A Q&A with Valerie Harrison and Kathryn Peach D’Angelo

This week in North Philly Notes, the coauthors of Do Right by Me talk about how they developed their book-length conversation about how to best raise Black children in white communities.

Is Do Right by Me just for white parents of black children?
Both: No, the book is useful not only for white adoptive parents of black children but also for anyone engaged in parenting and nurturing black children, including black or interracial families of origin. Do Right by Me also provides insights and tools to a broad audience of social scientists, child and family counselors, community organizations, and other educators who engage issues of transracial adoption or child development or who explore current experiences in the areas of social justice and institutionalized racism. All readers will learn how race impacts the way the world interacts with a black child, and the way they as adults can provide all black children with the knowledge and awareness to resiliently face these challenges.

Do Right by Me is designed to “orient par­ents and other community members to the ways race and racism will affect a black child’s life, and despite that, how to raise and nurture healthy and happy children.” It’s less a “how to” and more of “what to know or learn.” Can you explain your approach?
Katie: My husband Mike and I are white, and we adopted a beautiful biracial boy at birth in 2011. It was clear to us that white parents of black children want to parent well but have real questions and concerns about racism, culture, and identity. Unlike parents who buy into a “color-blind” or “post-racial” ideology, Mike and I had to confront head-on the reality that we would need to equip our biracial son for an experience far more complex than anything we had experienced. Do Right by Me is designed as a back and forth exchange between Val and me. Val has a doctorate in African American studies and lived experiences as a black woman. We engage the world through the lens of our experience, informed by our professional lives as educators. Each chapter includes a story from our personal experience supported by research and offer practical tips to put ideas into action.

How important are cross-racial relationships to a better understanding of what’s happening in America now?
Both: Dialogue about racism can be difficult and benefits from a knowledge of history, as well as a vocabulary of ideas and practice. Essential to the task is an understanding of racism and how systems continue to perpetuate privileges and disadvantages that black people have to navigate in ways that white people may never have had to. The safety and security of a 20-year friendship allowed us to have that difficult conversation. 

You have known each other for 20 years. How did you become such good friends?
Val: Katie and I have worked together at Temple University for almost 20 years. What began as a professional relationship grew into a close friendship. We talk almost every day. We each were one of the handful of supporters sitting in the room as the other defended a doctoral dissertation. Katie was the person in the room taking notes as surgeons spoke too fast and with terminology too unfamiliar for me to fully grasp how they would remove the cancer from my body, but she got it all down. We share secrets. I am her lawyer, and she is my uncredentialed therapist.

How did you approach topics of black hair, the black church, and Gabe’s experiences playing on a soccer team where “no one looked like me”—that cause someone discomfort?
Both: We guide readers on this journey using both of our voices, each in turn. When one of us presents a new idea, the other will recall a scenario that shows how it works in real life; when one of us remembers a question she faced, the other will jump in with the research and insight to put it into perspective and help readers think through it.

There are discussions of the challenges race and racism present for a black child, particularly challenges related to self-esteem. Can you discuss your focus on this factor in a child’s life?
Both: The health and well-being of a black child depend on the extent to which they feel positively about being black. A poor sense of one’s self as a black person results in low self-esteem and hinders the academic and personal achievement of black children. Conversely, positive racial identity results in high self-esteem and academic performance, as well as a greater ability to navigate racism. If parents don’t work on constructing a positive Black self-identity for their children, our culture will construct a negative self-identity around their blackness for them.

You write throughout the book about the importance of developing a positive racial identity and cite that transracially adopted children often struggle to develop a positive racial/ethnic identi­ty. Can you describe a few of the ways to do that and some of the pitfalls to avoid as you encourage readers to navigate the racism that is entrenched in American society?
Both: There are a number of forces at work that threaten positive identity in black children. One example is the creation and proliferation of negative images of black people. News reports exaggerate negative portrayals of black people, overrepresenting them in stories about poverty and crime and underrepresenting them in positive stories about their leadership, community involvement and family life. Shielding black children from negative and imbalanced messages while saturating them with positive and balanced counterimages have been found to be effective in building positive black identity and self-esteem while reducing the negative impact of racism on identity development.

