Politics and Current Events

N. D. B. Connolly on “Black Culture is Not the Problem”

May 1, 2015
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N. D. B. Connolly on “Black Culture is Not the Problem”

N. D. B. Connolly, assistant professor of history at Johns Hopkins University and author of A World More Concrete: Real Estate and the Remaking of Jim Crow South Florida, on “Black Culture is Not the Problem” for the New York Times: The problem is not black culture. It is policy and politics, the very things that bind together the history of Ferguson and Baltimore and, for that matter, the rest of America. Specifically, the problem rests on the continued profitability of racism. Freddie Gray’s exposure to lead paint as a child, his suspected participation in the drug trade, and the relative confinement of black unrest to black communities during this week’s riot are all features of a city and a country that still segregate people along racial lines, to the financial enrichment of landlords, corner store merchants and other vendors selling second-rate goods. The problem originates in a political culture that has long bound black bodies to questions of property. Yes, I’m referring to slavery. To read more about A World More Concrete, click here. . . .

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Can We Race Together? An Autopsy

April 8, 2015
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Can We Race Together? An Autopsy

“Can We Race Together? An Autopsy”* by Ellen Berrey *** Corporate diversity dialogues are ripe for backlash, the research shows, even without coffee counter gimmicks. Corporate executives and university presidents are, yet again, calling for public discussion on race and racial inequality. Revelations about the tech industry’s diversity problem have company officials convening panels on workplace barriers, and, at the University of Oklahoma spokespeople and students are organizing town-hall sessions in response to a fraternity’s racist chant. The most provocative of the efforts was Starbucks’ failed Race Together program. In March, the company announced that it would ask baristas to initiate dialogues with customers about America’s most vexing dilemma. Although public outcry shut down those conversations before they even got to “Hello,” Starbucks said it would nonetheless carry on Race Together with forums and special USA Today discussion guides. As someone who has done sociological research on diversity initiatives for the past 15 years, I was intrigued.  For a moment, let’s take this seriously What would conversations about race have looked like if they played out as Starbucks imagined, given the social science of race? Can companies, in Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz’s words, “create a more empathetic and inclusive society—one conversation . . .

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Excerpt: Who Freed the Slaves?

March 19, 2015
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Excerpt: Who Freed the Slaves?

An excerpt from Who Freed the Slaves?: The Fight over the Thirteenth Amendment  by Leonard L. Richards *** Prologue WEDNESDAY, JUNE 15, 1864 James Ashley never forgot the moment. After hours of debate, Schuyler Colfax, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, had finally gaveled the 159 House members to take their seats and get ready to vote. Most of the members were waving a fan of some sort, but none of the fans did much good. Heat and humidity had turned the nation’s capitol into a sauna. Equally bad was the stench that emanated from Washington’s back alleys, nearby swamps, and the twenty-one hospitals in and about the city, which now housed over twenty thousand wounded and dying soldiers. Worse yet was the news from the front lines. According to some reports, the Union army had lost seven thousand men in less than thirty minutes at Cold Harbor. The commanding general, Ulysses S. Grant, had been deemed a “fumbling butcher.” Nearly everyone around Ashley was impatient, cranky, and miserable. But Ashley was especially downcast. It was his job to get Senate Joint Resolution Number 16, a constitutional amendment to outlaw slavery in the United States, through the House of Representatives, . . .

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Excerpt: How Many is Too Many?

January 26, 2015
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Excerpt: How Many is Too Many?

Excerpted from How Many is Too Many?: The Progressive Argument for Reducing Immigration into the United States  by Philip Cafaro *** How many immigrants should we allow into the United States annually, and who gets to come? The question is easy to state but hard to answer, for thoughtful individuals and for our nation as a whole. It is a complex question, touching on issues of race and class, morals and money, power and political allegiance. It is an important question, since our answer will help determine what kind of country our children and grandchildren inherit. It is a contentious question: answer it wrongly and you may hear some choice personal epithets directed your way, depending on who you are talking to. It is also an endlessly recurring question, since conditions will change, and an immigration policy that made sense in one era may no longer work in another. Any answer we give must be open to revision. This book explores the immigration question in light of current realities and defends one provisional answer to it. By exploring the question from a variety of angles and making my own political beliefs explicit, I hope that it will help readers come to . . .

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Our free e-book for October: In Defense of Negativity

October 1, 2014
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Our free e-book for October: In Defense of Negativity

Americans tend to see negative campaign ads as just that: negative. Pundits, journalists, voters, and scholars frequently complain that such ads undermine elections and even democratic government itself. But John G. Geer here takes the opposite stance, arguing that when political candidates attack each other, raising doubts about each other’s views and qualifications, voters—and the democratic process—benefit. In Defense of Negativity, Geer’s study of negative advertising in presidential campaigns from 1960 to 2004, asserts that the proliferating attack ads are far more likely than positive ads to focus on salient political issues, rather than politicians’ personal characteristics. Accordingly, the ads enrich the democratic process, providing voters with relevant and substantial information before they head to the polls. An important and timely contribution to American political discourse, In Defense of Negativity concludes that if we want campaigns to grapple with relevant issues and address real problems, negative ads just might be the solution. “Geer has set out to challenge the widely held belief that attack ads and negative campaigns are destroying democracy. Quite the opposite, he argues in his provocative new book: Negativity is good for you and for the political system. . . . In Defense of Negativity adds a . . .

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Wikipedia and the Politics of Openness

August 15, 2014
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Wikipedia and the Politics of Openness

When you think about Wikipedia, you might not immediately envision it as a locus for a political theory of openness—and that might well be due to a cut-and-paste utopian haze that masks the site’s very real politicking around issues of shared decision-making, administrative organization, and the push for and against transparencies. In Wikipedia and the Politics of Openness, forthcoming this December, Nathaniel Tkacz cuts throw the glow and establishes how issues integral to the concept of “openness” play themselves out in the day-to-day reality of Wikipedia’s existence. Recently, critic Alan Liu, whose prescient scholarship on the relationship between our literary/historical and technological imaginations has shaped much of the humanities turn to new media, endorsed the book via Twitter: With that in mind, the book’s jacket copy furthers a frame for Tkacz’s argument: Few virtues are as celebrated in contemporary culture as openness. Rooted in software culture and carrying more than a whiff of Silicon Valley technical utopianism, openness—of decision-making, data, and organizational structure—is seen as the cure for many problems in politics and business.  But what does openness mean, and what would a political theory of openness look like? With Wikipedia and the Politics of Openness, Nathaniel Tkacz uses Wikipedia, the most prominent product of open organization, to . . .

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Bernard E. Harcourt, from Occupy Wall Street

November 20, 2013
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Bernard E. Harcourt, from Occupy Wall Street

Compelled by the title of Bernard E. Harcourt’s upcoming talk (tomorrow) at Yale University— “So Michel Foucault and Gary Becker Walk into a Bar. . . .  A Lecture and Conversation with Bernard Harcourt on Punishment, Sexual Capital, and Neoliberalism”—we remembered a passage of his from Occupy: Three Inquiries In Disobedience. “We the People”: Myth and Democratic Challenge Judith Butler said, at Occupy Wall Street, “We’re standing here together making democracy, enacting the phrase ‘We the people!'” A bold statement—indeed, a real reappropriation that raises deep questions about this collective myth. In an odd way, it almost feels as if the Occupy movement had it harder than other contemporary resistance movements—dare I say, harder than even the Arab Spring revolutions. To be sure, the resisters in the Arab world faced (and may still face today) brutal authoritarian regimes. They risked, and in many cases lost, their lives. Their unmatched courage has been an inspiration around the world. On that count, they have stared down a far more violent and oppressive adversary than anyone else. But they had one. They had an identifiable adversary—oppressive and authoritarian regimes—that they could target and topple. They had and have a concrete goal, grievances, an objective, . . .

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Carole Emberton on Paula Deen, SCOTUS, and the VRA

June 26, 2013
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Carole Emberton on Paula Deen, SCOTUS, and the VRA

In a recent piece for the History News Network, scholar Carole Emberton (whose Beyond Redemption: Race, Violence, and the American South published this month) takes on the Paula Deen controversy, both prior to and in light of SCOTUS’s recent decision on the Voting Rights Act: For the past few days, there has been much ado about Paula Deen’s use of a certain racial epithet. It’s not much ado about nothing, however, as many of her defenders would like to us believe. This incident, along with a seemingly unrelated case now before the Supreme Court, challenge our understandings of what history is and what it means for the nation’s political life. Both Deen and her defenders plead her case by arguing that she is old and southern and therefore cannot help using such language. Her great-grandfather owned slaves. She grew up under Jim Crow. “She’s just from another time,” concluded one patron of her popular restaurant. Perhaps it is ironic that the patron was of the race that bears the stigma of the racial epithet that the chef admitted using. Perhaps not. For both Deen and her unlikely defender, the past is like a well-worn apron stained with remnants of old messes . . .

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A reading list for marriage equality

March 28, 2013
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A reading list for marriage equality

To better understand the shift in activist politics and policy—from rejection of marriage as an institution to lobbying for same-sex couples’ right to marry—by gay and lesbian rights organizations, read The Nuptial Deal: Same-Sex Marriage and Neo-Liberal Governance by Jay Cee Whitehead. Whitehead’s argument parallels the transformation that occurred in the minds of activists and ordinary citizens with the rise of neo-liberalism, ultimately arguing that the federal government’s resistance to same-sex marriage stems not from “traditional values” but from fear of exposing marriage as a form of governance rather than a natural expression of human intimacy.       To better grasp the pattern of waxing and waning same-sex marriage has faced in terms of public visibility—and to comprehend how policy cycles and political opportunity have characterized debates since the 1996 passing of the Defense of Marriage Act—read The Politics of Same-Sex Marriage, edited by Craig A. Rimmerman and Clyde Wilcox. The Politics of Same-Sex Marriage brings together an esteemed list of scholars who consider how court rulings and local legislatures have kept the issue alive in the political sphere, and conservatives and gay rights advocates have made the issue a key battlefield in the culture wars.       . . .

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Sandra M. Gustafson on the State of the Union (2013)

February 21, 2013
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Sandra M. Gustafson on the State of the Union (2013)

‘The hard, often frustrating, but absolutely necessary work of self-government’ In the first State of the Union Address of his second term, President Barack Obama echoed themes from past speeches, most recently his Second Inaugural Address delivered a few weeks ago and his victory speech from election night. A central theme—arguably the central theme—of all these addresses and many previous ones has been the need for the nation’s elected officials to work together to solve lingering problems caused by two wars and a major economic crisis. The president opened his fifth State of the Union Address with a quotation drawn from John F. Kennedy, who along with Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr., is his favorite source. Kennedy opened his second State of the Union address by urging Congress to remember that, “the Constitution makes us not rivals for power but partners for progress.” And so President Obama once again urged the representatives of the rival parties in Congress to work together to pass legislation to stimulate the economy, improve education, and reduce gun violence. He continued to quote from Kennedy’s 1962 speech: “‘It is my task,’ said, ‘to report the State of the Union—to improve it is . . .

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