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Panel: Re-Imagining New Futures offers insight and dialogue regarding activism and racism

The fourth and final #GetWoke panel of the 2018 Spring Semester took place Friday, April 6, at the packed Richardson Auditorium, in Morse-Ingersoll. Titled “Re-Imagining New Futures,” the panel was sponsored by the Office of Academic Diversity and Inclusiveness (OADI) and the Weissberg Foundation and was moderated by OADI senior director Dr. Atiera Coleman. The event featured three panelists/activists: Dr. M. Shadee Malaklou, Caitlin Gunn and Dr. Steven Salaita.      

Dr. Steven Salaita, courtesy of Beloit Merit Pages

Each panelist brought a different area of focus and expertise to the panel’s primary theme, which asked the three guests to discuss how organizing and activism can avoid reproducing “what has not worked for those most marginalized within society,” while constructing and imagining new futures outside the “white, heteropatriarchal, Western

Caitlin Gunn, courtesy of University of Michigan

European gaze.”

Malaklou is currently an Assistant Critical Identities Professor at Beloit. She received her graduate degree from UC Irvine in 2016, where her research focused in large part on how anti-Blackness is reproduced.

Gunn’14 is a Beloit graduate (and McNair scholar) and a current PhD student at the University of Minnesota where her research topics include Afrofuturism, speculative fiction and Black feminist theory.

Salaita was the only panelist unaffiliated with Beloit. He is an academic and author of numerous books, most recently Inter/Nationalism: Decolonizing Native America and Palestine. He garnered national attention in 2014 when his job offer to teach at the University of Illinois was rescinded after the college reviewed various controversial tweets written by Salatia concerning Israel and Palestine (there’s even a lengthy Wikipedia article about it titled the “Steven Salaita Controversy”).   

The evening began with Coleman asking the three panelists: “as scholars who think outside the box when it comes to activism,” how would they define the term?

Gunn defined the term broadly, noting that debates about what “real” activism looks like r

Dr. M. Shadee Malaklou, courtesy of Beloit College

isks erasing “activism on the margins,” such as social media activism.

Malaklou noted that activism is something “we must do in spite of our egos,” not because of them, and that it requires a continual process of self-interrogation which is necessary but comes with a risk of narcissism. Echoing Malaklou, Salaita said that activism “is not something by which we accrue rewards.” He also stated that activism should have certain properties, such as challenging sites of power rather than reinforcing them. 

From there the talk moved into a discussion of ideal organizational structures (hierarchical/single leader movements being bad and “easy to decapitate,” versus non-hierarchical/horizontal movements, such as the organization of Black Lives Matter and the Occupy Movement being effective and avoid recreating hierarchical structures of racism etc.).

When asked by Coleman “why imagining liberatory futures is important for people of color,” Gunn cited author Toni Morrison, who said that “the function of racism is distraction.” People of color are often trapped by a survival narrative that inhibits the time and energy they have to perform the speculative work necessary to reimagine their individual and collective futures.  

Salatia used the question to discuss his stance on Palestinian liberation, saying that with “Palestine in its eleventh or twelfth period of colonization, imagining a just future is critical.” For Salatia, part of activism is “thinking beyond the limits,” a notion that strengthens his conviction that he “cannot participate in a politics that tells Palestinians to wait.”

Malaklou said that for her reimaging futures is critical because “our humanity is at stake.” While noting that various groups have had their humanity taken away at various points, Malaklou emphasized that humanity has never been given to African-Americans.

As the talk proceeded, the panel touched regularly on the recent hate crime perpetrated against African-Americans on campus and the administration’s response to it.  Salatia, for example, noted that “the idea that hate speech could be whisked away was an unconscionable proposition” and each panelist commended the draining work being done by Black students in holding Beloit and administration accountable.

Other themes that emerged in the panel included the relationship between social media and activism, rethinking “the human” as well as notions of “common sense” and “pragmatism,” and the importance of looking towards the speculative fiction of authors such as Octavia Butler as a “site of knowledge production” worthy of being taught in classes as such.

Severable memorable one-liners emerged during the panel, such as: “I’m becoming more and more convinced that Neo-Liberalism isn’t any different from Liberalism, we just added “Neo” to feel Avant-Garde about ourselves” (Malaklou), and “if my liberation is going to bother you then you’d better get used to being inconvenienced” (Salaita).    

The panel concluded with a Q and A and featured a variety of questions asked by students, including how to be a Black student and focus on getting an education without turning a blind eye to structural problems and the relationship between occupied Palestine and the American carceral state as noted by Angela Davis.

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