The Evangelical Crackup? The Future of the Evangelical-Republican Coalition

This week in North Philly Notes, we re-post an blog entry by Paul Djupe and Ryan Claassen, co-editors of The Evangelical Crackup?, from the blog Religion in Politics.

For academics who study American religion and politics, there has been no greater gift than the 2016 election. Rarely do we get the chance to see the strands pulled apart to reveal the true connections, but the conventional wisdom-breaking campaign of Donald Trump helped us bring some questions into sharper focus. In this post, we’d like to recap a few of the most interesting observations, from some of the top scholars working in (American) religion and politics today, from the volume we edited.

Honestly, we did not foresee that we would produce quite this book. The “?” in the title came later. If everything we thought we knew materialized, evangelicals might have taken a principled stand in rejection of the Republican nominee and his morally-challenged character. Instead, as the venerable scholar of evangelical politics, Clyde Wilcox, posted on Facebook (to the effect of), “I’ve been studying evangelicals for 30 years and don’t know them anymore.” That is a crackup in itself, but it is not the one we thought we would be writing about. Let’s turn to the top 11.

  1. Evangelicals were on their own in the 2016 elections.

One of the most startling realizations of 2016 was that white evangelicals were willing to so warmly embrace a candidate with such a character deficit and dubious religious bona fides. One possible explanation is that white evangelicals were essentially left to their own devices, which Djupe and Calfano explore in Chapter 1. White evangelicals did not know many #NeverTrump evangelical leaders. Their clergy were not speaking out in large numbers and when they did they were perceived as Trump supporters. And evangelicals’ perceptions of elites were strongly colored by their immediate surroundings. The signs point to religious abdication in the 2016 election.

  1. Evangelicals’ presence in the GOP activist ranks continues to grow.

Since the 1970s, religiously involved evangelicals have tripled their presence among Republican activists (at the national convention). They are the only religious group whose representation has increased markedly over time, though religiously engaged Catholics have increased their presence a bit too. So find Layman and Brockway in Chapter 2, characterizing evangelicals as the “life of the party.”

  1. Evangelicals’ shift into the GOP from the 1960s on was driven by racial attitudes more than social issues like abortion.

Picking up Randall Balmer’s thread about the genesis of the Christian Right, Ryan Claassen compares the relative effects of abortion and racial attitudes on Republican voting across the critical time period of 1972 to the present. Of course support for Republicans is linked to abortion attitudes, but the shift over time would not have been so strong without racial conservatism. This provides strong evidence the engine of evangelical voting patterns is racially charged, which resonates with Balmer’s origin story of the Christian Right rooted in opposition to federal civil rights actions.

  1. Republican platform language has become more religious and more strident in the last 2 decades.

Ever since the 1980 national convention, the Republican platform has called for a constitutional amendment to ban abortion. But the shift in platform language was just beginning. As Kevin den Dulk describes in “the challenge of pluralism” (Chapter 4), Republicans have increasingly employed religious language and more particularistic religious language. In the near term, the strategy to reinforce the evangelical-Republican fusion makes sense, but in the medium to long term?

  1. Evangelical political tolerance levels have been increasing as their minority status and educational attainment grow.

Even for their most disliked groups, like atheists and gay Americans, evangelicals have grown steadily more tolerant of their basic rights to participate in society. There’s a wonderful tension here between Andrew Lewis’ Chapter 5 findings and den Dulk’s Chapter 4. The explanation for the different approaches to pluralism are fairly obvious, tracking the incentives to elite party leaders versus followers, but would otherwise be out of reach if they were not side by side.

Evangelical Crackup_sm

  1. Young evangelicals are not much different than older ones and young evangelical liberals are in many ways dissimilar from other young liberals.

Prognosticators look to young evangelicals to ascertain the future of evangelical politics.  If the shared culture that made older evangelicals politically distinctive fails to unite young evangelicals in the same way, then the evangelical base of the Republican party may turn out to be the “house built on the sand” (Matthew 7:26).  In Chapter 8 Jeremy Castle examines young, liberal, evangelicals to see whether a crackup is underway.  He finds that, even among young evangelicals, liberal politics remain rare.  More importantly, he finds that evangelical culture continues to shape the attitudes and behavior of the liberal subculture within evangelicalism.  Accordingly, he concludes that the existence of young, liberal evangelicals does not signal that a crackup of the relationship between evangelicals and the Republican party is on the horizon.

