Temple University Press’ book lovers select the books they read or want to receive this year

This week in North Philly Notes, Temple University Press’ book lovers pick the titles they read or want to receive this year.

Mary Rose Muccie, Director

Early DecisionOf all the books I read this past year, Early Decision: Based on a True Frenzy, by Lucy Crawford, was the one that stuck with me. The novel, written by a college admissions coach, describes such a coach working with five high-school seniors on their applications to top-tier schools. Their parents are overly involved, elitist, and pushy, and the kids struggle with achieving perfection in all areas IDed as key for admission to the college of their (or mom and dad’s) dreams. They’re caught up in balancing the need to stand out with not stepping too far outside the lines of expectation. As the mother of a high-school senior, this was a well-written cautionary tale. The book was poignant and, for me, depressing. It was the roadmap of a route I never intended to, and didn’t, travel.

Kate Nichols, Art Manager
AlltheLight

I just finished reading Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, a really intriguing, moving story, about the converging lives of a blind French girl and German boy during World War II. It is written beautifully, with such compelling detail, I was mesmerized.

 

 

Joan Vidal, Senior Production Editor

Mr. BoardwalkI hope to receive Mr. Boardwalk, by Louis Greenstein, the author’s debut novel about a boy’s infatuation with the wonders of summers on the Atlantic City boardwalk in the 1960s and 1970s and his subsequent nostalgia for Atlantic City in his adult life. Having spent many happy family vacations at the Jersey shore during the same era, I look forward to sharing in that nostalgia.

 

Micah Kleit, Interim Editor-in-Chief 
Eichmann in JerusalemBetween Bettina Stangneth’s new book on Eichmann and the recent revelations of Saskia Sassen’s “missing chapter” of her childhood in Argentina, Hannah Arendt has been in the news a lot this year, which lead me to re-read her book Eichmann in Jerusalem. I am amazed at how much of what she wrote, about the ironies of the trial and her description of totalitarianism (more contradictory than banal, as I read her), still remains essential today. Arendt was concerned, I think, with what it took to be moral and, perhaps more urgently, where morality could be found in world without absolutes, and her quest for both underpinned her reportorial and philosophical work, much of which was distilled through this excellent long essay. George Santayana famously said that “those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.” As Arendt shows (as did Philip Gourevitch and others who write in her shadow), we always forget history and are always repeating it. The challenge we face isn’t so much the fight to preserve memory to prevent more genocides, but to recognize the human impulses behind them, and to identify humanity wherever it persists.

Aaron Javsicas, Senior Editor

ShipofGoldI’m late to the party on this one, but this year I finally got around to reading Gary Kinder’s 1998 book Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea. It’s a gripping popular history about the 1857 sinking of the SS Central America, a steamboat laden with California gold bound for New York, and heroic efforts to recover the wreck more than 100 years later. The loss of the Central America is thought to have been a significant contributing factor in sparking the Panic of 1857. Highly recommended!

 

Karen Baker, Operations Manager
GameofThronesThe book I want to receive/read is The World of Ice & Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and the Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire) by George R. R. Martin, Elio M. García, Jr., and Linda Antonsson. Yes, I am ‘one of those Game of Thrones fans, and I would like to read this book to get the history behind the story, worlds and characters in the show.

 

 

Ann-Marie Anderson, Marketing Director

CosbyI was reading Cosby: His Life and Times by Mark Whitaker, and enjoying recalling “Fat Albert” cartoons, the “Huxtable” family, and reading how America’s favorite dad grew up in Philadelphia, attended Temple University, and tried his hand playing jazz.  I rejoiced in his climb to the top of one of the hardest industries—television. As an African American, I took pride in his accomplishments. I cried as I read about his only son being killed senselessly.  Then, the news stories broke and I put the book down.  I just couldn’t read it while the horrific stories circled; the book briefly mentioning his escapades as “womanizing.”  Resolved that the news was never going to end, I finished the book hurriedly this weekend.  I have never been more happy to put a book back on the shelf.

Gary Kramer, Publicity Manager
TakeThisManPerhaps the best non-fiction book I read this year was Brando Skyhorse’s exceptional memoir,  Take this Man. Skyhorse, who wrote one of my favorite novels, The Madonnas of Echo Park, chronicles his childhood, living with his mother and grandmother in Echo Park, LA. He describes the series of men his mother married and dated during his youth, and his interactions with them. Skyhorse’s adolescence was complicated  by his mother lying to him about being Native American, when he was in fact, Mexican. When he learns the truth, Skyhorse searches for his biological father and constructs his own identity. Take this Man speaks volumes about family and fatherhood, identity and passing as well as how one copes with dysfunction. These are themes that fascinate me, and Skyhorse’s story is as astonishing as his writing.

