My First Risky Nonviolent Action

Going to Boston to counterprotest white supremacy following the violence in Charlottesville did not turn out to be dangerous, but there was no way to know this in advance.

Walking the Talk or keeping my plans?

When I first learned of the antiracist rally in Boston, it did not cross my mind that I should go. I was already booked on a flight away from Massachusetts that Saturday morning. However, on Thursday, a friend invited me to a preparatory training hosted by SURJ — Stand Up for Racial Justice. I was curious and that evening was free, so I went. Once I arrived to the training, I realized that I had been too busy to consider that I might change my plans. Nearly everything that I learned that evening was, to be honest, a reason to keep my original plans, that is, reasons not to go participate in the counter-rally and march in Boston.

Stellan Vinthagen holds the Endowed Chair in the Study of Nonviolent Direct Action and Civil Resistance at UMass Amherst.
Stellan Vinthagen holds the Endowed Chair in the Study of Nonviolent Direct Action and Civil Resistance at UMass Amherst.

There were more than 20 people attending the just-in-time SURJ training; emotion in the room was high. Introductions and conversation centered on personal motivations for participation—almost nothing about strategy, goals, or specific mission. Similarity of purpose was assumed. No one seemed to blink when we were told that the march organizers, the Movement for Black Lives, had asked for white allies to put our white bodies physically in-between Black activists and white supremacists, and also between Black activists and the police. Further, the leadership had decided not to commit this march to nonviolence: they reserved the right to self-defense. Finally, just as the Mayor of Boston was actively discouraging the white supremacists from holding their (so-called) free speech rally, the Mayor had also sought to discourage the counter rally — creating a pre-condition in which violent police intervention was more likely.

It had already been a long day at work. My energy began to fade as each risk, and their compounding interactions, became increasingly clear. About an hour 1/2 into the training, we divided into groups for bonding purposes. Since I didn’t think I was going, I let my friend know I was heading home. We had a quick conversation about the lack of input into the design process…for instance, were we being deployed disposably by black leadership? Did they care about or disregard our (possible) intellectual contributions and the health and safety of our bodies? A basic reversal of power roles is not the kind of society I’m seeking to help build. I kept to myself my worries that the white supremacists had planned the sequence and locations of rallies long in advance, so their prior planning was possibly more extensive. We could literally be marching into a trap.

Who was I kidding?!seeds tshirt

Before I’d driven ten minutes I knew that I was going to cancel my flight to Missouri to see the total solar eclipse with my closest longterm buds. Yes, the counter-protest felt like a set-up. Yes, it felt like if things went wrong, they would go wrong very, very, very badly. But I’d been talking all week with Patty Nourse Culbertson, who had been on the frontline in Charlottesville. She had explained that even though anti-racism activists in Charlottesville had an entire month to prepare, they still weren’t ready. I realized readiness has both existential and practical aspects. Practically, one can only be as ‘ready’ as one is, and this may never feel like enough.

Preparation

First, communication. Not intending to be dramatic, I just touched base with my main peeps, letting everyone know that I was going to be there. I deeply appreciate the support of my friends and family. It wasn’t that I assumed there would be violence and people would get hurt or possibly killed, but the reality is casualties do happen: prior to Heather Heyer’s murder in Charlottesville, there was Sophia Wilansky’s terrible arm injury protesting the Dakota Access pipeline at Standing Rock. The chances of being that individual are drastically lower in nonviolent than in armed, violent conflict, but I cannot pretend there is no risk. It seem important to at least attempt to minimize any subsequent mess.

Grover's signSecond, gear. I perused the links provided by SURJ:

I followed the recommendations for clothing, and selected first aid items, personal protective gear and snacks that I could carry in cargo pants (since backpacks were prohibited).

Action

Will and GroverWell, it was a beautiful day. Sunny, no rain, quite warm but not excessively hot. There were 40,000 of us. We had a marching band, witty and poignant signage, and many, many onlookers who showered us with thanks and gratitude. The free speech rally was fractional in comparison, about 50 individuals. A small amount of incidents with police occurred, some which seemed unprovoked and others that were in response to taunting. I enjoyed myself and remained vigilant, seeking to stick with my group members while staying alert for trouble. Thank god nothing happened because our group(s) had practically zero discipline. If something had happened we would have been scrambling. But nothing did, and so we had a successful march and, as a result, free speech rallies across the country were cancelled.

Aftermath

We returned from the march just in time to attend a free evening concert. I couldn’t muster the juice to celebrate, too exhausted. I went home, ate and went to bed early, sleeping for 11 hours. I was still groggy and out of it on Sunday morning. By a delightful coincidence, I was able to go camping overnight at a lovely spot on a beautiful lake. Sitting there in the woods, basking in the afternoon sun, watching the calm water, listening to the sounds of birds, children playing nearby, and the breeze in the trees, I began to feel restored.

Lake TullyLater, after dark, gazing into the flames of a campfire, I realized I was experiencing white fragility.

Think about it. I had just spent an entire day acting as if nothing was wrong, as if everything is normal, as if it was just a usual day…while at the same time remaining alert to the fact that super bad shit could happen at any second. I know it is not an exact parallel, but I had a small epiphany: this is what people of color in the US feel all the time. They must develop and allocate internal resources to manage this tension every day, all day long, and all night, too. 24/7.  No breaks. No 48-hour recovery period, and probably no easy access to nature in which to draw spiritual sustenance.

Not only was my fragility on display, but my white privilege, too.

 

The Plurilingual Advantage: Making the Business Case for Simultaneous Interpretation

Language has become a serious issue for multinational corporations and healthcare operations in the United States.

Research in this sub-field of international management has blossomed in the past decade, generating powerful data pointing to the need for interpreters within the daily operations of medical facilities and in international business. However, there is a strong bias toward language standardization so as to eliminate language difference.

If culture is a tree, the health of the trunk is composed by the practices of codeswitching among languages.
If culture is a tree, the health of the trunk is composed by the practices of codeswitching among languages.

Arguments in favor of ‘one corporate language’ rely on a managerial imperative for control, and depend upon people’s (seemingly) natural discomfort with the interpreting process. While language standardization does appear effective in some contexts, in most situations there are adverse consequences . These side effects interfere with morale, teamwork, innovation, and the achievement of company goals.

Extrapolating from the work of Appadurai (1990), Steyaert, Ostendorp & Gabrois (2011) coined the term linguascaping to describe the discourse effects of the “ongoing negotiations among accounts of how to ‘choose’ between languages” (p. 277) in companies that have two or more official languages. Linguascaping occurs with reference to local, national and/or global spaces, and is temporally-oriented either to short-term situational fixes or long-term enduring solutions.

This study of an mid-size IT firm in Bangalore, India involved interviews and observations about language use in a multinational with no formal language policy. The linguascaping accounts of codeswitching and using interpreters provide a significant point of comparison with research about organizations with formal one-language policies.

A poster presentation at Baystate Health’s Celebration of Academic Research.

Research in Bangalore funded by a Business Language Research and Teaching grant from the Illinois Center for International Business Education and Research (CIBER). View the presentation on Misunderstanding and Innovation: English as Lingua Franca (2011).

 

Interpreting Eureka! The Possibilities of Plurilingualism

Presented by co-author Jeffrey A Kappen in Copenhagen, Denmark at GEM&L 2017

“Revisiting Multilingualism at Work:

New Perspectives in Language-Sensitive Research in International Business”

GEM&L, Groupe d’Etudes Management & Language, is the French Research Group on Management & Language.

“I want to know, what is human conscience.”

“I want to know, what is human conscience.”

“Human consciousness?” I asked, not hearing him correctly.

“No,” he said. “Con-sci-ence. When I search for this word in the English dictionary, I find that it is from Latin. Con means ‘with’ and science means ‘knowing.’ So conscience means ‘with knowing.’ With science.”

“I’ve never quite thought about it that way,” I told him. “But I’m sure you’re right.”

"Conscience means 'with knowing.' With science."
Conscience means ‘with knowing.’ With science.”

He continued. “But this does not make sense.” He pulled out a piece of paper. “The dictionary says ‘A knowledge or sense of right and wrong, with a compulsion to do right.’”

He held up the piece of paper for me to see, so I took it. “That seems like a reasonable definition.”

“But I do not understand. Knowledge and sense are not the same thing. Knowledge I understand, but how about sense? Is sense the same as feeling? Is conscience a fact that I can learn and know, or is it more like an emotion? Is it related to empathy? Is it different than shame? And why is it a compulsion?”

I must have looked as baffled as I felt, because he went on to explain.

“I’m afraid that even though I am trained in computer science, I have never felt such a sense or feeling. This is a big disadvantage for my work. I would like to ask you, can I learn to feel such a feeling? At my age, is it too late?”

~ from A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, 2013, p 306-307 (italics in original).

Reflecting Whiteness: Beatriz at Dinner

Why is the ending of Beatriz at Dinner so disturbing?

Because throughout the film, we have witnessed our own whiteness: normalized, privileged, comfortable. And then we are confronted with the stark reality of existential choice.

Salma Hayek is Beatriz
Salma Hayek is Beatriz

There are only three ways the film can end:

  1. White people heal ourselves and change.
  2. White individuals are killed.
  3. Healers die.

The first option is decidedly unappealing. The Trump-like character of Doug Strutt (John Lithgow) reeks of white fatalism, and his supporting cast stinks of white fragility. What can one do but ignore the damage and keep doing whatever provides pleasure?

The second option doesn’t solve the problems whiteness has created for all other living beings and the planet.

The third option is our history and our present. Are we so incapable of sacrifice, so afraid of discomfort, that we have already surrendered the future?

Brilliant, unsettling filmmaking suitable to this desperate era. A must see.

Native Nations Rise (5 Seconds of Eternity)

She was watching from a window.

We exist. We resist. We rise.
We exist. We resist. We rise.

I waved.

She waved back, then gave the universal symbol of prayer and respect.

I returned the gesture: “I greet you. I honor you. We are connected.”

She pressed her hand to her heart.

I flashed a thumbs up.

Resources on Whiteness

These articles informed a recent talk on the topic of whiteness for sign language interpreters.

white-fog
A continuum of character development from white fragility through white fog toward appropriate whiteness.

“White people [must move] from an individual understanding of racism—i.e. only some people are racist and those people are bad—to a structural understanding [of white privilege].”

~ Dr Robin DiAngelo ~

White People: Stop Microvalidating Each Other, Stephanie Jo Kent

White Fragility: Why it’s so hard to talk to White people about racism, Robin DiAngelo

Fighting White Supremacy and White Privilege to Build a Human Rights Movement, Loretta Ross

Calling In: A Less Disposable Way of ­­­Holding Each Other Accountable, Ngoc Loan Tran

It’s time for white people to reckon with racism, Eve Ensler

28 Common Racist Attitudes and Behaviors, Jona Olsson

The Near Certainty of Anti-Police Violence, Ta-Nahisi Coates

Dear White Parents of my Black Child’s Friends: I Need Your Help, Maralee Bradley

White America Couldn’t Handle What Black America Deals with Every Day, Henry Rollins

This is what white people can do to support #BlackLivesMatter, Sally Kohn

Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda on Finding Originality, Racial Politics (and Why Trump Should See His Show), Lin-Maneul Miranda & Frank DiGiacomo

10 Books I Wish My White Teachers Had Read, Crystal Paul

What it’s like to be Black in Napierville, America, Brian Crooks

Police shootings won’t stop unless we address this problem no one is talking about, Jack Hitt

Aren’t more white people than black people killed by police? Yes, but no. Wesley Lowery

Could all this racial violence bring two sides together? Faye Higbee

Branches of Mentoring, Michael Meade

end white silence

Interpretation and Translation

Kent, Stephanie Jo and Kappen, Jeffrey A. “Interpreting and Translation.”  In The International Encyclopedia of Organizational Communication. Craig R. Scott and Laurie Lewis (General Editors), Jim Barker, Joann Keyton, Tim Kuhn, and Paaige Turner (Associate Editors).  © 2017 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Published 2017 by John Wiley & Sons Inc.

Download (PDF, 91KB)

Checkpoint: Turning Discourse into Dialogue

S.J. Kent, R. Sibii and A.R. Napoleone. “Checkpoint: Turning Discourse into Dialogue”, in Examining Education, Media, and Dialogue under Occupation: The Case of Palestine and Israel. Critical Language and Literacy Studies

This book is an in-depth examination of education and media under occupation. The contributors to this volume engage dialogue to explore these domains and their roles and functioning under occupation while keeping an eye toward resolution, using the on-going conflict between Palestine and Israel as the focus. The uniqueness of this collection is not limited to the willingness of its authors to investigate topics that have often been left out of the mainstream, but that they actually enter into dialogue with one another. Education and media are exemplified as domains that can either maintain the status quo of oppression when used by policymakers and governments to do so or can be utilized as mechanisms for change and peacemaking. These contradictory roles are highlighted throughout this book by multiple voices.

Awakening Interpretation: Broadway Sets the Stage for Linguistic Equality

Kent, Stephanie Jo. Awakening Interpretation: Broadway Sets the Stage for Linguistic Equality. Street Leverage, June 2016. Reprinted in Auslan Stage Left, June 2016.

Stephanie Jo Kent explores how Deaf West Theatre’s ground-breaking production of Spring Awakening cast a spotlight on the challenges and possibilities of sign language interpretation.