  1. Evangelical Latinos are a bridge to the Republican Party.

Latinos have shown a steady drift to the Democratic Party for decades, but the rise of evangelicalism among Latinos in and outside of the US raises questions about whether this trend will continue. It turns out, as Taylor, Gershon, and Pantoya find in Chapter 9, that Latino evangelical Protestants are distinctive – they are more Republican than other Latinos, but they are not as Republican as white evangelicals (see also Burge’s post on this question). For now, Latino evangelicals are a small portion of the population[1], but their numbers are growing – they are the group responsible for stemming the losses among the Southern Baptist Convention, for instance. It remains to be seen what the strident rhetoric and policies from Trump are doing to Latino evangelical support.

  1. Evangelicals are not more insulated from disagreement than others.

Among the reasons given for why evangelicals’ politics are so distinctive is that they pray in an echo chamber – a disagreement-free zone. While it’s true that evangelicals have more church-based friends, they report disagreement in their core social networks at the same rate as other religious groups. Djupe, Neiheisel, and Sokhey find in Chapter 11 that, on average, their networks feature partisan disagreement among a quarter to a third of their discussion partners. This does not mean that they respond in the same ways to disagreement, but that question remains for another project – in fact, a related question is investigated in Chapter 12.

  1. Evangelicals may have come to the Republican fold for the culture, but they stay for the economics.

McGauvran and Oldmixon dispel notions in Chapter 15 that evangelicals are not on board with free market economics of the Republican Party (putting aside Trump’s violation of that orthodoxy in terms of free trade). However, there is a good bit of nuance that is worth thinking about. Evangelicals have gained in socio-economic status in the last 40 years and income helps solidify evangelical support for conservative economic policies. Interestingly, so does more engagement in evangelical religious communities. There’s quite the research question hiding in plain sight for the researcher with congregational data.

  1. Young evangelicals react more negatively to their parents than non-evangelicals.

Observers have focused a great deal of attention on young evangelicals, thinking that they cannot possibly share the same racially tinged politics as their parents and grandparents. Dan Cox, Robbie Jones and colleagues look for signs of better intergroup relations and find an interesting pattern. Young evangelicals feel less warmly toward the evangelical label when they are surrounded by fellow evangelicals in their social networks; on the other hand they embrace evangelicalism more when they do face diversity. This result does not portend a crackup within evangelicalism any time soon, though it is important to note that the analysis does not include former evangelicals – those who have left the faith tradition for whatever reason (and that list is likely to include political disagreement).

  1. Evangelicals have consolidated or perhaps are demonstrating ‘ironic continuities’.

We were lucky to have Robert Wuthnow and John Green offer concluding comments on our guiding question and their conclusions do not differ except in shading. Wuthnow notes that while everything has changed since the 1980s, evangelicals have remained consistent in their Republican support. That fact pushes him to distinguish ‘political evangelicalism’ from the religious practice of ‘evangelicalism.’ Green is on the same page as far as identifying the consolidation of evangelicals at the core of the Republican Party, emphasizing their political fit and shared identity, but does not admit to sharing a sense of irony about it.

These are just a few of the nuggets that appear in The Evangelical Crackup. You can also find work on religious authority (Ryan Burge), the spread of ‘In God We Trust’ mottos (Tobin Grant and Joshua Mitchell), new measurement schemes for evangelicals (Tobin Grant and David Searcy), the distribution of the Christian Right and Left in the states (Kim Conger), in addition to a sustained treatment of Christian conservative legal organizations at the heart of so many current and enduring disputes (Dan Bennett). Djupe taught these chapters while they were in press and really enjoyed the conversation across chapters. The ability to talk about the development of the movement’s connections to the GOP and the near comprehensive examination of evangelicals across units of analysis certainly belie easy assumptions about evangelicals, but also offer a compendium of findings that should be of interest to researchers as well.

Paul A. Djupe, Denison University Political Science, is an affiliated scholar with PRRI, the series editor of Religious Engagement in Democratic Politics (Temple), and co-creator of religioninpublic.blog (see his list of posts). Further information about his work can be found at his website and on Twitter.

Ryan L. Claassen, Kent State University Political Science, is author of Godless Democrats and Pious Republicans (2015) and author and coauthor of numerous political science articles. Further information about his work can be found at his website.


