Considering the dynamics and representations of oversexualized black women

In this blog entry, Trimiko Melancon, author of Unbought and Unbossed: Transgressive Black Women, Sexuality, and Representation, discusses contemporary dynamics regarding race, gender, and sexuality.

A week ago I served as an invited moderator for a college student forum, “Freakum: The Hypersexuality of Black Women.” What the event and the students organizing it sought to explore, in part, were representations of black women. More specifically, how today’s portrayals of black women are images of them as the event flyer and prompt indicated, “oversexualized to the point where a black woman cannot just be portrayed as a woman, but as a sexual being.”

Questions from students ranged from inquiries attempting to ascertain the history of such images and if black women and blacks generally are in control of media representations of their sexuality. There were also discussions of black female pop cultural icons, including mega superstar Beyoncé Knowles and leading televisual personas Olivia Pope (ABC’s Scandal) and Mary Jane (BET’s Being Mary Jane). While the forum was stimulating, and the students were very intellectually engaged, I was struck by how, even in the twenty-first century, their understandings of these dynamics and representations of black women were punctuated by, and articulated through, binaries. Either they expected black women to uphold respectable representations always, or to do the diametrical opposite: be both carefree and, indeed, free to not at all worry about or contend with how they carry themselves or are perceived and, ultimately, portrayed.

Unbought_smIn these very notions of black womanhood and representations—and the still, at times, limiting or narrow roles or characterizations confronting them—reverberates the precise motivation and premise behind my book, Unbought and Unbossed: Transgressive Black Women, Sexuality, and Representation. My book idea actually started during my very own matriculation as an undergraduate English major struck by and grappling with representations of black women in literature. These interests became the groundwork of my college senior honors thesis, doctoral dissertation, and now this first book—a reflection, of course, of the evolution and intellectual maturity of those formative ideas over the course of more than a decade of research, critical thinking, and writing.

In Unbought and Unbossed, I examine post-civil rights representations of black women in literary and cultural texts of the 1970s and 1980s, informed by and produced during consequential political movements: civil rights, feminism, black nationalism, gay liberation, and the sexual revolution. This is a particularly significant era precisely, in part, because of the ways in which black women’s texts of the era embody and embrace a shift in terms of representations. Unbought and Unbossed explores how these moments create a space, cultural and political, for “the transgressive:” representations of black women who transgress and challenge racial, gender, and sexual circumscriptions or mandates that impose particular roles and circumscriptions of female identity on black women. Ultimately, I argue for far greater complexity (and complex understandings) when it comes to black women, representation, and sexuality—especially in terms of what constitutes “woman” and “normativity.” But I also illuminate how certain behaviors/actions operate as strategies in these literary and cultural texts. Sexuality becomes representative of not simply intimacy but, more broadly, of a larger aspirational desire for more complex understandings, renderings, and notions of race, gender, and sexuality as it relates to black (female) bodies. These women exercise their rights to be full citizens, in the racial and sexual sense, reminding us not to falsely mark any, every, and all expressions of black sexuality as perverse, illicit, or pathological but, rather, to afford blacks the range both allowed their white counterparts and reflective of the human (sexual) condition.

Unbought and Unbossed explores various moments, literary and cultural, post-civil rights and contemporary—from Toni Morrison’s novel Sula and Nelly’s rap video Tip Drill and tons in between. It does so to illumine not only the racialization of sex and the ways race, gender, and sexuality intersect. But, it also enables us to better understand the black sexual revolution, representations in the age of First Lady Michelle Obama, and the complexities surrounding black sexuality. And so, just as I asked the students to consider what black sexuality might look like unencumbered by stereotypes and either/or binaries, so, too, does Unbought and Unbossed ask all of us to contemplate this notion, as well as transgress simplistic conclusions regarding black women and black sexuality. After all, it is the twenty-first century and time to allow blacks the full measure of their humanity, sexual and otherwise.

Trimiko Melancon is an Assistant Professor of English, African American Studies, and Women’s Studies at Loyola University New Orleans. Learn more about her work on her website www.trimikomelancon.com or connect with her on Facebook (Trimiko Melancon) or Twitter (@trimikomelancon).

Celebrating Filipino Heritage Month

This week in North Philly Notes, we highlights eight Temple University Press titles that explore the identity, cultural diversity and community formation of Filipino Americans.

Locating Filipino Americans by Rick Bonus

BONUS 1439_regLocating Filipino Americans, an ethnographic study of Filipino American communities in Los Angeles and San Diego, presents a multi-disciplinary cultural analysis of the relationship between ethnic identity and social space. Author Rick Bonus argues that alternative community spaces enable Filipino Americans to respond to and resist the ways in which the larger society has historically and institutionally rendered them invisible, silenced, and racialized. Bonus focuses on the “Oriental” stores, the social halls and community centers, and the community newspapers to demonstrate how ethnic identities are publicly constituted and communities are transformed. Delineating the spaces formed by diasporic consciousness, Bonus shows how community members appropriate elements from their former homeland and from their new settlements in ways defined by their critical stances against racism, homogenization, complete assimilation, and exclusionary citizenship. Locating Filipino Americans is one of the few books that offers a grounded approach to theoretical analyses of ethnicity and contemporary culture in the U.S.

On Becoming Filipino by Carlos Bulosan

Bulosan 1184_regA companion volume to The Cry and the Dedication, this is the first extensive collection of Carlos Bulosan’s short stories, essays, poetry, and correspondence. Bulosan’s writings expound his mission to redefine the Filipino American experience and mark his growth as a writer. The pieces included here reveal how his sensibility, largely shaped by the political circumstances of the 1930s up to the 1950s, articulates the struggles and hopes for equality and justice for Filipinos. He projects a “new world order” liberated from materialist greed, bigoted nativism, racist oppression, and capitalist exploitation. As E. San Juan explains in his Introduction, Bulosan’s writings “help us to understand the powerlessness and invisibility of being labeled a Filipino in post Cold War America.”

Filipino American Lives by Yen Le Espiritu

Espiritu 1157_regMen and women, old and young, middle and working class, first and second generation, all openly discuss their changing sense of identity, the effects of generational and cultural differences on their families, and the role of community involvement in their lives. Pre- and post-1965 immigrants share their experiences, from the working students who came before WWII, to the manongs in the field, to the stewards and officers in the U.S. Navy, to the “brain drain” professionals, to the Filipinos born and raised in the United States.

As Yen Le Espiritu writes in the Introduction, “each of the narratives reveals ways in which Filipino American identity has been and continues to be shaped by a colonial history and a white-dominated culture. It is through recognizing how profoundly race has affected their lives that Filipino Americans forge their ethnic identities—identities that challenge stereotypes and undermine practices of cultural domination.”

The Day the Dancers Stayed by Theo Gonzalves

Gonzalves 1947_regPilipino Cultural Nights at American campuses have been a rite of passage for youth culture and a source of local community pride since the 1980s. Through performances—and parodies of them—these celebrations of national identity through music, dance, and theatrical narratives reemphasize what it means to be Filipino American. In The Day the Dancers Stayed, scholar and performer Theodore Gonzalves uses interviews and participant observer techniques to consider the relationship between the invention of performance repertoire and the development of diasporic identification.

Gonzalves traces a genealogy of performance repertoire from the 1930s to the present. Culture nights serve several functions: as exercises in nostalgia, celebrations of rigid community entertainment, and occasionally forums for political intervention. Taking up more recent parodies of Pilipino Cultural Nights, Gonzalves discusses how the rebellious spirit that enlivened the original seditious performances has been stifled.

San Francisco’s International Hotel by Estella Habal

Habal 1820_regThe struggle to save the International Hotel, in the San Francisco neighborhood known as Manilatown, culminated in 1977 with the eviction of elderly tenant activists. Many of them were Filipino bachelors who had emigrated to the U.S. in the 1920s and 1930s for menial labor. Each evicted tenant was accompanied by at least one young activist who had come to find their roots in the lives of the “manongs” (respected elders).

San Francisco’s International Hotel is part history and part memoir. In telling this compelling story, Estella Habal features her own memories of the Anti-Eviction Movement, focusing on the roles of Filipino Americans and their participation in both the anti-eviction protests and the nascent Asian American movement. She rounds out the narrative with a variety of sources, including interviews with other participants, the notes of insiders, and official reports.

The Philippine Temptation by E. San Juan

San Juan 1193_regIn this incisive and polemical book, E. San Juan, Jr., the leading authority on Philippines-U.S. literary studies, goes beyond fashionable post-colonial theory to bring to our attention the complex history of Philippines-U.S. literary interactions. In sharp contrast to other works on the subject, the author presents Filipino literary production within the context of a long and sustained tradition of anti-imperialist insurgency, and foregrounds the strong presence of oppositional writing in the Philippines.

San Juan goes beyond literary studies and contemporary debates about nationalism and politics to point the way to a new direction in radical transformative writing. He uncovers hidden agendas in many previous accounts of U.S.-Philippine relations, and this book exemplifies how best to combine activist scholarship with historically grounded cultural commentary.

Tiongson 1763_regPositively No Filipinos Allowed edited by Antonio T. Tiongson, Jr., Edgardo V. Gutierrez and Ricardo V. Gutierrez

From the perspectives of ethnic studies, history, literary criticism, and legal studies, the original essays in this volume examine the ways in which the colonial history of the Philippines has shaped Filipino American identity, culture, and community formation. The contributors address the dearth of scholarship in the field as well as show how an understanding of this complex history provides a foundation for new theoretical frameworks for Filipino American studies.

Pinoy Capital by Benito Vergara, Jr.

Vergara 1920_regHome to 33,000 Filipino American residents, Daly City, California, located just outside of San Francisco, has been dubbed “the Pinoy Capital of the United States.” In this fascinating ethnographic study of the lives of Daly City residents, Benito Vergara shows how Daly City has become a magnet for the growing Filipino American community.

Vergara challenges rooted notions of colonialism here, addressing the immigrants’ identities, connections and loyalties. Using the lens of transnationalism, he looks at the “double lives” of both recent and established Filipino Americans. Vergara explores how first-generation Pinoys experience homesickness precisely because Daly City is filled with reminders of their homeland’s culture, like newspapers, shops and festivals. Vergara probes into the complicated, ambivalent feelings these immigrants have—toward the Philippines and the United States—and the conflicting obligations they have presented by belonging to a thriving community and yet possessing nostalgia for the homeland and people they left behind.

Celebrating the Jewish New Year with Jewish Books

This week in North Philly Notes, we showcase seven Jewish Studies titles in honor of the Jewish New Year,  5775.

Two classic Temple University Press titles highlight the Catskills resorts, which shaped American Jewish culture and attracted over a million visitors between the 1920s and the 1950s.

Catskill Culture by Phil Brown

catskill culture clBrown tells the stories of the many elements of this magical environment. Brown’s own experiences as a waiter, his mother’s culinary exploits as a chef, and his father’s jobs as maitre d’ and coffee shop operator offer a backdrop to the vital life of Catskills summers. Catskill Culture recounts the life of guests, staff, resort owners, entertainers, and local residents through the author’s memories and archival research and the memories of 120 others.

The Catskills enabled Jews to become more American while at the same time introducing the American public to immigrant Jewish culture. Catskills entertainment provided the nation with a rich supply of comedians, musicians, and singers. Legions of young men and women used the Catskills as a springboard to successful careers and marriages. A decline for the resort area beginning in the 1970s has led to many changes. Today most of the hotels and bungalow colonies are gone or in ruins, while other communities, notably those of the Hasidim, have appeared.

Catskill Culture includes an appendix listing over 900 hotels he has been able to document and invites readers to contact him with additional entries.

Borscht Belt Bungalows, by Irwin Richman

borscht belt bungalowsBorscht Belt Bungalows, by Irwin Richman, focuses not on the large hotels like Grossinger’s and the Concord, but on modest bungalow colonies and kuchaleins (“cook for yourself” places) where more than 80 percent of Catskill visitors stayed.

These were not glamorous places, and middle-class Jews today remember the colonies with either aversion or fondness. Irwin Richman’s narrative, anecdotes, and photos recapture everything from the traffic jams leaving the city to the strategies for sneaking into the casinos of the big hotels. He brings to life the attitudes of the renters and the owners, the differences between the social activities and swimming pools advertised and what people actually received. He reminisces about the changing fashion of the guests and owners—everything that made summers memorable.

The author remembers his boyhood: what it was like to spend summers outside the city, swimming in the Neversink, “noodling around,” and helping with the bungalow operation, while Grandpa charged the tenants and acted as president of Congregation B’nai.

Three sports books–one for children and one for adults–recall the legendary SPAHS, the South Philadelphia Hebrew Association basketball team.

Homecourt by Larry Needle

Homecourt CoverLarry Needle’s Homecourt is a book for young readers about Louis Klotz, who played for the SPHAs and played for and coached the Washington Generals, one of the teams that faced the Harlem Globetrotters on the basketball courts for decades.