I loved you moreThe best fiction book I read in 2014 was Tom Spanbauer’s I Loved You More, which explores the intense bond between two writers — the gay Ben Grunewald and the straight Hank Christian—over two decades. Each chapter reads like a magnificent short story, but they are even more powerful as a novel. Spanbauer masterfully controls his characters’ romantic and dramatic experiences, right up to the book’s sucker-punch ending.

 

Happy Holidays and Happy Reading from everyone at Temple University Press.

We promise more great books in 2015.

Announcing the latest issue of Temple University Press’ journal, Kalfou

Kalfou is a scholarly journal focused on social movements, social institutions, and social relations. We seek to build links among intellectuals, artists, and activists in shared struggles for social justice. The journal seeks to promote the development of community-based scholarship in ethnic studies among humanists and social scientists and to connect the specialized knowledge produced in academe to the situated knowledge generated in aggrieved communities.

Kalfou is published by Temple University Press on behalf of the UCSB Center for Black Studies Research.

Kalfou

Vol 1, No 2 (2014)

Table of Contents

Feature Articles

Introduction: Banking without Borders: Culture and Credit in the New Financial World
Devin Fergus, Tim Boyd
Race, Market Constraints, and the Housing Crisis: A Problem of Embeddedness
Jesus Hernandez
Revisiting “Black–Korean Conflict” and the “Myth of Special Assistance”: Korean Banks, US Government Agencies, and the Capitalization of Korean Immigrant Small Business in the United States
Tamara K. Nopper
Reflections on the “Ownership Society” in Recent Black Fiction
David Witzling
United States, Inc.: Citizens United and the Shareholder Citizen
Lynn Mie Itagaki
Housing Desegregation in the Era of Deregulation
Christopher Bonastia

Talkative Ancestors

Walter Bresette: “All Struggles Are Related”

Keywords

The Model Minority: Asian American Immigrant Families and Intimate Harm
erin Khuê Ninh

La Mesa Popular

Sharing Knowledge, Practicing Democracy: A Vision for the Twenty-First-Century University
Seth Moglen

Art and Social Action

An Interview with Joe Bataan: Torrance, California, February 14, 2013
Tyrone Nagai

Mobilized 4 Movement

La Lucha Sigue: Latina and Latino Labor in the US Media Industries
Mari Castañeda

Teaching and Truth

“All You Needed Was Godzilla behind Them”: Situating (Racial) Knowledge and Teaching Anna Deavere Smith’s Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992
Jake Mattox

In Memoriam

Hearing the Community in Its Own Voice: Clyde Woods, 1957–2011
George Lipsitz

Book Reviews

Racial Propositions: Ballot Initiatives and the Making of Postwar California, by Daniel Martinez HoSang
Reviewed by Nisha N. Vyas

Inclusion in the Creative Economy?

This week in North Philly Notes, Tarry Hum , author of Making a Global Immigrant Neighborhood, writes about the re-branding of Brooklyn.

New York City Mayor de Blasio was elected with a mandate to address the city’s deepening crisis of income and wealth inequality. Mr. de Blasio’s 2013 victory was echoed across the country as progressive candidates won mayoralties in cities such as Boston and Seattle. In light of federal inertia, the political will to tackle the troubling persistence of poverty and a diminished middle class has shifted to local municipalities. The first six months of Mayor de Blasio’s administration has been defined by important achievements in universal pre-K, paid sick leave, and a municipal ID. Moreover, Mayor de Blasio has stated that his approach to economic development will be premised on creating opportunities for all New Yorkers in the city’s high growth sectors including the technology industry which is essential to NYC’s creative and knowledge economy.

Making a Global Immigrant_smAn example of the events that are taking place to engage in a public dialogue on New York City’s economic future took place last week at a half-day conference titled, Onramps of Opportunity: Building a Creative + Inclusive New York, with NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer and NYU-University of Toronto Professor Richard Florida, the “rock star” author of The Rise of the Creative Class. Presenters described how the spatial geography of New York City’s creative economy is increasingly centered in the industrial waterfront neighborhoods of Brooklyn and Queens where factories and warehouses are retrofitted, wired, and modernized to accommodate tech, media, entertainment, and artisanal manufacturing. Almost a mantra, conference attendees were told repeatedly, “every future job is a tech job”. Tensions between the creative class and neighborhood gentrification were alluded to as several presenters emphasized the need for affordable housing. However, it’s clear that meaningful inclusion extends beyond the provision of affordable housing as evidenced in the Extell Development Company’s project which will have separate entrances for tenants of its luxury and affordable housing units.