Notes

1. In the 2016 CCES, those with an Hispanic identity constitute just over 7% of the sample (4747/64600) and 570-630 of them (depending on the measurement strategy) are evangelical – 12.6% of Latinos and about 1% of the total sample.

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The Utility of Women’s Caucuses in Today’s Political Climate

This week in North Philly NotesAnna Mitchell Mahoney, author of Women Take Their Place in State Legislatures, writes about the importance of women and bipartisan caucuses.

The toxic masculinity displayed perpetually by politicians and tracked by scholars (https://www.genderwatch2018.org/) in our current political climate reminds us of the importance of formal and intentional women’s spaces. Women’s organizations inside and outside of institutions serve many purposes including strategic planning and action for policy change as well as support for women who do disproportionate amounts of household, professional, and emotional labor. My book, Women Take Their Place in State Legislatures: The Creation of Women’s Caucuses, examines under what conditions women state legislators carve out a space for themselves within legislatures where men make up three-quarters of members.

Women Take Their Place in State Legislatures_smThe more things change, the more they stay the same.

My research found that many of the reasons women formed caucuses in the 1970s and 1980s are very similar to the motivations of today’s women caucus entrepreneurs. The bias and exclusion women felt when they were increasing their numbers in state legislatures continued to be reported by the women legislators I interviewed between 2009-2013 when their numbers plateaued around 24%. Apart from experiences of discrimination, women also reported wanting relationships with other women who shared their experiences as a woman in politics to learn from them and feel supported. This year has seen an increase in the number of women filing to run for state legislative seats (https://www.genderwatch2018.org/). If more women enter legislatures, will they seek out women’s only spaces?

What is in it for them?

In 2016, 22 states have such organizations whose missions vary from agenda setting policy caucuses, to those who take up policies on an ad hoc basis, to those whose primary mission is social – supporting each other as women, no policy consensus necessary. These caucuses allow legislators to express certain identities, signifying themselves as experts in certain policy areas and advocates for certain constituencies. Caucuses help members build relationships and gain information useful for accomplishing their goals. These groups also provide opportunities for leadership. Other studies have shown, depending on the proportion of women in the majority party, the presence of a women’s caucus may be correlated with higher proportions of women in leadership positions, increasing their status within the institution, getting them closer to the reins of power themselves (Kanthak and Krause 2012). Savvy entrepreneurs who want to strengthen women’s caucuses use many of these arguments when trying to motivate other women to join while simultaneously refuting counterclaims that women no longer need these spaces or that bipartisan caucuses themselves are inappropriate.

What is in it for all of us?

In light of today’s hyper-partisanship, one may ask what use a bipartisan caucus is, especially if it is only social in nature. Does it really matter? If the other side is populated by traitors and extremists, why even attempt relationships? In subsequent research, my colleague Mirya Holman and I found that states with women’s caucuses (even those that were only social) had an increased co-sponsorship rate among women indicating that policy outcomes are possible – even when policy is taken explicitly off the table for the caucus. Further, during the Kavanaugh hearings, much was made of the bipartisan relationship between Senator Coons and Senator Flake.  Bipartisan, personal relationships never go out of style in legislatures – even if they are strained during hyper partisan times (Victor and Ringe 2009).

Bipartisan caucuses are one place such relationships are formed in legislatures that prioritize partisan loyalty and gender norm expectations. In addition to the benefits for participants, women’s caucuses make three significant interventions to legislative institutions. First, by creating a legislative organization that signifies gender as politically salient, women legislators are challenging the false gender neutrality of politics. In my book, I make visible male dominance within these institutions that many consider androgynous. Observers may note this advantage in the social norms of legislatures where men call out women for speaking in groups larger than pairs, where men exclude women from social gatherings where they actually make the deals, and through more formal processes where party leaders concentrate women legislators in less powerful committee appointments and exclude them from leadership positions.

Second, the establishment of women’s caucuses inside male-dominated legislative institutions can provide a safe space for marginalized legislators to support each other, as well as help develop and refine legislative initiatives. Caucuses are a way to counteract institutional norms that may require women to play a man’s game, adopt a particular political persona, or adhere to someone else’s definition of appropriate political priorities. When gender norms are challenged or broadened in a public space like legislatures, the possibilities for all women grow.

