Thursday, September 22, 2016

Nostalgia for a lost nation in diasporic Iranian memoir.

Associate professor of English at Ryerson University, Toronto

In this first decade and a half of the twenty-first century, diasporic Iranians, many of them women, are deploying the autobiographical form to narrate their personal experiences of life in post-revolutionary Iran and in the diaspora. The explosion of life writing in North America since the 1990s, and the growing market demand for such autobiographical narratives, has been referred to as the “memoir boom.” At the forefront of what we can now call the diasporic Iranian women’s memoir boom are two texts, both published in 1999: Tara Bahrampour’s To See and See Again: A Life in Iran and America and Gelareh Asayesh’s Saffron Sky: A Life between Iran and America. These autobiographies are the first among a now substantial corpus of texts by a generation of diasporic Iranian women, many of whom experienced the 1979 Iranian revolution in childhood and then immigrated to the West with their families. The predominant sentiment in these texts, nostalgia for a lost childhood, is thus deeply bound up with nostalgia for a lost (pre-revolutionary) nation.

These authors pen nostalgic reflections of their past inflected with a keen longing for “home.” For diasporic writers, unlike travel writers, it is the return that is the fantasy, not the departure; for them, there is little romance in being elsewhere. These life narratives emphasize the importance of memory, and of a careful re-membering (in the dual sense of recall and piecing together) of personal stories of families and friends that have remained half told, lost in the frenzied shuffle between nations, between an Iran of their past, and a North America, or Europe, of their present and future.

Nostalgia has tended historically to be regarded in negative terms: initially viewed as a curable medical ailment, it was later considered to be a form of psychological trauma. Once it was no longer diagnosed as a medical—and therefore treatable—condition, nostalgia was recast, in cultural and literary contexts, as an emotional wound. In popular discourse, nostalgia is often seen as a sentimental indulgence which market-savvy entrepreneurs have easily attached to consumer goods. These negative connotations have contributed to a view of nostalgia as implying movement backward, but as scholars of nostalgia have argued, nostalgia is as much about projecting a future past as it is about claiming an irretrievable past. In other words, nostalgic remembrances of pre-revolutionary Iran do not simply amount to mourning a past life, they are also an expression of mourning for one’s future self that might have been. In the nostalgic desire to reclaim an irretrievable place (Iran) and irretrievable time (pre-1979) lies an articulated grief for a future that could have been. At the level of the individual nostalgic, the desire for another place and another time involves a mourning for that (imagined) future self—who the diasporic subject imagines herself to have become, had a particular event (in this case, the revolution) not taken place.

Diasporic Iranian memoirs are particularly interesting in their mediation of the diasporic experience through the authors' memories of pre-revolutionary Iran, thus placing the concepts of memory and nostalgia, and questions of testimony and witness, at the heart of these narratives. These memoirs are deeply emotional, and deeply affecting in the stories that they tell. What, then, is at stake in the circulation of such affects as nostalgia, empathy, and compassion?

The prison memoir is part of a growing wave of testimonial literatures that foreground suffering, and impel the reader to take up a compassionate stance. The emotive power of these prison narratives is particularly significant for generating ethical and moral responses to the suffering body, and asks us to consider how suffering is expressed in narrative. What do narratives of suffering do? How can we, as privileged readers, bear witness to the traumatic experiences endured by political prisoners in a meaningful way, in a way that goes beyond merely expressing sympathy in the face of another’s suffering? How can we, as readers located in the West, read and engage with narratives of violence, torture, and imprisonment particularly when these narratives depict experiences in cultural and national locations—with which the West has a compromised, and often vexed, relationship?

In considering this relatively recent proliferation of diasporic Iranian women’s testimonial narratives we need to try and make sense of how certain narratives are received in the West, particularly since these texts do not have a readership in Iran: how do some narratives become more popular or more palatable to a Western or diasporic audience than others? How can we understand the far-reaching compassionate responses elicited by some popular prison narratives such as, for example, Marina Nemat’s Prisoner of Tehran (2007)? How can we understand the expression of compassion in relation to Nemat’s text against a marked lack of affective response to those unrepresentable subjects of trauma whose narrative reach does not extend as far, whose sufferings do not register as deeply upon readers in the West?

These testimonial narratives of suffering and pain impel us to bear witness and to feel the suffering of those represented in these texts, and also presumably the suffering of those lives that are not represented. How do we engage with testimonial literatures, with stories of suffering, without reproducing inequities between compassionate readers and suffering subjects?

The prison memoir as testimonial literature makes claims on the reader to respond to narratives of suffering in politically responsible ways. Prison narratives such as Shahla Talebi’s Ghosts of Revolution: Rekindled Memories of Imprisonment in Iran (2011), extend a significant challenge to readers. They require us to self-reflect in ways that can be deeply uncomfortable, asking us to imagine not only others’ suffering when they are at a safe distance, but also to reflect on the disturbing affinities between the cruelties to which human beings subject each other in their daily lives and the torture and betrayal of cellmates in a harrowing context such as in prison. Talebi’s memoir, in particular, compels us to contemplate and acknowledge, in profoundly unsettling ways, the limits of our own humanity.

A powerful genre with a far reach, the diasporic Iranian memoir can work to generate feelings of empathy for the suffering of others. As a mode of expression that humanizes an other, diasporic Iranian prison memoirs afford us an understanding of the memoir genre both as a testimonio that bears witness against injustice, and as a humanitarian narrative that asks us to rethink our capacity for empathy and compassion.


Nima Naghibi is author of Women Write Iran: Nostalgia and Human Rights from the Diaspora (Minnesota 2016) and Rethinking Global Sisterhood: Western Feminism and Iran (Minnesota 2007). She is associate professor of English at Ryerson University in Toronto.

Women Write Iran is a Great Summer Read recommendation from Ms. Magazine.

"Nima Naghibi’s familiarity and eloquence on the subject of Iranian women’s textual cultures is seen throughout Women Write Iran, opening up a clear discussion of human rights and humanitarianism."
—Gillian Whitlock, University of Queensland

"Long awaited and truly welcomed, Women Write Iran offers an erudite analysis of some of the auto/biographical works produced by Iranian women in diaspora in post-revolutionary Iran. Nima Naghibi takes her reader on a journey into these works, showing their complexity not only in their own right, but in relation to their reception, demanding a more nuanced and historically situated approach from readers."
—Shahla Talebi, Arizona State University

Friday, September 16, 2016

The U.S. custom of tipping at restaurants, from the 1800s to now

Prior to the late nineteenth century, the practice of tipping in the United States was considered
humiliating to waiters.
Image source: An 1899 edition of Their Wedding Journey by William Dean Howells.