Katie, I like that you explain that your worldview and cultural paradigm shifted after Gabriel. Can you talk about that process?
Katie: I was operating within a different cultural paradigm. One that was more Eurocentric and imposed upon its participants a notion that you are only good enough and have enough if you measure up to a predetermined set of standards, largely informed and dictated by the white people who designed them. And one that judged others as inferior in order to feel superior. Gabriel helped me see more clearly that the worldview and value system that I feel most at home in, is neither the only one available, nor the best. The mindset that I inherited certainly wasn’t doing me any good, and my desire to shift gears brought me the greatest gift of my life.

Do Right by Me includes info on “The Talk.” In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement this summer, what observations (and optimism) do you have about social change and awareness?
Katie: If anything, this moment (the murder of George Floyd) may finally dispel the myth that we are living in a post-racial America. It is only now as a mother that I understand how very different it all was for me because of the color of my skin. My husband and I understand that our decisions and behaviors, that were read as assertive or a normal testing of boundaries, may be read as disorderly, defiant, or even threatening if we were not white. Our world does not give our son the privilege of acting like us, and it places the burden unfairly on him to manage how others feel about him.

Election books

This week in North Philly Notes, in anticipation of the upcoming election, we showcase titles on political campaigns and voting.

The Great Migration and the Democratic Party: Black Voters and the realignment of American Politics in the 20th Century, by Keneshia N. Grant
Examines the political impact of Black migration on politics in three northern cities, 1914-1965

Rude Democracy: Civility and Incivility in American Politics, by Susan Herbst
How American politics can become more civil and amenable to public policy situations, while still allowing for effective argument

Good Reasons to Run: Women and Political Candidacy, edited by Shauna L. Shames, Rachel I. Bernhard, Mirya R. Holman, and Dawn Langan Teele
How and why women run for office

Gender Differences in Public Opinion: Values and Political Consequences, by Mary-Kate Lizotte
Explores the gender gap in public opinion through a values lens

Philadelphia Battlefields: Disruptive Campaigns and Upset Elections in a Changing City, by John Kromer
How upstart political candidates achieved spectacular successes over Philadelphia’s entrenched political establishment

Navigating Gendered Terrain: Stereotypes and Strategies in Political Campaigns, by Kelly Dittmar
Explores how candidates and campaign professionals navigate the gendered terrain of political campaigns

Race Appeal: How Candidates Invoke Race in U.S. Political Campaigns, by Charlton D, Mcllwain, and Stephen M. Caliendo
Why, when, and how often candidates use race appeals, and how the electorate responds

On the Stump: Campaign Oratory and Democracy in the United States, Britain, and Australia, by Sean Scalmer
The story of how the “stump speech” was created, diffused, and helped to shape the modern democracies of the Anglo-American world

Latino Mayors: Political Change in the Postindustrial City, edited by Marion Orr and Domingo Morel
The first book to examine the rise of Latino mayors in the United States

Campaign Advertising and American Democracy, by Michael M Franz, Paul Freedman, Ken Goldstein, and Travis N Ridout
Surprising findings about the positive effects of political advertising

Choices and Changes: Interest Groups in the Electoral Process, by Michael M. Franz
The most comprehensive book about interest groups in recent American politics

Why Veterans Run: Military Service in American Presidential Elections, 1789-2016, by Jeremy M. Teigen
Why more than half of American presidential candidates have been military veterans—and why it matters

Celebrating National Coming Out Week

This week in North Philly Notes, we proudly present ten of our LGBTQ+ titles!

Action = Vie: A History of AIDS Activism and Gay Politics in France, by Christophe Broqua
Chronicling the history and accomplishments of Act Up-Paris

Civic Intimacies: Black Queer Improvisations on Citizenship, by Niels van Doorn
Mapping the political and personal stakes of Black queer lives in Baltimore

Disruptive Situations: Fractal Orientalism and Queer Strategies in Beirut, by Ghassan Moussawi
The first comprehensive study to employ the lens of queer lives in the Arab World to understand everyday life disruptions, conflicts, and violence

In a Queer Voice: Journeys of Resilience from Adolescence to Adulthood, by Michael Sadowski
In-depth interviews over six years show us how LGBTQ youth survive adolescence, thrive as adults, and find a voice that is uniquely their own

Just Queer Folks: Gender and Sexuality in Rural America, by Colin R. Johnson
Uncovering the history of gender and sexual nonconformity in rural America, with a focus on the Midwest during the first half of the twentieth century

Officially Gay: The Political Construction of Sexuality by the U.S. Military, by Gary L. Lehring
How the military defined homosexuality and the ways that shaped the gay and lesbian identity and movements

