Dr. Josue David Cisneros is an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication and affiliate faculty in the Department of Latina/Latino Studies, the Center for Writing Studies, and the Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Dr. Cisneros researches public rhetoric about race/ethnicity, citizenship, and national identity, as well as social movement rhetoric. In 2014, Dr. Cisneros published “The Border Crossed Us”: Rhetorics of Borders, Citizenship, and Latina/o Identity. In 2018, Dr. Cisneros was named a Conrad Humanities Scholar in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
1. This year has a seen a surge of Black Lives Matter protests. What does your research on social movements tell us about how such movements are created and sustained?
Social movements are often created when a series of events catalyzes protest. We certainly have seen this throughout the summer, as the tragic murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery have created moral outrage and pushed people into the streets in cities across the country and throughout the world. Of course, there’s also the upheaval and anxiety caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has contributed to a wider sense of precarity, as well as the availability of more people to join the protests. At the same time, new waves of social movement activity always rely on and build upon existing activist networks and frames. This has been the case throughout the summer in several ways, through the networks of Black Lives Matter chapters and organizations that have helped amplify and give direction to the protests, and in the existing frames around police violence and systemic racism (also promulgated by the Black Lives Matter movement) that have helped shape the way this summer’s protests have been interpreted. It has been, in part, because of the Movement for Black Lives that public attitudes among whites have shifted, and we have seen more white folks support the movement.
2. Historically, what sorts of outcomes can we expect from mass movements such as Black Lives Matter?
Social movements have been integral to winning all of the major democratic transformations in U.S. history, from the abolition of slavery, to women’s suffrage, to labor protections and citizenship rights. Social movements change policy, distribute power, shift collective consciousness, and contribute to new moral visions. We have already seen changes brought about by this year’s protests, such as the removal of racist monuments, police department budget cuts, policing reform proposals, and a number of other actions. The Movement for Black Lives has also sparked cultural conversation about systemic racism, white supremacy, and anti-Blackness, as well as greater attention to movements for abolishing policing and imagining more just forms of community safety. Social movements also provide an opportunity for marginalized people to find collective support and solace from a system that devalues them and to build independent communities that prefigure the kind of world they want to see. We have seen this throughout the summer through forms of collective education, mutual aid, and support. We will not see all of the outcomes of this present moment for some time, but it is beyond question that they are occurring.
3. How does the Trump administration’s rhetoric constitute a particular vision of citizenship?
The Trump administration undoubtedly embraces and promulgates a particular vision of citizenship. It is a white nationalist, heteronormative, patriarchal, and deliberately exclusionary vision of citizenship. This is evident in Trump’s own rhetoric and in his administration’s policies, which demonize and target Black, Indigenous, and other people of color; immigrants; women; LGBTQ and gender-nonconforming people; and people with disabilities, and all the overlaps therein, among others.
4. What advice do you have for young scholars looking to research these topics?
There are many exciting conversations happening in the pages of Communication journals around these issues. The last year alone has seen challenging and important conversations around race and whiteness in the field, #RhetoricSoWhite and #CommunicationSoWhite, the racial politics of merit, and the future of Communication Studies and difference. I encourage young scholars to tap into the work being done now, to reach out to the scholars whose work they read, and to add their voice to efforts to redefine the field of Communication.
Mentoring is really important for young scholars researching these issues during the current administration and even more so for underrepresented scholars. I encourage young scholars to find multiple layers of mentoring and support—from people at their home institutions, from other scholars in the field with whom they identify, and even through the resources that NCA offers, such as the Anti-Racism Resource Bank and the Research and Publishing Resource Center.
Never doubt that you have something important to add to studies of social movements, racial justice, and social justice. With layers of academic gatekeeping and petty academic power struggles, it can feel like there is not a place for young scholars in the field, but we need your voice and perspective, and many of us who research these topics now are here to make space for you.
5. How do you incorporate current affairs into your classes on social movements?
Current affairs are a major thread in my social movement class. This semester, students started by reading, watching, and listening to materials about the Movement for Black Lives and this summer’s protests. They also shared their own experiences with the demonstrations. We drew on current events, both nationally and in our local university community, to talk about a number of issues related to social movements rhetoric. Now, students are studying historical social movements to learn more about tactics and strategies. In the last part of the semester, students will use this knowledge to create social movement campaigns that address current issues in our community. I think it’s important for a class on social movements to connect with what students are reading, seeing, and feeling!