IstanbulThe re-branding of Brooklyn as an epicenter of creativity, innovation, and artistic production has achieved international success. On a recent trip to Istanbul, I was astonished by the prevalence of Brooklyn branding in clothing and cafes. Numerous Brooklyn neighborhoods such as Williamsburg, DUMBO, and Fort Greene are exemplars of the clustering of skills and talent and urban amenities such as bike paths, parks, and good coffee shops that support a creative economy and the lifestyle preferences of the creative class. The potential of this economic revival was recently explored in the PBS NewsHour clip “Could Brooklyn hipsters help save the middle class?”

The revitalization of Brooklyn may be the ultimate test for Mayor de Blasio’s vision of an inclusive urbanism. Acknowledging Brooklyn’s Sunset Park neighborhood as a nexus of the human and physical infrastructure necessary for equitable economic growth, Mayor de Blasio announced the formation of a Jobs for New Yorkers Task Force in front of the Brooklyn Terminal Army along Sunset Park’s waterfront. Heavily immigrant and working poor, Sunset Park’s Latino and Asian residents are largely concentrated in low paid service jobs. Sunset Park still retains a sizable number of garment factories that continue to rely on immigrant women workers. As Professor Florida described, these are the people that pour our coffee, take care of our kids and elderly parents, clean our homes, and make our food – jobs so essential to a creative city that Professor Florida extolled these workers as the “lifeblood of the city”. As one of New York City’s few remaining industrial neighborhoods, Sunset Park is now facing the challenges posed by a growing artisanal and creative economy. According to a recent New York Times article, the neighborhood’s extensive industrial building stock is being refurbished to accommodate a new Soho. Examples of tech and artisanal firms that now call Sunset Park home include MakerBot which manufactures 3-D printers, the internationally known Jacque Torres chocolatier, and the world’s largest urban rooftop farm on a former federally owned military warehouse. Even the Brooklyn Nets want to be in Sunset Park and are planning a 70,000-square-foot training facility with a rooftop terrace to enjoy the waterfront views.

deBlasioBATThe question of inclusion in New York City’s creative economy is essential to the future of neighborhoods like Sunset Park. Framing the afternoon’s discussion, Professor Florida stated that building an inclusive economy “will require all hands on deck” to formulate a new approach to economic development. Political will is just one of the necessary ingredients – policies that support unionization, affordable housing, living wages, worker cooperatives, workforce development and placement in jobs with avenues for economic mobility, and meaningful engagement in city planning and economic development decision-making are also essential. Working class, immigrant Latino-Asian Sunset Park is ground zero in testing the development and implementation of “onramps” for an inclusive creative city.

Do you want an American nurse?

This week in North Philly Notes, an interview with  Catheters, Slurs, and Pickup Lines  author Lisa Ruchti  from Al-Jazeera America‘s July 3rd morning news program. [She appears at the 2:00 minute mark in the video link].

 

In addition, we repost Elijah Wolfson’s July 3 article from Al-Jazeera America‘s website that features Lisa Ruchti.

The doctor won’t see you now

Patients in American hospitals often get away with asking for caregivers based on race

Tonya Battle had been working as a nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) of the Hurley Medical Center in Flint, Michigan, for 24 years. Her employment record was spotless — by all accounts she was one of the most knowledgeable and capable care providers on the NICU floor. Even so, it wasn’t so surprising when, in the fall of 2012, one infant’s father asked to speak to Battle’s supervisor: Health is extremely personal, and no matter how skilled a health care provider, there will be times when communication with a patient breaks down. It’s common for a patient to ask for another doctor or another nurse.

What was shocking, however, was the note posted on the department assignment clipboard the next day: “NO AFRICAN AMERICAN NURSE TO TAKE CARE OF BABY.”

Here’s how the incident unfolded, according to allegations made by Battle in a lawsuit that followed: After she had finished her shift the day before, the father had come to the charge nurse (Battle’s supervisor) demanding that no black nurses attend to his (very sick) infant girl. To punctuate his point, he rolled up his sleeve to show off a swastika tattoo. The charge nurse, Deborah Herholz, then called her boss, the nurse manager Mary Osika, to ask what she should do. Osika said to reassign the baby to another nurse.

A staff meeting followed, in which the NICU nurses were told that Hurley Medical Center had decided not to allow any African-American employees to take care of this particular baby. The note was posted on the assignment clipboard for everyone to see.

The next day, Osika called Battle at home to inform her that the father’s request would be granted. Later that day, Battle reported to work, where one of her co-workers showed her a photo of the offensive note (which had since been removed).