Out in the Union: A Labor History of Queer America, by Miriam Frank
A groundbreaking history of queer activists who advanced the causes of labor organizing and LGBT rights

Public City/Public Sex: Homosexuality, Prostitution, and Urban Culture in Nineteenth-Century Paris, by Andrew Israel Ross
How female prostitutes and men who sought sex with other men shaped the history and emergence of modern Paris in the nineteenth century

Sticky Rice: A Politics of Intraracial Desire, by Cynthia Wu
Creating a queer genealogy of Asian American literary criticism

Vulnerable Constitutions: Queerness, Disability, and the Remaking of American Manhood, by Cynthia Barounis
Presents an alternative queer-crip genealogy of American masculinity in the twentieth century

Overcoming Isolation in the Great Depression

This week in North Philly Notes, Abigail Trollinger, author of Becoming Entitled, writes about how workers in the 1930’s shed the stigma of unemployment and gained a sense of entitlement, and what we can learn in the age of COVID.

Unemployment is often hugely isolating, even when it happens en masse. It was for workers in 1932, at the height of the Great Depression. And considering recent debates over unemployment insurance, it seems that COVID-related unemployment has left many jobless workers facing economic insecurity alone.

Becoming Entitled: Relief, Unemployment, and Reform During the Great Depression tells the story of jobless workers and the urban reformers who worked to redeem them. It was an uphill climb: in the 1930’s, workers faced an American culture that was slow to defend the jobless and a federal government that was unwilling to fund the relief they needed, situations that only seemed to reinforce a jobless worker’s feeling of personal failure. As one worker described in Chicago of that year, “I was out of work two years last month. I have never gone for charity. I was ashamed to go.”

In 1932 Chicago reformers rightly sensed, then, that an unemployed worker’s first step toward survival might be the small step of seeing others like them and shedding their sense of shame. Which is why, in Chicago, the newly founded Workers’ Committee on Unemployment (WCOU) hosted seven hearings across the city that allowed workers to tell their stories, and to hear the stories of their neighbors, their landlords, their grocers, and their kids’ teachers. Once workers saw themselves as part of a group, rather than part of the problem, they were able to craft solutions to the economic crisis facing them. As members of the WCOU, workers offered collective action to solve both immediate and long-term problems.

Was a jobless worker’s electricity shut off suddenly, leaving their family in the dark? A formerly employed electrical worker could come turn it back on! Was a family unable to pay rent and thrown on the street? A WCOU member with a truck could help them move! Was a caseworker routinely cutting clients relief funds? The WCOU was there—protesting at the relief site! And were the state and federal governments failing to provide relief where it was highly deserved and much needed? The WCOU was ready to protest—like the 1932 silent march through Chicago.

What emerged from the hearings, the mutual assistance, and the protests was a sense of worker entitlement, or the belief that jobless workers had the right to ask for protection from the state—that when the economy fails, the state is responsible for preserving the dignity and livelihood of those most impacted. As a WCOU pamphlet on declining relief budgets said, “You are entitled to live.… We can not beg all the time. We must ask and demand.”

Unemployment and isolation. These are not unfamiliar concepts for many Americans right now, as the nation has faced unemployment rates between 8-14% since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Jobless workers in the U.S. have had support in the form of the CARES Act and some stopgap emergency funds, and yet they, too, face questions about how much relief they really need. Debates in Congress over stimulus plans (the Heroes Act and the Heals Act), in which legislation has stalled over how much weekly income the unemployed should receive (ranging between $200 and $600 a week), suggest that either jobless workers have a miraculous economy of thrift or that they earn more than they say. And on October 5 the Wall Street Journal reported that some states are requesting that workers who were inadvertently paid more than they were allotted should return as much as $8,000 to the state.

Workers in 1932 did not have a pandemic to reckon with, but their story is a reminder of the fact that entitlement is not a given, even in the midst of national crisis. As we approach the 2020 election, let us call for a generous entitlement that offers both relief and dignity to the many thousands of Americans who currently feel isolated in their economic insecurity.

Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month

This week in North Philly Notes, we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month by showcasing our Latino/a Studies and Latin American/Caribbean Studies titles as well as books in our Studies in Latin American and Caribbean Music series. (And EVERY Temple University Press book is 40% off until October 31. Use the code FALL4TUP at checkout.

