Fredric Jameson

Connect Intellectual Diversity to Justice Work

Diversity and Justice

(Photo Credit: Democracy Now)

Although an aggressive pursuit of racial, social, economic, and educational justice is admirable and necessary, those engaged in justice work must connect intellectual diversity to their efforts. You cannot claim to champion justice while failing to welcome and appreciate ideas and viewpoints divergent from your own. Justice isn’t justice when it’s disconnected from love. In fact, Dr. Cornel West, one of the greatest minds, public intellectuals, and fighters for justice in world history, often says, “Justice is what love looks like in public.” Are you so “woke” that you only see your ideas and viewpoints as the vehicles through which change can be instigated and engendered?

Democracy, Intellectual Diversity, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

When looking at how to create change, one doesn’t have to look any further than Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a real change agent and justice leader, the man who changed America forever. King met, engaged, and debated everyone, including racists and those desiring to kill and undermine him. He understood to develop solutions that have broad support discourse with those known and perceived to be disagreeable is required. The world-renowned slain civil rights leader was serious about democracy, keenly aware of how frank debate, especially with various opposing sides, is essential to an authentic multivocal, multiethnic democracy.

Kingian democracy, therefore, longs for inclusion, inclusion of all voices—regardless of how unsavory—revealing an unwavering faith in democratic ethics and possibilities. In Prophetic Fragments: Illuminations of the Crisis in American Religion and Culture, Cornel West (1988) asserts that: “King was convinced that despite the racism of the Founding Fathers, the ideals of America were sufficient if only they were taken seriously in practice. Therefore, King’s condemnation of and lament for America’s hypocrisy and oppression of poor whites, indigenous peoples, Latinos, and black people was put forward in the name of reaffirming America’s mission of embodying democracy, freedom, and equality” (p. 11).

King didn’t exclude the racist Founding Fathers from his notion of democracy. Unfortunately, though, too many in the postmodern epoch isolate themselves from others for far less critical differences. In this moment of increasing moral, social, cultural, political, and religious decadence, people will isolate themselves from others over the most inconsequential personal choices, including a choice not to “boycott” the NFL or make posts on social media platforms that pledge allegiance to their capricious brands of “woke.”

King embraced the reality that any valid notion of freedom and democracy must welcome intellectual diversity. As Booker T. Washington stated in his 1895 “Atlanta Compromise” speech delivered at the Cotton Estates and International Exposition in Atlanta, “In all things that are purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.” Washington, sharing some affinities with King, understood the power of intellectual diversity. Washington anticipates the Kingian “beloved community.” With agapic love, King evinced for a nation, for the globe how potent, how beautiful diversity in all of its flavors can be and how we can enjoy being “separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand.”

Postmodern Fragmentation: A Challenge for Justice Work

In Postmodernism or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, leading Marxist cultural theorist Fredric Jameson (1991) asserts that one of the central problems in postmodernism, the cultural and historical period in which we reside, is a general proclivity to cherish fragmentation and reject totality. This fatuous acceptance of fragmentation figures prominently in whether efforts to achieve racial social, economic, and educational justice are successful. Late capitalism’s cultural logic leads too many individuals, individuals claiming to work for justice, to quarrel with one another over their petty differences, sacrificing their collective interests and aspirations for their own selfish interests and wishes.

Selfishness and Justice

To overcome this troubling propensity for selfishness, courageous and indefatigable justice activists and leaders must expose the rot, the funk selfishness is. We should never allow our personal agendas and interests to hinder and supercede the collective good, interests, and aspirations. When we do, we equip and permit the elites, the oppressors, the ruling class to erect additional barriers to the work of justice that’s crucial to achieving justice.

Before you disengage with people, especially those who have the same interests and goals as you (just with differing ideas and methods pertaining to those interests and goals), recognize when your words and actions are self-defeating, frustrating the very justice work you profess to hold dear.

Dr. Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison

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Postmodern Fashion Resists Tradition

Postmodern Fashion

(Photo Credit: Postmodern Gentleman)

If one desires to stay in harmony with postmodern fashion, then he or she cannot be beholden to traditional matching strategies. In Postmodernism or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, Fredric Jameson (1991) posits that we reside in a historical epoch where fragmentation is celebrated in virtually every area of life. Fashion is not exempt from this celebration of fragmentation. One of the most vivid ways we see this fragmentation in fashion is in how people intentionally pair colors that have traditionally been considered inappropriate. For example, a man may have on a purple shirt, burnt orange jeans and brown shoes. While those colors may seem to compose a disjointed outfit, postmodern fashion finds value in challenging traditional color schemes and aesthetics.

