Tag Archives: Barack Obama

Population #ReadIn

“Racism” is such an unwieldy concept. Living in a world in which racism is one of the fundamental building blocks that shapes all our relationships, calling someone racist is somewhat akin to a fish accusing another fish of swimming in water. This is how I felt when I saw Democrats claiming that the election was won because of racism. If I were to make a list of racist things in American politics it would be just as likely to include welfare reform as the southern strategy, just as likely to include drones as border walls, and just as likely to include super-predators as a muslim registry.

I don’t want to create a false equivalency. There is a very important difference between a political party which relies on minority votes and one which tries to suppress them. There is an important difference between a party which engages in dog-whistle politics to win over swing voters and a party for which such voters are their electoral base. But that doesn’t get us away from the fact that – in American politics – we are always talking about relative racisms. Many of those supposedly racist voters voted for Obama in the last election, and many minority voters handed the election over to Trump in their state simply by staying home on election day.1 I don’t write this because I want to assign blame, but simply to illustrate how crude a tool “racism” is when trying to make sense of this all. So, if racism can’t help us, how do we talk about this phenomenon which is so central to contemporary politics?

It is not an easy riddle to solve, but one important part of the solution can be found in in the writings of Michel Foucault. Just a part of the solution, mind you, but for my own thinking on the matter it has been key. For that reason I was very happy when a bunch of anthropologists announced that they wanted to read read Michel Foucault’s lecture eleven in Society Must Be Defended as a means to think through “the interplay of sovereign power, discipline, biopolitics, and concepts of security, and race” on inauguration day. This is because the concept of biopolitics is a very useful addition to the analytical toolkit we have for talking about the diverse phenomenon grouped under the term “racism.” As with any such analytical tools, the benefits of highlighting certain features necessarily obscure others, and there are entire books written to try to sort out exactly what is lost and what is gained by using these tools; however, today I would like to simply focus on one aspect of this lecture which has been particularly useful to me: Foucault’s use of the term “population.” Continue reading

The Future at Last: Unraveling the Embargo on Cuba

[Savage Minds is pleased to publish this essay by L. Kaifa Roland who is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Kaifa is the author of Cuban Color in Tourism and La Lucha: An Ethnography of Racial Meaning (OUP, 2010) “T/racing Belonging in Cuban Tourism” (Cultural Anthropology, August 2013), and “Between Belonging and the F/Act of Niggerisation” in Trayvon Martin, Race, and American Justice: Writing Wrong (Sense Publishers, 2014). Currently, she is doing ethnographic research with Black women entrepreneurs in Havana.]

CUBA, Havana- Photographer Unknown, 'Cuba' - RESIZED

Just for the fun of it—in the aftermath of President Obama’s announcement that relations between the U.S. and Cuba were thawing—I decided to revisit the conclusion to my now ten year-old dissertation in which I had done the academically forbidden: I gazed into my “crystal ball” to imagine the future. I laid out a couple of scenarios involving Fidel Castro’s dying in office or relinquishing the position while still alive. Then I outlined another scenario that resonates with today: Continue reading

Obama was an adjunct

The press repeatedly refers to Obama as a ‘law professor’. I can see why: it plays into the public image of him as an educated (or over-educated, depending on your politics) and articulate (or inarticulate) thinker. But for those of us savvy to the world of academic hierarchy, this doesn’t quite ring true. Let’s face it: Obama was an adjunct.

According to the University of Chicago Law School Obama spent four years as a lecturer — “which signals adjunct status” according to the website — at the Law School. For eight years after that he was a ‘senior lecturer’. Chicago says that “senior lecturers…. are regarded as professors” but are “not full-time or tenure track”. If the university says he was considered a professor, then I suppose that journalists may technically be correct when they describe him that way. But I think if you ask the average academic what call someone who teaches part time and is not on the tenure track, their answer would not be “professor”.

Obama gets more cred then most adjuncts because professional schools have a different kind of faculty than academic schools, and because Chicago’s Senior Lecturers are all wealthy and powerful enough to not need the money that comes from teaching — indeed, the criteria that Chicago uses to award senior lectureships is that the recipients are eminent.

The tragedy of calling Obama a ‘professor’ while others are ‘adjuncts’ is that it is often the ‘adjuncts’ who are the heart and soul of academic departments — teaching the bread and butter courses that form the bedrock of a discipline’s curriculum. Obama, on the other hand, had the luxury of splitting his time between a political career, a private law practice, and a life as a published author. The people with the low-prestige titles are actually the ones with a deeper involvement with the day to day running of the institution. This is particularly the case at places which, unlike the University of Chicago, have larger undergraduate programs than they do graduate schools.

In calling Obama an adjunct, I’m not trying to insult him (that would just be a roundabout way of saying adjuncts status is shameful, which it is not) or suggest that he is duplicitous (since the law school itself has a press release on this topic). What I am saying is that in an era of casualization of the academic workforce, we need to make the public aware of the details of academic hierarchy, and the political economy that accompanies it. So the next time someone dismissively calls Obama an uptight ‘law professor’ let them know that he, like so many others, was off the tenure track and teaching part time. And remind them that for most people in that position, it is not an easy one to be in.