Accessible Citizenships How disability provides a new perspective on our understanding of the nation and the citizen

Afro-Caribbean Religions A comprehensive introduction to the Caribbean’s African-based religions

Arsenio Rodríguez and the Transnational Flows of Latin Popular Music The life and times of one of Cuba’s most important musicians

The Brazilian Sound An encyclopedia survey of Brazilian popular music—now updated and expanded

Caribbean Currents The classic introduction to the Caribbean’s popular music brought up to date

Chilean New Song An examination of the Chilean New Song movement as an organic part of the struggles for progressive social change, deeper democracy, and social justice in Chile in the 1960s and early 1970s

The Coolie Speaks A remarkable examination of bondage in Cuba that probes questions of slavery, freedom, and race

Daily Labors Examining the vulnerabilities, discrimination, and exploitation—as well as the sense of belonging and community—that day laborers experience on an NYC street corner

Democratizing Urban Development Examining how community organizations fight to prevent displacement and secure affordable housing across cities in the U.S. and Brazil

Dominican Baseball From the author of Sugarball, a look at the important and contested relationship between Major League Baseball and Dominican player development

Fernando Ortiz on Music Selections from the influential Fernando Ortiz’s publications on Afro-diasporic music and dance—now available in English

From Puerto Rico to Philadelphia A history of Puerto Rican immigration to Philadelphia

Globalizing the Caribbean Now in Paperback—how global capitalism finds new ways to mutate and grow in the Caribbean

How Did You Get to Be Mexican? A readable account of a life spent in the borderlands between racial identity

The International Monetary Fund and Latin America Chronicling the sometimes questionable relationship between the International Monetary Fund and Latin America from 1944 to the present

Latino Mayors The first book to examine the rise of Latino mayors in the United States

Latinos and the U.S. Political System An analysis of American politics from the vantage point of the Latino political condition

Latinx Environmentalisms Putting the environmental humanities into dialogue with Latinx literary and cultural studies Read a blog entry by the editors

Liberation Theology How does the church function in Latin America on an everyday, practical, and political level?

Merengue A fascinating examination of the social history of merengue dance music and its importance as a social and cultural symbol

Música Norteña The first history of the music that binds together Mexican immigrant communities

New Immigrants, Old Unions A case study of a successful effort to unionize undocumented immigrant workers

The New York Young Lords and the Struggle for Liberation A landmark history of the New York Young Lords, and what their activism tells us about contemporary Latino/a politics

Not from Here, Not from There/No Soy de Aquí ni de Allá A lively autobiography by a community activist, judge, and public advocate who blazed a trail for Latinos in Philadelphia

Revolution Around the Corner The first book-length story of the radical social movement, the Puerto Rican Socialist Party

Selecting Women, Electing Women Offers an analytic framework to show how the process of candidate selection often limits the participation of women in various Latin American countries.

The Sorcery of Color An examination of how racial and gender hierarchies are intertwined in Brazil

Sounding Salsa Inside New York City’s vibrant salsa scene

Terrorizing Latina/o Immigrants A comprehensive analysis of changes in immigration policy, politics, and enforcement since 9/11

Teachers’ unions strike back

This week in North Philly Notes, Lesley Lavery, author of A Collective Pursuit, writes about teachers’ unions’ response to COVID, arguing that despite decades of legal and political effort, teachers’ collective efforts will save lives.

Teachers in Detroit just authorized the first potential “safety strike.” Three week ago, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second-largest teachers’ union, told members that the union’s leadership would support “safety strikes” if health precautions are not met amid calls for schools to reopen as coronavirus cases surge. This declaration of support is striking, not least because it pushes longstanding legal boundaries.

Under current federal statutes, teachers must still report to work even if they believe that local officials have not sufficiently prioritized their health and safety, along with that of their students. The degradation of a teacher’s right to demand such basic and fundamental working conditions is the result of a decades-long effort by education reformers to isolate teachers from their unions—a movement that has praised the individual actions of educators while disparaging their collective calls for higher pay and better working conditions.

An assault on public sector unions began in earnest in 1979 with a unanimous Supreme Court ruling in Abood v. Detroit Federation of Teachers. Attempting to strike a delicate balance between government and individual interests, in Abood the court established a nearly 40 year precedent in teachers’ unions’ ability to collectively bargain by noting a distinction between the unions’ economic and political work.