Home décor is a serious dimension of postmodern fashion. Just as it’s common to see a resistance to traditional color schemes in the clothing postmodern people wear, we find this similar phenomenon in home décor. A homeowner can have a dominant color scheme of brown in his or her living room, but can have a stylish red chair in the corner of the room to disrupt the monotony of the central color scheme. People often refer to this as adding a “pop of color.” Postmodern fashion views this fragmented “pop of color” as a beautiful contribution to one’s living room or outfit.

Although the postmodern impulse opposes more conservative color schemes and fashion styles, one should not feel compelled to conform to these schemes and styles. One’s style of dress and home décor can still look appealing and creative without embracing many of the elements of postmodern fashion that can reflect a lack of maturity. Even though postmodern fashion strives to efface the traditional notion of “tacky,” you and your home can still be quite tacky—if you succumb to many of the pressures of postmodernism.

Being self-absorbed is a dominant characteristic of postmodernism, and one of the most crippling results of being self-absorbed is a failure to have a felicitous appreciation for history. While postmodern fashion gurus see themselves as creating “novel fashion,” they’re really not producing anything new at all. Jameson (1991) has asserted that what numerous postmodern artists, including fashion gurus, do is recycle styles, traditions, and art from the past in simplistic and random ways. You should, therefore, embrace only those elements of postmodern fashion that are useful and concatenate them with elements of the past to generate truly productive fashion styles and strategies.

Dr. Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Think Beyond the Present

Life is full of noise.  Although many people can be productive when they are surrounded by noise, and many people enjoy lots of noise, try to find some quiet time for yourself each day to reflect on yourself and your future.  Far too many people situated in the postmodern epoch are not thinking beyond the present.  In Postmodernism or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, Fredric Jameson contends that ephemeral thinking is a dominant characteristic of the postmodern moment.  In The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change, David Harvey agrees with Fredric Jameson that ephemeral thought is a central characteristic of postmodernity.  While one should certainly have solemn concern about what’s going on in his or her life in the present, this should not hinder him or her from thinking about and planning for the future.

Don’t simply let your present conditions and circumstances defeat your vision for where you want to be in the future.  If you have set high aspirations for the future, then you need to find some quiet time each day to reflect on how much progress you’re making toward meeting those goals.  You need to think about solutions to your present conditions and circumstances that are hindering or that could be hindering you from reaching your goals.  Think about the things you’re investing your time in right now and resolve whether the things you’re investing your time in are conducive to moving you closer to meeting your goals.

Even if people begin to wonder why they cannot find and contact you at certain periods of the day, don’t worry about this.  Effectively planning for the future will require you to get away from it all for periods of time.  If you can only find about 15 minutes a day of quiet time, use this time wisely to reflect on yourself and your future.  You will be amazed at how much can be accomplished by just reflecting and focusing on your future for just 15 minutes a day.

During the quiet time that you’re engaged in planning for your future, always have something to write with available.  This can be pen and paper or a laptop.  It’s vital to capture your thoughts in written form.  Too many people do a whole lot of talking about what they want to do and what’s going to happen to them in their future, but they have not developed a thoughtful written plan to help lead them to achieving their aspirations.

If you’re really serious about your dreams and aspirations, you will create a written plan that contains the thought, research, and knowledge necessary to progress you toward making your dreams a reality.  Yes, you must think about aspirations and discuss them with others, but you must inevitably construct a well-thought written plan for those aspirations to be taken seriously and for them to be achieved.

Yes, life is saturated with noise but find ways to escape the noise to plan for your future.  Just because things are not working in your favor right now does not mean that they are going to continue to not work in your favor—unless you just give up on your goals!  You may have to make changes to your goals and the details of your written plan, but you should never give up on your dreams.  Don’t let any person or thing keep you from accomplishing your goals.

References

Harvey, D. (1990). The condition of postmodernity: An enquiry into the origins of cultural change. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Jameson, F. (1991). Postmodernism or, the cultural logic of late capitalism. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison

The Postmodern Plantation System: The NCAA and Black Male Student-Athletes

Slavery is not over. Colleges and universities collectively make billions of dollars off of the athletic prowess of Black male student-athletes, but these institutions will not even give them adequate academic support in return. Many people will say that they receive free tuition and room and board and will think that they should be happy with this, considering most undergraduates don’t have this advantage. I would just like to inform people who think like this that most student-athletes don’t receive scholarships, free tuition, and room and board—only a select few receive free tuition and room and board. Even if all student-athletes were to magically be given free tuition and room and board, this would still represent a classic Marxian uneven exchange. Think about it—they provide these institutions with billions of dollars and these institutions give them free tuition and room and board in return—simply inequitable. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the governing body that oversees intercollegiate athletics, contends that paying student-athletes would be a horrible thing to do. However, the NCAA and higher education institutions do not think that it’s horrible to pay Teaching Assistants. Why not simply make graduate students teach for free as a part of their degree requirements? Exactly! They know that graduate students are too sophisticated and too politically organized to allow themselves to be exploited in such a way.

