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Post-Election Message to ASA Members from the Council of the American Studies Association

The election of Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency represents a dangerous crossroad. The executive actions that ban people from seven Muslim-majority countries and prohibit entry by refugees, expand the wall between the United States and Mexico, and those that have approved the advance of the Dakota Access and Keystone Pipelines, exemplify these dangers. These acts of exclusionary nationalism and the ongoing abrogation of indigenous sovereignty have long histories that reach back to the founding of the U.S. nation-state. National origins and religious affiliation have been regularly deployed throughout U.S. history to entrench structures of settler colonialism, anti-black racism, and citizenship exclusions that continue to inform this current moment. As an organization devoted to understanding the U.S. public as one differentiated along the intersecting axes of race, ethnicity, class, disability, indigeneity, gender, sex, sexuality, and religion, we recognize that the scholars, teachers, and activists constituting our membership are ideally suited to take up the task of bringing to bear the knowledges necessary to address the urgencies of the current moment in ways that reflect the long histories out of which they emerge.

The American Studies Association understands the ascendance of the Trump regime and its cascade of objectionable actions as more than just a threat to the higher educational institutions in which many of us work as researchers and teachers. Rather, we understand its emergence as a danger to the advancement of subjugated populations and the critical knowledges that they have inspired and cultivated, communities and knowledges that have revolutionized how we think of the U.S. public. We point to these knowledge formations as crucial for this moment, because they help us to imagine and reimagine struggles against the forms of repression characterizing the present.. The point of these knowledges is not to confirm the existing ideals of U.S. citizenship but to challenge how citizenship functions as a dominant rubric of repression.

The disciplining and surveillance of faculty members and students who speak out against state violence indicates that public education is increasingly being made into a weapon to be deployed against the various publics that occasioned the shifts in knowledge that reoriented the ASA from its beginnings as a project that buttressed U.S. nationalism, to an association that resoundingly critiques it. The firing and monitoring of such people do not simply represent instances of censorship, but rather are attacks on the modes of perception and understanding through which the movements for Black lives, support for Standing Rock and other Indigenous actions, the struggles for justice in Palestine, and others, make sense as necessary to refuse state violence. The ASA recognizes that these knowledge formations give us a more robust sense of what a fully achieved democracy must be.

Growing backlash against gender and sexuality studies, critical race and ethnic studies, and other critical knowledges is a retaliation against the new demos produced by minoritized communities and their knowledges.  In this context, the ASA redoubles its commitment to supporting its members’ efforts to preserve and strengthen the ground built by those communities. The attacks on whiteness studies, gender studies, critical ethnic studies, indigenous studies, settler colonial studies, and queer studies are evidence of the power of those knowledge formations and the communities out of which they emerge. American studies scholars have demonstrated that intellectual repression does not happen in a vacuum; rather, it is always part of a general social repression that affects populations and movements within and outside the academy.

Accordingly, given the inextricable link between intellectual and political dissent, we affirm in strongest possible terms our members’ right to dissent, and urge us all to claim and defend it. American studies scholarship teaches us that rubrics of ‘law and order’, patriotism, and ‘traditional values’ are discourses of retrenchment.  We must illuminate the ways their use criminalizes and stigmatizes struggles for empowerment, self-determination, and dignity. We must recognize that the repression of dissent is essential to the promotion of war, the production of unlivable conditions that cause millions of people to live as refugees and in exile; that it is necessary to the continuation of U.S. settler colonialism and the criminalization of Black lives.  Repression of dissent takes many forms, the most insidious being to narrow the field of public discourse, to reduce and simplify political and social life to binary oppositions, to replace informed debate and discussion with moral judgment, and to keep it reactive, so that critical issues, conditions, and contexts necessary to understand and intervene in the present fall off the radar of the academy and the mass media.  Under these conditions, the work of the ASA is not simply to create space against the enclosures of censorship and threats to academic freedom; it is actively to call attention to the issues and conditions that dominant discourse erases or trivializes: It is to disseminate historical, methodological, and critical knowledges, deepen understandings of matters of race, gender, sexuality, power, capitalism, land, migration, and nationalism in the tradition of the knowledge formations of Black freedom struggles, indigenous movements for sovereignty and autonomy, LBTQ liberation and activism, and the many social, political, and intellectual genealogies that inform ethnic studies, gender and sexuality studies, postcolonial critique, disability studies, and other critical movements that shape American studies today.

The right to dissent means refusing attempts to normalize what appears to be an even more authoritarian future. Our work must be in producing and disseminating both robust analyses of growing inequality and injustice, and alternatives to the conditions that sustain them.

The American Studies Association promotes the development and dissemination of interdisciplinary research on U.S. culture and history in a global context. Its purpose is to support scholars and scholarship committed to original research, critical thinking, and public dialogue. We are researchers, teachers, students, writers, curators, community organizers, and activists from around the world committed to the study and teaching of U.S. history and culture from multiple perspectives.

 

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