Following the Abood ruling, teachers and other public employees could not be compelled to join unions so long as they paid the documented costs of contract administration and negotiation. Post-Abood, unions could capture a “fair-share” fee from all potential members but must refrain from spending agency fees on political activities. While in theory this appeased both individuals whose political interests ran counter to their unions’ and unions who might otherwise face a “collective action problem of nightmarish proportions,” in practice, the line between bargaining interests and political interests was difficult to discern, enforce or object to.

Collective_PursuitIn April 2013, after nearly four decades of relative labor peace, ten public school teachers in California, backed by the right-leaning Center for Individual Rights, took a straight shot at the Abood precedent. In Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, Rebecca Freidrichs and nine California colleagues argued that attempts to separate bargaining from unions’ political actions were moot because bargaining covered so many fundamentally political topics. Like Abood, Freidrichs eventually made its way to the Supreme Court. There, in 2016, the attack on unions stalled following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. But the reprieve was temporary. On June 27, 2018, a final, decisive blow arrived via Janus vs. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees.  

By February 2018, eulogies for many local teachers’ unions had already been written. But mere months before Janus transformed all states to right-to-work states and those eulogies could be delivered, West Virginia teachers from every one of the state’s fifty-five counties walked out of their classrooms to demand higher wages and showcase their concern regarding a bill to lower teacher-certification standards. West Virginia educators’ activism inspired similar actions in Oklahoma, Arizona, Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee and Colorado. School bus drivers then walked off the job in Georgia.

By the end of the year, the AFSCME, Janus’ direct adversary, reported seven new dues-paying-members for each additional non-paying free-rider (a total increase of 22,000 newly organized workers). The AFT added 88,500 members. And though they expected dire defection rates, the National Education Association gained 13,935 members.

The Janus ruling meant to cut unions off at the knees, but as we watch the reopening debate play out right now, it is clear that “reformers’” wins weren’t enough to mollify teachers’ desire to be heard or sever the relationships they’ve been building with their communities. By declaring it too difficult to determine the line between teachers’ economic and political interests, the courts have inadvertently emboldened a generation of educators to take a stand in the debate of their life (pun intended).

Over the summer, as part of an ongoing 12-state 100+ district study on teachers’ unions’ response to COVID-19, my colleague Sara Dahill-Brown (Wake Forest University) and I have interviewed nearly 30 teachers’ union representatives from urban, rural and suburban districts about their involvement in COVID decision-making and planning. Though comfort with plans to “reopen” schools appears to vary based on population density, demographics, decision-making processes (or lack thereof), and the status of school infrastructure, across the country the teachers we’ve interviewed are increasingly desperate for local, state and federal officials to heed their calls to reopen safely.

I spoke with a union leader from a right-to-work district a few weeks ago. After years of struggling to recruit new union members, she and others we spoke with described rapid increases in unsolicited membership. Teachers are asking if they can go on strike. In many locales, they can’t. But they can protest. They can picket. They can stand outside six feet apart with a sign and a red t-shirt on. And they’ve been working diligently for the past several years to ensure that their communities understand teachers’ and students’ shared interests.

Now, with their lives on the line and individual social media posts, letters to administrators and elected officials, and op-eds in local newspapers unanswered, we’ve left teachers with little recourse. Despite decades of legal and political effort, COVID shows that “reformers” have failed to separate teachers from their unions. The union is the only voice that can aggregate and elevate educators’ anxieties and fears and force all of us to take stock of our duties and obligation to children and public education. We must get behind the nation’s teachers and face “COVID-19, a sagging economy and calls for social justice” head on, together.

 

Crossing the bridge with John Lewis

This week in North Philly Notes, José E. Velázquez, coeditor of the forthcoming Revolution around the Cornerremembers the late John Lewis. 

On July 17, 2020, we mourned one of America’s greatest heroes, “the conscience of the nation,” civil rights leader and Congressman, John Lewis. His well-deserved six-day memorial services included being the first African-American to lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, D.C. The entire country relived that fateful Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965 where civil rights marchers gathered to march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama to the state capital in Montgomery, in a campaign for the right to vote.

It has been 55 years since the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and some may have forgotten how under the mantle of “states rights,” local governments repressed the right to vote of African-American men granted by the 15th Amendment to the Constitution (1870), and to African American women by the 19th amendment (1920). After the “Compromise of 1877,” southern Confederates who lost the Civil War ended “Black Reconstruction,” “took back the South,” and regained political power. Under the U.S. federal system, the administration of elections is a power reserved by state governments, who subsequently instituted a system of American apartheid and Jim Crow laws aimed at limiting African American voting rights. These included outlandish literacy tests to register to vote, poll taxes, and outright physical repression. In what became known as “grandfather clauses,” poor and uneducated whites were exempted if their descendants voted before 1867.

