Current Affairs

New Books in June

Looking for some compelling reads this summer? Check out these new titles coming out in June!

Presenting ethnographic case studies from across the globe, the contributors to Anthropos and the Material, edited by Penny Harvey, Christian Krohn-Hansen and Knut G. Nustad, question and complicate long-held understandings of the divide between humans and things by examining encounters between the human and the nonhuman in numerous social, cultural, technological, and geographical contexts.

In Anti-Japan Leo T. S. Ching traces the complex dynamics that shape persisting negative attitudes toward Japan throughout East Asia, showing how anti-Japanism stems from the failed efforts at decolonization and reconciliation, the U.S. military presence, and shifting geopolitical and economic conditions in the region.

The contributors to Captivating Technology, edited by Ruha Benjamin, examine how carceral technologies such as electronic ankle monitors and predictive-policing algorithms are being deployed to classify and coerce specific populations and whether these innovations can be appropriated and reimagined for more liberatory ends.

Focusing on Costa Rica and Brazil, Andrea Ballestero’s A Future History of Water examines the legal, political, economic, and bureaucratic history of water in the context of the efforts to classify it as a human right, showing how seemingly small scale devices such as formulas and lists play large role in determining water’s status.

In Making the World Global, Isaac A. Komola examines how the relationships between universities, the American state, philanthropic organizations, and international financial institutions inform the academic understanding of the world as global in ways that frame higher education as a commodity, private good, and source of human capital.

Therí Alyce Pickens examines the speculative and science fiction of Octavia Butler, Nalo Hopkinson, and Tananarive Due in Black Madness :: Mad Blackness to rethink the relationship between race and disability, thereby unsettling the common theorization that they are mutually constitutive.

In Entre Nous, Grant Farred examines the careers of international soccer stars Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, along with his own experience playing for an amateur township team in apartheid South Africa, to theorize the relationship between sports and the intertwined experiences of relation, separation, and belonging.

In The Fixer, Charles Piot follows Kodjo Nicolas Batema, a visa broker in the West African nation of Togo as he helps his clients apply for the U.S. Diversity Visa Lottery program. The lively stories shed light on current immigration debates.

In The African Roots of Marijuana, an authoritative history of cannabis in Africa, Chris S. Duvall challenges what readers thought they knew about cannabis by correcting widespread myths, outlining its relationship to slavery and colonialism, and highlighting Africa’s centrality to knowledge about and the consumption of one of the world’s most ubiquitous plants.

In Experiments with Empire, Justin Izzo examines how twentieth-century writers, artists, and anthropologists from France, West Africa, and the Caribbean experimented with ethnography and fiction in order to explore new ways of making sense of the complicated legacy of imperialism and to imagine new democratic futures.

Elizabeth M. DeLoughrey traces how indigenous and postcolonial peoples in the Caribbean and Pacific Islands grapple with the enormity of colonialism and anthropogenic climate change through art, poetry, and literature by using allegorical narratives in Allegories of the Anthropocene.

The Romare Bearden Reader, edited by Robert G. O’Meally, brings together a collection of newly written essays and canonical writings by novelists, poets, historians, critics, and playwrights, as well as Bearden’s most important writing, making it an indispensable volume on one of the giants of twentieth-century American art.

Terry Adkins: Infinity is Less Than One, which we are distributing for ICA Miami, accompanies the first institutional posthumous exhibition of the sculptural work of Terry Adkins (1953–2014), one of the great conceptual artists of the twenty-first century renowned for his pioneering work across numerous mediums. The catalogue is edited by Gean Moreno and Alex Gartenfeld.

The contributors to Racism Postrace, edited by Roopali Mukherjee, Sarah Banet-Weiser, and Herman Gray, theorize and examine the persistent concept of post-race in examples ranging from Pharrell Williams’s “Happy” to public policy debates, showing how proclamations of a post-racial society can normalize modes of racism and obscure structural antiblackness.

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Q&A with Beth C. Caldwell, Author of Deported Americans

Beth Caldwell PhotoBeth C. Caldwell is Professor of Legal Analysis, Writing, and Skills at Southwestern Law School and was formerly an attorney in the Los Angeles County Office of the Public Defender. Caldwell’s experiences as a public defender led her to her new book, Deported Americans, in which she tells the story of dozens of immigrants who were deported from the United States—the only country they have ever known—to Mexico, tracking the harmful consequences of deportation for those on both sides of the border.

Who are the deported Americans about whom you write? What are the most common problems they face that result in their deportation?

I use the term deported Americans primarily to refer to people who migrated to the United States when they were children (often at a very young age), who have now been deported. These are people who were primarily socialized in the United States, who grew up attending American schools, and who are more comfortable speaking English than Spanish. They’re not U.S. citizens, but they identify as Americans culturally, and others perceive them as Americans too.

The term is also broad enough to encompass U.S. citizen family members of people who have been deported—particularly the children and spouses of deportees. Although not technically deported under the law, they often feel like they too have been deported because the only option to keep their families together is to leave the United States.

