requiring you to come to the meeting." WTF? That's like separate but equal bullshit! That says, "Let the white people go on with the professional meeting and you can come to the next one." Argh!And you know what? This isn't just an issue for people of color. I'm not supposed to have to carry my freakin' passport to travel within the US and certainly I shouldn't have to have it on me at all times (and what if my purse gets snatched?). The US *doesn't* have a national ID. This law violates *my* civil rights. (And granted, that's why the "papers, please" part of the law has been suspended — it's un-fucking-constitutional — but who knows where it goes from here.)And the ethnic studies law is utter paranoid madness. And the school board policy on accents is outright bigotry.And those last two issues are *directly* related to some of the MAA's consituents larger disciplines. And yet they said *nothing* about them.Oy. Whole thing pisses me off.

  2. 10 August, 2010 7:46 pm

    Wow. I just read that letter. How sad. And honestly? Although I'm perfectly willing to believe that they are sitting at their computers saying, "wtf do these people want us to do? We're trying our best, and they jump on everything we say! We didn't mean that people of color could just stay home and let the white people have the conference without them! How could they think that???", this really points to my much earlier point made at ITM about privilege. You know, the churlish one.At the very least, I wish that they would stop using language that makes them look like they are more worried about lawsuits or having opinions. But really, I think that maybe they need to get an editor who is not in agreement with them, but believes they are operating in good faith, and get them to read these statements before they go out. Because … oy.

  3. 10 August, 2010 8:07 pm

    Yeah, I'm with you in not wanting to believe that that's what they meant it to say. But, good golly, it kind of has that effect!

  4. 11 August, 2010 10:10 pm

    That reply looks very weird from my perspective. Coming from the UK, where public institutions are almost paralysed by fear of saying anything that references race, one of the things I find most unsettling about the US is the way that race is made into a subject of popular debate by those who think it significant, one way or another. This, for example, is a conversation, that wouldn't happen on a UK academic blog. So to find a US institution skipping round the subject of race when it really is the whole darn subject as here is just very very odd!

  5. 12 August, 2010 4:13 am

    I wonder why that is — Many people here are also uneasy talking about race, but it seems to me that there are times when we have to look it right in the eye and deal with it. The most uncomfortable part of this particular issue for me is that basically, with only a few exceptions, this conversation is largely being held by Anglos and among Anglos. The fact that there are relatively few US medievalists of color makes this all a bit weird, because our responses could be seen as patronizing. Still, that's not going to keep me from speaking out.

  6. 12 August, 2010 5:15 pm

    ADM: do keep speaking out, and others as well. If the only people who speak are those directly affected, no one will pay attention. 😛

  7. 13 August, 2010 5:20 am

    First of all: Happy (late) Blogiversary! I think you've got to be one of the longest-lived bloggers who still posts at least semi-regularly. On to MAA, here's something I wrote, from the perspective of a feminist who's seen this too many times to count, to a friend of mine today who was disappointed in the decision, and guessed that it was just an east-coast organization not getting the west-coast reactions:In my opinion, it's a matter of a dominant class being asked to acknowledge their own privilege. No matter how liberal your expressed values (and the MAA has plenty of conservatives in its membership and leadership, as I'm sure we know), when you have to admit your privilege, you also have to admit that you may be part of the problem, and then if you have a conscience, you have to actually *do* something, and that something usually threatens to erode a position that you've taken as a given. It's far easier to convince yourself that there is no problem, or that the problem is not as serious as people are making it out to be.I may be projecting feminist analysis in a place where it doesn't apply, but to me, the parallels are pretty compelling.

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