This was the reality during what became one of the most important non-violent civil disobedience battles of the civil rights movement: the Selma to Montgomery march. The strategy of massive, non-violent civil disobedience sought to rally forces against a superior power, by awakening the conscience of the nation, and forcing the Federal Government to intervene against the repressive forces of state governments. It

also aimed at overcoming real fears in the African American communities, produced by decades of subjugation, to confront the system head on. This is exactly what happened on that Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965 when Alabama State Police blocked marchers from crossing the Pettus Bridge, attacking them with horses, tear gas, and billy clubs as the protestors knelt in prayer. John Lewis, at the time a leader of the Student Non- Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), at the front of the march had his skull fractured and his life almost extinguished. Despite being severely injured, he returned to lead the other attempts to march.

With the advent of television, the entire world saw this vicious attack on marchers who were only asking for the right to vote, shaking the conscience of the nation. In the process, after a second attempted march on March 9th, halted by a temporary court injunction, a white minister, James Reeb, was killed that night by a Ku Klux Klan mob, adding to the country’s indignation. On March 21, 1965, under pressure President Lyndon B. Johnson federalized the Alabama National Guard to protect the marchers in their third attempt. Hundreds of people came from throughout the nation to join the march, this time with National Guard protection. The close to 8,000 marchers crossed the bridge and arrived at the Alabama State Capital on March 25th, their numbers swelling to over 25,000.

Revolution Around the Corner_smOn August 6, 1965, the Voting Rights Act was passed, allowing for federal intervention to protect the constitutional right to vote, and beginning the dismantling of Jim Crow laws, literacy tests, poll taxes, and other regulations which made registering and voting nearly impossible for African-Americans. Just as the 1964 Civil Rights Act began the end of de jure segregation and expanded the rights of women, and other people of color, including Puerto Ricans, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 did the same throughout the country. For decades, Puerto Ricans and other Latinos, confronted English literacy tests and physical confrontations aimed at limiting their right to vote. The 1965 act was subsequently amended to include protections for non-English speaking voters. In 1970, in Newark, NJ when the Black and Puerto Rican Convention aimed to elect the city’s first African-American mayor, they were met with armed white resistance, necessitating the intervention of federal observers mandated by the Voting Rights Act.

For me the spirit of John Lewis was personal. After the assassination of Malcolm X in February 21, 1965, my first political experience at 13 years old was as a member of the SNCC Black Youth Congress, organized in El Barrio (Spanish Harlem). A

group of young African-Americans and Puerto Ricans met at the East River Projects, in a study group led by SNCC leaders, Fred Meely and Phil Hutchinson. SNCC was considered to be the radical wing of the civil rights movement, and one its leaders, Stokely Carmichael became the voice of a new “Black Power” movement. I must confess that at the time, maybe not being from the South, or because of youth and legitimate anger, our group did not look favorably at the strategy of non-violence. But historical time has demonstrated the power of massive non-violent civil disobedience to bring down even the most powerful governments or empires. I am proud, like Sammy Davis, Jr., Roberto Clemente, José Ferrer Canales, Gilberto Gerena Valentín, and many other Puerto Ricans, to have walked hand-in-hand with this movement.

What is the legacy of John Lewis as the nation today honors those who were considered radicals in the past? John Lewis, the youngest speaker at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, who was constantly arrested and beaten as he led protest movements, talked about starting “good trouble” and exercising the right to vote until his last days. Yet today many do not exercise this simple effort, preferring not to vote, while allowing a wealthy minority to run the country.

Today, the Voting Rights Act is endangered, as certain provisions require reauthorization, and some state governments have renewed their attempt to repress voting rights. In Puerto Rico, the process to register to vote is still much more difficult than in many other jurisdictions. Those who took the streets in the summer of 2019 in Puerto Rico, may find their activism betrayed if they don’t register to vote, and vote for real change. The same holds true to those who have joined the massive Black Lives Matter protests in the streets of the United States. In November 2020, we face one of the most important and decisive elections in our lifetime. What would John Lewis say? Make “good trouble,” and vote out those who reject his legacy.

