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Plantation Politics and Neoliberal Racism in Higher Education: A Framework for Reconstructing Anti-Racist Institutions

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Overcoming the deeply embedded anti-Black racism and colonial heritage of North America is an ongoing project. Scholars have yet to explicate fully the ways that racism and colonialism are foundational to the construction of institutions of higher education. Plantation politics provides the opportunity to reveal parallel organizational and cultural norms between contemporary higher education institutions and slave plantations. To better explore the applicability of this theory, the authors share an example of the parallel between slave plantations and contemporary universities called "The Oxymoronic Social Existence of Whites (or Neoliberalism as the New Slave Code)" and its implications for campus practice toward racial liberation. The authors argue that the institutional logics of colonialism and imperialism-which were essential to the establishment of this country and led to the creation of plantations and the enslavement of Black bodies-exists within higher education institutions today.
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Teachers College Record Volume 120, 140307, 2018, 20 pages
Copyright © by Teachers College, Columbia University
0161-4681
Plantation Politics and Neoliberal Racism
in Higher Education: A Framework for
Reconstructing Anti-Racist Institutions
DIAN SQUIRE
Iowa State University
BIANCA C. WILLIAMS
CUNY–The Graduate Center
FRANK TUITT
University of Denver
Overcoming the deeply embedded anti-Black racism and colonial heritage of North America is
an ongoing project. Scholars have yet to explicate fully the ways that racism and colonialism
are foundational to the construction of institutions of higher education. Plantation poli-
tics provides the opportunity to reveal parallel organizational and cultural norms between
contemporary higher education institutions and slave plantations. To better explore the ap-
plicability of this theory, the authors share an example of the parallel between slave planta-
tions and contemporary universities called “The Oxymoronic Social Existence of Whites (or
Neoliberalism as the New Slave Code)” and its implications for campus practice toward racial
liberation. The authors argue that the institutional logics of colonialism and imperialism—
which were essential to the establishment of this country and led to the creation of plantations
and the enslavement of Black bodies—exists within higher education institutions today.
I’m weary of the ways of the world/
Be weary of the ways of the world/
I’m weary of the ways of the world/
I’m gonna look for my body yeah/
I’ll be back real soon/But you know that a king is only a man/
With flesh and bones, he bleeds just like you do/
He said “where does that leave you”/
“And do you belong?” I do. I do.
–Solange Knowles
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Over the past year, a few impactful albums have dropped, including Solange
Knowles’ Seat at the Table. In a song called “Weary,” Solange brought to the
fore the way many people feel after waking up post-election on November
9, 2016 (Knowles, 2016, Track 2). She sings in the lines above about a
tiredness with the state of anti-Black racism and the place of Black people
in a racial hierarchy, particularly as no justice has been served for the
killings of Black people by police across the nation. She searches for her
place in the world and implores the listener to examine critically how so-
ciety works to maintain white supremacy. Ultimately, she is recalled to a
time of being figuratively questioned if she belongs, and responds, “I do.
I do.” So you, reader, do.
Yet, overcoming the deeply embedded anti-Black racism and colonial
heritage of North America is an ongoing project—a project that requires
constant theorizing and directed action in order to be called “success-
ful.” As a broadly atheoretical field, scholars have yet to explicate fully
the ways that racism and colonialism are foundational to the construction
of institutions of higher education. Undoubtedly, connections between
the physical manifestation of colleges and universities and the support-
ing funding, curricular structure, and purposes of early institutions have
been implicated by Wilder (2013) in Ebony and Ivy. He vividly portrays the
labor of Black slaves and Native peoples during early colonial times, and
his work has catalyzed universities around the United States to rename
buildings and delve into the connection of slavery and universities (e.g.,
George Washington University, University of Georgia), changed position
titles (e.g., “Masters” at Yale University; Salovey, 2016), and bolstered on-
going divestment campaigns that have sought to splinter universities from
investments in neoliberal, globalized terror (e.g., Boycott, Divestment and
Sanctions movements at Tufts University; Hertz, 2017).
However, we do not believe that all of the threads of theorizing slav-
ery and slave plantations to contemporary universities have been spun.
Here we offer the framework of “plantation politics” as an opportunity to
reveal parallel organizational and cultural norms between contemporary
higher education institutions and slave plantations. Miller and Genovese
(1974) write in their introduction to Plantation, Town, and Country that
“although [new means of studying slave life] must always be forthcoming
[…] Perhaps it would be better to say that the time has come to apply
and test our hypotheses, theories, and methods, old and new, in a more
rigorous and specific way” (p. 2). As we begin to construct this framework
for a book project titled Campus Rebellions and Plantation Politics: Power,
Privilege, and the Emancipatory Struggle in Higher Education, we intend to do
what Miller and Genovese ask, recognizing that old ideologies and tools
for oppressing and marginalizing people of color are connected to newer
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Plantation Politics and Neoliberal Racism in Higher Education
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strategies of repression and policing within universities. Shifting political
contexts, rapid technological advances, and ever-evolving material reali-
ties affect the daily lives of students, faculty, staff, and administrators on
our campuses. Additionally, the university is easily identifiable as one of
the primary sites for debate, experimentation, and attack when it comes to
issues related to freedom of speech, democracy, and ideological warfare.
While we push to apply this framework to specific campus environments
and student movements in the book, here we identify key aspects of plan-
tation politics.
Plantations and their main form of production—enslaving Black
Africans—formed due to a colonial imperialist need for land, religious
and racial superiority, and economic power from the early 1600s to the
late 1800s (Durant & Knottnerus, 1999). For this chapter, we directly dis-
cuss plantations that existed on the United States mainland. Although we
recognize that Trans-Atlantic slave trade had a significant impact on the
creation of the modern global economic market, it has also been widely
written that the plantations existing in South America and the Caribbean
had their own norms and culture, which are beyond the scope of this par-
ticular chapter (Dessens, 2003). In fact, not only do scholars believe that
plantations existed differently by country, but that plantations, slave fam-
ily relations, and owner-slave relations varied based on geography within
the United States, leaving much room for future exploration (Miller &
Genovese, 1974; Pargas, 2010).
Despite these variations, the vestiges of those colonial, imperialist mind-
sets still exist in the many “neos” that scholars and experts speak of today:
namely, neoliberalism, neoconservatism, neocolonialism, and neofascism.
Each has transformed across time (indubitably appropriating the prefix
neo-) and continues to influence policy, behavior, and culture within the
United States (Giroux, 2002, 2015; Harvey, 2005). Furthermore, they are
connected to the many ways in which universities reach beyond borders
and engage in economic globalization. Recently, The Movement for Black
Lives and the Indigenous communities that organized at Standing Rock
repeatedly made visible the legislative and economic linkages between the
not-so-long-ago past and the colonial and imperialist present. We follow
the lead of these organizers, arguing that the institutional logics of co-
lonialism and imperialism—which were essential to the establishment of
this country and led to the creation of plantations and the enslavement
of Black bodies—exist within our higher education institutions today
(Thornton, Ocasio, & Lounsbury, 2012).
We posit that campuses engage in contemporary plantation politics.
People of color, and particularly Black people, are exploited in various
ways for economic gain at the sake of their humanity. Campus rebellions
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are on the rise, as residents and workers in campus communities become
ever more aware of the ways higher education institutions perpetuate tra-
ditional colonialist logics steeped in anti-Black racism, and utilize violent
practices of suppression that do physical, emotional, and mental harm.
In these moments, students, staff, and faculty demand that we engage in
change that transforms the campus.
In a similar vein, scholars such as Cheryl Matias (2015) have written
about what she calls the neoplantation. In her article, “‘I Ain’t Your Doc
Student’: The Overwhelming Presence of Whiteness and Pain in the
Academic Neoplantation,” she provides a counternarrative of her experi-
ence in academia as a person of color who teaches about whiteness and
the racial battle fatigue she endures while battling white supremacy. She
discusses the “racial humiliation” (p. 60) and emotional injuries she suf-
fers as a result of being a faculty woman of color. Matias writes,
sometimes academy life is nothing more than a neoplantation;
faces and bodies of faculty of color are sold to college websites
for statistical proof of diversity in higher education […] we must
sit next to our white administrators, those who expect us to be-
have like Uncle TomsUnder the surveilling eyes of the college’s
administration, like trained dogs we are expected to bark a false
truth about the romance of being faculty of color in the academy.
(p. 60)
Matias points to an example of the selling of bodies of color in the faculty
ranks, particularly junior faculty. We hope to use this chapter to expand
upon the metaphor and build a new framework from which students, fac-
ulty, and staff can align their experiences within the academy. In this proj-
ect, we hope to provide an opportunity to unveil the oppression that is
foundational to the existence of higher education in the U.S. in order to
deconstruct, not reproduce, the oppression it places upon bodies of color,
particularly those of Black peoples.
In the next section, we provide the theoretical framework. This is fol-
lowed by an example of the application of this framework. Finally, we pro-
vide implications for practitioners.
PLANTATION STRUCTURES AND PROCESSES
The maintenance of universities as slave plantations may be construed
as an illogical conceptual leap. Indeed, at first glance Black people are
not forced by law or otherwise to live a life away from family on a college
campus. Most would argue that Black people have basic needs met and
rights given on campus. Many would say they are afforded an education
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Plantation Politics and Neoliberal Racism in Higher Education
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equal to all others. Theoretically, they may freely come and go as they
choose. Some Black staff members socialize with their peers without fear
of reproach. Generally speaking, Black faculty may be creative, pursue
professional engagements, and read and write whatever they like, espe-
cially those with the “freedom papers” of tenure. However, on closer in-
spection, this analysis is not so accurate and one may begin to see the ways
that power constricts the Black body (Foucault, 1977) and how a “recon-
struction” (no pun intended) of the slave plantation economy can leave
“deep and inevitable influences and effects [on the] social character” of
the university (Phillips, 1974, p. 8). Indeed, Knottnerus, Monk, and Jones
(1999) noted that while slaves were not “separated from the outside world
by physical obstacles such as walls […the] voluntariness of membership [one’s
(in)ability to come and go from a plantation…] meant that owners were
free to exercise control over their charges through an extensive use of
mortification processes” (pp. 18–19). Essentially, due to a variety of formal
rules, coercive force, social humiliation, and the capacity to accept and
expel slaves, enslaved Africans were generally unable to leave plantation
life. We return to this concept later in the manuscript.
What is needed to reframe a slave plantation into a college campus? At
its core, it requires a fundamental set of frames that argues that no matter
which laws exist, Black people are inhuman and are worth less than white
people (Berry, 2017). These frames influence behavior and moral decorum
(Lakoff, 2014). As universities were being built by Black folks and Native
Americans prior to the emancipation of millions of enslaved Africans, it
comes to bear that the (il)logics by which universities were founded, the
same logics that exist today, carried across time (Wilder, 2013).
Duncan (2017) writes about allochronism as it relates to how Black
people are thought of today. Simply, allochronism is the disconnect be-
tween one’s contemporary framing about a group of people and the ac-
tual lived reality of that group of people. Stated another way, white people
think of Black people as slaves, as inhuman, as lesser than, as savage, as
nonhumans (John, 1999). They utilize a frame from another (allo-) time
(-chrono) to understand a group of people today. And while Black people
were never actually savage or nonhuman (even during slavery), the frames
white people use to view Black people in the contemporary moment are
productive and have real social and political ramifications. Duncan writes,
“Contemporary forms of racial oppression and inequality are expres-
sions of allochronic discourses that inform ‘ontological Blackness,’ or the
Blackness that whiteness created as Western civilization began to emerge
as a prominent force in the world” (p. 67). Therefore, Blackness as it was
understood in slave times is applied to Black people as they exist today
despite 150 years of reconstruction and conciliation.
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Correspondingly, in her theorization of “plantation futures,” Katherine
McKittrick (2013) argues for a temporal and spatial analysis of Blackness.
She writes that the “geographies of slavery, postslavery, and black dispos-
session provide opportunities to notice that the right to be human carries
in it a history of racial encounters and innovative black diaspora practices
[that] spatialize acts of survival” (p. 2). McKittrick encourages us to ex-
amine plantations in order to better understand how Blackness, violence,
and the quest to be recognized as human have always been connected,
and to appreciate the variety of ways Black people have continually pro-
tested, resisted, and rebelled against this violence. By doing so, we are able
to see how plantation pasts and geographies tell “us that that the legacy of
slavery and the labor of the unfree both shape and are part of the environ-
ment we presently inhabit,” while also reimagining the future and working
towards a different way of being human (p. 2).
In sum, racist, colonial, imperial epistemologies exist and are interwo-
ven into the fabric of higher education institutions today (Duncan, 2017;
Patel, 2015; Wilder, 2013). Therefore, the goal of explicating a plantation
politic is to reveal this allochronism and bring into alignment time and
place, or coevalness. Through this project one begins to define how the
organization of a plantation society with all its economic, religious, and
social implications continues to inform the ways in which higher educa-
tion as a system perpetuates white supremacy and racial hierarchies. The
project is not simply one where we connect individual universities to their
physical investment in slave labor; rather, we discern the ways that the epis-
temological vestiges of slavery persist in the policies, programs, and other
institutional (il)logics.
Thomas J. Durant Jr. (1999) defined slave plantation systems as an “or-
derly and systematic social unity composed of identifiable and interdepen-
dent parts (social structure) and social processes” (p. 5). Understanding
the organization of plantations involves understanding nine structural
elements and six social processes that we will explain below. Much like
universities, plantation organization depended on a variety of factors, in-
cluding “social, demographic, economic, ecological, and cultural factors,
including type of organization, number and status of slaves, economic
goals, time period, geographical size, and dominant cultural patterns” (p.
4). Importantly, the success of plantations relied on the investment and al-
liance of whites of all classes, including poor whites who did not own slaves
(John, 1999; Talley, 1999).
According to Durant (1999), the structural elements of slave plantations
include
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 knowledge, or the beliefs of what are thought to be true;
 sentiment, or expressive feelings between two people;
 goals, or the objective of slavery;
 norms, or the rules that govern and control behavior;
 status, or the positions in a social unit;
 rank, or the arrangement of power into a social hierarchy;
 power, or the capacity to control others;
 sanctions, or the allocation given based on conformity or noncon-
formity; and
 facility, or the types of material technology, resources, or means
used to obtain an end.
Table 1. Structural Elements of Plantations and a Nonexhaustive list of
Modern Higher Education Parallels
Structural Elements Contemporary Higher Education Parallels
Knowledge: Owners believed that slave
labor was practical and profitable, that
slaves were property and that slaves
should be subordinate
 Mindsets that lead to neoliberal action
and the use of bodies of color for capital
gain
Sentiment: Masters expressed
paternalism and superiority; slaves
expressed victimization, resistance, and
powerlessness
 Over-regulation of spaces for marginal-
ized groups
 Increasing bureaucracy
Goal: Profit through use of slave labor  Athletics
 International graduate student education
 Commodification of bodies of color in
campus advertisement
Norms: Slaves not allowed to leave and
expected to be obedient
 Broad cultural college-going expectations
 Rhetoric on lack of possibilities for suc-
cess without college degree
Status: Owner, manager, overseer,
driver, house slave, and field slave as
titles
 Board of trustees
 President
 Chief Diversity Officer
 Students
Rank: Titles of slaves were given dif-
ferential power through hierarchical
order and wealth, power, and prestige
 “At-risk”
 “Remedial”
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Structural Elements Contemporary Higher Education Parallels
Power: Owner vs. slave as a continuum  Control of enrollment, persistence, col-
lege success
 Hierarchical control of university
structures
Sanctions: Slaves punished for dis-
obedience and rewarded for good
behavior
 Threatened adjudication of people of
color and upholding of whiteness (e.g.,
campus speaker protests)
 Continued promotion of “good” students
of color to public-facing opportunities
Facility: Slaves’ work tools, and owners’
land, labor, capital, and production
strategies and techniques
 Campuses, resources, publications, grants,
and other normative university facilities
that promote the plantation economy
The processual elements of slave plantations include
 communication, or how information, decisions, or directives are
transmitted;
 boundary maintenance, or attempts to protect the solidarity of the
system from outside change;
 systematic linkages, or the way multiple systems are linked together;
 socialization, or the processes of cultural norm transmission;
 social control, or the way deviancy is eliminated, reduced, or ren-
dered harmless; and
 institutionalization, or the process through which organizations are
made stable, predictable, and persistent.
Table 2. Processual Elements of Plantations and a Nonexhaustive list of
Contemporary Higher Education Parallels
Processual Elements Contemporary Higher Education Parallels
Communication: Orders and com-
mands communicated from owner or
overseer to slaves
 Campus emails
 Individual meetings between executive
administrators and staff
 Negative interactions between deans and
faculty of color
Boundary maintenance: Attempts to
preserve and protect the solidarity of
the system; stopping runaways
 Removal of trouble-makers
 Reduction of tenured faculty who hold
power
 Reduction of freedom for student athletes
and others on scholarship
 Increasing fear of litigation
 Involuntariness of membership
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Plantation Politics and Neoliberal Racism in Higher Education
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Processual Elements Contemporary Higher Education Parallels
Systematic linkages: Mutually sup-
portive linkages between systems;
exchange of slave labor; police control
 Outsourcing of campus safety, housing,
transportation, dining
 Militarization of campus police
 Relations between corporation and univer-
sity programs and policy
Socialization: Teaching and learning
of rules, skills, roles, status and culture
of plantations
 Orientation programs and other transition
programs that set norms for behavior
 Faculty control of graduate students
Social control: How deviancy was
eliminated, reduced, or rendered
harmless; slave codes
 Incremental changes related to diversity
and equity
 Removal or underfunding of cultural centers
 Ostracization and removal of people of
color who resist
Institutionalization: Process by which
organizations are made stable, persis-
tent, and predictable
 Reproduction of education as an oppressive
structure
 Repetition of nonworking equity and justice
measures
 Creation of diversity task forces
What Durant (1999) and others have broadly agreed on is that slave
plantations are characterized by (a) the import of African Black bodies
who were bought and sold as property into chattel slavery and controlled
by whites; (b) forced labor for the purpose of increased economic wealth
and power for whites; (c) a social and labor hierarchy that placed Black
people at the lowest rungs with little upward mobility; (d) a strict system
of governance employing control mechanisms; (e) “slave and non-slave
subsystems, represented by emerging social institutions such as family,
economy, education politics, and religion” (p. 5); and (f) a structure that
required continual adaptation to internal and external forces. As one
compares the structural and processual elements of plantations with the
characteristics of racialized politics and power within campus communi-
ties today, the parallels are incriminatory and it is clear that plantation
politics can serve as an apt framework from which to view the university.
THE OXYMORONIC SOCIAL EXISTENCE OF WHITES (OR
NEOLIBERALISM AS THE NEW SLAVE CODE)
To better explore the applicability of this theory, we share an example
of the parallel between slave plantations and contemporary universities.
Beverly John (1999) explored the social psychology of slaveholders by ex-
amining what she calls the “oxymoronic social existence of whites.” We
believe that this oxymoronic social existence is perpetuated today through
neoliberal ideology in higher education that works to control bodies of
color. Therefore, we call neoliberalism the new slave code.
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Figure 1. The oxymoronic social existence of whites (or neoliberalism as the new slave code)
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Plantation Politics and Neoliberal Racism in Higher Education
11
Throughout history, white people created a hegemonic understand-
ing of “the power of the slaveholding planter class to construct reality in
a fashion that justified their every action” (Durant & Knottnerus, 1999,
p. 45). Through these hegemonic understandings, however, there are
inherent contradictions, or oxymoronic social realities. For instance,
slaves were seen as nonhuman savages and yet made to take care of the
children and homes. Enslaved Africans were also seen to have lesser
mental capacities than whites, yet there is much research that proves
that these individuals were smart, strategic, and worked toward their lib-
eration constantly. Essentially, there was a disconnect between the re-
ality of white life and the notions of humanity that whites created for
Black people. In order to maintain order, the authors of law created
slave codes (or Black codes) to organize plantation life and punish any
dissenters. The name of the game was white supremacy, the rules were
slave codes, and the game board was the plantation. Through this lens,
one may examine today’s contradictions in diversity work, often shaped
by neoliberal logics and actions that simultaneously dehumanize and
provide moderated space for Black people to engage in the education-
al enterprise. Neoliberalism is marketization and commodification of
goods for capitalistic gain. Neoliberalism is theory, policy, and action
describing the monetization of formerly public goods, increased com-
petition, globalization, reduction of social supports, the privatization of
everything, and the objectification of human bodies for increased profit
(see Hamer & Lang, 2015; Harvey, 2005). Neoliberal policy and action
often results in the dehumanization of people (particularly people of
color) and the eradication of the public (e.g., social supports, publicly
owned spaces, public good mission) for the goal of profit (Hamer &
Lang, 2015). Today’s game is the commodification of bodies of color
for economic gain, the rules are neoliberal diversity rhetoric and action,
and the game board is the college or university (Hamer & Lang, 2015).
When slavery was heading toward its formal end, some white religious
leaders publicly wanted to free Blacks. However, there was a realization
that freeing Black people gave them potential power equal to whites. They
thought the only thing that separated Blacks and whites was skin color.
At the same time, whites needed Blacks in order to run their plantations.
Ultimately, Blacks couldn’t be free, or else whites would lose their finan-
cial capital, and white superiority would become unhinged. “How can we
do both?” they asked. Changing and enacting laws to maintain white supe-
riority was one such way.
For example, Ava Duvernay, Spencer Averick, and Howard Barish’s
(2016) film, 13th, shows how the 13 th Amendment—which made owning a
person illegal—has not hindered the redesign of chattel slavery through
Teachers College Record, 120, 140307 (2018)
12
the prison-industrial complex, which works to maintain many aspects of
our current economy (Alexander 2010). If we apply this same logic to
today’s campuses, we may also illuminate some ways in which additional
parallels exist.
We recognize many neoliberal contradictions (Harvey, 2005; Patel,
2015) in today’s colleges, though they would not have called them such
four centuries ago. In today’s neoliberal organizing of higher education,
we might identify institutional maneuvers that do just enough to keep
Black students here on our campuses and subdue activist movements
while at the same time dehumanizing them. These potential dehumaniza-
tions include (a) commodifying their bodies in marketing booklets and
other visible recruitment materials, knowing well that students are looking
for “diverse” campus contexts in their college choice processes (Osei-Kofi,
Torres, & Liu, 2013); (b) utilizing numerical statistics to look diverse in
campus ranking booklets; (c) increasing positive publicity for those high
numbers; (d) exploiting Black bodies in campus athletics for profit and
institutional prestige; and (e) utilizing bodies of color for economic gain
vis-à-vis tuition dollars in a growing diverse country (Squire, 2015). These
are some of the economic drivers that require universities to continue to
engage in a double-down of the commodification of bodies of color.
At the same time, colleges utilize terms that harken to an allochronis-
tic understanding of Black people such as at-risk, unprepared, and remedi-
al, along with other social stereotypes of Black people such as dangerous.
These institutions frequently treat Black students, faculty, and staff as less-
er than and without respect, marginalize them, overtax them, and show-
case them. These negative stereotypes and exploitative measures based
on race are further compounded by other identities such as gender, class,
sexuality, and ability (Gutierrez y Muhs, Flores Niehmann, Gonzales, &
Harris, 2012; Lomax 2015; Navarro, Williams, & Ahmad, 2013). In these
few comparisons, we begin to see how white mindsets about Black people
(and the want to rectify this reality by some) is reinforced and reified in
everyday campus life.