Just as those Teaching Assistants receive free tuition and a monthly stipend in return for their service, institutions should give all student-athletes monthly stipends in return for their service. Many athletic departments require student-athletes to do community service projects, visit sick children in hospitals, and other charitable things, but they are not paid a dime for this service—the athletic departments simply get to benefit from the charity of these student-athletes.

Billy Hawkins, Kinesiology professor at the University of Georgia, has written a book, The New Plantation: Black Athletes, College Sports, and Predominantly NCAA Institutions (2010), that posits that predominantly White colleges and universities are functioning very much like the colonial plantations did during slavery. For Hawkins, Black male student-athletes are slaves at these predominantly White institutions. He does an excellent job of evincing how these institutions exploit Black male student-athletes academically and physically.

I do, however, disagree with Hawkins that these institutions are functioning very much like colonial plantations during slavery. In Postmodernism or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (1991), Fredric Jameson asserts that we are currently residing in late capitalism, a stage of capitalism that makes it much more the global dominant and much more of a deceptively attractive economic system than it was during slavery in America. Therefore, the attempt Hawkins makes to evince how Black male student-athletes are similar to slaves during slavery in America ultimately fails because his central thesis needs to be informed by a serious understanding of late capitalism (postmodernism).

My notion of colleges and universities being postmodern plantations for Black male student-athletes is informed carefully by Fredric Jameson’s characterization of postmodernism (late capitalism). During slavery in America, Black people knew without a doubt that they were slaves. Black male student-athletes do not know that they are slaves today. Many are given scholarships that pay their tuition and room and board, but this uneven exchange exploits them in academic, economic, and physical ways that are much more dishonest than during the colonial plantation system. The focus that Hawkins devotes to making connections between the treatment of slaves during slavery to the treatment of Black male student-athletes in our postmodern period are important, but he misses how much more sophisticated colleges and universities have developed the postmodern plantation.

Predominantly White colleges and universities have made most Black student-athletes think that they are happy because they get to play the sports they enjoy, get free tuition and housing, and have a chance to compete professionally. During slavery, most slaves were not happy just receiving the bare minimums. Free tuition and room and board are the bare minimums today.

The NCAA is a cartel. This despicable governing body is only interested in helping colleges and universities to keep getting richer so that the executive leadership of the NCAA can keep getting richer. The NCAA is the force that allows this postmodern plantation system to persist and that makes the postmodern plantation system increasingly more dominant. The refusal of the NCAA to allow student-athletes to be given stipends in exchange for participating in intercollegiate athletic sports is a deliberate attempt to exploit not only Black male student-athletes but all student-athletes.

The least that these predominantly White colleges and universities can do is give student-athletes enough money in the form of stipends to pay for their own private tutors, tutors outside of the athletic department.

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Higher Education in a Post-Affirmative Action Society

Too much attention has been devoted to whether or not affirmative action should be used in higher education. Many court cases have emerged surrounding the constitutionality of affirmative action. What is missing, however, is a serious exploration of what to do when affirmative action is no longer legally acceptable. When one carefully examines affirmative action, he or she can gain an understanding that affirmative action is an inadequate attempt to achieve racial and social justice in the first place. In Race Matters, Cornel West avowed this argument but made clear that affirmative action is still a small, yet significant step in the journey to achieving racial and social justice. With affirmative action being eliminated in some states and being weakened by the courts, this should not be perceived as an epoch when achieving a more diverse student and faculty population in higher education is impossible. There never should have been such an emphasis placed on affirmative action to generate an unremittingly more diverse student and faculty population in higher education. While I am not positing that affirmative action is not important, it is more useful to dedicate more time to many of the larger principles and values that gave rise to use of affirmative action in higher education. Equity and access were central to the formulation and implementation of affirmation action in higher education.