Observations on the anniversary of the Partition of India

This week in North Philly Notes, Kavita Daiya, author of the forthcoming Graphic Migrationswrites about global media representations of migration on the 73rd anniversary of the Partition of India.

What do the Google commercial “Reunion,” the Bollywood film Raazi (Agree), Shauna Singh Baldwin’s award-winning novel What The Body Remembers  and the oral history project 1947 Partition Archive all have in common? They all do transnational memory work and remember the mass migrations of the 1947 Partition of India.

This past weekend marked the 73rd anniversary of the decolonization and division of India, and the end of British colonialism. It also marked the creation of two independent nations: Pakistan came into being on August 14, 1947, and India became a new secular democratic nation on August 15, 1947. The partitioning of India in 1947 generated the world’s largest mass migration in under nine months: between 12 and 16 million people migrated across the newly etched borders.

Graphic MigrationsIn my forthcoming book Graphic Migrations, I describe the legacies of this pivotal moment in British and South Asian history, with a focus on migrant and refugee experiences. As such, this book uncovers the effects of this Partition on both India and the South Asian diaspora in North America. I am especially interested in how different media represent the precarity of migrants’ and refugees’ lives, as well as their descendants. I map how this precarity is memorialized across media, in ways that create empathy and solidarity for the shared humanity of migrants and citizens.

For example, I analyze South Asian American fiction by writers including Shauna Singh Baldwin and Bapsi Sidhwa as well as Hindi art films like Shyam Benegal’s Mammo; Bollywood cinema, as well as the new genre I call “border-crossing” advertising. In addition, I discuss graphic narratives from Vishwajyoti Ghosh’s This Side, That Side: Restorying Partition, the Digital Humanities oral history project 1947 Partition Archive as well as photography by Margaret Bourke-White and Annu Palakunnathu Matthew. This book’s archive is thus eclectic and cross-media, capturing how the Partition migrations are inscribed or erased in public culture in India and its diaspora.

Graphic Migrations is poised at the intersection of Asian American Studies and Postcolonial Studies. It draws upon and extends new directions in Asian American Studies, especially Critical Refugee Studies.  These new directions take a transnational lens to understand how twentieth century conflicts and displacement in Asia have shaped Asian American history. My book’s feminist orientation means that gender is a central part of the story I tell. Talal Asad’s influential theory of the secular in Formations of the Secular is also central here, given that the Partition focalized religious difference. Central to this book’s story is the inspiration of the noted political philosopher Hannah Arendt’s brilliant analysis of statelessness, which, as she argued in The Origins of Totalitarianism, was the defining feature and product of the twentieth century.

My book considers several issues that emerge out of the 1947 Partition and its transnational impact. It explores the complexities of statelessness in India as well as South Asia, and asks: Why has this momentous displacement not been widely memorialized, until recently? How did refugees’ stories, labor, and losses shape ideas about religion, secularism, and belonging in public culture? How were female refugees’ experiences different, and with what consequences? What alternative modes of imagining community and planetary cohabitation, including ‘the secular,’ do stories about statelessness offer us today?

Graphic Migrations is timely and relevant now. More people than even before are migrating or displaced because of war, conflict, poverty, environmental devastation, and other reasons. By one estimate, there are 10 million stateless people, and there are 272 million migrants in the world today. This raises urgent issues about human rights and social justice for nations around the world, who must work together to end statelessness.

My book is a profound reminder of the contemporary stakes of studying the experiences and impact of decolonization and nation-formation in 1947 South Asia, in a transnational feminist mode.

Is now the time to go Under the Knife?

This week in North Philly Notes, Jennifer Graves and Samantha Kwan, coauthors of Under the Knife, write about cosmetic surgery in the age of COVID.

Despite many states banning elective surgeries because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the cosmetic surgery industry is still booming. In fact, some cosmetic surgeons report a rise in patients amid the pandemic. This may be in part because many people are now working from home. Working from home allows people both more flexibility in scheduling procedures and the ability to work while healing. Some surgeons believe working from home has also led to an upswing in business because at-home workers have become increasingly self-conscious as they spend hours on end staring not only at their coworkers, but also at themselves, on various video call platforms like Zoom.

However, perhaps even more importantly, the ability to work from home, combined with the ubiquity of masks, has created an unprecedented chance for cosmetic surgery patients to hide their surgery. Specifically, working from home away from the prying eyes of coworkers and the opportunity to wear a mask in public allows people to conceal the fact that they have had surgery during the conspicuous post-operative healing phase. This ability to pass as surgically unaltered, we found, is paramount to those considering cosmetic surgery.