Battle would go on to sue Hurley Medical Center for employment discrimination, settling out of court for an undisclosed amount, and with Hurley agreeing to hire an “employee advocate” whose role would be to forestall similar misadventures in the future.

It’s unclear how common these types of experiences are; there have been no major studies on the issue, so advocates and policymakers have had to rely on anecdotal evidence, the few isolated stories that leak out of the hospital wing and into the press. But many believe Hurley represents the norm and not the exception — that discrimination of this kind is endemic to the health care system.

The ‘open secret’

“I think it happens a lot,” said Julie Gafkay, Battle’s attorney. “I have 20 plaintiffs in the last year who have been subjected to this type of discrimination.” According to Gafkay, after Battle’s case was made public, dozens of other health care workers (nurses, social workers, home health aides, etc.) reached out to her with similar complaints.

Some situations were even more outrageous than Battle’s. In one case, the plaintiff is a human resources employee who says she has direct knowledge that an African-American nurse was fired under false pretenses; the real reason for the firing, she alleges, is that a patient had made the request that no African-Americans care for him.

It’s an “open secret” that “patients routinely refuse or demand medical treatment based on the assigned physician’s racial identity, and hospitals typically yield to patients’ racial preferences,” wrote Kimani Paul-Emile, a professor of law and biomedical ethics at Fordham University, in a 2012 study published in the UCLA Law Review.

So why aren’t more people outraged? Racism in health care settings tends to be much more insidious than the type of racism that would, say, make it onto the nightly news. Patients aren’t screaming racial slurs in the ER or spray-painting derogatory signs on the sides of hospital buildings. They often won’t even say outright that they don’t want a black doctor.

“Patients know it’s not PC” to directly request a white doctor, said Paul-Emile. “They come up with different ways to do it. I talked to this one doctor who said there are these older ladies who will say, ‘You know, I want a Jewish doctor, I just think a Jewish doctor is better.’”

Lisa Ruchti, a professor of sociology at West Chester University and the author of the book “Catheters, Slurs, and Pick Up Lines,” agreed. “Patients who want to fire their nurses based on race say things like ‘I want an American nurse,’” she said.

And hospitals comply. Health care providers are trained to be so patient-focused that even when they feel a request is amiss, many ignore their qualms — whatever the patient wants, the patient gets. In another of Gafkay’s current cases, two plaintiffs allege that an elderly white woman was being treated in the rehabilitation facility of a nursing home when she began to express fears that an African-American man was coming into her bedroom at night to “touch” her. The facility decided that, for the good of the patient, no African-Americans — male or female — would be assigned to her care, and it issued a directive to its staff saying as much. One female African-American nurse was even questioned for coming into the patient’s room at night, and suspended during the questioning.

“[The organizations] are so patient-focused,” said Gafkay, “that they ignore the civil rights of their own employees.”

Not just nurses

At particular risk is the nurse-patient relationship, which Ruchti believes is regularly informed by racism. In providing what Ruchti called “professional intimate care,” nurses are already at risk of being seen more as hired help than as health care professionals. And racist beliefs can exacerbate that misconception. “There are lots of examples of nurses of color being mislabeled as housekeepers by patients even when they are obviously doing nurse work — symbolically demoting them, if you will.”

But it’s not just nurses. Dr. Meghan Lane-Fall treats cardiovascular patients in the surgical care unit at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

“All of the things that are taught in medicine about being a care provider are to really not think about yourself or your characteristics,” Lane-Fall said. “Your gender and ethnicity are, in theory, erased when you walk through the doors of the hospital.”

But in reality, as an African-American woman, Lane-Fall is often subjected to racially based judgments.

“I can be walking the hallway wearing a white coat,” she said, “and someone will think I’m the janitor, and I’ll think, ‘Is that because I’m black?’”

Lane-Fall recently wrote about an experience caring for a coma patient. On the third day during which the man was under her care, she happened to be in a room when the nurses were changing his gown. Spread across his chest was a tattoo: 3- to 4-inch-high lettering spelling out the words “White Power.”

At that moment, Lane-Fall recalled how she had felt nothing but coldness from the tattooed man’s family; until now, she had thought nothing of it. Now it seemed sinister.

She thought: “Oh, you’re not just this nameless, faceless person taking care of a patient; you’re a black woman who has all these other characteristics that affect the way patients see you.”

Race concordance

On the flip side, Ruchti said nurses of color she spoke with told her that patients of color sought them out on purpose. And in fact, research suggests that your health outcomes can improve if you and your physician have what’s called in the literature “race concordance.”