Both groups refer to their experiences as “banishment” or “exile” from their homes, and they experience a range of problems that are not surprising if you imagine how it would feel to be uprooted from all that is familiar to you—from your home, your career, your family and friends. This can trigger a sense of hopelessness that can fuel mental health issues, most often depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, and thoughts of suicide. It can also push some to turn to drugs to numb their pain. Family relationships often erode in the years following deportation, which contributes to these problems.

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In Mexico, deported Americans are stigmatized and are not accepted by the dominant culture. They report feeling marginalized by their American accents and ties to the United States. This can trigger profound questions about one’s identity because people feel a sense of double rejection, by both the United States and Mexico.

You mention in your introduction that you did not set out deliberately to write this book, but rather stumbled upon it through your work and informal conversations with deported people living in Mexico. Can you speak more to how these experiences and relationships shaped your approach?

Since I didn’t deliberately set out to research this issue, I didn’t set out with any preconceived notions or expectations as a researcher who is testing a hypothesis might do. Instead, the project was shaped by listening to people and, in some cases, by observing people’s day-to-day interactions as they adjusted to the reality of being deported. Common themes emerged in people’s narratives. When I would speak with people in the U.S. about what I was hearing, people were often surprised. And I realized that it was important to document and share the other side of deportation, so that people in the U.S. would have to confront, or at least be more aware of, the very real harms that flow from the country’s deportation policies.

How does activism—yours and others’—shape the narrative in Deported Americans?

I consider the negative rhetoric that depicts immigrants as others—as invaders or as dangerous—to be the biggest obstacle to creating more humane immigration policies in the U.S. No amount of activism can bring about just immigration reforms as long as some immigrants are characterized as “good” and “deserving” while others are cast aside as “bad” or “criminal,” and therefore disposable.

One of the primary goals of the narrative in Deported Americans is to highlight the nuances and complexities in people’s lives in order to help readers to see that even people who would commonly be depicted as “bad” or “undeserving” have compelling stories and are deserving of humane treatment under the law. By telling people’s stories, I try to strip away the dehumanizing labels that are often applied to immigrants with criminal convictions in order to help readers to see people more holistically.

What do you think is the most surprising aspect of immigration law as it affects deported Americans?

Often, stories about immigrants focus on recent arrivals to the U.S., but many deportees are members of American families. The U.S. deported over 250,000 parents of U.S. citizen children between 2011 and 2017, in addition to many spouses of U.S. citizens. People are always surprised when I talk about U.S. citizens whose spouses have been deported. There seems to be a pervasive belief that marriage to a U.S. citizen protects people from deportation, but this is not the case. I’ve interviewed many U.S. citizens who now live in Mexico because their spouses have been deported, and others who are struggling with family separation because they have stayed in the U.S. after a spouse’s deportation.

People are also surprised by the lack of proportionality in these cases. There is a major disconnect between sentences in criminal court and the sanctions people experience in the immigration system, even though both systems are often imposing penalties on the basis of the same conduct. For example, a lawful permanent resident (otherwise known as a green card holder) could be convicted of a crime for which they are sentenced with minimal jail time and probation in the criminal justice system. But in immigration court, they could face virtually automatic, permanent deportation—with no realistic hope of ever lawfully returning to the U.S.—because of the same conviction.

Many news stories paint pictures of immigrants and deportees. What is the most important way that you think Deported Americans changes or contradicts these narratives?

I deliberately focus on sharing the stories of immigrants with criminal convictions to disrupt the pervasive representation of some immigrants as “good” and others as “bad.” A lot of people are framed as “dangerous” due to criminal convictions that really have nothing to do with whether they are in fact dangerous. And in many cases, it seems more dangerous to deport them—to separate them from their families, or to force their U.S. citizen family members to leave the United States if they want to stay together.

Harsh immigration policies that apply to immigrants with criminal convictions emerged alongside the tough-on-crime movement of the 1980s and 1990s. In many cases, the same laws that created drug sentencing policies that are now widely criticized also created draconian immigration policies. Although there is an emerging consensus that the War on Drugs was problematic, and there has been some progress to roll back some of its policies, very little attention has focused on the parallel problems in the immigration system. I hope to draw people’s attention to this issue.

In the context of arguments over the construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and the news about the child detention centers, how do you see conversations about deportation changing? Staying the same?

People are certainly more interested in the topic of deportation now than in the recent past. This is an interesting shift because numerically, more people were actually being deported a few years ago. I think that the more that the consequences of U.S. immigration policy come to light, the more the average American is concerned about the issues, especially when it comes to family separation. Although more attention has focused on family separation affecting people upon their entry to the United States, family separation brought about by deportation fits into the overall problem that the U.S. immigration system regularly separates children from their parents.

The issue of family separation is also directly tied to the wall. When I was first starting out my research in Tijuana, I interviewed a social worker who runs a shelter for women and children. Her shelter houses a lot of recent deportees. She was convinced that no barrier—no fence, no wall, no punishments—would stop mothers from trying to return to the United States because the instinct to reunite with their children was stronger than anything. It’s a primal instinct. Due to a long history of migration from Mexico to the U.S., which the U.S. has welcomed at many times because of a desire for Mexican labor, families are deeply interconnected across the border, and across immigration statuses. The rhetoric framing migration as an “invasion” by foreigners misses this important reality.

