Lisa Brock

Rage Against the Narrative: “I don’t do diversity, I do triage”

By Lisa Brock, Senior Editor

Hello Praxis readers. Welcome to 2016. We launch the third year of Praxis Center with the second installment of Rage Against the Narrative: How to Understand Psychic Violence and Murder, a three-part series, by Senior Editor Dr. Lisa Brock. As a historian attentive to the way current issues have deep historical roots but are often overlooked or negated in popular renderings, Brock is interested in disrupting and disturbing subliminal power conventions that become so normalized that they are often invisible to some yet cause ongoing psychic harm to others. Brock has been in academia for over forty years as a student, faculty member and administrator. This series is written in response to the uprising sparked by the killings of unarmed black people throughout the US. The three epigraphs below are gestures to each part.

Transformative Possibilities and the ACSJL 2015 Global Prize

By Lisa Brock, Senior Editor and Academic Director of the Arcus Center of Social Justice Leadership at Kalamazoo College

On June 24, 2015, Jennicet Gutierrez interrupted President Obama at a White House event celebrating LGBTQ progress. “I Interrupted Obama because we need to be heard,” Gutierrez said in her June Blade essay. She continues, “Progress has not been fully realized because of the continuous discrimination and violence we face in our daily lives.”

Charleston and Donald Trump

By Lisa Brock, Senior Editor and Academic Director, Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership

Like many, my heart was broken upon hearing that 21 year-old Dylann Roof staked out the historic Emanuel AME Church in Charleston and after sitting in prayer with the elderly and welcoming parishioners, yelled, “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country, and you have to go.” On that tragic day, June 17, 2015, he methodically murdered nine people with the intent to kill more.

Because Roof was seen in photos linking his racist beliefs to the Confederate flag, because he slaughtered people in a church and because he killed a known and respected member of South Carolina’s State House of Representatives, the state’s politicians were finally shamed into heeding the four decades old call by black and progressive residents to remove the flag from the capitol grounds. After two days of emotional debate in the State House the flag was brought down on July 10, 2015 at 10 am.

State Representative Jenny Anderson Horne, a descendant of Jefferson Davis, leader of the Confederacy, said this in a raw and tearful plea as she pointed to black state representatives in the House Chambers:

“This flag offends my friend Mia McCloud, my friend John King, my friend Rev. Neal. I cannot believe that we do not have the heart in this body to do something meaningful, such as take a symbol of hate off these grounds on Friday.”

And she continued in her appeal, if this “is not done now, one is telling the widow of Senator Pickney and his two children that they do not matter…”

Digna and Me: Cuba, Race, and Transnational Solidarity

By Lisa Brock, Senior Editor and Academic Director, Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership

On December 17, 2014, President Obama announced to great excitement that he planned to modify the 55-year-old US blockade against Cuba. Given that Congress passed major pieces of the embargo law, Obama is limited in what he can do. Yet, a robust set of negotiations has begun. Lisa Brock recently returned from Cuba, where there is both excitement at the possibilities of open ties with the US, and concern over Obama’s hostile turn towards Venezuela, Cuba’s strongest ally. Interestingly, many of Brock’s US-based colleagues have asked her, did you yet see changes as a result of the US turn toward normalization? Brock’s answer is this: Cuba is always changing and has been shifting towards a mixed economy on its own terms for years. Normalizing relations with the US is just the latest move in this direction. As Tom Hayden wrote in The Democracy Journal,[i] it is not Cuba that has been stuck and isolated but the US. Brock, for one, has been writing about and engaging in solidarity with Cuba for 25 years.

Last summer (2014), my friend, colleague and “hermana” Dr. Digna Castañeda Fuertes spent three months with me, here in the US. Digna is a 78-year-old Cuban woman and is the first black professor emeritus in the 285-year-old history of the University of Havana. While this may at first seem dumbfounding, it shouldn’t.  Harvard University, founded in 1636, did not grant emeriti status to an African-American until 1999, which was during its 363rd year. Slavery and racism prevented blacks from employment and status at most predominantly white institutions of higher education throughout the Americas until the 1960s. For US-blacks, increased opportunities in higher education are due to the Civil Rights Movement. For blacks in Cuba, it has been the result of the Cuban revolution.

Digna spent last summer with me because I am writing a biography of her. My desire to do this biography came about after an interview I did of Cuban filmmaker Gloria Rolando Casamayor for a British publication. It struck me that Gloria and Digna are not just Cuban collaborators with whom I have worked in solidarity for nearly twenty-five years. These two extraordinary women are the Cuban revolution. They were among the cohorts of young people who made the revolution, benefitted from it, still believe in it and are struggling to make it better.