A Johns Hopkins study published in 2002, for example, found that, when given the choice, patients would choose doctors of their own race. And, when treated by same-race physicians, the patients reported higher satisfaction. The results cut across all races and ethnicities. The study, led by Thomas LaVeist, was one of the first of its kind.

But others soon followed. A 2005 study published in the Annals of Family Medicine found that many African-Americans and Latinos believed strongly that the health care system was racist — and that they preferred to have same-race doctors as a result.

And more recently, a 2010 study published in the Journal of the National Medical Association confirmed the previous findings: Black patients were more likely to feel that white doctors were giving them subpar care compared with black doctors and, therefore, preferred same-race health care providers.

Some will even argue that choosing a doctor of the same skin color is no different from choosing a doctor of the same gender. Many women don’t feel comfortable talking to a man about gynecological issues; is it that much of a stretch to imagine an African-American man feeling he can be more open and honest about his lifestyle and behavior with an African-American doctor?

All things being equal, if you offered me a black provider I’d probably choose that.

Dr. Meghan Lane-Fall

Preferences like these aren’t driven by ignorance. Lane-Fall got her undergraduate degree in molecular and cell biology from the University of California, Berkeley, her master’s in health policy from the University of Pennsylvania and her M.D. from Yale. She’s about as well educated as a human being could ever be. And yet, “all things being equal, if you offered me a black provider I’d probably choose that,” she said, adding that she’d assume someone from a similar background would know more about her.

Because of these complexities, the legal issues here are legion. The 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on race, gender, national origin or religion in public accommodations and in any place that receives public funding. On the face of it, this would appear to mean that a patient could not make race-based requests for nurses and doctors. After all, pretty much every health care institution receives some federal funding, whether directly or in the form of public health insurance reimbursements.

But, as Paul-Emile argues, those provisions of the Civil Rights Act are actually meant to preclude institutions from “prohibiting individuals from enjoying the benefits that the institution provides” — and by accommodating a patient’s preference, “you are actually allowing that patient to enjoy the benefits” provided by a federally funded hospital.

And, in fact, that is what is happening in the real world. A 2010 study, for example, showed that patients across the board will often make race-based requests with regard to their health care provider — and that providers will often accede to these preferences. In that same study, Dr. Herbert Rakatansky, the former chair of the American Medical Association’s Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs, is quoted as saying, “In a life-threatening situation, you would have to abide by a patient’s request.” In other words, there may be both a legal and an ethical imperative to accommodate racial preference in the hospital.

The positive preference

None of this, however, is meant to justify racism.

Paul-Emile has highlighted an important legal distinction between doctors, who can usually decide themselves whether to treat a given patient or not, and nurses and other health care support staff, who are assigned their charges. She argues that hospitals run afoul of the law when they reassign African-American nurses at a patient’s request, no matter the potential health benefits.

Gafkay, the attorney in Michigan, pointed out that all her cases involve an “organization validating the discriminatory request” — a much different situation, since it puts nurses in the precarious position of being unable to express themselves for fear of organization retribution.

Second, while it may be both legally and ethically acceptable for a patient of color to seek out a doctor of color, what about a white patient who seeks out a white doctor?

The legacy of years of racial discrimination has led to a disproportionately low number of African-American doctors. A 2009 Health System Change report, for example, found that the physician workforce was about 74 percent white and 4 percent black, while the U.S. population as a whole was 69 percent white and 12 percent black during the same year.

And one major study a few years back had patients go to doctors presenting with the exact same symptoms (which suggested cardiovascular disease), identical in every way except race and gender. Across the board, African-American women received substandard treatment and poor diagnoses.

Studies like this suggest that it’s entirely rational for an African-American patient to feel wary of the medical system. And that, Paul-Emile believes, is what should drive a physician’s decision whether or not to accommodate a racial preference.

In other words, though it may be difficult to discern a patient’s motivations, the goal of health care professionals should be to distinguish between a positive preference, in which patients are seeking better care, and discrimination, in which patients are just expressing racist beliefs.

And even then, Paul-Emile said, accommodating these positive preferences is far from ideal.

“I don’t think this is a solution,” she said. “I think it’s a stopgap measure until we get to the more fundamental issues that are driving this. The medical profession must instead increase diversity among providers to encourage tolerance and understanding of other cultures, and expand cultural awareness at all levels of practice and training to enable providers to interact more effectively with their diverse patient populations.”

Announcing the publication of Kalfou: A Journal of Comparative and Relational Ethnic Studies

Temple University Press is pleased to announce the publication of
Kalfou: A Journal of Comparative and Relational Ethnic Studies

Kalfou

Kalfou is the Haitian Kreyòl word for “crossroads.” It is a scholarly journal focused on social movements, social institutions, and social relations. Editor George Lipsitz explained, “The publication of Kalfou ushers in a new era in engaged scholarship. This first issue blends contributions from the leading scholars in ethnic studies with compelling writings from artists and activists. This journal constitutes a new public square for addressing the most important issues of our time.”

