Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Discipline and Discipline: Universalized Policing

Five Families, Oscar Lewis, 1959
“39 Siezed at Queens, But Sit-in Resumes”, New York Times, Apr 2, 1969, p1.
“In the Colleges, ‘Separate’ Could Mean ‘Inferior’ for Blacks.” New York Times, Jan 12, 1969, p E9.
The Voice of the Children, June Jordan and Terri Bush eds., 1970
Public Sphere and Experience, Oskar Negt and Alexander Kluge, 1972 (1993 translated edition)
Detroit: I Do Mind Dying, Dan Georgakas, 1975
The Privileged Many: A Study of the City University's Open Admissions 1970-1975, The Women's City Club of New York, 1975
Open Admissions at City University of New York, Jack Rossman et al, 1975
Right Vs. Privilege: The Open Admissions Experiment at the City University of New York, David Lavin et al, 1981
A Comrade is a Precious As a Rice Seedling, Mila Aguilar, 1984
The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Social Inequality in Postwar Detroit, Thomas J. Sugrue, 1996
Zero Tolerance: Quality of Life and the New Police Brutality in New York City, Andrea McArdle, 2001
Leaving Atlanta, Tayari Jones, 2002
Street Justice: A History of Police Violence in New York City, Marilynn Johnson, 2003
Memory and Cultural Trauma: Women of Color in Literature and Film, Anh Hua (dissertation), 2005
Unspeakable Thoughts, Unthinkable Acts: Toward a Black Feminist Liberatory Politics, Sara Clarke Kaplan (dissertation), 2006
"We in Redux: The Combahee River Collective's Black Feminist Statement", Brian Norman (Differences), 2007
The Witch's Flight: The Cinematic, the Black Femme and the Image of Common Sense, Kara Keeling, 2007
No Snow Here #11, Nadia, 2007

In the late 1960’s New York City officials had a problem. During the 1950’s, 700,000 white people had moved out of the city and 700.000 black and latino people from the southeastern United States and the Caribbean had moved in. The market for unskilled labor was shrinking and the resonance of southern-born freedom struggles was growing. And black and Puerto Rican people were disproportionately on the welfare rolls. The city was funding the wrong public. Without the disciplining function of factory work, how would this population learn not to be free? The police force had one answer: shoot black and Puerto Rican children on sight. But riots and organized protests in black and Puerto Rican communities voiced a clear rejection of this form of discipline. Starting in the mid-1960’s it became increasingly difficult to ignore demands for a civilian review board, and even the associations for black and latino police officers within the force demanded disciplinary action against racist police violence. At the height of this controversy in 1964 the City University responded by creating the College of Police Science (COPS), which later became John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
In 1969 the City University finalized what it had planned for a decade: the expansion of the public university apparatus. And not a moment too soon. Students at Queens College had already taken over their campus, demanding the right to choose their own administrators and an autonomous structure designed with the social and intellectual desires of black and Puerto Rican students at its heart. Students at City College had followed suit, taking over more than half their campus and renaming it “Harlem University”, flying the black liberation flag and the Puerto Rican liberation flag and insisting that the College would serve the interests of black and Spanish Harlem.
The decision to use Open Admissions (which offered every high school graduate a spot in the 4 year or community college in the University system) to expand the City University was a move to quiet tensions in New York City and to supply a space of discipline to help address the loss of factory labor as a disciplining apparatus. This transformation in the tuition-free City University coincided with efforts by New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller to expand the State University of New York. Furthermore this creation of a seemingly level playing field helped to justify the gradual shifting of government funds away from the social welfare programming, a shift which would reach its height in the Reagan years. The transformation of the university to include “minorities” then is not necessarily a simply progressive act.
I argue that the expansion of the public university system in New York in the 1960’s and 1970’s was an instance expanded discipline. Furthermore this particular context reveals the intricate relationship between the university apparatus and the police apparatus. Understanding the expansion of the university as part of the same disciplinary project that would lead to the expansion of the prison system by 400 percent in the decades that followed means we have to pay close attention to the function of the "Academic Industrial Complex" a topic that many brilliant people convened to talk about at University of Michigan recently.

What do teachers do when the University is a trick, a trap a prison...but is at the same time one of the few places where writers and thinkers can make a living, one of the few spaces of sustained and supported intergenerational dialogue. What happens when the most accessible portal to the future (not particularly accessible to begin with) is a prison? How do we teach here, think here, live here without forgetting what freedom might be?

Audre Lorde and June Jordan were case studies in this predicament. They were both conscripted into the ranks of "composition" instructors during this period. They were hired to manage the changed population of the City University of New York. They were supposed to be teaching the unruly to think inside the lines, believe within the structure...and they did...and they didn't.

Audre Lorde's teaching experience is the most poignant illustration of this point. After teaching, with June Jordan at City College and supporting the campus takeovers, she was hired as the first black member of the english faculty to teach at John Jay College of Criminal Justice...which moved to a new campus (appropriately an empty former factory complex) right as the new open admissions policy came to pass. Imagine this teaching environment....almost 100% male attendance, a stronghold of white ethnics...mostly irish, a new population of students from highly policed areas mostly black and puerto rican...and everyone but Lorde is wearing a uniform...everyone but Lorde has a loaded gun. Teach composition here.

In this most unlikely of utopian sites, Lorde pushed against discipline for transformation. She expanded past composition to teaching about institutional racism (the composition of the racist police state), she co-taught the first women's studies class and opened the converted factory rooms of John Jay to the mothers, girlfriends and wives of police officers and to the women of the NYC lesbian scene...pushing the open-ness of admissions well past their target audience for target practice.

In the 1990’s the state of California had a problem. Again, it was a problem of migration and public resources. The displacing impact of US trade interests in Central America had increased migration into California markedly. In 1986, California legislators amended their constitution to make English the official language of the state, beginning a series of “English only” legislative acts that continue to impact public education. And in 1994, the state sought to respond to increased immigration with Proposition 147, which would have required local police officers to collaborate with Immigration and Naturalization Services and denied health services to anyone not able to prove legal residence. At the same time, California was engaged in population control via the largest prison build-up in the country. Proposition 147 was defeated, but the growth of prison funding by billions of dollars continued (and continues). And again this problem of an unruled and unruly public had an impact on the university. Discipline is flexible, it will sometimes do opposite things to achieve the same ends. In this case the University constricted admissions by refusing affirmative action.

This was when June Jordan, not coincidentally, published her book of political essays entitled "Affirmative Acts". Jordan was in the newspaper and in the street demanding the structural acknoweldgement of racism within the University of California...on the level of admissions and also on the level of the extreme funding differences between the elite campus (her own Berkeley the best example of this) and the crowded community colleges. (Professors were/are paid less to teach more students, who arguably need more time with faculty to remedy short lifetimes of being educationally suppressed.)
And this was when and where June Jordan created a disciplinary intervention that lives on. The Poetry for the People curriculum, a creative writing/ethnic studies/literature/blackstudies/service learning/performance/student taught/high school inclusive/undepartmentalizable course, was democratic in form and content (in fact giving the word "democratic" a new poetic life after what Chandra Mohanty and M. Jaqui Alexander call the colonization of the word democracy by narratives of neo-liberal capital), juxtaposes discipline and poetic rigor which Jordan calls the art of telling the truth. Poetry produces the people
out of line(s).

Let's go.

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