Nicknamed “Red” for his shiny red hair, Klotz may have been one of the smallest kids in his grade in South Philadelphia in 1933, but he always knew that he wanted to play basketball. Red’s journey, which started in the “cages” of South Philly, led to playing for Villanova, and for the SPHAS, where he won an American Basketball League championship.

In Homecourt: The True Story of the Best Basketball Team You’ve Never Heard Of, Larry Needle provides a biography of Red Klotz who won most of the games he played as a kid, but professionally, he lost 10,000 games against the Globetrotters. Nevertheless, Klotz is famous for scoring the winning shot against the Globetrotters in Martin, Tennessee in January, 1971—the last time the Generals beat the Globetrotters.

This illustrated book recalls the SPHAS games at the Broadwood Hotel (which now has a historical marker commemorating the team), the team’s coach, Eddie Gottlieb, and Klotz’s post-SPHAS career. It will inspire any kid who loves—or dreams of playing—basketball.

The SPHAS by Douglas Stark

The SPHAS sm compFounded in 1918, the South Philadelphia Hebrew Association’s basketball team, known as the SPHAS, was a top squad in the American Basketball League—capturing seven championships in thirteen seasons—until it disbanded in 1959. In The SPHAS, the first book to chronicle the history of this team and its numerous achievements, Douglas Stark includes not only rare and noteworthy images of players and memorabilia but also interviews and anecdotes to recall how players like Inky Lautman, Cy Kaselman, and Shikey Gotthoffer challenged racial stereotypes of weakness and physical inferiority as they boosted the game’s popularity. Team owner Eddie Gottlieb and Temple University coach Harry Litwack, among others profiled here, began their remarkable careers with the SPHAS.

Author Douglas Stark explores the significance of basketball to the Jewish community during the early years of the game, when Jewish players dominated the sport and a distinct American Jewish identity was on the rise. At a time when basketball teams were split along ethnic lines, the SPHAS represented the Philadelphia Jewish community. This book is an inspiring and heartfelt tale of the team on and off the court.

The Mogul by Rich Westcott

MOGUL comp smallRussian-Jewish immigrant Eddie Gottlieb was one of the most powerful non-playing sports figures in Philadelphia from the 1920s until his death in 1979. A master promoter, Gottlieb—dubbed the “Mogul” for his business acumen—was influential in both basketball and baseball circles, as well as a colorful figure in his own right.

A member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, Gottlieb founded, played and coached for the legendary South Philadelphia Hebrew Association (SPHAS) basketball team in the 1920s and 1930s. Only 5’ 8”, Gottlieb was nevertheless a very good basketball player. But it was behind the scenes where he excelled. He coached, helped form the National Basketball Association, and owned the Philadelphia Warriors franchise for many years. He signed Wilt Chamberlain to his first NBA contract. He also created the NBA’s annual schedule of games for more than a quarter of a century. Outside basketball, Gottlieb’s achievements included co-owning the Philadelphia Stars baseball team in the Negro Leagues and trying unsuccessfully to buy the Philadelphia Phillies. He was Philadelphia’s leading sports booking agent from the 1920s into the 1950s for everything from sandlot baseball to semipro football to professional wrestling. Drawing upon dozens of interviews and archival sources, and featuring more than fifty photographs, The Mogul vividly portrays Eddie Gottlieb’s pivotal role in both Philadelphia’s and America’s sports history.

Two books about Jewish History and Life in Philadelphia

Philadelphia Jewish Life edited by Murray Friedman

philadelphia jewish lifeIn a city with a long history of high social barriers and forbidding aristocratic preserves, Philadelphia Jews, in the last half of the twentieth century, became a force to reckon with in the cultural, political and economic life of the region. From the poor neighborhoods of original immigrant settlement, in South and West Philadelphia, Jews have made, as editor Murray Friedman recounts, the move from “outsiders” to “insiders” in Philadelphia life. Essays by a diverse range of contributors tell the story of this transformation in many spheres of life, both in and out of the Jewish community: from sports, politics, political alliances with other minority groups, to the significant debate between Zionists and anti-Zionists during and immediately after the war.

Friedman takes the history of Philadelphia Jewish life to the close of the twentieth century, and looks back on how Jews have shaped—and have been shaped by—Philadelphia and its long immigrant history.

