Universities v protest: A letter from a lesser alumnus | Protests


We have always been here. At the university mobilising the police in its persecution of anti-colonial thought. At the suspensions and “talking to” of anti-colonial professors, the arrest of the conscientious dissenters and the pimping of concepts of anti-racism and forcing them into the service of colonial violence. At appropriating the fight against anti-Semitism, forged from Warsaw to Crown Heights, to make of it a human shield for settler conquest so that even the political party brimming with Holocaust deniers, who only yesterday were fear-mongering about George Soros, “Jewish lasers” and the “banking elite”, can seamlessly be recast as crusaders against anti-Semitism.

I am not surprised that my, as they say, alma mater, is a central campus site in the battle between universities and protest. Nor am I surprised that my mentors and dissertation adviser remain in settler power’s crosshairs.

Like many, I chose Columbia University for grad school not because of its Ivy League stature or its illustrious reputation; and certainly not because of “legacy admission”. I knew little about these things.

I chose the school that had the most dangerous academics, according to a list generated by famed “right-winger” David Horowitz which I inverted and used as a “Guide to Best US Colleges”.

If the man who would go on to smear “I can’t breathe” protests as a “racial hoax” thought a professor or school was “dangerous” to his cause, I was there. Which were the most hated academic programmes by those who trivialise our lynching? Sign me up. Who were his most hated professors in the MA and PhD programmes? I sought them as my advisers.

That mob that campaigns for political and historical illiteracy, who rush truth into oblivion and have punished Black students and banned books on plantations, prisons and school boards will always point out our sages with their pitchforks.

I am of the other alumni. The second-classmen. Of the ones who cannot threaten to withhold donations unless you quickly put down the Soweto uprising. The former tokens who you have recruited for the webpage and who, as it turns out, are not only muted smiles who exist solely in brochures as proofs of progress in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. The ones who are not placated by “decolonising the syllabus” games and see your inclusivity hiding in sheep’s clothing. Who are not the intended addressees of your mass emails assuring all that the dissent is contained.

The point of education has never been to claim the laurels of an institution but to be seen as dangerous to the type of people who attempt to paint the brutalising of the colonised as a racist hoax. It has not been to labour in thought so that one could perhaps one day be so lucky as to be shuffled around through institutions in hopes of obtaining a post, an enviable grant and a room with a view.

It is not to wait for the promised security of tenure, and with these emancipation papers in hand begin to tell the truth. It is not to wait to be given one’s flowers by a university administration that would reveal itself as indistinguishable from Bull Connor the instant it is found that students believe “decolonisation is not a metaphor”.

The point of education is not merely to interpret their world but to undo it. To wobble its genocidal foundations and the ease with which “the necessary carpet bombing of the native sector” is swallowed by the everyman. That is, it is to be, what those who colonise would call, “dangerous”.

There has been a wilful misunderstanding of the colonised student who is ordered by billionaires back to the classes, to stop acting privileged and insubordinate, to open their Afrikaans textbooks and learn to accept “both sides” of their bombing.

In Columbia ’68, France ’68,  Rhodes Must Fall, and elsewhere, the police, the politicians, the principals are always linking arms and telling Sarafina’s class not to be naughty. Whether it is the 19th-century ethnologist narratives about the docility of the native or contemporary media narratives about the proper docility of peaceful protest that has convinced them this would shut them up I cannot tell.

But these students have not just read a Nikki Giovanni or a Mahmoud Darwish poem and “got too woke” as apartheid apologists claim. We didn’t merely stumble across Frantz Fanon, Assata Shakur or Edward Said and say to ourselves, “Wait a minute, this might be injustice.”

We are from the people who can be raided. Who are forced to watch the race riots come down to our family’s city block in Tulsa, or Washington, DC, or our homes in Lydd or Huwara, and are told that our bleeding is not the main thing. That our bombings belong in the footnotes. That we must recognise the right to exist of White Man’s Country. That this is about steady-handed security operations. That it is hunting the Mau Mau terrorists. That we should not mind the camps, the casualties, the lynch mob chanting. It is not ethnic cleansing.

But what we are witnessing from George Floyd to Gaza is that the colonised are not cowed, nor coward, nor, in fact, colonised. That we have not signed any treaty that orders us to go gently into the good night of our extermination. And that we recognise no one who does so in our name.

What white power does not get is that we do not acquiesce, we do not cede territory, we have seen all of your Dylann Roofs and Lothar von Trothas and David Ben-Gurions – the native, the Black, the non-documented will go nowhere.

So we meet. In the predictable summit of this moment of coloniser v colonised – everywhere. No matter how loudly colonist media crocodile-mourns that fascism has retaken hold of “the West”, or that “democracy” has had a hard time in the “Global South”, we who are not published, who are not asked how we feel, the second-classes, the banned, who have had the anti-racism we have invented, most unsurprisingly, turned against us, are still here. Here on the grounds that have held viewings of Selma only to become Selma.

We have always been here. Against all pogroms. Against all Kristallnachts, all Nakbas, all bombings of Setif, all native prisons, all cornered trails of tears. No supremacist, no puritanical fantasy will ever materialise. The future is unpersecuted. It is anti-colonial. It belongs to the reservations, the hoods, and the native quarters. And every rusted, revamped, recycled white supremacist ideology will end up where it belongs.

There is no final solution to the colonial problem. Not even DEI.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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