Assistant professor of history at Washburn University

Today, when Americans go out to eat at a restaurant that provides table service, it is standard to pay the server a tip. The practice of tipping at restaurants has been the norm in U.S. eateries since the late nineteenth century. Prior to this, tipping, or “feeing” as it was then called, was considered humiliating to waiters because it was un-democratic, a vestige of a corrupt European culture and society that made one man beholden to another and degraded the dignity of labor. Indeed, when Englishwoman Frances Wright visited America in 1821 and noticed America’s prohibition on tipping, she attributed it to the “republican feelings of this community,” adding: “I honor the pride which makes a man unwilling to sell his personal service to a fellow creature.”

Another contemporary custom in American restaurants that would have been shunned in the early nineteenth century is the practice of referring to members of the wait staff as servers. The title waiter, which seems to have recently fallen out of favor because it is not gender neutral, originated from an American desire to separate and elevate the work from being a servant. For example, in Royall Tyler’s 1787 play The Contrast, Colonel Manley’s servant prefers to be called a waiter because, as he explains, “no man shall master me!” Server, in contrast to waiter, sounds, well, rather servile.

If nineteenth-century restaurant waiters were a bit sensitive it is because they had good reason to be. Waitering was an occupation fraught with status anxiety in the young republican country, where citizenship was closely tied to economic independence. Native-born white men avoided working as a waiter if they could and these jobs were instead largely filled by men who, thanks to racial and ethnic discrimination, confronted more limited occupational options: African Americans and Irish immigrants. (There were no waitresses in early American restaurants; waiters were men.) Proprietors and managers, however—especially of luxury restaurants—recognized how important securing a skilled wait staff was to the success of their establishment. Accordingly, waiters’ wages were among the highest paid to unskilled workers, especially blacks and Irishmen, and the job was thus highly sought after among these populations.

A Parker House bill of fare from January 15, 1856.
Note the manager's request for patrons not to "fee" the waiters (bottom left).
Image courtesy: American Antiquarian Society.

In the decades after the Civil War, as Americans became more comfortable with what the sociologist Thorstein Veblen termed conspicuous consumption, tipping became in-vogue in restaurants that catered to the wealthy as a way for patrons to demonstrate their conspicuous consumption of waiters’ services and signal enhanced social status. The custom gradually caught on in more plebian restaurants.

A tip is now anticipated in every kind of American dining venue except fast-food chains. In fact, thanks to the custom of tipping, the restaurant industry is not required to pay its employees the minimum wage. Servers in some states make as little $2.13 per hour (the federal minimum tipped wage since 1991), with tips being expected to augment this income to at least the standard federal minimum wage of $7.25.

But for the last several years, a backlash against tipping has begun to resurface. The advocacy group Restaurant Opportunities Center United (ROC), founded in 2001, for example, has launched a campaign called “One Fair Wage” that aims to eliminate the lower minimum wage for tipped workers and abolish tipping altogether. One Fair Wage has been embraced in eight states and recently won the support of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and the Democratic party’s platform.

Why is tipping once again under scrutiny? On its website, the One Fair Wage campaign points to a number of different reasons to eradicate what nineteenth-century Americans called the “tipping evil.” For example, although restaurant employers are supposed to “top off” a server’s pay when tips don’t add up to at least the minimum wage, many employers neglect to do so and rarely face penalties thanks to lax enforcement of the law. Partly as a result of this, tipped workers are three times as likely to face poverty as the rest of the workforce. This occupational hazard particularly affects women since, according to the National Women's Law Center, today, 70 percent of restaurant servers are female. The shift to female-dominated wait staffs in American restaurants is itself related to the custom of tipping that became popular beginning in the late nineteenth century; as waiting became more associated with servility, women moved into the position in greater numbers.

According to ROC, female servers’ dependence on tips forces them to daily confront sexual harassment from their customers as an occupational hazard. 90 percent of female restaurant workers living off tips report being sexually harassed at work. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) finds that the restaurant industry is the largest source of sexual harassment charges filed by women, with a rate five times higher than in any other industry.

Opponents of tipping today would likely agree with Americans of the early Republic that the practice contributes to economic inequalities, creates a society divided between the haves and have-nots, and leads to a culture that denigrates labor. Perhaps we should take a cue from the restaurant trends of the past by once again eliminating the “tipping evil” and instead require the restaurant industry to pay its workers at least the minimum wage.


Kelly Erby is author of Restaurant Republic: The Rise of Public Dining in Boston. She is assistant professor of history at Washburn University.

"Restaurant Republic acknowledges the struggles involved in the development of a modern American consumer society and demonstrates that dining can make complex, and even contradictory, impulses rational."
—Andrew P. Haley, University of Southern Mississippi

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

René Magritte's Selected Writings: On Jane Graverol

Jane Graverol's Le Cortège d'Orpheé.


Though the artist René Magritte (1898–1967) wrote extensively throughout his life and career—from aspirations of being a detective novelist to crafting genre-jumping essays, prose poems, lectures, reviews, and more—it’s hard to say why exactly it has taken so long for Magritte’s writings to become available in English. His Ecrits Complets (Complete Writings) were published in French by Flammarion in 1979, weighing in at a hefty 761 pages. An English edition of his Selected Writings, translated by Jo Levy and edited by John Calder, was originally commissioned in 1987 by Calder Publications, but the book was never released. The translation languished in typewritten manuscript in the Calder archives in Caen, France. Almost thirty years later, edited by Eric Plattner and myself, here it is.

Thanks to our having seen the Magritte exhibit The Mystery of the Ordinary: 1926–1938 at the Art Institute of Chicago in the summer of 2014, I became intrigued to learn more about Magritte’s output as a writer, because many of the museum wall texts consisted of quoted material from the artist’s writing.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Magritte’s Selected Writings is that it offers fans a chance to see him acting as a tastemaker and critic, as well as a supporter of his fellow artists. One of his most succinct and heartfelt endorsements is the one below of the Belgian surrealist painter Jane Graverol (1905–1984), whom he met in 1949 and whose eerie and imaginative images he admired. This piece is from a 1953 issue of the little magazine Temps mêlés (Mixed Time) dedicated to her work that also contained contributions from other members of their Brussels circle of artists and writers, including Paul Colinet, Marcel Lecomte, Marcel Mariën (with whom Graverol lived for 10 years), Louis Scutenaire, and Geert Van Bruaene.