What do you hope readers will take away from Deported Americans?

Deportation causes a lot of harm—to both the deportees and their families, who are often U.S. citizens. It has become a normalized aspect of our society, but we should really think about whether it should be. Deportation has always been used as a tool for excluding and removing marginalized people from societies, so its roots are suspect. I hope readers will walk away from the book with lingering questions about how we might better approach the social problems deportation is currently used to address, but in a more humane way.

Read the introduction to Deported Americans free online and purchase the paperback for 30% off using coupon code E19CALDW.

 

Orin Starn on Tiger Woods’s Masters Victory

978-0-8223-5210-5_prOrin Starn, Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Duke University, watched the Masters Tournament along with the rest of the world on April 14 and offers his thoughts on Tiger’s victory here. His 2011 book The Passion of Tiger Woods brought an anthropologist’s perspective to the scandals and struggles that made yesterday’s victory such a triumph.

It was an amazing moment in America sports history yesterday.  Tiger Woods won the Masters Tournament, one of golf’s four major championships, capping a remarkable comeback from deep troubles on and off the course.  Most pundits had written off the great champion after an ugly divorce, four back surgeries, and, less than two years ago, an arrest for driving under the influence of pain-killers.  His vacant mug shot eyes were those of a man who seemed to have lost his way altogether.

That Woods would rise again felt almost foreordained and even biblical in its way.  He’d once been acclaimed as golf’s black messiah, redeeming the sport from its whites-only past, and becoming its greatest player with an astonishing knack for drama and the clutch shot.  Then, after self-destructive serial cheating destroyed his marriage, Woods was crucified to the cross of public opinion and media frenzy.   He resurrected his career with a public apology and double fusion back operation.   Now, with his Masters win, Woods has been transubstantiated, rising into celestial new heights of fan adoration at least among the golfing public.  At 43, balding, having sinned and suffered so much, Woods is more human than he had been as an invincible young superstar.   His powers of concentration and genius skill remain altogether otherworldly beyond even the imagination of us mortal weekend players.

I could not help shedding a few tears as Woods raised his arms in triumph on the 18th green yesterday.  Anyone of a certain age who has learned how hard life can be could identify with his struggle and take pleasure in his victory. There is always new drama in the Woods story, and perhaps he will now go on to reach his childhood goal of overtaking Jack Nicklaus for the most major tournament titles.  It felt yesterday, as the thunderstorms rolled across Georgia, that this Masters victory will remain as the greatest moment of all in his extraordinary story.

New Books in April

We’ve got great new reads in April in anthropology, religious studies, sociology, feminism and women’s studies, and much more.

978-1-4780-0390-8_prIn Deported Americans legal scholar and former public defender Beth C. Caldwell tells the story of dozens of immigrants who were deported from the United States—the only country they have ever known—to Mexico, tracking the harmful consequences of deportation for those on both sides of the border.

In Makers of Democracy A. Ricardo López-Pedreros traces the ways in which a thriving middle class was understood to be a foundational marker of democracy in Colombia in the second half of the twentieth century, showing democracy to be a historically unstable and contentious practice.

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Maura Finkelstein examines what it means for textile mill workers in Mumbai—who are assumed to not exist—to live during a period of deindustrialization, showing in The Archive of Loss how mills and workers’ bodies constitute an archive of Mumbai’s history that challenge common thinking about the city’s past, present, and future.

Hester Blum examines the rich, offbeat collection of printed ephemera created by nineteenth- and early twentieth-century polar explorers, showing in The News at the Ends of the Earth how ship newspapers and other writing shows how explores wrestled with questions of time, space, and community while providing them with habits to survive the extreme polar climate.

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In Autonomy Nicholas Brown theorizes the historical and theoretical conditions for the persistence of art’s autonomy from the realm of the commodity by showing how an artist’s commitment to form and by demanding interpretive attention elude the logic of capital.

In a revised and expanded edition of Medicine Stories, Aurora Levins Morales weaves together the insights and lessons learned over a lifetime of activism to offer a new theory of social justice, bringing clarity and hope to tangled, emotionally charged social issues in beautiful and accessible language.

Exploring a wide range of sonic practices, from birdsong in the Marshall Islands to Zulu ululation, the contributors to Remapping Sound Studies, edited by Gavin Steingo and Jim Sykes, reorient the field of sound studies toward the global South in order to rethink and decolonize modes of understanding and listening to sound.

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In Dance for Me When I Die—first published in Argentina in 2004 and appearing here in English for the first time—Cristian Alarcón tells the story and legacy of seventeen year old Víctor Manuel Vital, aka Frente, who was killed by police in the slums of Buenos Aires.

The contributors to Spirit on the Move, edited by Judith Casselberry and Elizabeth A. Pritchard, examine Pentecostalism’s appeal to black women worldwide and the ways it provides them with a source of community, access to power, and way to challenge social inequalities.

