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In Defense of Humanity

Susila Gurusami

Assistant Professor

UIC Department of Criminology, Law, and Justice


As a junior, untenured, WOC scholar, I seek guidance from former Ford Fellows on what it means to pursue financial support from an organization that is expressing an explicit commitment to locking up vulnerable Black and Brown folks in New York City. I realize there is a tension between recognizing that this is not new—in that the Ford Foundation has previously wielded its funds to attempt to silence dissent from the settler-colonial project and that the Non-Profit Industrial Complex is itself a machine of reproducing subjugation[1]—but that there is a particular violence to using the Ford Foundation platform to call for the building of new carceral institutions as a rational and balanced commitment to justice. As one of the few major institutions that offers scholars of color to the time write, research, and work with reprieve from (some) university labor, Darren Walker’s statement reveals that the Ford Foundation is stealing this time from the communities and families who will be locked up in New York City’s newest jails; they are trying to pay vulnerable and visionary scholars of color in blood and wipe their hands clean of the mess through the logics of philanthropy and multiculturalism. The Ford Foundation’s material support of these new jails undermines the very scholarship that abolitionist scholars have done as Fellows.  As former Fellows, scholars, and activists supported through the Ford Foundation, I imagine that it is your images that they will forefront in these times, and that they may look to fund abolitionist scholarship to support the flimsy narrative of “nuance” they are claiming to advance. There is no nuance in the caging of human beings. There is no nuance in reimagining creative ways to confine and police our kinfolk, whether in jails, prisons, immigrant detention centers/concentration camps, or the West Bank. We know this.


But what is our way forward, in this moment? What do we tell our students and colleagues—and ourselves—in this moment when we know the universities who employ us and pay us are first and fundamentally institutions of advancing heteropatriarchal, colonial, anti-Black capitalist violence? Professor and activist Angela Davis has called for protests against the Ford Foundation[2]. What does protest look like, beyond demonstrations? Is abolition a refusal to seek funding from the Ford Foundation? Is it public denouncement? Is it the appropriation of funds for projects of liberation? Is it seeking funding, and then refusing it if awarded? Is it returning funds that have been awarded (which is beyond the material means of most scholars and activists)? Is it making demands of the organization to retract its statement and material support of the building of new jails? Is it demanding reparations from the Ford Foundation for those who have been and are currently incarcerated at Rikers? What does an abolitionist commitment look like right now? What is our accountability, depending on our different positionalities, and to who are we asking to be accountable to and for?


I pose these questions as someone who is looking to my radical senior mentors and colleagues for guidance on how we proceed collectively towards an abolitionist future, especially as someone who has applied for Ford funding in the past and anticipated doing so in the coming cycle—until Walker’s statement was released. As I remain in discussion with other junior scholars or color, I would like to know how we might struggle together with the material reality of laboring under the disproportionate service, advising, publishing demands, and other mundane professionalization mandates of the Academy that many of us are tasked, against a political commitment that demands shaking off the chains of corruption when it is so blatantly obvious. If you have guidance for us, I welcome any words of wisdom you might have to offer.


Darren Walker’s letters:




[1] Rodríguez, “The Political Logic of the Non-Profit Industrial Complex.”; @prisonculture tweet on 9/21/2019; Collins-Wells “From Community Action to Community Policing: The Ford Foundation and the Urban Crisis, 1960-1975”; @CraigOGilmore tweet on 9/21/2019;

@tuckeve tweet on 9/22/2019


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