Rage Against the Narrative: How to Understand Psychic Violence and Murder

By Lisa Brock, Academic Director Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership

Hello Praxis readers. Welcome to 2015. We launch the second year of Praxis Center with the first of a three-part series, Rage Against the Narrative, by Senior Editor Dr. Lisa Brock. Brock is a historian who is attentive to the way current issues have deep historical roots but are often overlooked or negated in popular renderings.  She is also interested in disrupting and disturbing subliminal power conventions that become so normalized that they are often invisible to some yet cause ongoing psychic harm to others. The series is written in response to the uprising sparked by the killings of unarmed black people throughout the US. The three epigraphs below are gestures to each part.

“The Whole Damn System is Guilty as Hell.” Ferguson Protest Chant
“I don’t do diversity, I do triage.” Donte Hilliard, Former Asst. Dean & Director, Multicultural Student Center, University of Wisconsin, Madison
“To say Obama is progress is saying that he’s the first black person that is qualified to be president. That’s not black progress. That’s white progress. There’s [sic] been black people qualified to be president for hundreds of years.” Chris Rock, Comedian.

Part I: “The Whole Damn System”

Remembering May Day on Labor Day: Five Lesser-Known Facts of Radical Labor History

By Lisa Brock

In 2014, more and more workers are being squeezed. Some are facing reduced hours so their employers can avoid paying for health insurance and others being forced to work 12-hour days in order to just keep their jobs. On this Labor Day, it is important that we continue to struggle for jobs for all, livable wages, and work hours that allow for everyone to have a full and meaningful life. This is what was behind the May Day struggle for the eight-hour day.

1. A day to commemorate workers in the United States emerged as a result of the fight for the eight-hour day, which emerged in the United States and around the world during the mid 19th century. Workers, who were not enslaved or indentured at the time, including children, often worked more than 10 hour days, with little right of negotiation. Workers of color and women, who were enslaved, agricultural, domestic, and/or indentured, worked more.

Twelve Years a Slave: Trauma, White Ignorance and Solidarity

By Lisa Brock, Senior Editor, Praxis Center and Academic Director of the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership

When I first thought of writing about the film Twelve Years a Slave, my primary angle was going to be about what the film teaches us about the legacy of slavery. I planned to focus on the physical and psychic violence meted out to enslaved African families in the US over a 250-year period and the tremendous pain and trauma that it caused. In fact, scholars have begun to point to what might be called “historical trauma” within black communities, as well as the disproportionate presentation of Hypertension and other illnesses among African-Americans. This, they argue is due in part to a history of racism that has given rise to health and environmental disparities today.

Dr. Nancy Krieger at Harvard University states in Unnatural Causes that:

We carry our histories in our bodies. How would we not? We carry with us    the conditions under which we were being conceived, under which we grew as a fetus. If we were born a low birth weight, that has implications for our health    as an adult. So when you measure things like people’s cholesterol levels, for example, it’s not just an innate property of people. It’s a function of who people are and what they’re exposed to in the world, what their opportunities are. You start to see biology as a biological expression of the social conditions in which we live.

This is where I had hoped to start.

And then this happened. I was on a plane flying from Detroit to Kalamazoo, Michigan when I sat next to a nice white man about 40 years old. There was a People magazine in the seat pocket in front of me and I began flipping through it. On the front was Lupita Nyong’o, the young actor who won an Oscar for her role as Patsey in Twelve Years a Slave. This row mate of mine pointed to Ms. Nyong’o and asked if I knew who she was, if I had seen the film and what I thought of it. I told him I did know who she was and I thought the film was well done. I had a few critiques but in general, I thought it was a historically sound treatment of slavery.

The World is Not Flat: Mandela, Silences, and the Need for Complex Thinking

By Lisa Brock, Senior Editor of the Praxis Center and Academic Director of the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership

At around 4:45pm on December 5, 2013, I received a text from a friend informing me that Nelson Mandela had passed. I was leaving on a trip abroad in two days and had much to do, but I stopped. Stopped organizing for my absence, stopped shuffling my papers, just stopped. And I knew instantly that I was not alone. All of my comrades around the globe, who had been a part of the momentous fight to end apartheid, were doing the same thing: stopping to pay homage to the man and the movement that had brought the Global One Percent, if not to its knees, at least to the table.

Then it commenced. Fifteen minutes later, I began receiving calls from the media asking me to comment on how “great” Mandela was, not because he was a disciplined member of a revolutionary movement whose strategies and tactics inspired the world, but because he had come out of prison a changed and softer man, a man of reconciliation. This was the narrative arc that played out over the next two weeks. So powerful was the storyline that George W. Bush attended the funeral and Ted Cruz honored Mandela in a blog. That Mandela did not seek retribution for the horrors of apartheid quickly became, for the global media, political pundits, and western politicians, his crowning achievement.

What do we make of this? The late Haitian Scholar, Michel-Rolph Trouillot, borrowed the notion of the “unthinkable” from French Theorist Pierre Bourdieu, to argue that the African-led Haitian Revolution, 1785-1803, was so unthinkable for western nations that even today its significance as the Americas’ second anti-colonial revolution

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