The Outsider by Dan Rottenberg

The Outsider_smAlbert M. Greenfield (1887–1967), a Russian immigrant outsider, was courted for his business acumen by mayors, senators, governors, and presidents, including Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman. He built a business empire that encompassed real estate, department and specialty stores (Bonwit Teller and Tiffany & Co.), hotels (the Ben Franklin and the Bellevue-Stratford), banks, newspapers, transportation companies, and the Loft Candy Corporation. Greenfield challenged Philadelphia’s entrenched business elite by forming alliances among Jews, Catholics, and African Americans. He was also instrumental in bringing both major political conventions to Philadelphia in 1948.

In The Outsider, veteran journalist and best-selling author Dan Rottenberg deftly chronicles the astonishing rises, falls, and countless reinventions of this combative businessman. Greenfield’s power allowed him to cross social, religious, and ethnic boundaries with impunity. He alarmed Philadelphia’s conservative business and social leaders—Christians and Jews alike—some of whom plotted his downfall.

In this engaging account of Greenfield’s fascinating life, Rottenberg demonstrates the extent to which one uniquely brilliant and energetic man pushed the boundaries of society’s limitations on individual potential. The Outsider provides a microcosmic look at three twentieth-century upheavals: the rise of Jews as a crucial American business force, the decline of America’s Protestant Establishment, and the transformation of American cities.

 

Anti-Islamic Hate Crime and the Enduring Effects of 9/11

In this blog entry, on the anniversary of 9/11, Lori Peek, author of Behind the Backlash, describes the aftereffects of the terrorist attacks for the Muslim community.

Behind the Backlash sm FINALSoon after Behind the Backlash was published, I had the opportunity to give a guest lecture on the book at my undergraduate alma mater in Kansas. At the end of the talk, a student raised her hand and asked about the longer-term implications of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Specifically, she wanted to know whether anti-Islamic hate crimes and other forms of discrimination had continued to increase, even years after that fateful day. After she asked that question, another student raised his hand and inquired about the geography of post-9/11 hate crimes: Were they happening more often in big cities or small towns? Were they occurring in places close to or far away from the epicenter of the terror attacks?

In order to answer those questions, I collaborated with my colleague, Dr. Michelle Meyer, to assess the temporal and geographic patterns of anti-Islamic hate crime in the years following the terrorist attacks.* We compiled and geocoded data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation Uniform Crime Reporting Program so that we could analyze the prevalence and geographic distribution of incidents of anti-Islamic hate crime. We also drew on county-level Muslim population estimates so that we could describe the relative risk that Muslims faced in terms of experiencing hate crime in different counties. I briefly outline what we found in this blog post. The full version of our findings is available here.

1. 9/11 Provoked a Sudden and Dramatic Increase in Anti-Islamic Hate Crime

Following 9/11, the onset of hate crime activity was swift and the increase in recorded hate crimes substantial. The total number of hate crimes targeted at Muslims in the month following 9/11 was 58 times the number reported in the month leading up to the disaster. This elevation in hate crime continued for the remainder of 2001 and through the first anniversary of the attacks with 14 times as many anti-Islamic hate crimes in the year following 9/11 compared to the year before.

Figure #1. Anti-Islamic Hate Crimes One Month and One Year Before and After 9/11

(click on charts to make them appear larger)

Fig 1

2. 9/11 Has Had an Enduring Effect on Anti-Islamic Hate Crime

9/11 has had an enduring effect on anti-Islamic hate crime in the U.S., with increased numbers of recorded hate crime representing a “new normal” for Muslim Americans. During the pre-9/11 period, from 1992-2000, the yearly average of anti-Islamic incidents was 23. In the post-9/11 period, from 2002-2009, the yearly average was 134, which is nearly six times greater than before 9/11.

Figure #2. Anti-Islamic Hate Crimes Yearly Totals, 1992 – 2009

Figure 2

3. Since 9/11, Anti-Islamic Hate Crimes against Persons Have Been More Common Than Those Against Property

Hate crime can be any type of criminal offense that is motivated by bias, including crimes against persons as well as crimes against property. While all types of anti-Islamic hate crime surged after 9/11, crimes against Muslim persons (e.g., intimidation, aggravated assault, simple assault) were more common than crimes against their property (e.g., vandalism, theft arson, etc.).

Figure #3. Anti-Islamic Hate Crime Offenses against Persons and Property, 1992 – 2009

Fig 3

4. Intimidation, Vandalism, and Simple Assault Have Been the Most Common Forms of Post-9/11 Anti-Islamic Hate Crime

Hate crime can take many forms, and the FBI data that we analyzed for this work includes 46 distinct bias-motivated offense types. After 9/11, intimidation, vandalism, and simple assault were the three types of anti-Islamic hate crime that were most common. They increased markedly and have remained elevated in the years since.

Figure #4. Anti-Islamic Hate Crime Offense Types, 1992 – 2009

Fig 4

5. Anti-Islamic Hate Crime Has Become Widely Dispersed Geographically since 9/11

The backlash that followed the 9/11 attacks led to an unprecedented number of anti-Islamic hate crimes that were geographically dispersed across the U.S. As shown in Figure #5 below, before 9/11, most anti-Islamic hate crime was concentrated in cities and states with larger Muslim populations. After 9/11, anti-Islamic hate crime spread to both densely- and sparsely-populated counties, to places with small numbers of Muslims, and to areas with no prior experience with this type of hate crime (see Figure #6).

Figure #5. Anti-Islamic Hate Crime, 1992 – September 10, 2001, with Cities and States with the Largest Muslim Populations Highlighted

Fig 5Figure #6. Anti-Islamic Hate Crime in the Years Since 9/11

Fig 6

6. Since 9/11, the Overall Risk of Experiencing Hate Crime has Increased for All Muslims; Those Muslims Living in Counties with Smaller Muslim Populations Have Experienced Greater Relative Risk of Being Victimized

The figures below show the rates of anti-Islamic hate crime per 100,000 for the one year before (Figure #7) and one year after 9/11 (Figure #8). It is clear that the overall risk of experiencing hate crime increased for all Muslims in the United States after 9/11. The data also indicate that areas with smaller populations of Muslims have a higher rate of anti-Islamic hate crimes, meaning that Muslims in counties with few other Muslims are at greater relative risk of experiencing hate crime than those in counties with larger Muslim populations. For example, in the year following 9/11, Saginaw County, Michigan, where the estimated Muslim population in the year 2000 was only 77, had the highest anti-Islamic hate crime rate with 3,896 incidents per 100,000 Muslims. In comparison, Washington, D.C., which has an estimated Muslim population of just over 60,000, had the lowest rate of anti-Islamic hate crime at 1.65 incidents per 100,000 Muslims.

Figure #7 Anti-Islamic Hate Crime Rates in the Year Before 9/11

Fig 7

Figure #8 Anti-Islamic Hate Crime Rates in the Year After 9/11

Fig 8Muslim Americans have endured decades of stereotyping, discrimination and violence, largely triggered by conflicts in the Middle East and acts of domestic and foreign terrorism associated (rightly or wrongly) with the Islamic faith. However, 9/11—the most shocking and deadly terror attacks in the nation’s history—precipitated the largest-ever rise in anti-Islamic hate crime in the U.S. We hope that the above analysis offers a general sense of the short- and longer-term effects of the terrorist attacks on anti-Islamic hate crime activity at the national level. We also think this work has implications for those professionals tasked with more effectively preparing for and responding to the social consequences of terrorist events.

Lori Peek is author of the award-winning book, Behind the Backlash: Muslim Americans after 9/11. She is also co-author of Children of Katrina, and co-editor of Displaced: Life in the Katrina Diaspora. Dr. Peek, an Associate Professor of Sociology and Co-Director of the Center for Disaster and Risk Analysis at Colorado State University, studies vulnerable populations in disaster. Her work focuses on low-income families, racial and ethnic minorities, women, and children. She has conducted research in New Jersey after Superstorm Sandy, in the Gulf Coast region following Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill, in Joplin, Missouri after the 2011 tornado, and in New York after 9/11.

Notes

*Peek, Lori and Michelle Meyer Lueck. 2012. “When Hate is a Crime: Temporal and Geographic Patterns of Anti-Islamic Hate Crime after 9/11.” Pp. 203-225 in Crime and Criminal Justice in Disaster, 2nd ed., edited by D. W. Harper and K. Frailing. Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press.

Looking at Slum Clearance in the Southwest

In this blog entry, Robert Fairbanks, author of The War on Slums in the Southwest, writes about how religious leaders campaigned for slum clearance in San Antonio and Phoenix.

The War on Slums in the Southwest traces the history of slum clearance and public housing in the Southwest and reminds us of the important role religious leaders had in the campaign to eliminate slums in the Southwest.