The accompanying paintings testify to what Magritte describes as her participation in “the only necessary spiritual activity.”

Jane Graverol's L'Esprit Saint.

On Jane Graverol

Everything that Madame Jane Graverol wants to paint seems to me to be charged with the symbolic resonance that comes from a variety of romantic and dramatic feelings. Instead of “using art as an escape”, it is indeed possible, from the moment one decides to paint, not to give up one’s usual preoccupations and to create images of conflicting emotions which will be of real interest to someone interested in human documents, who can then, in his turn, arouse the curiosity of a new observer and so on, ad infinitum. Jane Graverol’s paintings are somewhere in this world of feeling where connections between things are contained within precise limits. But it turns out that the power of the unexpected makes it harder to grasp their meaning. Jane Graverol does not wish to counter the power of the unexpected, consequently she participates in the only necessary spiritual activity.

Jane Graverol's Lolita.


Kathleen Rooney is coeditor of René Magritte: Selected Writings. Rooney is senior lecturer of English and creative writing at DePaul University, and author of eight books of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and criticism.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

When Homeland Security goes to school

Assistant professor of social foundations of education at the University of Illinois-Chicago

In 2015, the FBI launched the controversial website Don’t Be a Puppet: Pull Back the Curtain on Violent Extremism. Through interactive games, the playful website intends to prevent young people from embracing extremist beliefs. Don’t Be a Puppet also offers resources for parents and teachers to “educate teenagers on the destructive and deceptive reality of violent extremism and to strengthen their resistance to self-radicalization and possible recruitment.” Although some support Don’t Be a Puppet as a proactive approach to thwarting homegrown extremists, others warn that the website promotes the stereotyping and criminalization of Arab and Muslim Americans.

Screenshot from the FBI's Don't Be a Puppet website.

Don’t Be a Puppet is part of a larger cache of educational programs and practices organized around fighting the global war on terror. From spy camps for children to high school homeland security studies programs to college degree programs in violent extremism, the global war on terror has ushered in a new set of educational policies, practices, and programs in the name of national security. In this approach to the global war on terror, schools train young people as the next generation of national security workers, cultivate youth as vigilant citizens who report and respond to perceived threats, and dissuade students from joining extremist groups.

In 2008, for example, Milton High School installed a specialized Homeland Security program. Located in the greater-DC metropolitan area, the program trained poor and working-class students of color for low-level work in the national security industry. Dozens of local national security experts, agencies, and corporations supported Milton’s Homeland Security program. These national security partners provided resources and curricular guidance to instill in Milton students the technical skills, durable dispositions, and habits necessary for vocational national security work. Algebra teacher Ms. Simmons, for example, detailed a “power lunch” with a Northrop Grumman employee. This consultation led Ms. Simmons to infuse eight lesson plans with national security logics, from calculating the probability of a terrorist attack at a local international airport to determining the parabolic force needed for a sniper to find and shoot a target in North Korea. Through specially designed Homeland Security courses, electives, field trips to national security hubs, national security guest speakers, and internships, Milton prepared its “rough” and “rowdy” students as future “military grunts,” cybersecurity technicians, Border Patrol agents, and NSA workers. Branded as the “vo-tech of the 21st century,” the Homeland Security program sought to improve the struggling school while providing a “pipeline” of diverse workers to the national security industry.

A Curriculum of Fear traces my journey through my yearlong participation in Milton’s Homeland Security program alongside the school’s hardworking teachers and its vibrant students. My experience at Milton was complicated, as my days in the Homeland Security program revealed the complexities, contradictions, and contributions of these new educational arrangements calibrated to the global war on terror. Despite my concerns about how this national security schooling shaped students’ understanding of the world and their place in it, I often found myself swept away by the program’s hands-on learning opportunities, its provocative topics, and its riveting guest speakers. I, for example, was captivated by a high-level NSA agent’s accounting of the “hackers, criminals, terrorists, and nation-states” who posed a threat to the United States. Like students, I listened attentively as a US Army Corps of Engineers representative described the haunting search and rescue missions in the smoldering rubble of the World Trade Center towers after 9/11. I leaned in with curiosity as he detailed his subsequent deployment to “primitive” and “backward” Afghanistan to “support our warfighters” and prevent “another September 11.” Armed with a police training gun, I enthusiastically pursued students in a home invasion simulation at the State Police Academy. With what seemed like minimal effort, I acquired much national security knowledge, a clear indication of how effective the Homeland Security program was in teaching young people (and me) complex information in accessible and engaging ways.

A Homeland Security-focused classroom at Milton High School.

It was easy to understand why teachers viewed the program as an innovative way to improve the school while securing the financial futures of its poor and working-class student body. The Homeland Security program offered students a course of study anchored in a thrilling topic they valued, pathways to obtain stable jobs in a booming industry after graduation, and opportunities to protect their nation as vigilant citizens and national security workers. Guided by neoliberal pressures to run schools as job-training sites, intensified fears of resurgent terrorism, and a pulsating sense of national responsibility, Milton teachers and students alike argued that the Homeland Security program was a laudable effort to secure young people’s futures and the nation.

As exhilarating as I found it, I often worried about the effects of a program so narrowly focused on the problem of terrorism and the militarized solutions it offered. The more time I spent at the school, the more concerned I became by the fears students expressed, the militarized approaches to national security the school advanced, and the Orientalist worldview the program promoted. Eleventh-grade student Tiffany, for example, detailed how her participation in the Homeland Security program cultivated deep fears of a terrorist attack in her community. Her new knowledge, infused with palpable fears, compelled Tiffany to adjust her own corporeal engagement with the social world to ward off danger and ease her fears:

I’m not gonna say because of Homeland Security I’ve been alert, but we learned that people like terrorists look like normal people….On the bus, I just be like, “This looks a little suspect, I’m gonna walk away.” You could be suspect. They’re normal people and I would just sit there and just like, you know, when I’m the bus now, I just say, you know, don’t react. Like I don’t say “Hi” and talk to everybody ’cause you never know. I was so friendly before Homeland Security. I’m not gonna say I’m not friendly, but I was just so open to talk to anybody, anything, didn’t really care, didn’t really think about it and then [our teacher] made us realize, “Look, everybody not your friend. People are crazy out here. You need to watch out.” . . . So this class made me more of knowing to the outside world ’cause I was really just like cool with everything. I never thought, like I thought everybody’s good. I don’t think everyone’s bad or suspect. I just definitely watch how they act, their body language when nobody’s right there to see what they’re doing. ’Cause you never know. People crazy. So this class has definitely shown me that.

Tiffany’s new national security knowledge informed her fears of a terrorist attack while riding the bus. Through rehearsals of catastrophic attacks infused with haunting references to “another September 11,” fearful yet patriotic Milton students came to imagine the United States as under constant threat and thus demanded a matrix of national security practices, from armed police to war. Given these fears, students diligently studied the skills, knowledges, and procedures necessary to act as “good citizens” who defended their homeland from the “bad guys.”

Milton students briefly observed as police recruits learned to respond
to mass demonstrations on a field trip to the State Police Academy.

My daily participation in Milton’s Homeland Security program revealed, firsthand, how the global war on terror seeped into and reconfigured the public school, particularly for its poor and working-class youth of color. Although Milton school staff supported this remaking of their school, Homeland Security program coordinator Mr. Hopkins and Principal Young balked when I asked if their children would someday participate in the program. Prompted by their hesitation, I began questioning how a military-infused national security schooling became what one teacher called an “obvious choice” for Milton’s struggling students, but not the children of white, middle-class teachers. Informed by this contradiction, A Curriculum of Fear explores the social, political, and economic contexts that shaped how Milton school staff came to establish a Homeland Security program that, by design, funneled Milton’s non-dominant youth into the global war on terror, as “military grunts,” low-level national security workers, and vigilant citizen-soldiers. In doing so, A Curriculum of Fear calls into question the relegation of poor and working-class youth of color to a militarized education that nourishes fear, advances dangerous assumptions about who and what is “suspicious,” and pushes students toward war. Although teachers sought to improve the school for their struggling students, these good intentions often masked the underlying racialized and militarized assumptions, logics, and effects of a high school program organized around advancing the global war on terror.

As the FBI’s Don’t Be a Puppet website suggests, the global war on terror continues to usher in new institutional arrangements that align US public schools with military exigencies, especially in communities of color. This historical moment defined by the global war on terror demands a new political imagination that creatively works toward countering the militarization of public education in the United States. This imagination must articulate other forms of belonging, security, and national responsibility in US public schools outside of dominant tropes of terrorism, war, and violence. As I argue in A Curriculum of Fear, Milton’s Homeland Security program serves as a clarion call for a different kind of public education that nourishes the critical thinking skills necessary to solve today’s most pressing social problems and to contribute to a participatory democracy. The work toward the public education, and political future, we want for our children begins today.


Nicole Nguyen is author of A Curriculum of Fear: Homeland Security in U.S. Public Schools. She is assistant professor of social foundations of education at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

"A Curriculum of Fear offers unique and engaging insight on the intersections of education, securitization, and militarism in the United States. It makes an important contribution to research in each of these fields."
—Emily Gilbert, University of Toronto

"A valuable contribution to the literature on the militarization and corporatization of schools, situating the topic in terms of the broader ideological and economic constellation of neoliberalism and militarism."
—Kenneth Saltman, University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth

Friday, August 19, 2016

Aliens, monsters, and revolution in the Dark Deleuze

Visiting assistant professor of emerging media and communication at the University of Texas at Dallas

French philosopher Gilles Deleuze is usually characterized as a thinker of positivity. Consider two of his major contributions: the rhizome as an image for the tangled connections of networks, and the molecular revolution as transform spurred by unexpected quantum drift. These concepts catapulted the popularity of his thought as the digital age seemed to reflect social forms matching each form, namely the world wide web of the Internet and the anti-globalization 'movement of movements' that lacked central coordination. Commentators marshaled his work to make sense of these developments, ultimately leading many to preach the joy of finding new connections to the material world (New Materialism), evolving the human at the bio-technical level (Post-Humanism), and searching out intensive affective encounters (Affect Studies).

In my new book Dark Deleuze, it is not my contention that such "affirmations" are incorrect. Rather, my argument is that Deleuze was ambivalent about their development, and later in life became more a critic than proponent. In updating Deleuze for the digital age, I did more than restore a critical stance – I worked out how his lost negativity could be set loose on this world by destroying it.

Here I expand on the Dark Deleuzian notion of "Death of This World," a term I introduce as an image of negativity, by rendering it here as "the alien." Instead of using well-worn digital examples, I instead explore the greatest looming question for the humanities: the Anthropocene.

Anthropos, Anthropocene, Anthropological Transformation
In a recent talk, I analyzed the discourse associated with the Anthropocene, the scientific fact that recent human development has provoked ecological changes deep enough to be recorded at the level of geological periods. I ended with three mythological figures that illustrate possible responses to the Anthropocene: Gaia, Prometheus, and Medea.

Gaia is a personification of the natural world living in perfect harmony. Hers is a story of unity, cooperation, and reciprocity. Isabelle Stengers's Gaia inverts the image of a fragile earth exploited by the predatory machinations of humanity. This Gaia intrudes to remind us that it is our way of life that is out of balance, not hers. The consequence is clear: fundamental change is inevitable in the Anthropocene, but it will be an anthropological transformation and not a modification to the building blocks of life.

Prometheus: Or, The Monstrous
The tale of Prometheus is about forbidden technology. The most popular tale of Prometheus is that of Doctor Frankenstein's monster. This is obvious enough from the subtitle Mary Shelley gave it: "The Modern Prometheus." Commentators continue to debate the conclusions readers should draw from her characterization of modern science as a monster. A mistake? Is humanity just not prepared? Must human misunderstanding be overcome?

One answer is given by David Cronenberg in his 1986 remake of The Fly. The film depicts Doctor Seth Brundle, who becomes a "fusion of Brundle and fly at the molecular-genetic level" after a scientific accident. The Fly is a literal realization of the "molecular revolution" laid out by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari that describes political transformation at the micropolitical level. Brundle's own molecular transformation occurs through an "admixture" that adds fly as a minor ingredient to the human. He develops strange physical capacities that replace the normal abilities of a human: he grows hyperactive, gains extra-human strength, walks on walls, eats by vomiting digestive juices, and sprouts extra appendages. Ultimately, Brundle loses his mouth, and with it, the capacity for language that Aristotle says makes us human. Almost immediately, he sheds his human skin to reveal himself as a horrifying six-foot bipedal fly. This final form offers the definitive version of the monstrous: the molecular transformation of the familiar into the abject.

Medea: Or, the Alien
The myth of Medea is an account of domestic revenge. Medea's revenge marks her as a barbarian, the name given to those who blabber in a foreign tongue and whose incivility exceeds local norms. As dramatized by Seneca, in the penultimate moment, Medea mounts a chariot yoked to dragons, and as she flies away, her spurned husband declares that "there are no gods" wherever she rides.

A recent depiction of the alien is Jeff Nichols' Midnight Special (2016). It opens with an 8-year old boy on the run. He inadvertently causes intense seismic activity as if the very fabric of the world was unraveling. "They think you're a weapon," an NSA analyst tells him, "and the ranch thinks you're their savior." "I'm not any of those things," the boy responds, "I belong in another world. There are people there – they watch us. They've been watching us for a very long time. I need to go where I belong." At the climax of the film, we are briefly shown that other world.

Medea and Midnight Special thus exemplify the alien as perceptible but unintelligible. Such impenetrability is crucial for distinguishing the monstrous from the alien. Ridley Scott's "aliens" are knowable monsters because they are amalgams of known animal traits. Testifying to this fact, most "alien" films are really just extra terrestrial monster movies that resolve when humans cleverly decode the monster's animal makeup (Aliens, Predator, Independence Day, Starship Troopers, Pitch Black, Signs). Adding a dystopian spin, District 9 shows how even unknowable space monster strangeness can be entrapped as form of molecular exploitation. The exception that proves the rule is John Carpenter's The Thing, in which the alien monster lacks a distinct form, rendering it unrecognizable, only avoidable.

Why distinguish between the monstrous and the alien? For Dark Deleuze, because they offer distinct images of revolution: one joyous, one dark. The monstrous depicts revolution as molecular drift while the alien illustrates revolution as otherworldly. This molecular is an organization model explored by "quantum theorists" and New Materialists to replace a single punctual event with many tiny revolutions – although those moments may swell into a sweeping society-wide upheaval. In contrast, the alien revolution is the focus of Dark Deleuze, in which I offer a series of terms in contrast to those made familiar by molecular Deleuzians: asymmetry, conspiratorial communism, cruelty, interruption, and the power of the false, to name a few. If the molecular occurs from the inside-out, where the familiar becomes strange, then the alien occurs from the outside-in, with the intrusion of something so unsettling that it forces us to find a fresh orientation. The alien revolution begins by heeding the call of the outside and ends the Anthropocene with "the death of this world."


Andrew Culp is visiting assistant professor of emerging media and communication at the University of Texas at Dallas and author of the new book Dark Deleuze. He would like to thank Eva Della Lana, Alejandro de Acosta, and Alex Galloway for their helpful feedback.

Forerunners: Ideas First is a thought-in-process series of breakthrough digital publications. Written between fresh ideas and finished books, Forerunners draws on scholarly work initiated in notable blogs, social media, conference plenaries, journal articles, and the synergy of academic exchange. This is gray literature publishing: where intense thinking, change, and speculation take place in scholarship.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Turning from political extremes to new forms of collective action

Senior lecturer in the School of Social Sciences and Psychology at Western Sydney University

While those from the political extremes seem to be excited and increasingly agitated about their participation in democracies across the globe, with the US and Australia being good recent examples, a larger majority of perhaps more moderate people appear to be disenchanted with the political options presented to them at the ballet box. What Bruno Latour noted some time ago in the 2005 book Making Things Public still holds true today:

Some conjunctions of planets are so ominous, astrologers used to say, that it seems safer to stay at home in bed and wait until Heaven sends a more auspicious message. It’s probably the same with political conjunctions. They are presently so hopeless that it seems prudent to say as far away as possible from anything political and to wait for the passing away of all the present leaders, terrorists, commentators and buffoons who strut about the public stage (page 14).

This point was made again, more recently and less provocatively, by Kay Anderson in her response to my new book Building Dignified Worlds:

In the contemporary world context of deepening disaffection with party politics, and intensifying polarities across many so-called advanced capitalist economies, one wonders whether we are witnessing a resurgence of the kind of broadly-based resistances to the business of politics and economics that Gerda aligns with traditionally left alliances and ‘strong theory’?

So what hope is there for politics? Are our options really so bleak? I do not think so, rather perhaps many of us are more interested in and turning toward new forms of collective action responding to everyday economic concerns, from ‘taking back factories’ as represented in the film The Take to farming initiatives that take the needs of the environment and other species into account in economic decision making.

Collectives centred on concern are remarkably different from the traditional left and social movements that are joined by a singular identity. In contrast, these collectives gather together and sometimes realign a diverse range of actors around contemporary matters. And they are less concerned with resistance than the creation of alternatives. While we may be increasingly familiar with this form of hybrid political action today, this has not always been the case. A lot of work has been undertaken within and outside the academy to make these collectives visible. Building Dignified Worlds documents and is part of this broader project.

Taken by the author in Porto Alegre, Brazil, during the 2005
World Social Forum, this photo of a screaming vampire of neoliberalism
was one of many graffiti images that oppose the neoliberal agenda.

I became interested in these new forms of collective action when I traveled to Porto Alegre, Brazil, in 2005 to attend the World Social Forum. I had been researching neoliberalism and, becoming increasingly pessimistic about democratic politics and national economic management, was keen to see what alternatives there might be. The 2005 World Social Forum was teaming with alternative initiatives and experiments in living from around the globe. I was particularly struck by the story of the Coalition against Water Privatisation in South Africa, where the discussion of neoliberal governmentality was punctured by a discourse of the commons enacted through the initiatives “Operation Switch On/Light Up” and “Operation Open the Water.” I also attended the World Dignity Form held within the World Social Forum where the term dignity seemed to me to reflect a shift from a divisive politics centred on class opposition to a more general concern that economic life be evaluated in terms of dignity. I left the World Social Forum, as many researchers leave their ‘field sites,’ overwhelmed with the number of diverse initiatives around the globe, but with little idea about how to think about them outside of a politics of resistance.

Building Dignified Worlds is the result of my subsequent thinking about these collectives. Geography in particular has provided me with a lens to the diverse gathering and political realignments these initiatives are making happen. In my book I explore the performative and embodied geographies through which collective action takes place and the kinds of possibilities this action creates. My examination includes film, trash-picking collectives in Brazil and the Philippines, a session of the 2005 World Social Forum, farming initiatives in Australia, and more; an eclectic mix that enables me to discuss a wide range of geographical dimensions that create change.