Just because we are witnessing the waning of affirmative action in higher education, does not mean that we should not be actively advocating for improved equity and access for minority students and faculty in higher education. We are going to have to approach ameliorating student and faculty diversity comprehensively. In Postmodernism or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, Fredric Jameson contended that one of the defining characteristics of postmodernism is a general celebration of fragmentation. Jameson asserted that postmodern people have a general skepticism toward seeking wholeness—totality. A serious effort to resist fragmentary thought has to accompany any critical effort to bolster student and faculty diversity in higher education. We are not going to augment student and faculty diversity in higher education if we do not champion institutionalizing improved equity and access for people of color.

One of the first things we need to do to increase the number of racial and ethnic minority students and faculty in higher education is to make an honest commitment to train educational leaders for racial and social justice. Teachers, curriculum directors, and administrators have to have an understanding of why diversity is important, and they must understand why knowledge about what racial and social justice is crucial to helping higher education institutions become more reflective of the larger society. While teachers, curriculum directors, and administrators are receiving undergraduate and graduate training, we have to let Schools of Education know that racial and social justice training needs to be an integral part of the education they receive. Students need to have a practical understanding of what racial and social justice is. At this point, minorities cannot afford for racial and social justice to be mere vocabulary words. Professors in Schools of Education have to let our future administrators, teachers, and curriculum directors know that their research, policies, and practices should be informed by racial and social justice.

Chief Diversity Officers at predominantly White colleges and universities have to offer professional development training for other administrators and professors about how to respond effectively to the diverse students they serve. These institutions must offer meaningful incentives for White professors and administrators to buy into the need for racial and social justice to be central to everything their institutions do. Schools of Education need to inform future professors, curriculum directors, and administrators about critical race theory (CRT). Engaging students with CRT gives them an opportunity to see why race must be central to all that they do in the future as educational leaders.

Higher education administrators are going to have to work harder to make sure that their predominately White institutions (PWIs) are spaces that are welcoming to all students. They must make sure their institutions are structurally welcoming to students and faculty of color. In “Nine Themes in Campus Racial Climates and Implications for Institutional Transformation,” Shaun R. Harper and Sylvia Hurtado found in over 15 years of published research that PWIs are not seriously trying to become welcoming places for people of color. One of the significant themes they found was that whiteness dominated in space, curricula, and activities at PWIs.  Higher education administrators, therefore, have to make sure that there is a greater presence of blackness in space, curricula, and activities.

At the end of the day, higher education administrators are going to have to engage in serious efforts to promote diversity at the admissions stage of the higher education pipeline. It is a social reality that access largely refers to admissions. More focused study and commitment is needed to significantly increase the number of qualified minorities who attend PWIs.

At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, one the leading research universities in the nation and world, there is an African-American student population that is less than 2%. This is pathetic—when one considers that near this institution is Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which has a significant African-American population. I am not advocating for institutions like the University of Wisconsin-Madison to admit unqualified African-American students, but the institution can certainly do much better than the less than 2% African-American student population it currently has. You can read more about my outrage at the lack of student diversity at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in a major Wisconsin newspaper here: http://badgerherald.com/news/2009/04/28/recertification_in_p.php.

Instead of arguing about affirmative action, we need to focus our attention on achieving the optimal goal of affirmative action: true racial and social justice. Racial and ethnic minorities in higher education are going to have to recognize that we need to leave discourses about affirmative action and move to discourses about racial and social justice. If we don’t do this, then we will see an exponential decline in people of color in higher education.

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison

The Longing for Ideas and Creativity in Inception

On yesterday, I had the great fortune to go watch Inception. Without a doubt, Inception is my second favorite film. My favorite film is A Beautiful Mind. As I reflect on what makes Inception such a great film, I have resolved that I do not have the time and space in this article to explain it to you. This article will not be a plot summary of the film. What I have decided to do in this article is discuss one of the dominant themes that emerge from Inception. This film reveals a serious longing for offering ideas and believing in ideas. In this article, I elect not to focus on the film per se but focus on a discussion of the longing for ideas that the film champions.

It seems that in virtually every space in American life there is a dearth of real ideas being offered. People do not have a willingness to offer ideas that will engender alternatives to the status quo. In Postmodernism or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, Fredric Jameson posits that true scholars and intellectuals offer alternatives to the status quo, even alternatives to our capitalist reality. Although people can talk about how beautifully written Inception is (and I certainly don’t disagree), the power of the film lies in its ability to inform us about what is needed to provide authentic alternatives to the status quo: a hunger for ideas and a value of creativity.