The journal seeks to promote the development of community-based scholarship in ethnic studies among humanists and social scientists and to connect the specialized knowledge produced in academe to the situated knowledge generated in aggrieved communities.

Kalfou is published by Temple University Press on behalf of the Center for Black Studies Research at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

TABLE OF CONTENTS Spring 2014, Volume 1, Issue 1

Introduction: A New Beginning • George Lipsitz

Feature Articles
Martin Luther King Encounters Post-racialism • Kimberlé Crenshaw
Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun and the “Illegible” Politics of (Inter)personal Justice • Tricia Rose
The Ideological Alchemy of Contemporary Nativism: Revisiting the Origins of California’s Proposition 187 • Daniel Martinez HoSang
Beyond Conflict and Competition: How Color-Blind Ideology Affects African Americans’ and Latinos’ Understanding of Their Relationships • Chrisshonna Grant Nieva and Laura Pulido, with Nathan J. Sessoms
From College Readiness to Ready for Revolution! Third World Student Activism at a Northern California Community College, 1965–1969 • Jason Ferreira

Talkative Ancestors
Chris Iijima on Asian American Identity

Keywords
Critical Ethnic Studies • Chandan Reddy

La Mesa Popular
The Alchemy of Race and Affect: “White Innocence” and Public Secrets in the Post–Civil Rights Era • Paula Ioanide

Art and Social Action
Music and Mobilization: Kombit Pou Haiti 2010 • Chuck D and Gaye Theresa Johnson

Mobilized 4 Movement
Race, Municipal Underbounding, and Coalitional Politics in Modesto, California, and Moore County, North Carolina • Emily Tumpson Molina

Teaching and Truth
The Bigger Scandal • Pauline Lipman

In Memoriam
Afro-Asian People’s Warrior: Richard Aoki, 1938–2009 • Diane C. Fujino

Book Reviews
The Woman in the Zoot Suit: Gender, Nationalism, and the Cultural Politics of Memory, by Catherine S. Ramírez • Reviewed by María Angela Díaz
From Toussaint to Tupac: The Black International since the Age of Revolution, edited by Michael O. West, William G. Martin, and Fanon Che Wilkins • Reviewed by Michael E. Brandon

 

KALFOU EDITORIAL BOARD

Senior Editor: George Lipsitz, University of California, Santa Barbara

Associate Editors:
Enrique Bonus, University of Washington, Seattle
Maria Herrera-Sobek, University of California, Santa Barbara
Roberta Hill, University of Wisconsin, Madison
Tricia Rose, Brown University

Book Review Editor:
Paul Ortiz, University of Florida, Gainesville

Founding Editors:
Claudine Michel, University of California, Santa Barbara
Melvin Oliver, University of California, Santa Barbara

Managing Editor:
Rose Elfman, University of California, Santa Barbara

 

Talking about White Savior Films with Matthew Hughey

In this Q&A, Matthew Hughey, author of The White Savior Film, discusses this provocative genre of films in which heroic white characters uplift racial others. 

Q: How did you first encounter the white savior film genre?
MH: I was studying racial representations in the media. A lot of activists and scholars talked about “negative” representations of people of color or how white people were nearly always represented in a “positive” light, but few people discussed the relationships between white and nonwhite characters.I found films like Cry Freedom (when a white journalist becomes the hero in a story supposedly about the slain black activist Steven Biko) or Mississippi Burning (when a two Northern white FBI agents become the protagonists in a story about Southern, black-led Civil and Human Rights activism) to justify and legitimate white paternalism and superiority. This developing trend signaled a new and disturbing moment in media representations of race and race relations.

Q: Do you believe that white savior characters are necessary identification points for white audiences to understand foreign/exotic people and cultures?
MH: I don’t believe that such a tactic is necessary in an objective sense. Our collective desire for such stories seems to result from our allegiance to Western myths about the distribution of morality, intelligence, and innocence across the color-line. That is, those very concepts (e.g., morality) are racialized; there is a host of sociological research that demonstrates how people identify whites (when compared to nonwhites) as more deserving of resources and leadership because they are assumed more naturally intelligent, innocent, and hard-working. Given our current racialized worldview, it should be no surprise that stories about white redeemers carry so much purchase.