In two cities, San Antonio and Phoenix, Roman Catholic priests were the major actors in securing public housing for their cities. Father Carmelo Tranchese served as priest at Our Lady of Guadalupe on the San Antonio’s west side within its principal Mexican barrio characterized by a Works Progress Administration report as “one of the most extensive slums to be found in any American city.” Even before Congress approved the Housing Act of 1937, the priest campaigned for federal help in clearing the slums and the erection of needed public housing for his congregation. He worked hard to publicize the ill effect slum housing had on the city and finally, after teaming up with Congressman Maury Maverick, lobbied directly with Eleanor Roosevelt to secure the much needed slum clearance and public housing projects for his Mexican parishioners, as well as other needy groups throughout the city. The mayor rewarded him for his efforts by appointing him the chair of the city’s initial housing authority.

War on Slums_smIn Phoenix, Father Emmett McLoughlin, a Franciscan priest took on a similar role in securing public housing for that desert city. The headstrong priest arrived in Phoenix in 1934 to serve as one of several clergy in St. Mary’s Catholic Church, the oldest in the city. Working with Mexican Americans and especially with African Americans in the city’s slums southwest of the downtown proved an eye opening experience for the priest. There he found unfathomable slum conditions that were in the words of one observer   “fully as bad as any he had seen in the tenement districts of New York.” African Americans often lived in wooden shacks, trailers sheds, and abandoned stores without water or sewage. His compassion for those slum dwellers led him to lobby Phoenix civic leaders for slum clearance and public housing. By publicizing those horrendous conditions and emphasizing their relationship to sickness, crime and bad citizenship, he convinced city fathers to support his effort to secure public housing for Phoenix. When state legislators final passed the necessary enabling legislation allowing Phoenix to form a housing authority, officials named McLoughlin chair of that body. As a result of McLoughlin’s efforts, Phoenix civic leaders embraced slum clearance and federal public housing by completing three projects before the end of World War II.

Even though both priests experienced physical threats and were slandered by slum landlords and others fearful of the public housing program, they were major warriors in the war of slums in the Southwest. Clergy played significant roles in other southwestern cities public housing efforts too. Almost every housing authority in the Southwest included either a Catholic priest, Protestant clergy or Jewish rabbi (and often several) on its initial housing authority. Such stories remind us that those who are passionately committed to responding to the plight of the poor could and did make a difference in the booming cities of the Southwest.

A Q&A with Dan Rottenberg, author of THE OUTSIDER

This week, in North Philly Notes, a Q&A with Dan Rottenberg, author of The Outsider: Albert M. Greenfield and the Fall of the Protestant Establishment.

How and why did you come to study Albert M. Greenfield?
Like most authors, I’ve always had several books on the back burner. One, for years, was a book about how Jews have changed business in America and vice versa. Another was a book about the decline of the Protestant establishment in America. I came across Albert M. Greenfield, and I realized this man ties into both of those themes, and that’s what I was really interested in. He was the quintessential Russian immigrant hustler who terrified the Protestant establishment in Philadelphia. They tried to shut him down in 1930. They thought they had. He came back and shut many of them down.

What surprised you in researching and telling Greenfield’s story?
What surprised me was that I couldn’t quite get a handle on him: Do I like this man or don’t I like him? There were a lot of things about Greenfield that I really liked and that I found I had in common with him—he was a tremendous optimist, and had no use for people who whined and complained—I’m pretty much the same way. He had very little empathy for people who had problems. He said take your problems somewhere else. On the other hand, he did a lot of things that were not quite ethical. He had his own narrative of his life, a lot of it was total nonsense. What I had to do as the writer was sift out the myth from the facts.

The Outsider_smHow do you think Greenfield used his Jewishness, or broke away from the stereotype in his business affairs?
Greenfield was Jewish, but he really broke all boundaries, and all rules. His basic mantra was, I can define myself as whatever I want. Sometimes he defined himself as Jewish, sometimes he thought he was the second coming of Benjamin Franklin. He was all over the place.

Do you find that his business savvy was his sheer love of business, versus fear of financial failure?
When you come right down to it, he was not really that concerned with making money or power, he really just loved to play the game. He lost a fortune twice in his life, and came back and each time, he really got the sense that he enjoyed the comeback. It was much more fun. He once said, “I’d rather fall off the highest rung than never climb the ladder.”