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Q&A with John Lindsay-Poland, Author of Plan Colombia

photoJohn Lindsay-Poland is Healing Justice Associate at the American Friends Service Committee. He is the author of numerous articles, reports, and books, including Emperors in the Jungle: The Hidden History of the U.S. in Panama and The Rise and Fall of “False Positive” Killings in Colombia and the Role of U.S. Military Assistance, 2000-2010. In his new book, Plan Colombia: U.S. Ally Atrocities and Community Activism, Lindsay-Poland draws upon his human rights activism and interviews with military officers, community members, and human rights defenders to describe grassroots initiatives in Colombia and the United States that resisted militarized policy and created alternatives to war.

What initially drew you to this project? How did the 2005 massacre in the San José de Apartadó Peace Community become the focus of your inquiry?

In the late 1990s, Colombia was experiencing 14 political murders a day, and Washington was ratcheting up its military involvement, which already had a long history, yet very few people in the United States were talking about it. When I visited San José de Apartadó in 2000, the war was all around them, they were determined to resist it, and I was moved by their commitment to each other—the “community” part of being a Peace Community. So the organization I worked for, Fellowship of Reconciliation, started a project to accompany the community to strengthen their security.

The massacre of two families, including three children, in 2005 during an Army-paramilitary operation, followed by the military’s cover-up, caused indignation among many people, and it deeply affected the community and our band of accompaniers. It was an example of how the U.S. narrative of fighting a war on drugs in Colombia was both untrue and wrong. And our presence in the community gave us an intimate and privileged view of that. The community’s and accompaniers’ versions of the atrocity had to be told.

How does human rights activism inform your approach to historical research and writing? In the same vein, how has historical inquiry influenced your activism?

My activist work led me first to seek out and hear the stories of people impacted by the policies of the United States, my country, then to meet with the policy-makers and military officers who are enacting these policies, and to do both of these over a long enough time that I began to see the patterns as well as the blind spots in the narratives, especially of people in government. So many of these folks believe that anything the United States does will have a positive effect, but don’t stick around to see their impact.

I also saw how valuable both testimony and quantitative data are for policy advocacy, and worked with human rights groups to assemble data in ways that could be used in policy discussions—for example, by identifying military units responsible for civilian killings in order to deny aid to them, under U.S. law.

Your book features striking testimony of victims of armed conflict. What tribute did you wish to pay to these figures?

I was moved by the determination of women and men in communities in the midst of war, such as the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, who denounced its violence and took an independent path. For many of them, “victim” was not a term of passivity.

If from the outside you perceive only violent actors, as is often portrayed in media accounts, then it’s easy to believe that the only way for outsiders to engage the conflict is to support the violent group that is least objectionable. But in Colombia—as elsewhere —communities resist displacement to farm their lands, organize local power to hold armed groups accountable, develop nonviolent guard cells, and resist war and injustice from their identities as feminist, labor, indigenous, Afro, youth, campesino, religious, and international communities. If people facing such overwhelming circumstances can create and resist, what can we—readers in our own circumstances—do in solidarity with these communities, and in our own communities that also face structural violence?

What resources does Plan Colombia provide for activist readers interested in creating peace in the region? How can readers get involved in peace activism in Colombia?

While much of Plan Colombia analyzes U.S. policy at the macro level and narrates the Peace Community, the massacre that took place there, and its aftermath, there is an important chapter on projects of life. One of the most important things readers can do is to visit Colombia, especially in human rights delegations like those organized by Witness for Peace and Global Youth Connect. Groups like Peace Brigades International, Colombia Support Network, and the Latin America Working Group also publish useful resources and actions people can take.

What do you see as the political and ethical consequences of your intervention?

International accompaniment of campesino communties in Colombia and elsewhere establishes a different relationship between those who’ve been harmed by empire and war, on one hand, and those who—like it or not—have benefitted from them. It places accompaniers in a role of support for people who’ve historically faced structural violence, while also using our position to reduce the risk of attack. This book grew from that relationship. Besides the precedent set by accompaniment, we worked to change U.S. policies from above that were wreaking havoc on many levels.

What contentious or controversial material can readers find in your book?

Although the normalization of war can make it seem ordinary, armed conflict is by its nature contentious, and what is accepted truth for some provokes anger and indignation in others. The book presents stories and analysis of the Colombian army’s “false positive” killings—murders of civilians later claimed as combat deaths. I also examined what role the United States played in both the forces that fed the “false positive” murders and the pressures that led to their decline as a systematic army practice. I think the evidence is strong, but it contradicts the dominant conclusion that Plan Colombia is a model that the United States should replicate in other conflicts.

What is the central lesson you want readers to take away from Plan Colombia?

Plan Colombia serves as a template for Washington’s military interventions all over the world, from Syria to the Philippines to Mexico, with few U.S. boots on the ground and a heavy investment in client military forces. U.S. intervention has become normalized in many forms, but its impacts on violence and on communities are rarely scrutinized. They should be.

How do you foresee U.S.-Colombian relations evolving in the coming decade?

