Risking Life and Lens

This week in North Philly Notes, Helen M. Stummer, author of Risking Life and Lens, provides her artist statement and a few images from her exhibit at the New Jersey Historical Society that runs through June 24.  

This exhibit is a small selection from the large body of work I have created over the past four decades as a social documentary photographer and visual sociologist.

I began my career as a painter. I loved to paint, but when I enrolled in a class at the International Center of Photography in my early thirties only planning to learn how to use my camera better, I became involved photographing the Lower East Side of Manhattan, which was what the New York Times then called one of the meanest areas in America. “If you don’t take a risk you will never do anything meaningful” became my mantra.

Stummer_fig3.26

Woman Carrying Water Home, Guatemala, 1997

France Under bridge Paris copy

Man Living Under Bridge, Paris, France, 2000

E 6th St NYC Manicure Shirley & her twins 11_22_1978 file 104 fr#31e104

Giving Mommy a Manicure, 1978

Maine Ellen Rocking Jimmy Maine. 1989 jpg

Ellen Rocking Jimmy, 1989

stummer-helen_James on Stairwell

James on the Stairs at 322, 1994

Driven out by drug dealers after four years, I went on to photograph mostly in the Central Ward of Newark, and became involved with the struggles of local residents addressing injustice in education, health, housing and police practices. I befriended several families, seeing many of their children grow up and have children of their own. During those years, I also worked in rural Maine, Guatemala, and France with a large organization, Homeworkers Organized for More Employment (H.O.M.E), in the fight against poverty, homelessness and hopelessness.

Risking Life and Lens_smRisking Life and Lens takes the reader/viewer through many of my own experiences and challenges, as well as the everyday stories that residents shared with me. I was there to learn and to witness without judging, striving to capture the innate qualities of dignity, spirit and elegance of people living amidst suffering and devastation. Their grief and anger at the world’s injustice could not erase their grace and humanity, and that left a mark on my camera and my heart.

Nelson Mandela said that poverty is man-made and therefore can be unmade. It makes no more sense to think that someone living in a so-called “bad neighborhood” is a bad person than to assume someone who lives in a “good neighborhood” is a good person. We see so much change happening in suddenly “desirable” urban environments, but a civilized society, if it is to survive, has to offer opportunity that includes and fulfills the needs of all people.

Helen M. Stummer

Temple University Press and Libraries receive NEH grant to make out-of-print labor studies titles openly available

This week in North Philly Notes, we are proud to announce a grant Temple University Press and Temple Libraries received from the NEH.

Temple University Press and Temple University Libraries have received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to make 25 to 30 out-of-print labor studies titles freely available online as part of the Humanities Open Book Program. The titles were selected based on their impact on and ongoing relevance to scholars, students, and the general public.

unnamedMary Rose Muccie, Director of Temple University Press, said, “The Press has long been a leading publisher of labor studies titles, many of which have gone out of print. We’re grateful to the NEH for their support as we make these titles available again without access barriers and help them to find new audiences.”

Joe Lucia, Dean of Libraries, added, “Temple University Press and Libraries welcome the opportunity to leverage our already strong relationship and partner on the digitization of these important titles. This is one in a series of projects that support our shared mission of making scholarship widely accessible.”

The books will be updated with new cover art and will include new forewords by experts in the field of labor studies that will place each book in its appropriate historical context. The selected titles reflect a range of disciplines, including history, sociology, political science, and education.

The digitized titles will be hosted on a custom project portal where readers will be able to download them in EPUB and PDF formats. A print-on-demand option will also be provided.

About Temple University Press
Founded in 1969, Temple University Press chose as its inspiration Russell Conwell’s vision of the university as a place of educational opportunity for the urban working class. The Press is perhaps best known as a publisher of books in the social sciences and the humanities, as well as books about Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley region. Temple was an early publisher of books in urban studies, housing and labor studies, organizational reform, social service reform, public religion, health care, and cultural studies. It became one of the first university presses to publish in what later became the fields of women’s studies, ethnic studies— including Asian American and Latino studies, as well as African American Studies.

About Temple University Libraries
Temple University Libraries serve as trusted keepers of the intellectual and cultural record—collecting, describing, providing access to, and preserving a broad universe of materials, including physical and digital collections, rare and unique books, manuscripts, archives, ephemera and the products of scholarly enterprise at Temple. We are committed to providing research and learning services, to providing open access to our facilities and information resources, and to fostering innovation and experimentation. The Libraries serve Temple’s students, researchers, teachers and neighbors on Main, Center City and Health Sciences Center campuses in Philadelphia and on our Ambler and Harrisburg campuses.

About The National Endowment for the Humanities

NEH Logo MASTER_082010Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at: www.neh.gov.

AAU, ARL, AAUP to Launch Open Access Monograph Publishing Initiative

 

This week in North Philly Notes, Temple University Press is excited to participate in the AAU/ARL/AAUP Open Access Monograph Publishing Initiative.

