We have long been living tragic and perilous times. Tragic because the freedom struggles of our past, which were pursued with such fervor, determination, and faith, failed to produce what Martiniquan-Algerian philosopher Frantz Fanon articulates so well in Black Skin, White Masks, the end of enslavement of man by man or, in the words of decolonial philosopher Nelson Maldonado Torres, “a truly human social structure, one that permits humans to be self-determined and to express themselves according to their own choices in relation to the will of others”. These times are perilous because the violences that produced the modern western world, that it in fact required for its birth and maintenance (colonialism, imperialism, slavery), persist, albeit it in quasi-new forms (foreign aid, WTO, IMF, prison industrial complex, etc.), still leaving the lives of the oppressed precarious and vulnerable to extermination. But, if we were to be honest—and we must for the times we are living demand radical honesty—western modernity as a set of violent forces demands the extermination of those populations that threaten its fictions of civility, democracy, and progressive social and cultural politics.
At a 2015 conference on neoliberalism and biopolitics, when it was suggested that to understand these forces of oppression and domination, one need only look at the experiences of the most vulnerable—people of color, immigrants, LGBTIQAs, poor people, and all of us who live at the intersection of multiple identities—a venerated scholar’s response was that though the most vulnerable may live under and through oppression, we need academics and social theorists to help us understand these forces of power and how they operate in our lives. We ask in response: What greater understanding of the operations of power and domination can we get than having to choose between feeding our children or paying the electricity bill because the captains of industry prioritize their annual bonuses over paying a livable wage to their workers; between violation at the hands of bigots and misogynists or imprisonment because we dared to defend ourselves from violation by any means necessary, as were the cases with CeCe McDonald and Marissa Alexander? We do not need the academy to tell us how forces of power function in our lives because our daily lived experiences testify to their detrimental impact and undue influence on the quality and length of our lives. Rather, the academy needs the oppressed, for as Fred Moten and Stefano Harney remind us, the university needs what we bear, but cannot bear what we bring.
We are tired not only of having our experiences discounted as not scholarly or not authoritative, but also of having our lives turned into objects of study by those whose privilege rarely comes under scrutiny—whether skin privilege, class privilege, educational privilege, able-bodied, gender and sexual privilege, or the privilege afforded by having state-recognized political status—and whose gaze is rarely if ever self-reflexive. The C.O.U.P., The Coalition of Underrecognized Peoples, seeks to topple these power dynamics and address the blindspots of the academy by centering what French philosopher Michel Foucault refers to as “subjugated knowledges” or what queer theorist Jack Halberstam calls “knowledge from below,” those knowledges that have been disqualified only to then be co-opted by the very forces that negated them.
Let's get free!