The two countries remain strong military allies. U.S. military aid actually increased in the wake of the 2016 peace accord between the Colombian government and FARC guerrillas, supposedly to fill a vacuum created by guerrilla demobilization. The Trump administration is reigniting the drug war, and the land issues at the root of the conflict are also heating up, leading to more killings of social leaders. Unless people in the United States examine and prioritize the impacts on the ground of Plan Colombia, I am concerned that the cycle of hubris and violence will continue to repeat itself. The people-to-people relationships like those recounted in Plan Colombia will still be critical.

Read the introduction to Plan Colombia free online, and purchase the paperback for 30% off using coupon code E18PLAN.

Engaging in Today’s Political Climate

As voters head to the polls for the November 6 midterm elections, we look back on past issues from two of our politically engaged journals, Tikkun and World Policy Journal, for advice on how to engage in today’s political climate.

Embrace and celebrate multiculturalism.

An increasingly diverse United States requires a multiethnic approach to governance that prioritizes social welfare, argues political science professor Terri E. Givens in “How the Left Can Right Itself” (World Policy Journal 34:1). “The focus must be on addressing inequality, strengthening unions, and developing immigration policies that include burden-sharing agreements and support for those caught in conflict areas,” writes Givens.

Uphold values with grace and vision.WPJ_34_1_cover

The editorial “Trump’s Evil Policies, Democrats Aligning with the Deep State, and the Left in Shaming and Blaming” (Tikkun 32:3) advocates using a forward-looking visionary approach to left-versus-right discourse instead of a reactionary approach that assumes “a posture of fighting off the bad instead of building the good.” This reactionary strategy, the editorial reads, “will do little to transform the dynamics at play and support the emergence of a just, compassionate, environmentally sensitive and love-supporting society that is badly needed.”

Consider all of the earth’s residents.

“We must push for nothing less than a transformation in the legal systems that govern humankind’s relationship with the earth,” writes Mari Margil in “The Standing of Trees: Why Nature Needs Legal Rights” (World Policy Journal 34:2). “Right now, a growing global movement is trying to shift both law and culture to recognize the legal rights of nature. . . . This is essential to get us away from systems that treat the natural world as if it exists solely for human exploitation,” writes Margil.

Transcend fear.

“We are at our best when we embody [a] message of love and resist fear. By contrast, governing by fear is deeply antithetical to our sacred call,” writes President of Pacific School of Religion Rev. Dr. David Vàsquez-Levy in “No Hate, No Fear” (Tikkun 32:3). “Through his barrage of executive orders, impacting thousands of immigrants and refugees, President Donald Trump has framed his leadership of the world’s most powerful nation by means of fear,” writes Vàsquez-Levy, calling upon us “as individuals and communities [to] show our creative strength, intellectual capacity, deep faith, and courage as we join angels and protestors proclaiming, ‘No hate, no fear! Refugees are welcome here!’”

“Stay outraged.”

World Policy Journal 34:1, “Stay Outraged: A Conversation with Masha Gessen”

In an interview with World Policy Journal, journalist Masha Gessen points out that, as moral authority degrades within the current administration, the way that society fights that degradation is by “maintaining a sense of outrage.” She urges us to recalibrate the moral compass by speaking out in the public sphere, pointing out abnormalities, extending beyond the liberal or conservative bubble, and aspiring to a glorious future. “Stay outraged,” Gessen writes, for by “protesting, by maintaining healthy public debates in the media and other public spaces,” we maintain a “sense of moral authority.”

Sanford Levinson on Public Monuments and 20th Anniversary Edition of Written in Stone

Sanford V. LevinsonSanford Levinson is Professor of Law at the University of Texas Law School. He is the author and editor of numerous books, including Fault Lines in the Constitution: The Framers, Their Fights, and the Flaws That Affect Us Today (with Cynthia Levinson). The 20th anniversary edition of his book Written in Stone addresses debates and conflicts over the memorialization of Confederate “heroes,” with a new preface and afterward that take account of recent events. In this guest post, Levinson meditates on some of the newest controversies, including protests surrounding UNC-Chapel Hill’s “Silent Sam” and sports team mascots.

I am immensely grateful to the Duke University Press for giving me the opportunity to publish a 20th anniversary edition of Written in Stone: Public Monuments in Changing Societies, with a greatly augmented afterword (and new preface as well).  As I noted in the preface, my original suggestion in 2016, when I floated the idea of a new edition, was to prepare about 5000 words that could be submitted in August 2017, with publication taking place in late winter or early spring.  Instead, in part because of what happened in Charlottesville and afterward, the additional material totals around 20,000 words, taking into account events that occurred as late as the summer of 2018, just before the book went to press. As John Lennon is said to have said, life is what happens when you’re busy making plans!

But, already, I have sent emails to my editor, Miriam Angress, suggesting, only half-jokingly, that we begin thinking of a 25th anniversary edition in 2023, for the simple reason that the central topic—how do sometimes drastically changing societies come to terms with monuments, building names, and other such efforts by previous ruling elites to shape a certain view of the society that reflected their own hegemony?—constantly generates brand new, and challenging, examples.