Greenfield was active in real estate, banking, retail, and politics, among other things. What do you think was his greatest accomplishment?
In business, he built up a huge empire, including department store chains up and down the east coast. He built some of the major building that still stand to this day, including the Ben Franklin Hotel and the Philadelphia Building, which for years was called the Bankers’ Security Building, named for his company.  But really his business empire collapsed shortly after he died. It was largely a one-man band. His legacy really lies elsewhere.

What was his greatest disaster?
Probably the failure of the Banker’s Trust Company in 1930—his venture into banking. He just assumed he was smarter than everybody else and he could succeed at anything he put his hand to. Banking turned out to be something very different than real estate. In real estate, the biggest asset is your optimism, your ability to inspire confidence in your investors or tenants. In a banker, your biggest asset is your reputation for prudence, caution, and reliability. Totally different things.

What do you think Greenfield’s legacy in Philadelphia is today?
I would say his greatest legacy is the message that his life transmits to people, that you, as a private, ordinary citizen, can really exert tremendous influence on your community, your country—if you really want to. The idea that we ought to be a little more optimistic about the future—that we ought to be a little more accepting of change. You can make your own identity, whatever you want it to be, and collectively, we can make this community and this world a better place if we want. I also think his legacy is the importance of immigrants in our society. Every generation there is a fear of immigrants and a feeling that immigrants don’t really know what America is about. Greenfield had the opposite idea. He said immigrants really appreciate America more than anybody else does.

About the author
Dan Rottenberg is the author of eleven books, including The Man Who Made Wall Street: Anthony J. Drexel and the Rise of Modern Finance, and the founding editor of the Broad Street Review, an arts and culture website.

 

We’ve Got a Book on That!

This week in North Philly Notes, a rundown of recent news articles that relate to topics in Temple University Press books.

The Meaning of Emancipation Day in the Opinionator column of the August 4, 2014 issue of the New York Times

Korb writes about abolitionist writer and former slave Harriet Jacobs, who published Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.

Envisioning Emancipation_smJacobs was featured in Envisioning Emancipation: Black Americans and the End of Slavery by Deborah Willis and Barbara Krauthamer. The authors quote Jacobs about fleeing her North Carolina master in 1842, and making her way to Brooklyn:

“What a disgrace to a city calling itself free, that inhabitants, guiltless of offence, and seeking to perform their duties conscientiously, should be condemned to live in such incessant fear, and have nowhere to turn for protection. This state of things, of course, gave rise to many impromptu vigilance committees. Every colored person, and every friend of their persecuted race, kept their eyes wide open.”

Willis and Krauthamer write that activists like Jacobs, “portrayed themselves as intelligent, empowered, sensitive, and dignified women.”

Another New York Times piece, Bright Passages, Along the Northeast Corridor, published on July 24, celebrated the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program. The article showcased the five-mile stretch in Philadelphia that features, what the article described as  “Christo-esque installations of seven enormous works of art by the Berlin-based visual artist Katharina Grosse, entitled, ‘psychylustro'”

Phila Mural Arts 30_smJane Golden, Executive Director of the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program for 30 years, co-edited Philadelphia Mural Arts @ 30, with David Updike, an editor in the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s publishing department. Their book showcases the results of 21 projects completed since 2009 and features essays by policy makers, curators, scholars, and educators that offer valuable lessons for artists, activists, and communities to emulate. Philadelphia Mural Arts @ 30 traces the program’s history and evolution, acknowledging the challenges and rewards of growth and change while maintaining a core commitment to social, personal, and community transformation.

In other local news, Timothy Cwiek reported on SEPTA (Philadelphia’s transit agency) denying union workers same-sex marriage benefits in the Philadelphia Gay News on July 31.

Cwiek writes, “Due to an impasse with union representatives, SEPTA’s management only recognizes the same-sex marriages of its non-union workers for the purpose of workplace benefits.”

Out in the Union_smMiriam Frank’s recent publication, Out in the Union: A Labor History of Queer America, chronicles the evolution of labor politics with queer activism and identity formation, showing how unions began affirming the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender workers in the 1970s and 1980s.

Frank provides an inclusive history of the convergence of labor and LGBT interests. She carefully details how queer caucuses in local unions introduced domestic partner benefits and union-based AIDS education for health care workers-innovations that have been influential across the U.S. workforce. Out in the Union also examines organizing drives at queer workplaces, campaigns for marriage equality, and other gay civil rights issues to show the enduring power of LGBT workers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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