Note: The Author uses “African” to refer to all peoples of African descent, be they born on the continent or in the diaspora.
THIS summer, I attended a conference of revolutionary anti-capitalists in Ypsilanti, Michigan. It was a beautiful gathering of people who, through tactics like tenant organising, labour, and anti-imperialist action, have committed their lives to building a better world. At the conference I met Dylan Rodriguez, professor of Black studies at UC Riverside and member of Critical Resistance. In our talk, he spoke about a document that has changed the way I understand organising tactics in the 21st century.
This document was U.S. Army Field Manual 3-24: Tactics in Counterinsurgency. In it, the U.S. Army lays out various ways and means of defeating insurgent groups. Most pressing here is the manual’s writing on using political, cultural, and academic institutions for preserving the government’s legitimacy. Practically, this is the use of culture and media to convince people to side with the government that an insurgency is fighting against. While this book is looking at the application of these tactics “abroad”, it would be a grave mistake to believe they are not being used here, too.
As far back as 2016 during the Ferguson Uprising, African movements in America have been stopped short by a familiar cast of celebrity lawyers and activists swooping in to channel our energy into reformist strategies. Our freshest example was the reduction of “Abolish the Police” into “Defund the Police” by the likes of Benjamin Crump Esq., Patrice Cullours, and Shaun King. In a flash, we went from burning down police stations to doing “The Electric Slide to End White Supremacy” and casting ballots for our newest Racist in Chief. At the same time, waves of corporations happily reaped our dollars with BLM merch and privileged African professionals became “the voice in the room” on a slew of boards, working groups, and initiatives for “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.” What we are seeing is a counter-movement that seeks to lead us away from freedom from the U.S. state. This movement argues instead that we can resolve our problems by integrating into and reforming the same system that kidnapped Africans from their homelands for slavery on lands it stole from the Indigenous Nations that still fight for sovereignty today. It is a pacification of the oppressed to stave off the justice America really deserves. And Dartmouth has led the way in this strategy.
In 2020, African faculty members at Dartmouth released a letter protesting the racist conditions at the College. At the same time, students launched the “Black at Dartmouth” Instagram page where they posted about the daily racist treatment they faced from white classmates, faculty, and staff. In 2021, student dining workers, many of whom are students of colour, launched the first undergraduate union in the College’s history to fight against horrid working conditions. As people across the country came together to challenge the legitimacy of the United States, we also challenged the legitimacy of Dartmouth College by exposing its failure to create the equitable environment it so vigorously advertises. In the following months and years afterward, the College has attempted to rescue this legitimacy through various measures.
One leg of the counterinsurgency campaign has been a staffing shakeup. Matthew Delmont became the first “voice in the room” as Special Advisor to the President on issues of “racial justice.” He was later followed by Shontay Delalue, the inaugural officer for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. The much reviled Dean of Students, Kathryn Lively, was shuffled out for Scott C. Brown who has focused his efforts on reforming the image of the College Administration. President Hanlon has also been replaced by President Beilock, who many hope will usher in a period of “kinder leadership.” But if her history tells us anything, it is to expect the undermining of SEIU 560, the Student Workers Collective, the Graduate Organised Labourers of Dartmouth, and the Dartmouth College Library Workers Union under the guise of that “kinder leadership.”
Another leg has been convenient concessions and reforms that the College has made on the front of racial justice. Along with the new DEI appointment, the College finally made the African and African American Studies program a Department after 50 years. Further, it channelled African alumni outrage into funding dollars for the AAAS endowment. Dollars, mind you, that the College could never spare from its enormous endowment until it was politically advantageous for them to do so. The newest stage of this effort is launching this fall as the Center for Black Intellectual and Cultural Life.
The most constant, determined, and innocuous leg, however, is Dartmouth’s use of its African students for advertising. Cameras are at every turn, looking to capture smiling African students “feeling at home” in the belly of the beast. As you freshman walk the campus grounds, keep track of how many people ask for photos and comments on how you like Dartmouth. Keep an eye out for how often you and your friends show up on social media and admission brochures. Without even asking for it, you have been made into an advertising point for Dartmouth to sell itself with.
And Dartmouth is not just using these tactics, it is actively theorising on, tweaking, and developing them. In my first year, I was asked to be on a panel about Black Lives Matter, despite never attending a protest or engaging in organising under the BLM name. But, being new to the College and hungry for opportunities to “get my name out there,” I happily accepted. My co-panelists were largely of the same background, organising low risk demonstrations in suburban towns where they were applauded for their bravery and received keys to the city from their mayors. None of us stared down the barrel of police guns, were maimed by bean bag rounds, gassed with chemical weapons, or blasted with sound cannons. None of our faces were taken and put into databases or made Persons of Interest in the FBI’s campaign against “Black Identity Extremism” or slapped with RICO charges like the revolutionaries in Atlanta are now. We came on Zoom and gave our slogans, cemented ourselves as “community leaders” despite my literal inability to do anything in community under COVID restrictions. And when we finished, I learned in my debrief that one of my co-panelists and one of the professors who arranged the panel were linked up with U.S. Army Intelligence. They sat on the call and talked about how they might be able to use BLM’s lessons in “cultural competency” to better fight the Taliban in Afghanistan.
I do not want to tell people reading this essay what to think. I only offer a way of thinking. One that cannot resolve to let all these events be disconnected from each other, or to be the result of some prevailing arc whereby our enemies become better. Because in most cases, we are duped into contributing to our enemies’ plans thinking we are doing good. That we are making space for ourselves or championing the cause in the places where power resides. And I think that is a dangerous place for African students to be in.
Because while we are caught up in the opportunities and accolades that Dartmouth showers us with, Dartmouth’s African student organisations continue to be neglected outside of Black History Month, MLK Day, and Africa Week. African students will still know racism as the order of the day in their interactions with the campus community. African faculty will still turn away from the College seeking better horizons elsewhere. And African workers will continue to toil as an unseen labour force in the College’s dish rooms and dining halls. And Dartmouth continues to pipeline engineers into weapons manufacturers who drop bombs on Africa. It continues to pipeline us into academic appointments, diplomatic positions, and finance jobs that facilitate the oppression of Africans in America and abroad.
I also do not want to discourage you about being here, either. While Dartmouth cannot be reformed, there is a long history of students using their temporary position at Dartmouth to attack the problems that we are identifying. From the anti-apartheid movement to the union efforts today, we have been able to hinder Dartmouth’s ability to serve the larger enterprises of capitalism, imperialism, and patriarchy. Our enemies’ tactics are ever-evolving, but so are ours. What remains unwavering, though, is our commitment to liberation. To the belief that a better world is possible.
The Dartmouth Radical