Put simply, the thousands of white people in senior administrative posi-
tions who run universities need Black people to attend and labor within
their universities in order to stay open. However, this need does not re-
move the negative mindsets with which many white people think about
and treat Black people; nor does it necessarily generate the desire to cre-
ate equitable, structural change. And while some individuals (like the abo-
litionists) may have wanted to provide Black people with a humanizing
education, neoliberal action and policy (like the slave codes) work to con-
tinually commodify bodies, disempower, and quell controversy.
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Plantation Politics and Neoliberal Racism in Higher Education
13
SLAVE CODES
Slave codes were laws enacted on a state-by-state basis that determined
the rules and regulations for owning slaves and slave behavior that were
punishable by fine or corporal punishment if not followed. Thinking of di-
versity through a neoliberal lens reveals the ways that universities still func-
tion as upholders of slave codes. Slave codes dictated life on the plantation
through restriction of movement, education, behavior, and also dictated
behavior for slave owners or those who opposed slavery. Importantly, slave
codes were created in order to quell possible uprisings.
Today, universities tout diversity and inclusion policies despite the con-
tinued cultural environments that perpetuate white supremacy and the de-
humanization of people of color aptly rendering those policies powerless
(Ahmed, 2012). This is how neoliberalism acts as a slave code. Neoliberal
action and policy—policy that is guided by economic interest and fierce
individualism—determines the types of coursework Black faculty and staff
teach on campuses (e.g., often “diversity”-related) and the presence they
hold (e.g., the “token” on committees, university marketing). This con-
trolling of body and mind works through many mechanisms including
alumni giving-power and scholarly publishing normativity. Also, the killing
of Sam Dubose by a University of Cincinnati police officer is one of several
examples of how militarized campus police forces embody neoliberal rac-
ism (Berman, 2017). Neoliberalism also thrives on the fiscal austerity that
batters down the walls of necessary congregation spaces and services for
communities of color who use these spaces to thrive in a white supremacist
society. Neoliberalism also provides just enough leeway for Black people
to breathe and have a sense of humanity when the campus creates diver-
sity task forces, invites speakers to campus, and conducts climate surveys
… but only just enough room to maintain order: “nothing abrasive to the
public harmony or divisive in civil affairs could be tolerated in the curricu-
lum or the culture of a student body” (Wilder, 2013, p. 267). We saw this
most recently at the University of Maryland, College Park after a Black stu-
dent from another university, Richard Collins III, was stabbed and killed
by a white student who was a part of an “alt-Reich” group (Amara, 2017).
More broadly speaking, society’s neoliberal rhetoric regarding the ne-
cessity of a college degree to maintain upward mobility and the reality
of the-college-degree-is-the-new-high-school-diploma places higher educa-
tion at the center of an economic enterprise that easily allows administra-
tors to take advantage of the attendees and “keeps them in place” through
hegemonic notions of “success” (Benford, 2002). The reproduction and
repetition of the American success narrative creates a self-controlling
mechanism that requires no external force to maintain itself, because this
Teachers College Record, 120, 140307 (2018)
14
narrative abides by the rule of thumb that a college degree is required to
be seen as worthy in society (Foucault, 1977). It is in this way that walls
are not needed to keep Black people on campus; society’s expectations
of Black people maintain and create an involuntariness of membership.
In a more nuanced example, we might explore the ways that Black ath-
letes are held at the will of the university via scholarship and promise of
fame and scolded or punished when they dare to question contemporary
slave codes. In these ways, we can see parallels between humanhood,
reality, and the slave codes that hold the economic state of higher educa-
tion in place.
Through the proposed framework above and the example of the oxymo-
ronic social existence of whites, one can apply Durant’s elements of slave
plantations to contemporary higher education. For instance, structural
elements of knowledge (whites’ attitudes about Blacks), sentiment (white
domination and paternalism of Blacks), goal (profitability of Black bodies
for diversity outcomes), status (hierarchy of decision-makers on campuses),
sanction (punishments for not owning “whiteness” and punishment for dis-
sent), and facility (utilization of Black production for white gain) all can be
examined through this framework. Through processional elements, we pull
together boundary maintenance (involuntariness of membership), systematic
linkages (campus police relations to campus community and dehumaniza-
tion of Black citizens), socialization (social norms of higher education, ways
of being, doing, and acting), social control (diversity measures), and institu-
tionalization (reproduction of education as an oppressive structure, repeti-
tion of nonworking equity and justice measures).
IMPLICATIONS FOR CHANGE
Ultimately, the deconstruction of allochronism within higher education
epistemologies is not replete unless racial justice is enacted. The call for
change within higher education organizations can take many forms from
revolution to reformation, with people on all sides of the argument pro-
viding justification for their solutions. Duncan (2017) noted that the so-
lution for allochronism is, in fact, the counternarrative. A central tenet
of critical race theory (Dixson, Rousseau, & Donner, 2017; Solórzano &
Yosso, 2002), counternarratives provide a way for communities of color to
share their stories without whiteness being centralized. Additionally, they
challenge the master narrative, are asset-based, and provide a fuller story
where antenarratives, or partial stories, once existed (Wolgemuth, 2014).