Finally, as conduits for advocacy organizations into the legislature, women’s caucuses may contribute to better representation for many different constituencies.  These potential interventions are significant and indicate the importance of these organizations beyond the adoption (or not) of women-friendly policy.

Scholars must continue to probe the value or necessity of these bipartisan organizations. One day they may no longer be necessary as women are wholly incorporated into the institutions in which they serve. However, it may be that women will always seek comradery and support from those with similar lived experiences, regardless of how far their workplaces come in accommodating their presence. For now, the symbolic importance of women’s spaces within male-dominated institutions continues to signal that women belong in office and women can work together (even if in limited ways). More tangibly, the handful of women’s caucuses that participate in recruiting and training women for campaigns hold out hope that they may have a few new members come next session.

References

Kanthak, Kristin, and George A. Krause. 2012. The Diversity Paradox: Political Parties, Legislatures, and the Organizational Foundations of Representation in America. New York: Oxford University Press.

Victor, Jennifer Nicholl and Nils Ringe. 2009. “The Social Utility of Informal Institutions: Caucuses as Networks in the 110th U.S. House of Representatives.” American Politics Research. 37(5): 742-766.

 

 

 

Celebrating Banned Books Week with a University Press community response to censorship

This week in North Philly Notes, in honor of Banned Books Week, we repost an article by Claire Kirch that appeared in Publishers Weekly on September 13, about Target’s practice of redacting certain key words in the product descriptions of their books and how the University Press community responded. 

Publishers Call Out Target for ‘Censoring’ Book Descriptions

A number of publishers, most of them university presses, are taking Target Corporation to task for redacting certain key words in the product descriptions of their books. They say the Minneapolis-based chain retailer has scrubbed certain words from their descriptions, including “transgender,” “queer,” and even the term “Nazi.”

While some of the redacted product descriptions were corrected by Wednesday morning, a number of publishers say their product descriptions currently contain asterisks instead of key words.

PW reached out to Target’s public relations department several times about the glitch but, as of press time, had received no response.

Heather Gernenz, publicity manager at the University of Illinois Press, said Cáel Keegan, the author of the November release Lana and Lilly Wachowski, alerted the press on Monday that the word “transgender” had been replaced in three places by asterisks in the product description on Target.com. The book is about transgender siblings,

Gernenz requested online that the description be corrected. And, although the product description for the paperback edition of the title was quickly changed, Gernenz had to make a second request before the description for the hardcover edition was updated by Wednesday morning.

Publishers told PW that Target.com has fixed some initially-altered product descriptions. But several books having to do with LGBTQ issues continue to feature redacted words, such as We Make It Better: The LGBTQ Community and their Positive Contributions to Society (Mango, Oct.) by Eric Rosswood and Kathleen Archambeau; and Trans: A Quick and Quirky Account of Gender Variability (Univ. of Calif. Press, Jan.) by Jack Halberstam.

Titles with LGBTQ themes are not the only ones being affected on Target.com, either. Some publishers told PW that their books about Nazi Germany also contain redactions. For example, Adolf Hitler’s last name along with the term “Nazi,” have been scrubbed from the product description of World War II: The illustrated Story of the Second World War by John Burns (Classic Illustrated Comics, 2015).

As it happens, Target has redacted words from book product descriptions before. In late December, Nina Packebush tweeted about the fact that the word “queer” had been removed from the product description of her YA novel, Girls Like Me (Bedazzled Ink, 2017), about a pregnant teen who identifies as pansexual.

Packebush told PW on Wednesday that a Target representative had responded to her complaint by explaining that the company regarded the word “queer” as a slur, and thus removed it from the description. After pressure from Packebush, her publisher, and others, the word was put back into the product description by January 6. Subsequently, however, Target replaced the word “queer” with “trans.” The change, Packebush points out, leaves the site with an inaccurate reference to the book’s protagonist.

According to Ohio State University Press director Tony Sanfilippo, Target’s move might be a well-meaning policy gone awry. “I understand that they might want to avoid controversy. But if they want to keep Nazis off their site, or Nazi-themed products out of their search results, there are ways of doing that that don’t censor. If you can’t say ‘Nazi,’ you can’t stop Nazis. And if you can’t search for books about the trans community and trans issues, your search engine and your corporate philosophy are morally flawed.”

Claire Kirch is the Midwest correspondent for Publishers Weekly.