Building Dignified Worlds uses the term dignity to describe the kind of human being that can be realised through the economic initiatives and ethical political economic actions discussed throughout the book. Dignity reflects both a mode of being human and the dignified world in which this is possible. The term dignity may grate with some readers, as Kay Anderson noted, dignified modes of being human could be taken as an ideal universal figure of the human, just as the colonial human figure was with all the damage that figure justified. Yet this is not my intention and is an area I am currently working on by exploring caring relationships across different species beings, including diverse modes of being human. By using the term dignified worlds, I hope the book helps to open up a space for further exploration of collective action that responds to the challenges of coexistence and interdependence.


Gerda Roelvink is a senior lecturer in the School of Social Sciences and Psychology at Western Sydney University. She is author of Building Dignified Worlds: Geographies of Collective Action and an editor of the collection Making Other Worlds Possible: Performing Diverse Economies.

Praise for Building Dignified Worlds:

"Roelvink’s writing effortlessly carries the reader from beginning to end." —Environment & Planning D: Society and Space

"A fantastic contribution to contemporary post-structuralist geographic thought that elaborates new politics of social change."
—Marianna Pavlovskaya, Hunter College, SUNY


This blog post references:
-Latour, Bruno. 2005a. “From Realpolitik to Dingpolitik: or How to Make Things Public.” In Making Things Public: Atmospheres of Democracy, eds. Latour, B and Weibel, P., 14-41. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.
-Lewis, Avi. and Klein, Naomi. 2004. The Take (film). Canada: National Film Board of Canada and Barma-Alper Productions Inc, Madman Cinema.
-Roelvink, Gerda. 2016. Building Dignified Worlds: Geographies of Collective Action. Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The global implications of RNC support for gay “conversion therapy”

Assistant professor of sociology at Temple University

Last week, police in Uganda raided an LGBT pride event. Witnesses described police brutality, especially toward transgender women. Among those arrested were Pepe Julian Onziema and Frank Mugisha, leaders of Sexual Minorities Uganda. The Anti-Homosexuality Act, which passed there in 2014, has since been overturned by Uganda’s constitutional court—but clearly the anti-LGBT sentiments behind it persist. In its initial form, this bill provided the death penalty for the crime of “aggravated homosexuality,” but when passed, this punishment became life in prison.

As I argue in The Straight Line, sexual reorientation therapy research and ideology imported from the United States were used in advocacy for this bill. Part of this ideology is to conflate homosexuality with transgender expressions as an overall pathological inability or unwillingness to conform to demands of one’s assigned birth gender, including heterosexual expression. A document from the National Association of Social Workers of Uganda (NASWU) was entered into the official record of the Ugandan Parliament and drew on these ideas, citing reorientation research studies from the US-based organization NARTH (National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality). While most reorientation practices in the U.S are talk therapies promoting conformity to rigid gender stereotypes, the implicit pathologization of homosexuality can be used to bolster legal punishment. Such laws can gain support especially when “homosexuality” is seen to include a propensity to prey on vulnerable populations like children, often involving the treatment of LGBT people as scapegoats for a range of social ills.

Map of the 77 countries with laws against sexual relations
between people of the same sex.

Uganda is one setting among many around the world where reorientation concepts have traveled and where homosexuality and pro-LGBT advocacy have been further criminalized. It is imperative to consider this broader context when discussing the official 2016 Republican National Convention platform: “We support the right of parents to determine the proper medical treatment and therapy for their minor children” (page 37). While this language may seem innocuous on the surface, it is based on explicit support for conversion therapy, despite that there are legal precedents for preventing parents from forcing potentially harmful treatments on kids under their charge. Position statements by all mainstream mental health organizations in the United States have declared that there is no evidence for the efficacy of reorientation treatments. These organizations include the American Psychological Association, American Psychiatric Association, National Association for Social Workers, American Counseling Association, American Medical Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, in addition to global institutions such as the Pan American Health Organization regional office of the World Health Organization and the International Federation of Social Workers. And last year, a New Jersey court ruled that reorientation therapists violated that state’s consumer fraud protections.

Back in 2014, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni stated that his decision to sign the Anti-Homosexuality Act hinged on whether a panel of Ugandan scientists could determine if homosexuality was genetic in origin, or whether it could be changed. At a mass celebration in Kololo Stadium in Kampala following the creation of the new law, Museveni drew on this panel’s findings and declared that homosexuality is a “learned behavior that can be unlearned.” Support for conversion therapy within the RNC's platform (not to mention other anti-LGBT positions there such as opposition to transgender restroom rights) is a very profound signal around the world to leaders like Museveni. It effectively lends ideological support for further legal punishments for homosexuality and gender variance in other nations, as well as forms of violence perpetuated in the United States that disproportionately affect queer people of color.

Countering this ideology, one popular response to conversion therapies for gays has been to argue that homosexuality is not a choice because people are born gay or straight. It is often this biological model of homosexuality, also known as “essentialism,” that underlies the notion that “gay rights are human rights”: that there is a genetically determined gay population around the world that needs to be liberated so that people can live in accordance with their inborn nature. However, this approach can only achieve so much, and the science upon which it is based is suggestive at best. Sexuality certainly has a biological component, but like language, there always has been and always will be a cultural learning component to all sexual and gender expressions.

Moreover, new research has shown that a substantial proportion of people who believe that people are born gay do not, at the same time, support gay rights—as though homosexuality were a congenital defect. Anthropological research on global sexualities has identified a broad range of ways people classify sexualities and genders, to differing degrees of importance in people’s lives; by no means is the Western gay/straight dichotomy of fixed sexual orientations and sex binaries universal. As Joseph Massad has argued, exporting this model to nations with more fluid notions of sexuality can invoke backlash against static categories that inscribe Western individualism embedded in notions of human rights. But even within the United States, the fixed gay/straight dichotomy is inadequate, as scholar Jane Ward has argues: “It turns out male sexuality is just as fluid as female sexuality.”

An alternative position on homosexuality is to face the issue at its core: to argue that there is nothing inherently shameful about same-sex sexualities, and that there can even be something edifying about those relationships. Rather than presume all people belong in gay/straight binary boxes on the basis of some elusive notion of biological nature, the idea “gay rights are human rights” could instead mean the right for all people to freedom of sexual and gender expression, including the right to same-sex sexualities and/or other sex sexualities, regardless of their cause. Conservatives frequently accuse gays of “recruiting” children, but forced conversion therapy of kids is obviously a means of recruiting children into a particular way of life, complete with strict gender binaries, sexual restrictions, and patriarchal norms that deny human freedom.