Derrick Bell provided many narrative fictions that allegorized the status
of Black people in the United States and in that vein, those interested in
reshaping higher education must do the same (e.g., Bell, 1992).
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Plantation Politics and Neoliberal Racism in Higher Education
15
Our first urging is for scholars of race and racism in higher education
to reclaim their ability to think divergently and creatively about the future
of higher education—that is, to allow oneself to engage in creative story-
telling that imagines a world that is free of the oppression that currently
exists. The ability to think in this way is often lost as one ages and becomes
indoctrinated into the hegemonic notions of reality. However, scholars
such as Walter Mosley (2016) argue that we should be able to shirk the
systems that constrain us and to at least engage in creating untopias, or new
worlds that “praise and raise humanity to its full promise” while also rec-
ognizing the variety of thought and practice that exists in our world today.
What this takes is a continued engagement with questions and theorizing
that we have started here in this chapter. David Bohm (1996), a renowned
physicist and theorist, noted that to break out of a normative mindset, we
must engage in not just creativity, but confusion. It is in this confusion
that we provide space for new thinking. He also notes that anybody can
be a creator—creation is not the purview of a few selected people (e.g.,
scholars, artists, musicians, politicians). Therefore, we call on all readers
to confuse themselves into creative liberation.
In thinking about more tangible engagements with this theory, we have
laid out a few ways that allochronic thinking persists in our institutions
today. Namely, we have discussed neoliberal diversity actions and rhetoric
that persist in (a) controlling bodies of color, particularly Black bodies,
and (b) building financial capital as a result of utilizing bodies of color,
particularly Black bodies. To actively resist these functions is to engage in
a strict education of how capitalism and neoliberal capitalism enacts itself
using bodies of color, specifically in relation to campus life. Each reader
can engage in their own continued education in order to resist and call
out instances of commodification. For example, when a campus adminis-
tration asks for students of color to be featured on websites, pamphlets,
and photos, one can better make a determination if the request is altruis-
tic, or for the betterment of the university only. That is, does the student
receive a positive benefit from being involved in that engagement, is there
a continued benefit for communities of color, and will the student be re-
imbursed in some way for their time and likeness? If not, then the decision
to engage in that relationship may be nil.
Similarly, if there is an instance of racism that makes public news and
the first reaction of an administration is to call together a “task force on
bias incidents,” there is a necessity to call out that act as deficient. As we
noted, these task forces are often ways to remove pressure from adminis-
trators, to divert attention from the real problem (i.e., racism), and to ap-
pease people who are not directly affected by the problem, but they can be
helpful to addressing systemic racism on campus by way of alliance. Those
Teachers College Record, 120, 140307 (2018)
16
who are aware of these tactics should be vocal and engage in a campus
rebellion that pushes on administrators to act in a stronger fashion to call
out, address racism on the campus, and provide reparations for the hurt,
pain, and suffering that has occurred on campus. An analysis of rebellious
options cannot be explicated in this paper, but readers should note that
continual calls for more money, new student centers, and more faculty
of color may continue to be patchwork answers that do little to address
systemic racism on college campuses.
Certainly, the best way to deconstruct and dismantle a racist institution
is to, in fact, deconstruct it and reconstruct anti-racist institutions. Places
such as Freedom University in Georgia are working toward this end in
helping undocumented students obtain free college educations because
they have been banned from Georgia state universities. Scholars often
joke about setting up universities where their closest scholarly colleagues
and allies can work in anti-oppressive ways to support marginalized stu-
dents in providing myriad life potentials. The time has come to perhaps
not just joke about this opportunity, but to begin to lay the groundwork
for this type of institution to exist. While this may be a long-shot solution,
acting in a liberatory manner requires risk and chance.
In the meantime, dissecting the neoliberal competitive markets that fac-
ulty, staff, and students have to engage in is desperately needed to inch
closer toward emancipation for people of color in higher education. The
work is difficult, long term, and collaborative. The work must be critical,
exacting, and loud. The work must be the counternarrative to the antenar-
rative; the creative to the normative; the risk to the reward.
CONCLUSION
Wilder (2013) writes about a sermon given by Reverend Benjamin
Wadsworth, once president of Harvard University. Wilder writes that
Wadsworth told his congregation to not
“pinch” their servants by denying them the food, drink, clothing,
medical attention, and periods of rest necessary to their health.
