Het Vrije Woord
Geschreven door Martin Harlaar
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22 november 2021 Ben ik wel woke genoeg? (20)
'Everybody in the family was an activist'
Onlangs kwam ik op internet een artikel tegen van een theoretisch natuurkundige en kosmoloog getiteld 'Making Black Women Scientists under White Empiricism: The Racialization of Epistemology in Physics'. Ik meende aan het woordgebruik een Social Justice Warrior te herkennen en ging voor u, beste lezer, op onderzoek uit. Mag ik u voorstellen aan Chanda Rosalyn Sojourner Prescod-Weinstein, derde generatie activiste.
Bron: Twitter
Het artikel van Prescod-Weinstein begint met een vraag: 'Who is allowed to be an observer in physics, and who is fundamentally denied the possibility?' Haar antwoord, het zal u na het lezen van de voorgaande afleveringen waarschijnlijk niet meer verbazen, is dat witte mensen, vooral witte mannen dat bepalen en dat het ten koste gaat van Zwarte mensen, vooral Zwarte vrouwen. 'In this article, I propose that race and ethnicity impact epistemic outcomes in physics, despite the universality of the laws that undergird physics.' Ras en etniciteit beïnvloeden onze natuurkundige kennis, volgens Prescod-Weinstein.
_Lived experience
In kringen van Social Justice Warriors horen en lezen we vaak over de 'lived experience', de geleefde ervaring. Wat mensen meemaken, bepaalt hun blik op de wereld. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein (1982) heeft veel meegemaakt en haar geleefde ervaring een vooraanstaande plaats gegeven in haar werk. Maar zij is mede gevormd door de ervaringen van haar ouders en grootouders. Op internet kwam ik een lang interview tegen waarin zij daarover vertelt. Dat interview bracht mij op het idee om haar in deze aflevering alle ruimte te geven om haar verhaal in haar eigen woorden te vertellen. Daarvoor putte ik ook uit haar boek The Disordered Cosmos: A Journey into Dark Matter, Spacetime, & Dreams Deferred dat maart 2021 verscheen.
_A family of activists
Op 10 november 2020 nam 'oral historian' David Zierler van het American Institute of Physics haar een lang interview af. Het transcript telt meer dan 20 000 woorden en staat in zijn geheel op internet. Ze vertelde uitgebreid over haar activistische familie die voor haar een voorbeeld is.
Chanda met haar ouders in 1986
_Margaret Prescod, moeder van Chanda
'My mom was born in a small village in Barbados, so she always refers to herself as a village girl. She was born in a chattel house, which … Chattel house has various meanings, but basically she was born when Barbados was still part of the British Empire, so at the time that she was born, it was the Barbados Colony. Her parents were both teachers, so they were a little bit better off than the rest of the people in the village, but pretty much everybody was sort of living in the aftermath of slavery in Barbados, like anybody who was black like my mom’s family.'
'A week before she turned 13, her family moved to the United States, … my mother's grandmother had been in the United States since the '20s. She had my grandmother out of wedlock and needed … She wanted to marry my great-grandfather, but his family was basically against it, and when she got pregnant, they shipped him to England. So she went to New York and left my grandmother behind. She went and worked as a domestic servant in New York City, and my grandmother was raised mostly by her aunts and basically didn't see her mother until they moved to the United States on my grandmother's birthday. She was either in her late thirties or early forties when they moved to the United States. They were sponsored I think by my grandmother's father, actually.
So my mom had this whole transition, and for this reason, when I was growing up, what I heard was my mother had an American accent as far as I was concerned. My mom had two aunts, my grandmother's half-sisters who were American-born who were very involved in civil rights activism. They arrived in 1961, and so things were really taking off in New York. They were taking off in the United States, and so my mom was immediately steeped in black American civil rights organizing pretty much as soon as she stepped off the plane from Barbados and has been an activist ever since then.
So my entire concept of like identity until I went to college as a result is kind of this trajectory that my mom took was that we were black Americans, that slavery was our story, that I didn't see kind of the same borders that I think some … We're hearing more and more like on social media that people articulate some of these borders. So actually, one of my middle names is Sojourner after Sojourner Truth, so it’s like very much embedded. So that's my mom.'
_Sam Weinstein, vader van Chanda
My dad has his own immigration story and is unusual in a very different way. So my dad is a white Ashkenazi Jew.
His ancestors are people who came over in the early 20th century escaping pogroms.
I like to tell people that I'm Brooklyn on both sides because my mom's family was in Brooklyn and then my dad's parents were both in some ways very much stereotypical like born in Brooklyn, loud New York Jews. My grandmother Selma is definitely still, I think by all accounts, a very loud and outspoken Jew. I think that usually people don't make the Brooklyn connection because she's been living in England for so long that she has sort of an English accent now, but she's like extremely Brooklyn.
My dad's parents moved to Los Angeles after they got together, and so my dad was born in Los Angeles. Then his parents divorced and my grandmother married C. L. R. James, who is now well-known and researched in black studies circles. He wrote what is considered one of the definitive histories of the Haitian Revolution, The Black Jacobins. They got married during the McCarthy era, and so he ended up being incarcerated in Ellis Island for overstaying his visa because he was a black Trinidadian Marxist, which like that was not the time to be a black Trinidadian Marxist wandering around the United States. So as a result of this, my dad left the United States when he was about five and didn't come back for any serious period of time until he was in his twenties after he had gone to university. So he grew up in Trinidad and the UK mostly.
My grandmother, Selma James, stayed in the UK in the long term. She's never left, and she, during that time period, was doing lots of organizing. In the early '70s she founded the International Wages for Housework Campaign along with, I think, Silvia Federici is better known for her associations with Wages for Housework, but actually, it was Selma who started the organization. She wrote this pamphlet, "Sex, Race, and Class", which was really like an early articulation of what a lot of people would refer to these days as intersectionality theory. My mom read it in New York in the early '70s—this is right after my mom had graduated from Long Island University—and my mom was convinced that a black woman had written it because she just like couldn't imagine.
So at some point, I guess my mom and her friend Wilmette Brown borrowed some money or something like that to go to England to see Selma. They just really wanted to meet her, and my dad happened to be visiting his mother from the United States at the time, and that's how my parents got together.
My dad had grown up raised by a white mother and a black stepfather, right? So my dad didn't see his father a lot when he was a kid because my biological grandfather was in Los Angeles. He was a machine worker. So it wasn't … and nobody in the family … Like my dad basically grew up on welfare. That's what happens when your family are Marxists, right? [Laughs] So nobody had a lot of money. I think my dad saw his father like maybe twice after he left the United States, so actually, him moving to Los Angeles I think was quite a big deal because that's when he and his father were actually able to develop a real relationship.
On my mom's side of the family, I think people mostly just thought it was strange that my mom had married a white guy. [Laughs] He was actually my mom's second husband, so my mom had been previously married to a fellow teacher and … yeah. It was never an issue that I was aware of. I would say like my two grandmothers were quite close. Whenever my mom and my grandmother … Whenever my mom and my dad's mother Selma were doing like activist stuff that involved spending time at the United Nations in New York, my mom's mother, Elsa, always hosted everybody like sleeping on her floor, sleeping on the couch. It was often like a huge group of like white lesbians, and that was like … It was like never an issue. I think everybody was on the same page about like civil rights and justice. So I grew up in a very, I would say, racially integrated family and but not assimilated. It's important to make that distinction very, very clear.
My parents separated when I was five. My dad remarried. He married my stepmother who is Mexican-American, so when I say and I grew up in El Sereno in east Los Angeles, which is a Mexican-American, Mexican immigrant neighborhood, but where we had white, Black, and Asian American neighbors. So for me it was very normal to see lots of people of different backgrounds who were all working together.
I was primarily raised by my mother. Even before my parents separated, my dad was often gone.
Bron: opendemocracy.net (november 2015)
Wie de namen van grootmoeder Selma James, vader Sam Weinstein en moeder Margaret Prescod googelt, zal zien dat ze alle drie nog altijd zeer actief zijn. Sam Weinstein is een gepensioneerd vakbondsman en woont in Londen. Op 13 juli 2018 deed hij mee aan een anti-Trump-demonstratie in Londen. Hij liep daar met een bord op zijn buik waarop stond: 'DUMP TRUMP, No Racism No Islamophobia, Women of Colour GWS'.
_'The way I think'
Terug naar het boek The Disordered Cosmos van Chanda Prescod-Weinstein. In de 'acknowledgments' schrijft ze onder andere:
'Though my name is on the cover, I know that no one thinks alone. I have tried to write in rhythm with the ancestors. (…) I am grateful that I've spent the first thirty-eight years of my life learning tenacity from Margaret Prescod, the most influential thinker in my life. (…) Many other people helped raise me and shape the way I think, including my dad Sam, my stepmother Maria, my stepfather Maarten, my Grandma Elsa z"l [= 'haar nagedachtenis zij tot zegen'], my Grandpa Norman z"l, my grandmother Selma, my Auntie Roz and Uncle George, and my uncle Peter and Aunt Ina.'
Prescod-Weinstein verwoordt heel duidelijk hoe zij over de USA en zijn geschiedenis denkt. Daarin klinken de geluiden van vorige generaties anti-racistische activisten door.
'The Unites States is a system that begins with land dispossession and enslavement in service of one racialized group, at the expense of "the others." Via this system, the American state is able to exercise total control over the lives of people of color, especially those of us who are Black or Indigenous. Our opposition groups – Black Lives Matter, the American Indian Movement, the Black Panthers, the Young Lords, sovereign Indigenous nations – are primarily outlawed as terrorist organizations, or forced to operate under rules created by a state that is determined to strip its opponents of the power to effect change.'
Prescod-Weinstein vat een en ander in een hedendaags agitprop-jargon samen:
'American white supremacy is a total authoritarian structure that shapes every aspect of Black lives.'
In eerdere afleveringen hebben we gezien dat gender in het Land van Woke een belangrijke rol speelt en dat komt ook terug in The Disordered Cosmos. Prescod-Weinstein lijkt daar nogal mee te worstelen.
'One way of describing the fact that I don't have an internal sense of gender but move through the world as a woman is to say that I am genderless, but that my sex in relation to culture is female. Beneath the substrate of these descriptions is a more complex reality. The bifurcation between gender and sex is artificial, yet in recent years describing my own sense of self seems to require clinging to some distinction between the two. The words represent different things to me, and at the same time, I know they represent wholly other concepts and experiences to people who are completely different from me. It's important to also recognize that academic consumption of identities can act as a form of disciplining and control. (…) [p.178]
Trans women of color, especially Black trans women, have historically been some of our most important philosophers but also are murdered at disproportionate and frightening rates. (…) [p.179]
I simply want to make note how white empiricist science – an umbrella that I construct to include transmisogynistic and patriarchal science – shapes the discourse about who counts as human and the ways in which people are allowed to be human.' [p.179]
Witte (met name mannelijke) wetenschappers bepalen, volgens Prescod-Weinstein, wie als mens telt. Het lijkt mij een nogal beperkte kijk op de werkelijkheid, maar misschien ben ik nog altijd niet woke genoeg, terwijl mijn ontdekkingstocht door het Land van Woke toch al vele afleveringen duurt.
Hoofdstuk elf van The Disordered Cosmos heeft als titel: 'Rape is part of this scientific story'. Daaronder staat zowaar een heuse trigger warning! 'Content warning: This chapter covers difficult topics, including sexual assault.' Prescod-Weinstein had getwijfeld, zo schrijft ze, of ze dit hoofdstuk wel in het boek moest opnemen. Ze was bang dat de media-aandacht zich hier op zou richten. Ook wilde geen ze meisjes bang maken, 'the most likely victims of rape culture', en ten slotte wilde ze meer zijn dan haar 'experience with rape'.
'Rape is part of my scientific story because every day, at least once a day, I think about rape. I think about how I was raped. I question whether it is OK to call what happened to me "rape". I think about the fact that many women are raped, and most women experience sexual harassment of some kind at some point in their lives. I think about what he said to me when my clothes came off: "You know, you actually have a cute body there.” He was surprised. He was giving me drinks all night and then marijuana and he was surprised my body was cute. Why was he planning to fuck me if he didn't feel that way.' (…)
'I am a rape victim. I am supposed to say survivor. Sometimes I do. That is my identity to. (…) Maybe it was consensual and I'm making a big deal out of nothing, I think. For the first two weeks, I didn't remember saying "no". I just knew I wanted to die, drive my car off a cliff, those things. But then I remembered saying "no".'
_Het persoonlijke is politiek
Voor Chanda Prescod-Weinstein vormen haar persoonlijke leven, haar politieke ideologie en haar aanwezigheid in de wereld der wetenschap een onontwarbare kluwen, maar dat geldt voor meer Social Justice Warriors. Wie met haar over wetenschap wil praten, zal derhalve geconfronteerd worden met haar politieke ideologie en haar persoonlijke leven als feministische, Zwarte, joodse, queer, agender vrouw met de pronouns 'she/they'.
Op 26 mei 2021 zou Chanda Prescod-Weinstein op de Universiteit van Oregon een lezing houden met als titel 'Scientists vs. Science: Race, Gender, and Anti-Intellectualism in Science'. De lezing ging niet door, maar ik wilde u toch de informatie geven die bij de aankondiging werd gegeven (de onderstreping is van mij):
Bron: website Oregon Humanities Center
Dat voor Prescod-Weinstein woke-ideologie en wetenschap onlosmakelijk met elkaar verbonden zijn, had ze al eerder duidelijk gemaakt. Theoretisch natuurkundige en kosmoloog Lawrence Krauss schreef in een artikel dat op 2 juni 2021 in het webmagazine Quillette werd gepubliceerd over een optreden van Prescod-Weinstein (zonder haar naam te noemen) tijdens een wetenschappelijk seminar.
'I happened to attend another online talk by this individual, in this case a physics seminar. Each slide shown also included a reference to a different racist incident that had happened in the US. Speaking to other colleagues after the seminar, I wasn't the only one who questioned the appropriateness of this political commentary from beginning to end in a seminar on dark matter, as I would have equally squirmed had each slide quoted a different lie uttered by Donald Trump when he was President. Yet none of us spoke up at the time to raise any concerns.
We need to be willing to be more vocal up front in our critical assessment of nonsense emerging in academic science settings. In more reasonable times, this nonsense would never have passed the selection criteria applied by seminar organizers in any serious academic department in the first place. In current times, such gibberish instead helps promote a dangerously distorted view of science that can fall upon receptive ears among even senior academic administrators.'
_'Such matters should not be considered'
Chanda Prescod-Weinstein is een uiterst kritische vrouw met een uitgesproken mening. In The Disordered Cosmos schreef zij op p.240: 'The United States did business with Hitler until it had no choice but to go to war with him'. Een van de Amerikaanse bedrijven die zaken deed met Hitler was de General Motors Corporation. GM was eigenaar van Opel en in de jaren dertig de grootste autofabrikant in Nazi-Duitsland. Alfred P. Sloan, de toenmalige baas van GM, verdedigde in 1939 zijn nauwe samenwerking met Hitler tegenover een kritische aandeelhouder: inmenging in de zaken van de Nazi's kon deze laatsten alleen maar van GM vervreemden, en dat was niet in het (winst)belang van GM: 'To put the proposition rather bluntly, such matters should not be considered the business of the management of General Motors' (geciteerd in The Jewish News of North California, 1 december 2006).
'Doing business with Hitler'
Dit jaar ontving Chanda Prescod-Weinstein de Edward A. Bouchet Award: 'This award promotes the participation of underrepresented minorities in physics by identifying and recognizing a distinguished minority physicist who has made significant contributions to physics research and the advancement of underrepresented minority scientists'. Interessant weetje: De Edward A. Bouchet Award wordt financieel gesteund door de Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
Als we de erfzonde-redenering van de Social Justice Warriors volgen, heeft Chanda Prescod-Weinstein zich dan met terugwerkende kracht mede schuldig gemaakt aan de Holocaust door een award te accepteren die financieel wordt ondersteund met geld dat verdiend is door zaken te doen met nazi-Duitsland?
In de volgende aflevering zullen we Chanda Prescod-Weinstein nog even tegenkomen, als we aandacht besteden aan 'decolonisation',  een bezigheid die behoorlijk populair is op universiteiten.
Het Vrije Woord
In het kader van het 'Grote vragen'-project (Diversiteit & Dialoog staan daarin centraal) probeert Martin Harlaar, in samenwerking met het Humanistisch Verbond, tot de kern van belangrijke maatschappelijke thema's door te dringen. In 2021 verscheen zijn boek 'De getemde mens. Waar komt (volgens u) onze moraal vandaan?' en in 2022 'Ben ik wel woke genoeg?'. In januari 2024 verscheen 'Het gender-experiment'.
_Martin Harlaar Martin Harlaar (Amsterdam 1956) is historicus
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