Copyright (c) 2018 Publishers Weekly PWxyz LLC. Used by permission.

A Q&A with Judge Nelson A. Diaz

This week in North Philly Notes, an interview with Nelson A. Diaz, about his inspiring new autobiography, Not from Here, Not from There.

You came to America as a child—literally—in your mother’s belly. Can you discuss the experience of being part of the wave of Puerto Rican immigrants post-World War II?
During the 1940’s and 1950’s, many Puerto Ricans came to New York in search of greater job opportunities because the economic hardships confronting Puerto Rico after WWII. My mother came to New York to provide a better life for me. She was a woman who was ahead of her time because she was a working mom at a time when most mothers stayed at home with their children. She did not have a choice. She worked as a seamstress in a factory to make ends meet. Although I grew up in very humble circumstances, my mother always provided the example of love, hard work, and faith. The Marine Tiger where she landed was a famous ship used in WWII for transport of soldiers and many came to the shores of NY the same way having American citizenship since 1917. Public Policy in the availability of Public Housing made a major difference in our lives.

You grew up in Harlem and had some hardscrabble experiences. What was that period of your life like?  You talk about being in fear at age 15. What helped you get through that time and not just survive, but thrive?
Growing up in poverty does not give you many options. Violence, gangs, and drugs are all around. I had a lot of problems in school much of which stemmed from my inability to speak and read in both English and Spanish. Trying to live in two different worlds – Puerto Rican culture and American culture – was difficult. I was not doing well in school and was always struggling to get better grades. At the age of 15, I went from being a D student to an A student in one year through the saving grace of the church.

Through faith, I felt hope. Hope for my future, an expectation that better things lied ahead and a strong desire to work hard for it. Through faith, I no longer felt unworthy and I knew that I could achieve greater things, not only for myself but also for others. The intervention of people in my life made a difference.

Not From Here_smYou faced considerable discrimination in Philadelphia (e.g., passing the bar). Was there a particular experience that made you learn and grow?
Growing up as a poor Puerto Rican kid from Harlem, I always had to overcome the barriers of stereotypical attitudes: a school counselor who believes that you are not college material, or institutional or systemic bias in law schools and government, or law firms and corporate boards that lack diversity even though there are highly qualified people of color. That is why civil and human rights are important issues that I have spent my life fighting for. I have spent a lifetime breaking barriers so others can walk through the doors—whether it was becoming a founding member of Black Law Students Association and the Federation of Puerto Rican Students because I understood the power of coalitions of interest; or becoming a community activist to protest the lack of diversity and open up law school doors for others; or promoting economic development in the Latino community; or becoming the first Puerto Rican White House Fellow, where I worked for Vice President Mondale and was able to promote Latino diversity in the political arena and influence public policy both domestically and internationally; or becoming the first Latino judge in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; or becoming the first minority administrative judge and presiding over court reforms that brought seven years of backlogged cases to the present and saved the courts millions of dollars; or fighting for the human rights of Soviet Jews; or becoming the first American judge to sit on a Japanese Court; or fighting against segregation in housing nationwide; or promoting the inclusion and promotion of minority and women lawyers in the profession; or fighting for diversity on corporate boards. I may have been the first, but I did not want to be the last!

The history of anyone but Caucasian who had passed the Pennsylvania Bar demonstrates that until the Liacouras Bar Committee found discrimination in the Bar exam the Commonwealth of PA since its founding, the bar had only admitted 67 African Americas and no Latinos before 1969 when I entered Law School. It was apparent that it was impossible to believe that I might get admitted and the city was so segregated by neighborhoods with continuous racial conflict between neighborhood boundaries.

Eventually, your career took off with appointments as the General Counsel at HUD, and as a city solicitor who helped with immigration issues. Can you describe your experiences?
The White House Fellows program gave me an education on the world and lifted my profile in my professional life.  The Judicial appointment and election also changed the public perspective of me. Both of these appointments, including the Administrative Judge title, were avenues of increasing diversity in the workplace. Although I was flattered to have been asked to by Henry Cisneros, who is a trailblazer and friend, to become his General Counsel at HUD, I did not want to go to Washington, DC. Henry was persistent and I eventually agreed. By breaking another barrier—becoming the first minority General Counsel—I was determined to increase the numbers of minority and women lawyers hired, retained and promoted because of the shocking lack of diversity among the government attorneys. I have always felt that the inclusion of minorities and women is an important step to changing systemic bias that exists in most institutions. As Latinos, we need to select our own leaders and continue to help each other climb the ladder of success.