It is important to point out the risk of harm within conversion therapies, including the risk of suicide attempts, and to consider bans. However, working toward eliminating the cultural taboos on homosexuality and gender variance altogether may be a more effective way of countering these therapeutic attempts that increasingly move underground when banned. Regarding homosexuality, this would require acknowledging that sexual experiences of any particular type do not necessarily determine a person’s entire sexual career across the life course; it would also mean removing the taboo on heterosexuality within LGBT communities if people feel like moving in that direction. With this logic, it is the fear, loathing, and hatred of consensual sexualities and gender expressions different from one’s own that constitute, to borrow President Museveni’s phrase, “learned behavior that can be unlearned.”


Tom Waidzunas is author of The Straight Line: How the Fringe Science of Ex-Gay Therapy Reoriented Sexuality. He is assistant professor of sociology at Temple University.

"The Straight Line is a remarkably forward-thinking work of scholarship with the potential to disrupt normative academic discourses in the best possible ways. " —Lambda Literary

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

How tourism is deeply implicated in the antagonistic global structures that lead to war.

School of Politics, International Studies and Philosophy at Queen's University Belfast

After the emergence of organized mass tourism in the mid-19th century, billions of people have indulged their desires to visit cultures, landscapes, and experiences different from their own. No place on the planet is immune to the tourist gaze: alongside familiar visits to museums, monuments, and famous attractions, we have also found ways to holiday in jungle canopies, urban slums, and desert oases.

This expansion of tourism developed at the same time as modern armies were mobilized in ever-greater numbers to fight wars in sovereign jurisdictions other than their own. As tourists made their way to exotic destinations, soldiers were being deployed in colonial occupations, world wars, ethnic conflicts, humanitarian interventions, civil wars, covert operations, and insurgencies.
What do these two mobilities have in common? How do they intersect, and why do these entanglements matter?

Tourism and war are often understood to be antagonistic practices (one aimed at engaging with different cultures, the other aimed at conquering them) but there are many juxtapositions. We know, for example, that war tourism – visits to famous battlefields, war museums, and war memorial parks – has become one of the largest sectors in the tourism industry. Think of the millions of American tourists who visit the Cu Chi tunnels used during the Vietnam War. As a visitor demonstrates in her video travel guide, not only do you get to crawl through the narrow tunnels yourself, you also get the chance to fire an AK-47. Here, tourists play at being soldiers.

Conversely, when soldiers are deployed overseas they engage in many practices of leisure, recreation, and tourism. These holiday experiences occur most often during official stretches of R&R, but they also emerge during non-combat time when soldiers respond to their exotic surroundings through a tourist, rather than a martial, sensibility (e.g., eating ‘foreign’ food, visiting cultural monuments, or taking souvenir photographs).

Some of the most revealing images of these off-duty moments were taken by the Naval Aviation Photographic Unit led by Edward Steichen, who documented the non-combat orientations of American marines in the Pacific between 1942 and 1945. As an image of Navy men relaxing on the beaches of Guam suggests, soldiers in the middle of war do much more than simply conquer enemies – they also go swimming and relax in the sun. In other words, soldiers often play at being tourists.

Navy men relax and swim at bathing beach on Guam.
National Archives photo 80-G-474328. 

While these are compelling stories of juxtaposition, they are too often presented as simple curiosities that are shorn of their political conditions. Indeed, mainstream media accounts of ‘dark tourists’ who deliberate seeking out war zones usually position these activities as both trivial and inconsequential. This framing ignores the many ways that tourism – thought to be an innocent experience of leisure – is deeply implicated in the antagonistic global structures that lead to war.

Tourism actively reproduces long-held global enmities that secure a privileged ‘us’ (those who visit, occupy, and conquer) against an uncivilized ‘them’ (those who are commodified, objectified, and defeated). It is important to ask how the practices of tourism and war align in different historical periods in ways that bolster the entrenched asymmetries of global politics.

A more politicized story about the modern entanglement between tourism and war begins with the experience of colonialism. Here we see a powerful collusion between occupying soldiers from colonial powers and wealthy European tourists keen to visit the monuments of exotic cultures.
Certainly these figures occupy foreign landscapes differently, but both work to bolster the logics of empire that keep them in privileged positions by silencing, effacing, and exploiting local subjects. For example, this is one of Gabriel Lekegian’s photographs of the famous Shepheard’s Hotel in Cairo (c. 1890) where wealthy European tourists mingled with British officers as they both waited to travel up the Nile.

This image is interesting for the way it visualizes the structural inequalities of colonial tourism with the barefooted Egyptians in front and the fully clothed Europeans posing on the verandah. It gives us some sense of how the privilege of European soldiers and tourists is structured and spatialized through familiar hierarchies of race, gender, class, and sexuality. However, to really expose those logics you would have to go behind this image to see what extended from the rear of Shepheard’s Hotel: a vast red light district where male soldiers, officers, and tourists visited local prostitutes.

The beach at Vung Tau R&R center in Vietnam.
Cat. No. CT 205.

The privileged worldview shared by tourists and soldiers and bolstered by structured forms of asymmetry was not particular to the colonial era. Indeed, these relations of power were intensified between the two world wars, extended throughout the Cold War, amplified in the so-called ‘humanitarian’ interventions of the 1990s, and resuscitated during the recent War on Terror. For example, American soldiers in Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s adopted tourist sensibilities when transitioning into their R&R holidays. The Vung Tau R&R center in Vietnam around 1970 is one such example of a place where American soldiers enjoyed a beach holiday respite from fighting: swimming, surfing, sunbathing, drinking and, of course, having sex with local prostitutes.

This last point is crucial: it is not enough to simply reveal the connections between tourism and war as if they are merely curiosities with no political significance. Seemingly innocuous images are never innocent: they hide a multitude of oppressions enacted by privileged tourist-soldiers upon objectified local subjects.

There is real violence lurking within such ‘trivial’ encounters, and it is incumbent on critical scholars to work out how tourism and war align in ways that increase forms of domination and oppression through logics such as race, gender, class, and sexuality.


Debbie Lisle is author of Holidays in the Danger Zone: Entanglements of War and Tourism (Minnesota, 2016) and The Global Politics of Contemporary Travel Writing, among others. She is a reader in international relations in the School of Politics, International Studies, and Philosophy at Queen's University Belfast.

"In this fascinating global adventure through historical archives, evocative images, and contemporary accounts of places mundane and exotic, Debbie Lisle takes us across the frontlines from tourism studies to critical war studies (and back, a few times) in order to explore the shared spaces and unexpected engagements between war and leisure."
—Waleed Hazbun, author of Beaches, Ruins, Resorts

Thursday, July 28, 2016

On the vengeance of a divided country, 1992 and 2016

Associate professor, The Ohio State University

Violence in the Middle East. Upheavals in Europe. Anxieties about American decline. Economic fears. A recent recession. Police brutality caught on video. Interracial conflict. Attacks on the police. A Clinton presidential campaign.

The year was 1992, although it could just as easily be 2016.

On the first night of the Republican National Convention in Houston 24 years ago, primary challenger Pat Buchanan took the stage to deliver his famous “Culture War” speech in which he argued that he and his supporters, the “Buchanan Brigades,” were fighting a religious and cultural war “for the soul of America.” He conceded to his bitter rival, President George H.W. Bush. Although the historical details might be different now than those more than two decades ago—the Persian Gulf War had just ended; Europe reeled from the Bosnian War; the trade war was with Japan; the Cold War ended; Black motorist Rodney King was physically beaten by four White and Latino police officers, the act of which was caught on a home video camera, and Los Angeles burst into flames after their acquittal and mistrial—the anger and frustration of the Buchanan Brigades was a palpable and surprisingly large minority of Republican primary voters.

This minority has grown in influence, from substantial fringe to king-making majority. In the 2016 election cycle, the bulk of Republican voters channeled that particular anger and frustration into the GOP presidential nomination of Donald J. Trump—not just a surprising primary challenge of a sitting president as in Buchanan’s case in 1992. One liberal pundit has characterized Trump’s supporters as deploying vengeance and revanchism. Although revanche is French for "revenge," revanchism has the historical connotation of reclaiming lost territory that is felt to be rightfully one’s own nation’s, specifically the Alsace-Lorraine province of France that was lost to Prussia in 1870. Geographer Neil Smith has connected revanchism to the decades-long gentrification policies that justified the removal of poor people (of color) from cities (see: Neil Smith).

This vengeful logic appears as the ubiquitous slogan that supports causes from all over the political spectrum: “Take Back America.” In 1992, Buchanan ended his blockbuster speech with his own version of this call to not-entirely-metaphoric arms. He talks of how a young group of soldiers who, having recently returned from the Persian Gulf War, protected a senior convalescent home during the Los Angeles Rebellion and how their bravery should inspire citizens through this presidential election and beyond: “And as those boys took back the streets of Los Angeles, block by block, my friends, we must take back our cities, and take back our culture, and take back our country.” For Buchanan, we must take back America from “the mob” using “force” albeit “rooted in justice.”

As the antagonists were then in 1992, so they are in 2016: America has been overrun with and must be "taken back" from terrorists, from criminals, from immigrants, from protestors.

Often referred to as backlash politics, much of this anger has been attributed to the perception that America has lost (or will lose) its unequivocal global dominance, no longer the undisputed winner of the Cold War as the lone, unassailable global superpower. The 1990s were riven by such concerns as “balkanization” and interethnic strife that had shaken and toppled governments around the world in the post-Cold War era.

The logic of backlash politics fuels what I call racial equilibrium (see: Chapter 3, "The Territorialization of Civility, the Spatialization of Revenge"). If one group appears to win, then another should lose; eventually the losers win and the winners lose with a net gain zero. To understand racial politics in this way is a reductive, dangerous, and false equivalence. The fatal shootings of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge are often argued to counterbalance the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, implying that the deaths of the police officers by Black men now supersede the deaths of Black men by police officers. These deaths ostensibly represent a false choice between support for law enforcement or support for their killers. As my colleague Treva Lindsey writes, “One can mourn the loss of life in Dallas and fight against racist policing. To be clear, these are not opposing positions.”

Comments on the shootings of police in Dallas by CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, a public intellectual who has been celebrated for his self-professed centrist politics, captures how even the center-left have found common cause with the right:

“Civilization rests on the rule of law, and that rests on respect for officers of the law. I have never liked hearing marching crowds that chant slogans such as 'No justice, no peace.' That is a not-so-veiled threat against the basic rules of civil society. We all rely on the police and other elements of the criminal justice system to maintain order, which is the building block of justice. Look at countries such as Iraq and Libya today, where order has collapsed. The rule of law has been replaced by the law of the jungle.”

The criminal justice system leads to order, which leads to justice, which grounds civilization. To disrespect police officers, as an element of the justice system, thus destabilizes civilization. The problem with Zakaria’s point about civilization is that he creates a false dichotomy, an implicit us versus them: those who respect officers of the law and support civilization, and those who don’t respect officers of the law and support instead some putative “law of the jungle.” However, if justice is the bulwark of civilization, and the merits or strengths of a civilization is judged by the justice it dispenses, then where there is little justice, there is little civilization even with respect for officers of the law.

What if instead we were to understand the protestors’ chants of “No Justice, No Peace” as a description of the experiences of entire communities, numbers that continue to grow beyond the loved ones that Castile and Sterling left behind? The “not-so-veiled threat” that Zakaria identifies is the protesters’ bringing these injustices and rights violations to the broader U.S. public and forcing these wider audiences with little firsthand experiences to include these injustices as part of the America to which they belong. The more accurate dichotomy, then, is between those who feel they have had justice and peace that can be disrupted by the protesters and those who feel they have never had justice or peace in the first place. In other words, if we feel that our experiences have largely been about justice and peace, then we have been lucky enough to have lived in a world that has been relatively protected from the daily lived experiences of the protesters and the victims of police brutality. The question remains whether we will respect and recognize these experiences as part of the everyday America we live in and the history we claim as our own.

This division indicates the “two societies” toward which we have moved, not “one white, one black” as the original 1968 Kerner Commission Report read, published after years of urban unrest had sparked across the nation, taking lives and burning out neighborhoods. Instead, our nation today is divided between those who believe the U.S. system of justice is fair and those who do not. These divisions force us to answer hard questions about whether our society and civilization will be marked by the inclusiveness and understanding that so many politicians, policymakers, and pundits insist American society to be. Will our concept of America include and understand these experiences of injustice and unwarranted state violence so that we will protest the killing of one of our own, whether civilian or police?

Now, with consequences far greater than this presidential election, we get to choose: which America will we take back, the one of division or inclusion?


Lynn Mie Itagaki is author of Civil Racism: The 1992 Los Angeles Rebellion and the Crisis of Racial Burnout. She is associate professor in the departments of English and women's, gender, and sexuality studies and the Program Coordinator in Asian American Studies at The Ohio State University.

"Lynn Mie Itagaki’s book is an incisive critique of the civil racism that has become dominant in both liberal and conservative discourses of race in the post-Civil Rights era."
—Daniel Kim, Brown University