Hughey_front_012814_smQ: You present the book in three parts: content, reception and consumption. Why did you take this particular approach?
MH: I wanted to examine the most popular 50 films over the last twenty-five years to look for their common denominators—something no one else had done. I also wanted to examine how film reviewers operate as interpretive communities that are influenced by the racial climate in which they make their supposedly individual appraisals. In addition, I wanted to know how people interpret these films both consciously (what they are aware of) and unconsciously (how their social background influences what they see and how they interpret it). Together, that tripartite approach takes seriously the production, distribution, and consumption side of media without valorizing one at the expense of the other.

Q: The content section focuses on how white savior films like Grand Torino treat racial issues and difference. Do you think any particular films do it particularly well or poorly?
MH: Hollywood films on race are not suitable stand-ins for sociological analysis, so I’d have to say not many treat racial issues very well. In fact, most portray nonwhites through a host of stereotypical tropes (blacks are dumb and drug users, while Hispanics and Latinos are gang members and lazy) while whites are portrayed as vicious racists of a Nazi ilk with the exception of one white virtuous savior that wishes only to redeem people of color. Moreover, these films’ redemption stories turn on an assumption that the white savior must remove nonwhite people from their own communities to be successful. Once saved, the characters of color must stay far away from their families, communities, and former cultures. Being saved, it would seem, means entering into a nearly all-white world. These are hardly competent treatments of race and race relations.

Q: The critical chapters show what reviewers felt about white savior films—how they analyze and interpret the themes and their effectiveness, as when they write about the inspirational moral triumph in The Long Walk Home, or the oversimplification of Dangerous Minds. Do you think critics have agendas when they write about white saviorfilms? Or are they really honing in on the point of these films?
MH: Film critics are generally trained to engage in some kind of artistic interpretation. Their stated agenda is to evaluate the quality of the film in question. While critics may attempt to do just that, I found the presence of significant interpretive patterns amidst their supposedly individual aesthetic evaluations. And these patterns seemed not the product of expert consensus, but seemed guided by the dominant understandings of race at the time of their writing. That is, among the nearly 2,800 film reviews written from 1987 to 2011, I found that critics’ appraisals followed suit with how media events involving African Americans, Asian Americans, Latino/Hispanic Americans, racial relations, and hot-button racial topics such as affirmative action, civil rights, and hate groups were discussed in the media. By exploring the relationship between the interpretive community of film reviewers and perceptions of U.S. race relations, I was able to show how variations in understandings of race seemed to guide the interpretive strategies critics used to understand and evaluate these films.

Q: In contrast, the consumer’s remarks are fascinating because they see the films for what they are (or aren’t) and measure them against their own experiences…
MH: When film represents off screen social issues and historical events, the line between entertainment and education is vague if not non-existent. Like it or not, media like film teaches audiences about social life—about how it was, is, or should be. Audience members take film seriously and think about its possible effect on them, their children, and society writ large. In our supposedly “post-racial”—and soon to be post-Obama—moment, these films are increasingly popular with Western-located whites (in both the U.S. and Europe). They are marketed as plausible and moral narratives in which whites are invited to idealize and identify with these white saviors qua role models and to take up a racial crusade. Some movie-goers see this as a well-rehearsed and somewhat over-played stock character and device. But the danger is when many defend the supposed lack of ideological slant or racial politics in these films, by referencing that they are based on actual, historical events. The “based on a true story” phrase may seduce audiences into an uncritical appraisal of these films. These films subtly rewrite historical events so that white colonizers, paternalistic controllers, and meddling interlopers seem necessary, relevant, and moral.

Q: Has there been a white savior film that satisfied both white and minority audiences, or do you think one can be made?
MH: Many of the films covered in the book do satisfy both white and nonwhite audience members according to the data I analyzed in my focus groups and interviews with audience members. This very fact is a part of what makes these films so dangerous. They are able to justify, rationalize, and legitimate white paternalism and nonwhite dysfunction and get hands of all colors to clap by the end credits.    

  

Appreciating Philadelphia’s Mural Arts @ 30

In this blog entry, David Updike, co-editor of Philadelphia’s Mural Arts @ 30, offers his thoughts on the book and what he learned about Mural Arts along the way.

I think it’s safe to say that over the last thirty years, Philadelphia has become a city of murals. As you crisscross the city, you find them in just about every neighborhood, often where you’d least expect them. They’ve become a part of our landscape, and something that people here and elsewhere associate with Philadelphia. A lot of the credit for that goes to Jane Golden, because it wouldn’t have happened without her energy and her vision, but it also wouldn’t have been possible if the city itself hadn’t embraced the idea that public art matters. And it matters, not just because it improves our aesthetic environment, but more importantly, because it has a lasting impact on the people who participate in the process.