I contend that it is more vital to examine Inception’s critique of our waning value and commitment to ideas and creativity than it is for us to simply look at how beautifully written the film is. There are numerous films that are beautifully written that are harmful to disadvantaged populations, women, racial and ethnic minorities, and members of the LGBT community, so just speaking about how beautifully written it is places the film in the same category with films of this poisonous type.

I would highly recommend that all teachers, administrators, and students watch this film because it is sure to spark in you a renewed commitment to exploration, discovery, ideas, and creativity. This masterpiece, Inception, could not have been birthed without the hunger and thirst for creativity and ideas of those who are responsible for manufacturing it. When the Bush administration was considering immigration reform policy, Inception would have been a nice film for them to have closely engaged with. When the Obama administration was considering healthcare reform, Inception would have called them to explore innovative ways to ameliorate healthcare in America.

The educative value of the film for average Americans is it not only calls them to pursue ideas and creativity, but also gives them special insights into Freudian ideas about the mind, especially the subconscious/unconscious mind. The film is one that is easy enough for the average American to follow if he or she is willing to pay close attention to what’s going on, but it is also sophisticated enough to satisfy the deepest thinkers among us.

Fredric Jameson argues that postmodernism (the historical epoch in which we reside) celebrates fragmentation. A classic postmodern film, therefore, will feature a significant amount of fragmentation without any real purpose. In Inception, the fragmentation has a clear purpose: to let the viewer know that he or she can put all of the pieces together by finding his or her “home,” a home of ideas—where creativity and the generation of ideas is welcomed, encouraged, and supported. Jameson contends that people must engage in “cognitive mapping,” that is, concatenating one fragment with another to produce a totality—a whole that makes sense. This film is quite useful in providing us with an opportunity to engage in a healthy exercise in Jamesonian cognitive mapping.

Again, I encourage people to move beyond simply praising the writing that produced the film and move to more specific aspects about Inception that make it a great film—by doing this, you will really make a contribution to the discourse about the film. We know that the writing is great in the film—this is why the film has been such a success at the theatre, but we need to know specifically why the film is so great. I have heard and read too many praises of the film’s writing. The film is too great to reduce it to simple slaps on the metaphorical butt. Inception is certainly a film that evinces the importance of ideas and creativity.

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Hip-Hop’s Potential in South Africa

I understand that there are some problems with hip-hop, as there are with all phenomena, there is tremendous potential in hip-hop to deliver serious improvements in health in South Africa. With this idea in mind, I am seriously exploring this potential of hip-hop in my Educational Policy Studies 750 seminar course, “African Education: Past, Present, Future,” at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to improve health-related decision making in South Africa. The inspiration behind this idea is the great popularity of hip-hop on the continent of Africa and the significant meaning of songs to Africans. It is my hope that hip-hop can be used in South Africa as a tool of engendering change in health-related decision making.

When I first announced this idea in response to a question on a good friend’s Facebook status, a University of Wisconsin-Madison female student responded that South Africans need more than pamphlets being passed out to them to improve health-related decision making. While I completely understood her desire not to see more literature simply being disseminated to South Africans, this was not my simple intention. My intention is to use the full range of the power and influence of hip-hop to change the culture of health-related decision making. I think she was afraid of my use of “health literacy.” Unfortunately, her understanding of my use of health literacy was egregiously misunderstood. She does not understand that I am promoting an active, living, and meaningful notion of health literacy, one that is just as real as the hip-hop culture South Africans engage with. I do hope, however, that this young lady has not given up on the power of literature to create social change.

In Postmodernism or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, Fredric Jameson, a Marxist theorist and leading cultural critic, contends that one of the most damaging dimensions of the postmodern epoch is a rejection of thinking in terms of totality. If we were willing to think in terms of totality, we would be much more inclined to use whatever means available to us to try to ameliorate our health conditions throughout the world, including South Africa. While hip-hop has not traditionally been associated with health interventions, this should not cause us to not engage it with issues pertaining to health. Since one of the critical problems with health-related decision making in South Africa has to do with how men interact with women sexually, including the raping them, hip-hop artists have an opportunity to start communicating to them through their art about why they should value their women’s bodies better and treat them much better. These messages will certainly have some potential to reach South African boys and men in ways that we have never thought possible: The words of these hip-hop artists can become topics of great interest to them in their everyday lives–simply because hip-hop artists are talking about issues pertaining to health-related decision making.

My study will be completely finished in less than a month, and I plan to publish this study in a scholarly journal. I will make access to this study available on this site after it has been published. I look very forward to concluding my work that will offer South Africans and potentially people across the globe new solutions for improving health-related decision making.

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison