Janan + Ethics of Knowledge Building

I read two PSC CUNY op-eds, both having to do with media & the arts. Through this extremely tumultuous year of painful learning, one of my emotional anchors has been watching tv and films and engrossing myself in music. I imagine that usually, watching tv and movies doesn’t take as much discipline as it takes me, someone who loves stories but whose diagnosed-awful attention span has made it challenging to listen to them. But then, abundant free time came along. One of the pieces I read was Racquel Gates’ “The Problem with ‘Anti-Racist’ Movie Lists.” Gates criticizes the propensity of White people to voice their opinions about racism first, often through lists of movies to watch to educate masses on anti-racism. She acknowledges that while these films may be worth viewing, they “reduce Black art to a hastily constructed manual to understanding oppression.” This argument is relevant in conversations about anti-racist education. While anti-racist knowledge and thought is absent from many American’s educations and values, the simplification of a complex social system and the use of art from artists of color as an allegory is unacceptable. In fact, it can often reproduce racist narratives and perpetuate racist stereotypes. I believe this is one of the reasons many critical academics and others are now emphasizing ideas such as Black joy, Black radical love, and other abundant realities that are empowering and anti-racist without reducing the importance of this kind of art. This reminds me of something I read years ago by a Palestinian who wrote that everyone in his family, regardless of whether their interest was engineering, literature, or political history, their selfhood and passions were always collapsed to their identities as Palestinian, a particularly “controversial” identity. Overall, Gates’ op-ed stuck with me and perfectly articulated the frustration of why historically, White artists have been able to so easily write about so-called universalities of life: love, family, and growing up, among others, whereas artists of color are always expected to produce art solely about their subordination. This issue clearly continues, but poc artists’ work is still used to cater to White people; regardless of the anti-racist motives, it is something that needs to be changed.

Reading this article specifically made me think of a related question (more about academia than higher education in general): what is the ethical line between researching/collecting data on the COVID-19 pandemic? As a horrific crisis and traumatic experiences still seizing the lives, anxieties, and mental stabilities of so many globally, especially the most dispossessed, is there a way to generate knowledge about the pandemic while it’s happening in a way that is not extractive?