The Mural Arts offices are a buzzing hive of activity. In the hallways you pass a steady stream of people coming and going, to and from mural sites, or classes, or canvassing neighborhoods. And these are people who, to borrow an old phrase from Bill Clinton, look like Philadelphia. They’re young and old, they’re black, white, Asian, Hispanic. And they all carry themselves with a sense of purpose. In the gallery downstairs you’ll see exhibitions of art—some of it quite remarkable—made by everyone from elementary school students to inmates serving life sentences at Graterford. And then there’s the room upstairs with the very skylight under which Thomas Eakins painted The Gross Clinic. And I suspect that our city’s greatest painter, were he alive today, would approve of this populist endeavor, which seeks to embrace the city he loved in all of its aspects.

I’m very fortunate to work at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, one of our city’s other great cultural institutions. And it occurred to me as I started working on this book that, in a way, the Art Museum and the Mural Arts Program have opposite but entirely complementary missions. At the Museum we work very hard to get people to come to us and experience great art. But Mural Arts brings art to the people in the places where they live and work. And what Mural Arts brings to these communities is not a particular product or aesthetic. Rather, it’s a process of engagement and dialogue and co-creation that takes place over months and years, and whose effects remain long after the paint on the walls has dried.

Phila Mural Arts 30_smThis book seeks, above all else, to document what takes place off the walls. And really, this gets to the heart and soul of what Mural Arts does. Yes, it’s about transforming places, but mostly it’s about transforming people. We wanted to look at that process and its effects through many lenses, so we brought together a diverse group of authors from different disciplines—social sciences, public health, art education, restorative justice—to paint as broad a picture as possible of what a socially engaged art practice looks like, and what it can do, especially when it works in tandem with other organizations to address big issues like homelessness, youth violence, or urban blight.

In the book, Jeremy Nowack aptly refers to what happens in the course of creating a mural as a kind of “social contract” that arises between all of the stakeholders involved in a project—neighbors, business owners, community leaders, schools, artists. And the key word here is “stakeholders.” People feel a sense of investment and ownership in the murals. They take pride in them. They show them off to visitors. New stories and rituals grow up around them. People now ride the Market-Frankford El in West Philly just to see Steve Powers’ 50 Love Letters unfold. Inspired by the murals, couples have gotten engaged and even married on that 20-block stretch along Market Street.

Other stories around the murals are more painful, more challenging, but also rewarding in ways that aren’t necessarily visible to someone looking only at the end result. A particularly poignant example is James Burns’s Finding the Light Within, which took on the issue of youth suicide, not just with a very powerful and personal mural, but also with community meetings, writing workshops, collage workshops, and a participatory blog, all of which provided safe, supportive spaces in which survivors could share their stories. More than 800 people participated in those activities, and hopefully found some measure of healing in the process.

Elizabeth Thomas begins her essay with a provocative question: “Who makes culture?” In other words, Who decides what messages we see and read and hear? Whose stories count? Every day we’re bombarded by images and messages that tell us what we should wear, eat, drink, watch, listen to. But how often do we see our own struggles and achievements reflected in our environment, or our own stories projected into the public discourse? Socially engaged art practice has begun to address this problem of who gets represented—and who does the representing—in public culture. It’s happening in different ways in different cities around the country, but in Philadelphia its most visible proponent is the Mural Arts Program.

Much of the work that Mural Arts has done in recent years has sought to expand the definition of what a mural is and what it can do. For the mural project called Peace Is a Haiku Song, the poet Sonia Sanchez initiated what became, in essence, a citywide collaborative poem cycle. She began with a mental image of haiku by children hanging like cherry blossoms from the trees in Philadelphia. This evolved into an invitation to people of all ages to contribute poems in a series of community workshops and through a dedicated website. The poems didn’t end up hanging from the trees, but many of them ended up on posters around the city that were created by youth working with graphic designer Tony Smyrski.

The experience of seeing your own words and your own images projected into the world is an empowering one, especially for young people. As Cynthia Weiss points out, kids participating in mural projects often gain practical, real-world skills, like photography and graphic design. But they also gain a sense of agency that may be hard to come by elsewhere in their lives. And that type of experience can have a lasting impact on a person’s life in ways that we’re really only beginning to understand.

This is the essence of what Mural Arts does. It’s about creating situations in which people are drawn out of their everyday selves and both challenged and empowered to reach for something more. So while this book marks a milestone in the history of the Mural Arts Program, our hope is that it also points the way forward for others who want to use the power of art to change things for the better.

To listen to a podcast of David Updike and Jane Golden’s presentation at the Free Library of Philadelphia from March 26, click here: http://libwww.freelibrary.org/authorevents/podcast.cfm?podcastID=1216

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