So even in the relatively brief period between the time the book went to press and its publication in October, new examples have arisen from around the world.  Consider the response in Lithuania to a book written by the American granddaughter of a Lithuanian “hero” who had valiantly opposed Soviet hegemony; indeed, he was executed by the Soviets.  In the course of her research, she discovered that he had also been a vigorous anti-Semite and collaborator with Nazis during World War II. An almost full-page story in the New York Times detailed the anguish these discoveries caused the granddaughter, who had expected to write a hagiographic biography of her esteemed grandfather, but who believed that historical facts had priority.  As one might imagine, many present-day Lithuanians do not want to be told that their hero, suitably commemorated in statuary and the names of schoolhouses, might have had feet (at least) of clay. Older readers might remember the great film Who Shot Liberty Valence?, the most memorable line of which is a newspaper editor’s saying that when faced with a choice between reinforcing the legend or writing about the perhaps disillusioning truth, “print the legend.”  Memorialization is quintessentially about myth-making and preservation; suggestions to tear down, or even supply more nuance, to monuments is to attack myths that are important to lots of people. It is not surprising that they resist having their illusions (or outright delusions) shattered.  

Within the United States, students at the University of North Carolina tore down the statue of “Silent Sam,” the anonymous figure commemorating soldiers in the Confederate Army that fought to secure North Carolina’s independence from the United States (and also, of course, to maintain the system of chattel slavery).  This triggered a strong response from the conservative Republican legislature, and it remains to be seen what the ultimate outcome will be with regard to a possible restoration of the statue. The University of Mississippi quickly announced that it would change the name of one of its buildings when it was discovered that the generous benefactor who contributed to its construction (perhaps on condition that it would be named after him) had sent out racist tweets.  A California state college that memorialized “Prospector Pete” as a quintessential participant in the great California Gold Rush of 1849 decided to remove the statute (and change the name of some sports teams from the “Forty Niners”) when informed by a number of Native American students that from their perspective these invading miners were basically imperialists who had destroyed the existing Indian culture and, therefore, deserved no public honor. One might wonder if San Francisco’s professional football team will now receive any of the criticisms that have been long directed at the Washington football team’s use of a racist term as its name.  And Stanford University announced that it would change the name of the street on which it is officially located from Junipero Serra Way to Jane Stanford Way. Father Serra, the most important force behind the settlement of California by Catholic missionaries (and the missions they built throughout the state), is also now regarded by many in California as an agent of imperialism and cultural destruction.

As suggested in the new materials for the Second Edition, the rise of the #MeToo Movement has also called into question a number of namings of buildings at universities and elsewhere.  One can be confident that that many more examples will emerge in the future. One suspects that the reports discussed in the text by the New York Mayor’s commission on public monuments, or by select committees at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton will be avidly read elsewhere, as will former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s truly great speech explaining the removal of  Robert E. Lee from his pedestal atop Lee Circle in that city. The physical removal provides the truly wonderful cover of the new edition of Written in Stone.

There have even been suggestions that Austin, Texas consider changing its name, given that Stephen F. Austin held slaves and that one impetus for the secession from Mexico that created the Republic of Texas over which Austin presided was to assure the maintenance of chattel slavery.  One can doubt that Austin will in fact change its name, any more than Ohio will seek a more anodyne name for its state capital honoring Columbus, the subject of significant and ambivalent discussion by the New York Mayor’s committee. The only thing one can be confident of is that the problems posed by monuments and namings will not be going away in the foreseeable future anywhere in the world.  

Read the introduction to Written in Stone free online, and purchase the paperback for 30% off using coupon code E18STONE.

A View from the Ivy Gates: Christine Yano on Privilege and Affirmative Action

yanoChristine Yano is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Hawai’i and co-editor (with Neal K. Adolph Akatsuka) of the new book Straight A’s: Asian American College Students in Their Own Words. This guest post offers her reflections on current and recent lawsuits on affirmative action in higher education.

Privilege is an ugly word.  And any pedestal of privilege holds a fraught position that draws critics and wannabes.  Given these elements, the possibilities for manipulation of privilege and its pedestals run high.  In my mind, this is part of the backdrop of the current lawsuit against Harvard University’s admissions policy by the so-called Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) led by conservative activist Edward Blum.  The lawsuit charges that Harvard’s undergraduate admissions policy discriminates against Asian American applicants, by holding them to a higher bar than others, based on their numerical test scores and rates of admission.  The lawsuit on surface carries commonsense momentum, because it feeds upon a history of rumor and innuendo, in part driven by similar lawsuits levelled at other places of privilege, such as University of California, Berkeley.  It feeds upon stereotypes of Asian Americans as a model minority that is high-achieving and low maintenance, ignoring the diversity of national origins, culture, education levels, and social class.  The model minority stereotype thrust upon Asian Americans by white media during the racially volatile 1960s categorized them as the so-called “good minority” in contrast with other persons of color as the “bad minority.”  The lawsuit feeds upon the creation and manipulation of such divisiveness, pitting minority against minority in the most insidious ways.  The lawsuit generates its own hype.