Your book’s title is curious, it suggests a lack of belonging. Can you discuss that?
The title of my book, “I am not from here and I am not from there/No soy de aqui, ni de alla,” is about being a Puerto Rican born and raised in New York. We are not accepted here because of stereotypes and prejudice and yet not accepted as Puerto Rican from the Islanders because we were born in the States. It begs the question so where do we belong? That is a difficult barrier to overcome. You continue striving for excellence, inclusion, and moving the agenda forward so there is equality for all. There are many examples of rejection on both sides of the Atlantic both professionally and community where Puerto Ricans resided.

My parents lived most of their lives in Puerto Rico while I lived all of my life in the United States. I visited regularly since the age of 10 was educated in the issues of both countries, despite my professional capacity and assistance was there rarely an opinion they sought or cared particularly as you can see from the major Hurricane Maria. When they used my help it was limited to educate their officials and not my expertise which normally was ignored. That never gave me pause to keep trying wherever possible.

Do you think you achieved the American Dream?
Latinos positively contribute to the wellbeing of this great country. My story demonstrates some of the many ways, Latinos contribute to America. I hope that this book is seen in a bigger context than just my story. In the backdrop of the negative and racist attitudes about Latinos being only “criminals and rapists” my story is one of many, Latinos who work hard every day to put food on the table, house their families as best as they can and educate their children to have equal opportunities for the future. Isn’t that what everyone wants – the American Dream? History has eliminated most of our contribution and we fail to tell the story of how we have made America better.  My book will hopefully inspire young people to strive for a better life.

In winning U.S. House primary, Ilhan Omar breaks barriers and sets an example

This week in North Philly Notes, we re-post a recent editorial, written by Stefanie Chambers, author of Somalis in the Twin Cities and Columbus that appeared in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune about Ilhan Omar winning the U.S. House primary.

Ilhan Omar’s victory Aug. 14 in the DFL primary for Congress is a cause for celebration. Her triumph is especially gratifying for those in Minnesota and beyond who value opportunity and democratic inclusion.

Omar is well-positioned to become the first Somali-American and female Muslim member of the U.S. House. Moreover, she may enter the House with another Muslim woman, Rashida Tlaib, who won a Democratic primary in Michigan.

Omar’s political rise from state representative to congressional candidate implores us to consider how she achieved so much political success — against the backdrop of rising hostile and hate-filled rhetoric aimed at both Somalis and Muslim Americans — in a few short years.

In 2016 Omar was elected to the Minnesota Legislature, becoming the first Somali-American elected to a state house. She was an against-the-odds candidate, because Somali-Americans are often viewed with suspicion even in the communities they call home. Her election provided the media with a positive story about new Americans thriving in our democracy.

Omar’s success is a sharp contrast to the negativity espoused by America’s current president. During a 2016 campaign stop, then-candidate Donald Trump failed to acknowledge the progress being made in the Twin Cities to incorporate Somali refugees into the fabric of the larger community. Rather, out of ignorance or political expediency, he reiterated many misperceptions about such refugees, stating, “Here in Minnesota you have seen firsthand the problems caused with faulty refugee vetting, with large numbers of Somali refugees coming into your state, without your knowledge, without your support or approval.”

Trump went on to falsely state that “everybody’s reading about the disaster taking place in Minnesota.”

During Omar’s 2017 appearance on “The Daily Show,” she told host Trevor Noah, “I am America’s hope and the president’s nightmare.”

SomalisintheTwinCitiesThe hope that Omar mentions was apparent when I was conducting fieldwork in the Twin Cities in 2014 for my book Somalis in the Twin Cities and Columbus. At the time, Omar was a City Council staffer, already a well-known presence in the community and a source of inspiration to young Somali men and women.

During one interview with a group of Somali youth leaders, one woman told me: “She fights for what she believes in and has a public presence. We admire her willingness to stand up for the things she believes are right. She’s smart and knows how the system works. … She’s our mentor.”

This aligns with the theory that when young people have role models in public life they’re more likely to feel included and consider careers in public service, I suspect many young Somalis/Muslims were inspired by her historic first.