Under the Knife_smIn our interviews with 46 women who had cosmetic surgery in both Texas and California, it became clear that women who go under the knife are acutely aware of the potential stigma associated with cosmetic surgery. Specifically, they are aware that others may perceive them as fake, preoccupied with vanity, overly sexual, and more. Under the Knife: Cosmetic Surgery, Boundary Work, and the Pursuit of the Natural Fake explores the different ways women negotiate and manage this stigma.

Notably, one of the central ways women do this is by seeking out what we label the “natural fake.” Successful cosmetic surgery that embodies the natural fake means inconspicuous postoperative body parts that appear God-given. The natural fake enables women to pass as surgically unaltered while still conforming to hegemonic ideals of femininity, such as having a flat stomach, ample breasts, and a wrinkle-free face. This ability to pass as surgically unaltered, which is uniquely possible now in the age of COVID-19, helps women avoid any potential stigma they may encounter.

Alongside passing, our participants engaged in “boundary work.” For example, some defended their elective surgery as necessary, positioned their surgeries as “good surgeries” done by competent surgeons for the right reasons, and distinguished themselves from “pathological” cosmetic surgery junkies.

To expose the diverse meanings and experiences that come with cosmetic surgery, Under the Knife also explores the stories of women who exhibited a fraught relationship with cosmetic surgery. Their stories illuminate that cosmetic surgery is not always a cakewalk, and serves as a warning to those who might want to jump into surgery.

Ultimately, in addition to serving as an academic exploration of cosmetic surgery, our work serves as a resource for women contemplating surgery to help them understand the tensions associated with undergoing cosmetic surgery and the nuances of navigating the world in a post-operative body.

If at first you don’t succeed…

This week in North Philly Notes, Ann O’M. Bowman, author of Reinventing the Austin City Councilwrites about the persistence of Austinites to change an electoral system.

You know how sometimes you try to change something and it doesn’t succeed. And then later, you try again maybe once or twice more. At that point, you might be tempted to throw in the towel, taking some solace in the fact that at least you tried more than once. Maybe it just wasn’t meant to be, you tell yourself. Well, in the case of the efforts to change the way city council members were elected in Austin, Texas, it was the seventh attempt before the efforts were successful. Six previous times, ballot propositions that would have replaced the old electoral system with a new one were defeated by voters. Then came lucky number seven.

But it wasn’t luck that changed the outcome. Instead it was perseverance and commitment. And a plan. And sure, maybe a little bit of luck.

Reinventing the Austin City Council_smReinventing the Austin City Council tells the story of how Austin replaced its election system and what the change has brought about. At its heart is the issue of representation. In at-large elections, which Austin used for more than a century, candidates competed citywide and voters could vote for as many candidates as there were seats. A large number of local governments continue to elect their governing boards in at-large elections. In district elections, which Austin approved in 2012 and implemented in 2014, candidates compete in geographically-defined districts and voters who live in that district cast a ballot only for a candidate running for that district seat. This creates a more direct representational connection between the city council member and the constituent. Because of this, district elections are increasing in popularity in localities across the United States. Why does this matter?  Because the electoral system affects who gets elected to the city council. And who gets elected affects the policies that the city council adopts.

In Austin, a grassroots organization, Austinites for Geographic Representation (AGR), was the engine that propelled the district election issue to victory in 2012. AGR was an amalgam of individuals and groups, some of which had been on opposite sides of political issues in the past. But they shared a belief that a district system could be beneficial to their interests in rapidly growing Austin. AGR worked tirelessly to develop a bottom-up campaign, keeping the district question in front of local residents. Organizers hammered away at the issue of fairness, showing that for many years under the at-large system, most council members came from the same part of the city. Many parts of Austin, especially those in which African Americans and Latinx lived, had never elected a city council member from their area. AGR made the argument that this was unfair, and that the concerns of residents of those areas were often unheard and seldom prioritized by the council. Some opposition to AGR’s district proposition emerged, but it was unsuccessful in defeating the ballot question. On November 6, 2012, after rejecting a district electoral system on six previous occasions, 60.2% of Austin voters approved the district plan supported by AGR. In 2014, for the first time since the early 20th century, the city held district elections for the council.

The proverb, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,” seems especially apt.

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