978-1-4780-0024-2I come to these thoughts on the impending lawsuit through perusing related documents in the news media, but also through my experiences as a Visiting Professor of Anthropology at Harvard in 2014-2015, teaching an experimental and temporary undergraduate course entitled Being Asian American: Representations and Realities (Anth1606).  My students were primarily Asian American undergraduates, who were excited and enthusiastic to find a class that dealt with their own experiences.  The students’ energies coalesced as Straight A’s:  Asian American College Students in Their Own Words.  Straight A’s consists of first-person narratives of Harvard Asian American undergraduates, gathered by the students (dubbed “Asian American Collective”) through personal writings and interviews.  As their instructor and fellow Asian American, I was moved by their tales, which were direct, unblinking, and intimate.  They helped me learn the pitfalls of the public pedestal of Harvard and the constant scrutiny that such a position entails, which includes families (sometimes arcing back to extended families in Asia), friends, high schools, communities, and more.  These students live under tremendous pressure, and a lawsuit such as Blum’s only adds to the confusion and complexity of their college years.

I admit that I, too, did not know exactly what to make of the lawsuit without having done some background reading.  Because the lawsuit feeds into so many pre-existing assumptions, stereotypes, and histories, those who hear news of it may find themselves hard put to examine its context more closely.  After all, prejudice against Asian Americans is a very real thing.  Shutting out minorities (here Asian Americans; in the past, Jews) from institutions of privilege is well documented and an ugly part of history, including that of Harvard.  These kinds of historical encounters with the allegations set forth by the lawsuit give a kind of common-sense, superficial acceptance of its premises. This is a dangerous thing, especially given an age of right-wing conservatism with calls for dismantling affirmative action programs.  The lawsuit implies that the admissions process at a place of privilege such as Harvard follows affirmative action practices—that is, racial and ethnic quotas—that in this case have worked against one minority that has proven too successful for their own good.  Proponents of the lawsuit suggest that the answer is to abandon all affirmative action that might give any particular group an advantage (or here, disadvantage) over any other group.  Thus Blum and his followers (including some recruited Asian Americans, such as Yukong Zhao, president of the Asian American Coalition for Education) have found a circuitous means to argue against affirmative action in general.  It’s a neat and cynical trick.

But in fact, the trick is not quite so neat.  For example, the lawsuit mischaracterizes Harvard’s current admissions process.  In fact, many institutions, including Harvard, utilize holistic review—that is, a widespread, multi-factored review process that aims to assess the context of the whole person, rather than simply relying on test scores.  That context includes family background, life circumstances, and unusual achievement, assessed through letters of recommendation, personal essays, and interviews.  Holistic review allows institutions to deliberately and purposefully look beyond numerical test scores to recognize future value to careers and communities.  This is not about a “positive personality” score to which Asian Americans have been ranked lower—what Blum labels the “Asian Penalty.”  Rather, holistic review provides admissions offices with a range of factors that might predict fit and function, including in some cases recognition of educational barriers that certain Asian American applicants may face, such as low-income families, refugee status, or lack of English as a primary language.  The lawsuit, in fact, relies upon disaggregated data that takes Asian Americans as a monolithic group, ignoring those who might fall outside the model minority category.  Blum’s trick only works if we uncritically accept the methods of his fact-gathering and the ideological basis of his argument.  The key element to understanding the issues involved lies in contextualizing Blum and the motivations behind SFFA.

And a number of groups have done just that.  Foremost among these is the Harvard Asian American Alumni Alliance (H4A), an organization of 7000 Asian American and Asian alumni around the globe and founded in 2008.  If anything, their voice should be heard as persons directly concerned with the lawsuit issues.  In an extensive June 29, 2018 message to members, the H4A Board and Executive Committee emphasized two main points:  1) they support the inclusive, whole-person admissions process that Harvard uses; and 2) they oppose any form of racial discrimination in the process.  The message also notes Blum’s history of conservative activism, of which this lawsuit is only one.  Blum, for example, was at the forefront in bringing down civil rights protections in the Voting Rights Act.  He twice went unsuccessfully to the Supreme Court on behalf of a white plaintiff in Fisher vs University of Texas to end the consideration of race in admissions.  Realizing that he needed Asian American plaintiffs to further his generalized case to dismantle affirmative action, he sought and found them in his newly created “Students for Fair Admissions.”  The Harvard lawsuit is the result.

One of the most comprehensive documents that I have read is that issued by the Coalition for a Diverse Harvard of June 26, 2018, entitled “Admissions Lawsuit Update: A Look Behind the Hype.”  The Coalition, a multi-racial, multi-ethnic organization of nearly 1100 Harvard and Radcliffe alumni and students, includes more than 200 Asian Americans and was founded in 2016.  Its steering committee spent hundreds of hours reviewing the lawsuit documents, and comparing the statistical evaluations in a “battle of the experts”—Dr. Peter Arcidiacono (Professor of Economics, Duke University) representing SFFA versus Dr. David Card (Professor of Economics, University of California, Berkeley) representing Harvard.  Because the lawsuit is ongoing, its conclusions are as well.  However, the Coalition importantly identifies the overarching aim of Blum and SFFA as seeking to ban holistic review admissions processes nationwide through a court ruling that any use of race or ethnicity in an evaluative educational setting is unconstitutional.  If successful, the injunction would prevent all educational institutions from conducting their screening with knowledge of the applicant’s race, including surnames, mention of family background in personal essays, or in-person interviews.  SFFA seeks an admissions process that elevates (or returns) the importance of numerical test scores, while disregarding, among other things, life histories, special skills and talents, and individual passions.  This flies in the face of longstanding acknowledgment of the very limitations and biases of standardized testing.