Omar’s victory is not the only Somali-American political success story in Minnesota. There are now several Somali-Americans in elective office. Others have run unsuccessfully. With so few women or people of color running for office proportionally in the United States, this trend is promising.

The success in Minnesota is also the result of innovative initiatives by political, business and charitable leaders in the state to expand opportunities and incorporation of Somali refugees and other recent immigrants. Outreach efforts have led to employment of Somalis in state and local government agencies and police departments. A growing number of Somali-Americans hold positions of leadership in labor unions.

Indeed, the Twin Cities are often viewed as a model for innovation by policymakers from regions around the world struggling to incorporate refugees into their communities. The combination of so many Somali-Americans’ desire to serve the public and the receptiveness of various community leaders has created opportunities for a group often vilified and condemned by white nationalists and their panderers.

We should all be proud of Ilhan Omar and the other Somali-American Minnesotans who have chosen public service in order to strengthen their communities. Political and economic leaders in other states should take a close look at how Minnesota has opened doors for new Americans eager to be part of our democracy.

Stefanie Chambers is professor of political science and chair at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., and author of Somalis in the Twin Cities and Columbus: Immigrant Incorporation in New Destinations, published by Temple University Press. She is producing the documentary Dreaming in Somali: New Americans in the Twin Cities.

Considering gay economies of desire, intraracial romance, and sexual intimacy

This week in North Philly Notes, Cynthia Wu, author of Sticky Rice, writes about issues of race and sexuality, the subjects of her new book, a critical literary study.

Last month, Sinakhone Keodara, a Lao American actor, screenwriter, and entertainment executive, made headlines when he announced on Twitter his plans to file a class-action lawsuit against Grindr, a popular geosocial networking app for men interested in dating other men. The problem? The commonplace declarations that announce “no Asians,” which are allowed by moderators to remain on user profiles. Those who broadcast this restriction are mostly, but not exclusively, white.  Their ubiquity creates a hostile climate for Asian American men.

In a separate statement, Keodara clarified that white men should not “flatter [themselves]” to imagine that Asian American men need to convince them of their appeal. Rather, these outward expressions of racial loathing tap into a larger historical fetch of inequities leveled against people of Asian descent—from the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the World War II Japanese American internment, and the Department of Homeland Security’s present-day profiling of Arab and South Asian Americans.

Keodara’s refusal to uphold white men’s primacy in the gay economy of desire resonates with the premises of Sticky Rice: A Politics of Intraracial Desire.  “Sticky rice” is a term coined by gay Asian American men to denote those amongst them who prefer intraracial romantic and sexual intimacies. As the logic goes, Asian American men who stick to themselves—like the types of rice grains favored by many Asian cuisines—disrupt presumptions about their aspirations to both whiteness and heteronormativity.

Sticky Rice_smMy book is not an ethnography of these men, however. It is a literary critical study that borrows from their language of intraracial bonding to revisit some of the most widely read selections in the canon of Asian American literature. In so doing, it revises an origin narrative about this body of work that has taken the heterosexuality of its seminal texts for granted.

John Okada’s 1957 novel, No-No Boy, presents a key example of how returning to old texts with new lenses produces a more nuanced story about the rise of an Asian American arts and culture movement. The novel, ignored upon its publication, was later championed by an all-male vanguard of separatist cultural producers in the early 1970s. These novelists, poets, and playwrights were known for their public condemnation of femininity and queerness. Okada’s work, they asserted, portrayed a shining model of politicized Asian American manhood in line with their stringent ideals.

No-No Boy, set in the period right after World War II, tells the story of an unlikely friendship between two Japanese American men, a disabled veteran and a nondisabled draft resister. The former holds the approval of the United States for his patriotic sacrifice to the nation, while the latter is condemned for his refusal to join the Army from within the confines of an internment camp.

The novel is often read as a treatise on the impossibility of choosing between a violent and—ultimately—fatal assimilation and a resistance that could not be realized in the midst of the Cold War. What has been overlooked in the literary criticism on No-No Boy is the erotic and sexual attraction between the main characters. I argue that the bond between the two men dissipates the either-or dichotomy that divided Japanese Americans during and after the war. Moreover, it calls into question the favorability of proximity to whiteness and heterosexuality alike.

That men of color could afford or would want to turn away from these trappings of legitimacy is often unthinkable. The lawsuit Keodara is threatening against Grindr, after all, is a reaction to the social acceptability of rejecting Asian American men on racially discriminatory grounds. We all know that a common response to rejection is more impassioned efforts at inclusion.

