The Injustice Boycott and Academia


Influential activist and writer Shaun King—currently “senior justice writer” at the New York Daily News—has announced plans for a potentially massive boycott of “cities, states, businesses, and institutions which are either willfully indifferent to police brutality and racial injustice or are deliberately destructive partners with it.”

The boycott is set to begin on December 5th, the anniversary of the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (no relation to Shaun King). However, the specific targets of the boycott have not yet been named. The targets are being researched and will be announced when the boycott starts. On this, King writes:

Between now and then, we hope that cities and states around the country will begin to enact emergency legislation and policies to prevent police brutality and racial violence. Furthermore, we do not want any potential institutions to somehow undermine our efforts.

Potential targets include:

  • Entire cities and states much like what you see being done in North Carolina right now over the anti-LGBT House Bill 2.
  • Particular brands and corporations who partner with and profit from systemic oppression.
  • Particular brands and corporations headquartered in cities and states notorious for police brutality and racial violence, which say and do little to nothing about it.
  • Particular institutions, including banks, which fund, underwrite, inform, train or otherwise support systemic oppression and brutality.

The point of the boycott, King writes, is “visible, measurable, tangible change” to reduce police brutality and racial injustice. And though the organizers will “be providing each city, state, business and institution a clear path out of the boycott,” King expects the boycott to last months or years.

Leaving aside for the time being any moral or practical objections to the boycott, and keeping in mind that we don’t have some relevant details (there is a plan to release some further information on November 2nd) certain questions for members of academia arise. Suppose one is interested in supporting the boycott. One might ask:

  1. Should those who have already planned and made substantial arrangements for conferences that will be taking place in locations, or making use of hotels, that end up as targets of the boycott, cancel their events or attempt to make alternative arrangements? And if the latter, at what expense? Does it matter what type or size of conference it is?
  2. Should those who have committed to attend conferences in locations that end up being targeted by the boycott withdraw? Does it matter if the meeting is a small workshop the happening of which we have good reason to think will make no difference to the success of the boycott, or if it is a large gathering, such as the upcoming meetings of the American Philosophical Association (APA) in Baltimore, Maryland and Kansas City, Missouri?
  3. If one is scheduled to give a colloquium talk in a given city, and then, say, a week before the talk (after everything including plane tickets is booked, for instance) the city is named as a target, is it inappropriate to pull out of the talk, given the effect it might have on the department there? Does one have an obligation to warn departments about this in advance of knowing the specific targeted cities or areas?
  4. Does one’s status in the profession affect one’s obligations in regards to the boycott (e.g., a new PhD, currently adjuncting and on the market, in comparison to a tenure-track assistant professor up for tenure soon, in comparison to a tenured and successful academic, etc.)?
  5. What should one do if one’s conference job interviews or campus visits are scheduled in boycotted locations?
  6. Should one refrain from submitting to or working for (e.g., refereeing or editing for) publishers located in targeted locations?
  7. Do academics in areas not targeted by the boycott have a duty to assist academics in neighboring locations that have been targeted (e.g., by agreeing to host their conference)? Or does this undermine a mechanism by which the boycott is supposed to effect change?
  8. Does the boycott give academics in areas not targeted by the boycott reason to not work with academics at schools in targeted areas (e.g., not to invite them to conferences or to contribute to volumes, or to co-author work with them)?
  9. What alternative measures apart from cancelling events and refusing participation are available to academics that are consistent with supporting the boycott (e.g., is video-conferencing into a workshop in a targeted location, rather than traveling to it, a way of supporting the boycott or a way of undermining it)?

To reiterate, the topic is this:

Assume one is interested in supporting the boycott. What does that imply for one’s actions as an academic?

Discussion of the above questions and relevantly similar ones welcome. For the time being, let’s not discuss the question of whether such a boycott should be launched (a question that this post does not issue a position on).

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"Atop the Wall" by Justin Weinberg

“Atop the Wall” by Justin Weinberg

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