The key here is not only that the Blum-SFFA position on admissions is wrong-headed.  It is, of course.  But there is more to it than that.  Rather, Blum-SFFA seeks to dismantle the very goals of diversity in access to higher education by “fracturing communities of color” (the words of the Coalition).  And he is using Asian Americans as his bulwark.  Those goals of diversity have been long served by affirmative action, widespread programs that recognize that students do not arrive from the same starting line.  Harvard’s admissions process may not be considered strictly “affirmative action,” but in prioritizing the whole person over a test score, and by upholding a goal of a diverse student body not because of a statistical mandate, but because of the richness to be gained and curated and advanced by difference, the ipso facto result takes race as one part of the context of all students.  The experience of race says something about the student, not as an assumption, but as one element in a particularized context of culture, family, educational expectations, stereotypes, and more.

Because the lawsuit plays so easily into sneering comments about privilege, as well as widespread rumors about access to pedestals of privilege, such as Harvard, the general public may too easily fail to look beyond the accusations.  They’ve heard this before; they’ve felt this before.  Asian Americans as almost-whites, subject to the same kinds of reverse discrimination that whites might face.  Model-minority privilege.  Focused on the easy predictability of the accusation, the general public may too easily ignore the goals of the accusers, and rely too easily on their own intentional and unintentional stereotypes of Asian Americans and other domestic communities of color.

Thus it is important to re-focus and re-calibrate our attention.  In this case, the true news story lies in the accusers’ ideology of exclusion and political conservatism.  The accusers’ world view has no room for affirmative action.  Ultimately targeting and dismantling those practices that seek to rectify social conditions of inequality, the accusers would have us believe in the holy grail of test-score objectivity.  This is why Blum advocates eliminating any and all references to race in the admissions evaluation.  The accusers would have us rush to the defense of poor Asian Americans, whose only crime was doing too well.  They would have us ignore the educational richness of a diverse campus, as well as the steps that an institution might take to achieve that balance. They would have us ignore the many ways that an individual might excel and contribute to a variety greater goods.  Using the public spotlight upon privilege and its pedestal, the accusers manipulate a quasi-minority position to do battle in the courts.  In many ways, it is a battle of world views.  But that characterization sounds far too neutral.  Indeed, this is a human rights issue.  The Harvard lawsuit represents a struggle for the very concept of what higher education and its access in the United States might mean.  The stakes run high as Blum threatens the ongoing work of affirmative action aimed at extending privilege and pedestal to a broader swath.  Asian Americans are but a pawn in his game.  This fall the courts will decide whose world view prevails.

Read more about the Asian American experience at Harvard in Straight A’s: Asian American College Students in Their Own Words. Check out the introduction, and save 30% when you purchase a copy from Duke University Press by using coupon code E18STRA at checkout.

Here and Now (Under Erasure)

The most recent issue of Social Text, “Here and Now (Under Erasure),” co-written by the After Globalism Writing group, is now available.

m_stx_36_1_coverIn both traditional and experimental prose, this special issue interrogates and reflects on the here and now—our present and new political moment. Collective thinking and writing is one method through which leftist intellectuals have operated in reactionary times and the issue uses such methodology to explore extraction, privatization, data-mining, and other workings of global capital. Turning experimentally away from the authorial and agential subject of modernity, and towards a poly-vocal exposition of water as a protagonist, this issue develops a heuristic for writing the deep history of the global present without centering either capitalism or the developmentalist state.

Browse the table of contents and read the introduction now, freely available.

Queers Read This! LGBTQ Literature Now

The most recent special issue of GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, “Queers Read This! LGBTQ Literature Now,” edited by Ramzi Fawaz and Shanté Paradigm Smalls, is now available.

m_ddglq_24_2-3_coverThis issue asks how LGBTQ literary production has evolved in response to the dramatic transformations in queer life that have taken place since the early 1990s. Taking inspiration from “QUEERS READ THIS!”—a leaflet distributed at the 1990 New York Pride March by activist group Queer Nation—the contributors to this issue theorize what such an impassioned command would look like today: in light of our current social and political realities, what should queers read now and how are they reading and writing texts? The contributors offer innovative and timely approaches to the place, function, and political possibilities of LGBTQ literature in the wake of AIDS, gay marriage, the rise of institutional queer theory, the ascendancy of transgender rights, the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and the 2016 election. The authors reconsider camp aesthetics in the Trump era, uncover long-ignored histories of lesbian literary labor, reconceptualize contemporary black queer literary responses to institutional violence and racism, and query the methods by which we might forge a queer-of-color literary canon. This issue frames LGBTQ literature as not only a growing list of texts but also a vast range of reading attitudes, affects, contexts, and archives that support queer ways of life.

Browse the table of contents and read the introduction, freely available now.