Interview with Activist Aundrey Jones

IMG_3329Considering his freelance writing, activism, hunger for knowledge, and dedicated community work, Aundrey Jones is a multifaceted and ambitious individual. From his hometown in Palmdale, California, he went on to receive his B.A. in African-American Studies in 2014 at the University of California, Riverside, and is currently a Ph.D student in Ethnic Studies at the University of California, San Diego. Although young in age, his mindset and beliefs are sophisticated, firmly grounded, and strongly supported with his constant research in American policing institutions and their relation to Black culture. Half African-American and half Filipino, Aundrey has always taken great interest in ethnic studies and discusses how classic and contemporary literature factors into the realities in America.

Q: When were you inspired to get involved with Ethnic Studies? Did your own ethnic background inspire your studies?

A: Of course it has. It’s kind of hard to say what got me into ethnic studies other than the fact that my undergraduate mentor is an ethnic studies scholar. His name is Dylan Rodriguez. He wrote two books, “Forced Passages: U.S. Imprisoned Radical Intellectuals” and “Suspended Apocalypse: White Supremacy, Genocide, and the Filipino Condition.” Although my degree is in African American Studies, it still falls under Ethnic Studies – depending on who you ask and where you are, I guess.

Ethnic Studies seemed to be the place to do the sort of project I hope to do and am currently doing which is looking at the act and practice of policing not just as a practice of the state regime (SDPD, LAPD, NYPD, etc.) but the kinds of racial policing we do among ourselves and to others. I’m looking at how we can read it through 20th century Black literature, mainly writers, artists, intellectuals who come from lower socio-economic classes.

I’ve always been into Black culture, arts, literature (which I could have gotten in other departments/fields respectively depending on who I chose to work with) but I like Ethnic Studies’ particular way of reading the state as a nation and a dominant ideological construct. Also I find myself becoming more immersed in the theoretical rigor that Ethnic studies provides, all the “isms” – Marxism, liberalism, post/structuralism, post/modernism, colonialism, etc. Like I said earlier, other fields may touch on these sorts of themes, topics, and intellectual practices/discourses, but it’s something that a little more common and specialized among Ethnic studies scholars.

WSE-white__2_Q: I know you co-wrote on your own website called WeStillExist to introduce Black ideals, especially that of a Black gentleman. Do you still write on WeStillExist, or do you have any other projects that you’re working on right now?

A: No, I don’t write on WeStillExist anymore. I dropped it over a year ago to focus on more serious writing. My political and racial views have transcended immensely over the past year. Right now I’m grounded by a bunch of academic writing but I make time to try and write on my own. It’s not posted anywhere on a blog or online anywhere yet, but I am still writing outside of the blog world.

Q: Since ethnic studies has been a growing topic throughout schools and universities, how do you think this field will impact the future? In other words, what would you say some of the main goals of Ethnic Studies programs are?

A: Coming from someone who was trained/is being trained in Ethnic studies, our hope is to provide a means to understanding what we come to know as structures of power, dominant/hegemonic ideologies, and the state. We would hope that what scholars who are trained and work in ethnic studies (since many ethnic studies scholars were trained in the traditional disciplines like English/Literature, History, Sociology, Communications, Anthropology, etc.) can provide a means to understanding social relations at the intersection of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, etc. Perhaps with the work being done in ethnic studies, events like Ferguson and Baltimore might make more sense and can potentially be prevented. Income inequalities, immigration, violence, education, media/film might be read more critically and understandably through the work that ethnic studies scholars produce and seek to produce. Very broad, I know, but that’s pretty much the general direction we hope for, and it’s something we are beginning to find more urgent to be introduced to high school students. Ethnic studies take a lot of pride in being a discipline (or rather, an interdiscipline) that was birthed out of the student movement.

Q: Do you believe that people can be impacted by the literature that discusses ethnic studies or multiculturalism? I mean, do you ultimately want to teach youths once you get your degree, or is freelance writing something you enjoy more?