They should give their slaves time for prayer and private contem-
plation, give them to God and pray for them, and let them read
the bible and other books that would enhance their faith … Keep
them busy enough to avoid sin, but not so exhausted as to impair
their well-being…[choose] the mildest penalty that would effec-
tively cure the fault, remembering that a good master needed nei-
ther tyranny nor terror. (p. 129)
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Plantation Politics and Neoliberal Racism in Higher Education
17
It is in the words of this Reverend that we continue to draw the lines
between slave plantation life and the modern organization of universi-
ties. The plantation politic is an ongoing project with many avenues to ex -
plore. We have begun the assignment here and will continue it in order to
generate an emancipatory vision of higher education devoid of, or at least
actively aware of, its racist epistemologies. Indeed, stripping the United
States of its racist and colonial past is an ongoing venture, one worth ev-
erybody’s time and attention.
Teachers College Record, 120, 140307 (2018)
18
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DIAN SQUIRE is a visiting assistant professor in the student affairs pro-
gram at Iowa State University. Prior to starting at Iowa State University, Dian
was a postdoctoral fellow in the University of Denver’s Interdisciplinary
Research Institute for the Study of (in)Equality (IRISE). Dian’s research
focuses on issues of diversity, equity, and justice in higher education. He
particularly focuses on access to graduate education and the experiences
of diverse graduate students. He utilizes organizational perspectives to
help explain individual behavior and experience in order to transform
organizational structures to support equity and justice. He also writes on
student activism, racial justice, campus institutional change, and critical
praxis in student affairs.
BIANCA C. WILLIAMS is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at The
Graduate Center, CUNY. As a feminist cultural anthropologist, Williams’
research interests include Black women and happiness; race, gender, and
emotional labor in higher education; feminist pedagogies; and Black fem-
inist leadership, emotional wellness, and activist organizing. In her forth-
coming book, The Pursuit of Happiness: Black Women, Diasporic Dreams, and
the Politics of Emotional Transnationalism, Williams examines how African
American women use international travel and the Internet as tools for
pursuing happiness and leisure, creating intimate relationships and
friendships, and critiquing American racism and sexism (Duke University
Press, 2018). The investigative thread that binds Williams’ research, teach-
ing, and service is the question “How do Black women develop strategies
for enduring and resisting the effects of racism and sexism, while attempt-
ing to maintain emotional wellness?”
FRANK TUITT is the Senior Advisor to the Chancellor, Provost on Inclusive
Excellence, and a Professor of Higher Education at the Morgridge College
of Education at the University of Denver. Dr. Tuitt’s research explores top-
ics related to access and equity in higher education, teaching and learn-
ing in racially diverse college classrooms, and diversity and organizational
transformation. His scholarship critically examines issues of race, Inclusive
Excellence and diversity in and outside the classroom from the purview of
faculty and students. In 2014 Dr. Tuitt was awarded the Mildred García
Exemplary Scholarship Award.
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This article connects the existence of structural violence to neoliberalism, by which we mean the economic and social philosophy that imposes free-market fundamentalism on all human interactions. We argue that U.S. institutions of higher education reflect and reproduce racism and other forms of structural violence pervasive across society, requiring scholars to explicitly confront the effects of neoliberalism on college and university campuses. For scholars who study social inequalities, it is pertinent to “inhabit” their work by directly addressing these hierarchies beyond their research and teaching, or even their civic engagement outside academe. We focus on the university as a site of institutional racism, though we conclude that achieving access and equity for historically underrepresented racial minority students, staff, faculty, and administrators must be tied to democratizing higher education by fighting neoliberal policies, practices, and logics.
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In this theoretical essay, I argue that the current incidences of backlash to diversity are best understood as a dynamic of complicated, historic and intertwined desires for racial diversity and white entitlement to property. I frame this argument in the theories of critical race theory and settler colonialism, each of which provide necessary but incomplete analytic tools for understanding systemic racism and property rights. Situating universities and colleges as white settler property established on seizure contextualizes both the ways in which the desire for diversity is connected to white supremacy and leads to subsequent backlash to the presence of people of color, particularly those in positions of authority. I close with a discussion of the tension between property rights and potential cultural transformation.
Book
This book seeks to analyze the issue of race in America after the election of Barack Obama. For the author, the U.S. criminal justice system functions can act as a contemporary system of racial control, even as it adheres to the principle of color blindness.
Article
In this article, Henry Giroux addresses the corrosive effects of corporate culture on the academy and recent attempts by faculty and students to resist the corporatization of higher education. Giroux argues that neoliberalism is the most dangerous ideology of the current historical moment. He shows that civic discourse has given way to the language of commercialization, privatization, and deregulation and that, within the language and images of corporate culture, citizenship is portrayed as an utterly privatized affair that produces self-interested individuals. He maintains that corporate culture functions largely to either ignore or cancel out social injustices in the existing social order by overriding the democratic impulses and practices of civil society through an emphasis on the unbridled workings of market relations. Giroux suggests that these trends mark a hazardous turn in U.S. society, one that threatens our understanding of democracy and affects the ways we address the meaning and purpose of higher education.