However, rather than compensatorily clinging to mainstream standards, the male characters in Asian American literature’s seminal texts show that we need a wholesale rethinking of love, intimacy, justice, and community. Their bonds with one another and their relentless intent to stick together become the basis on which we can imagine a different order of values.

Yes, trafficking is bad for sex workers. But “getting tough on traffickers” can make their lives worse.

This week in North Philly Notes, Carisa Showden and Samantha Majic, co-authors of Youth Who Trade Sex in the U.S., write about the importance of listening to sex workers, and not just passing laws and policies that aim to catch and punish traffickers.

Through newspaper stories, popular films, and Dateline exposés (to name just some sources), the term “sex trafficking” is now commonplace, bringing to mind images and stories of young girls trapped in vans and sold for sex in strange and dark places. These ideas about sex trafficking have informed public policy in the U.S. and internationally: local, regional, and national governments, as well as international governing bodies, have supported and passed laws and policies that aim to catch and punish traffickers and other parties who fuel this crime. Yet despite these laws, those they are supposed to help are also often their most vocal critics.

This disconnect between the ideas about an issue and its related policy outcomes is not unique to sex trafficking, but recent legal changes make interrogating this gap particularly urgent. The 2018 Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) and Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) (SESTA/FOSTA) provides a recent example of popular narratives trumping evidence. By making website publishers responsible for third parties who post ads for prostitution, SESTA/FOSTA effectively renders illegal the websites that sex workers use to sell services, screen clients, and warn other sex workers about dangerous clients. SESTA/FOSTA is based on the idea that persons in the sex industry are there against their will (trafficked), and that websites only enable their victimization.

Sex workers resisted this characterization, arguing mightily, but unsuccessfully, against  SESTA/FOSTA, and the effects have been immediate. For example, out of fear of violating the law, many sex workers started “preemptively closing sex work-related Facebook groups, … talking about taking down bad date lists, etc.,” all of which were essential to their safety and security. In another example, Backpage immediately shut down its dating and related ad services. With Backpage gone, some sex workers have returned to the streets and law enforcement receives fewer tips from online activity, making the tracking of actual trafficking more difficult. As Notre Dame Law Professor Alex F. Levy writes, “Backpage sets a trap for traffickers: lured by the prospect of reaching a large, centralized repository of customers, traffickers end up revealing themselves to law enforcement and victim advocates. There’s nothing to suggest that Backpage causes them to be victimized, but plenty of reason to believe that, without it, they would be much harder to find.” And outside of the U.S., including places like New Zealand where sex work is legal, the disappearance of Backpage “has, without warning, taken livelihoods away, leaving workers without the resources to operate their businesses or, in some cases, survive.”

Youth Who Trade_smNeither the failure to listen to sex workers nor a new law making it harder to fight the very thing it targets is surprising to us, given what we found when researching our book Youth Who Trade Sex in the U.S.: Intersectionality, Agency, and Vulnerability. For example, policies that target trafficking of young people take a law-and-order approach, focusing on criminal gangs, “bad men” (pimps), and very young girl victims. But as our research indicates, young people commonly enter the sex trades through a highly variable mix of “self-exploitation,” family exploitation, and peer-recruitment, most frequently to meet their basic needs for shelter and food. And youth who are poor and housing insecure because of racialized poverty and gender discrimination are particularly vulnerable. All people under the age of 18 who sell or trade sex for any reason are defined by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act as trafficking victims, yet most of them are ignored by “get tough on crime” policies. As a result, while we must protect all youth from persons who may harm and exploit them, the majority of young people who trade sex need interventions like housing support that is safe for youth of all genders. And when they are trading sex to afford food or shelter, they need to do this in the least dangerous way possible—something online services facilitated.

The more vulnerable people are, the less likely they are to be listened to, and the more likely they are to be talked about. We saw this in SESTA/ FOSTA, where sex workers and their allies lobbied hard to prevent the bill’s passage. And we see this with youth-specific bills as well. Politicians talk a lot about vulnerable youth in the abstract, but they rarely talk or listen to them directly. Yet sex workers and young people have a lot to say about what works and doesn’t work for helping them survive and improve their lives. Hopefully researchers and policy makers will start to listen to them.

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