UCLA Black Studies Professors Critique Neoliberalism

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Arturo Samaniego
Staff Writer

A panel comprising of former UCSB Professor Gaye Theresa Johnson and Dr. Robin Kelley was held at a full house at the MultiCultural Center Theater, moderated by former A.S. Associate Director for Media Elizabeth Robinson. The panel discussed a range of issues dealing with the recent inauguration of President Donald Trump, the social atmosphere the community is in, how to respond to this new atmosphere, how the community has reached this point, and what to do next.

Johnson, now a professor at UCLA, began her remarks by citing a piece by former UCSB professor Cedric Robinson concerning confronting discrimination and pushing for equality. She further elaborated that the public must be “conscious of what is happening,” recognizing the forms of discrimination abundant in society; they have always been present and did not just suddenly disappear with the election of President Barack Obama and reappear with the election of Trump.

Johnson went onto comment that the audience must also be aware that xenophobia has also long been present in society alongside racism, explaining that the public has always know about dislike for immigrants but until now “never had a slogan for it, build the wall.”

“We have to win back and give back,” Johnson said, following with being proactive, not just reactive, and to join together to combat discrimination not just resign to despair. Despite this remark she did acknowledge that “we all have our entitlements to feel depressed,” but still we must take note of the “obscurity of the regimes we are surrounded by.” Communities have to be sure to recognize veiled discrimination, as Johnson stated will sometimes be passed off as necessary for national security.

The other speaker of the evening, Kelley, cited W. E. B. Du Bois to express how ignorance has been cultivated, allowing the election of Trump to catch people off guard. Kelley, also a UCLA professor, elaborates that after the election of Obama, pundits and people in general were quick to disregard racism as a prevailing problem in society. The prosecution of whistleblowers over those that negatively affected the economy and the expansion of neoliberalism were just some of the problems Kelley also touched upon.

Kelley took time to address the problem of neoliberalism, stating that Trumpism is a “continuation of neoliberalism logic and authoritarianism.” As Kelley put it, this ideology can lead to a decline of the nation, and is merely “heightened neoliberalism,” which is a belief that the government can be run as a business. As evidence for Trump’s ideology tying back to neoliberalism, he pointed to the recent executive actions signed by Trump with no regard for judicial review.

Some final points Kelley touched upon was the “bankruptcy of our political discourse,” evident by the fact that people talk of Trump as if he is the cause rather than a symptom of neoliberalism and focus more on “Russian hacking rather than voter suppression.” Kelley also remarked that as a society people are failing in teaching children how to recognize structural racism and believing “only the powerful have the power to enact change.”

The discussion narrowed in on societal problems that have been long present before Trump and have only been heightened by his election, rather than simply focusing on Trump and the intolerance believed to have been brought about by his election. Johnson and Kelley commented on the importance of combating discrimination and the expansion of neoliberalism; despite the gravitas in fighting these problems both speakers remained optimistic.         

“We have far more to be hopeful about” than there is to fear, Johnson said.