A: Of course I do think there’s profound impact in literature. Quite honestly, the most ignorant, simple-minded comments I’ve ever heard from people about racial and gender matters come from those who outright say, “I don’t read.” My main objective is to teach at the university level and even at the community college and community level. I’m interested in holding workshops for the homeless and formerly incarcerated at community centers and libraries about social justice matters, while holding a tenured position at a tier 1 research university.

Speaking to your mention about multiracialism/culturalism, it goes hand in hand with liberal state agendas. Let’s diversify our corps team, make sure they are “committed” to social equity, but still function as X, Y, and Z. This is how white supremacy functions, especially today, by being masked under the cloak of multiracialism.

Q: Would you say that’s your goal—to inspire students to pursue the diversification of corps teams, or do you have a personal goal/specific focus with your current work?

A: Not exactly my goal, but I want to ignite radical thought. Ultimately, I hope my work can aid in the dismantling of U.S. policing and prisons. Largely, I hope to be a part of the pedagogical, critical, and generative process of revealing the historiography (how history is produced and written) of race/racism and how we live within and among racialized people in a racialized world.

Q: How do you feel about the riots happening in America then?

A: As long as the state has profited off of Black death, and continues to legitimate and sanction it, then I’m with the rioters. Looting stores and destroying buildings should never be on the same terrain or the same discussion as looting Black communities and destroying Black bodies.

Q: What do you think the general population can do then to help equalize humanity?

A: Well, healthy communities need to be created and maintained apart from a white constructed status quo. We need to not be so dependent on prisons and policing as mechanisms for “corrections.”

Q: Healthy communities include your ideas about inspiring radical thoughts in the education system too then, right?

A: I would say so, generally. Not just my ideas per se but certainly a collectivity and willingness to accept, acknowledge and radically deconstruct and rebuild such systems of repression.

44020black-skin-white-masks-by-frantz-fanonQ: Do you have a favorite piece of literature that involves race in some way?

A: Wow…So much. Off the bat, I’ll have to go with James Baldwin’s “No Name in the Street” and Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin White Masks.

Q: What elements do you think makes the strongest statement about race in these pieces? I know for Frederick Douglass and the Jacobs siblings, it was the sheer honesty behind their depictions.

A: What makes these works so imperative to a discussion about race is the fact that they directly deal, problematize, and reveal the lived state of Black people in a white world. Reading a writer like Baldwin alongside someone like Fanon allows us to place the conversation of “what does it mean to be Black in the world?” into the arena of “what does it mean to not be white in a white world?” Baldwin writes primarily in a North American context, while in the book speaks on the colonial occupation of France in Algeria. Having lived in Europe for some time, he is able to draw upon the meaning of suffering, why and how we suffer, and the feeling of being dominated by all surroundings. Of course, Fanon writes from a psychiatric position, as Black Skin White Masks was originally his dissertation. He was born in Martinique, and writes in French. Between these two writers we can be able to draw the connections on global Black relations.

Q: And lastly, since our journal is about contemporary literature that has potential to be classic in the future, I personally feel that race is the underlying (sometimes explicit) focus of many classic novels. Do you have any last thoughts about race as a centralized theme in literature you’d like fellow avid readers to consider or take into account?

A: Race has become an elephant in the room of many sorts, we all know we fall into it someone, yet we refuse to talk about it. Race is always talked about in terms of identity and the debate between it being biological and/or social construct. Racial exclusion, inferiority, subordination reveals the ways in which our world is constructed, from our towns/cities, to our schools, places of sociality, to the nation and world writ large. We need more people talking and thinking critically about race and its mechanics, how logics are constructed and derived from matters of race, and how racism is integral to the politco-economic, social prosperity of the West. Progress is always measured by how fast we can become white – making assimilation a modality of cultural genocide and social death. Literature, the arts, and anything being produced by and for people ought to be lasting and taken seriously to add to the critical dialogue of the contours of race in our society. Race matters, gender matter, and class matters.

If you agree that race, gender, and class matter, here’s how you can change the conversation.

One thought on “Interview with Activist Aundrey Jones

  1. Pingback: Change the Conversation, Change the Culture | (R)EVOLVE

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