The Association of American Universities (AAU), Association of Research Libraries (ARL), and Association of American University Presses (AAUP) are implementing a new initiative to advance the wide dissemination of scholarship by humanities and humanistic social sciences faculty members by publishing free, open access, digital editions of peer-reviewed and professionally edited monographs.

The AAU/ARL/AAUP Open Access Monograph Publishing Initiative, expected to launch this spring, will benefit scholars, the public, universities, libraries, and presses in several ways:

• Open access, digital monographs will make new research freely available online, thereby increasing the presence of humanities and social science scholarship on the web and opening up this content to more readers, putting it into the venue where many scholars are working.

• Publishing costs will be met by university-funded grants and other revenue sources. These publication grants will enable open access publishing and will send a strong signal to humanities and social sciences faculties that universities value and wish to promote their scholarship.

• The expanded dissemination of scholarship within and beyond the academy advances the core mission of universities to create and transmit new knowledge for public benefit.

• This initiative may enable the incorporation into digital monographs of new capacities, such as the integration of multimedia with text and the application of annotation and commenting tools, and can encourage the development of innovative forms of digital scholarship.

The funding model based on publication grants will allow presses to publish important, high-quality scholarship freely accessible to readers and independent of market constraints. The universities and colleges directly participating in this initiative will incorporate three components into their digital monograph publishing projects: provide a baseline university publishing grant of $15,000 to support the publication of an open access, digital monograph of 90,000 words or less (with additional funding for works of greater length or complexity to be negotiated by the author, institution, and publisher); set a target of awarding at least three publishing grants per year; and commit to participating in this initiative for five years.

To date, the following 12 institutions have committed to participate in this initiative.
(See institutional list expanded to include individual representatives.)

  • Emory University
  • Indiana University Bloomington
  • Michigan State University
  • New York University
  • The Ohio State University
  • Penn State University
  • University of California, Davis
  • University of California, Los Angeles
  • University of Cincinnati
  • University of Michigan
  • University of Minnesota Twin Cities
  • Virginia Tech

AAUP is actively compiling a list of member publishers that are currently ready to accept grants under the terms of this initiative, 57 publishers as of March 16, 2017. This list is expected to grow.

This initiative is the result of extensive planning conducted by a joint AAU/ARL task force, later joined by AAUP and then by interested, invited institutions. View a roster of the AAU/ARL/AAUP Open Access Monograph Publishing Initiative Task Force members guiding this project.

About the Association of American Universities
Founded in 1900, the Association of American Universities (AAU) comprises 62 distinguished institutions that continually advance society through education, research, and discovery. Our universities earn the majority of competitively awarded federal funding for academic research, are improving human life and wellbeing through research, and are educating tomorrow’s visionary leaders and global citizens. AAU members collectively help shape policy for higher education, science, and innovation; promote best practices in undergraduate and graduate education; and strengthen the contributions of research universities to society.

About the Association of Research Libraries
The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) is a nonprofit organization of 124 research libraries in the US and Canada. ARL’s mission is to influence the changing environment of scholarly communication and the public policies that affect research libraries and the diverse communities they serve. ARL pursues this mission by advancing the goals of its member research libraries, providing leadership in public and information policy to the scholarly and higher education communities, fostering the exchange of ideas and expertise, facilitating the emergence of new roles for research libraries, and shaping a future environment that leverages its interests with those of allied organizations.

About the Association of American University Presses
The Association of American University Presses (AAUP) is an organization of over 140 international nonprofit scholarly publishers. Since 1937, AAUP advances the essential role of a global community of publishers whose mission is to ensure academic excellence and cultivate knowledge. The Association holds integrity, diversity, stewardship, and intellectual freedom as core values. AAUP members are active across many scholarly disciplines, including the humanities, arts, and sciences, publish significant regional and literary work, and are innovators in the world of digital publishing.

 

 

The Audacity of Hoop: The Transformative power of basketball in the lives of young people

This week in North Philly Notes, we post a slideshow of images from Philadelphia Youth Basketball‘s recent event with Craig Robinson and The Audacity of Hoop author Alexander Wolff. 

Last weekend, Philadelphia Youth Basketball (PYB), a non-profit organization dedicated to building a premiere youth development center in North Philadelphia, hosted a groundbreaking event entitled “The Audacity of Hoop: The Transformative power of basketball in the lives of young people.”

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The event featured Craig Robinson, Milwaukee Bucks Vice President of Player and Organizational Development and former Oregon State and Brown men’s basketball coach and renowned journalist Alexander Wolff, a former Sports Illustrated senior writer and author of the book The Audacity of Hoop: Basketball and the Age of Obama. Robinson, the brother of Michelle Obama, is also in president Obama’s inner circle of basketball aficionados and is featured prominently in Wolff’s book. The conversation was moderated by former Sports Illustrated executive editor B.J. Schecter.

“We are thrilled that two of the preeminent names in basketball came to Philadelphia to talk about the transformative power of the game,” said Philadelphia Youth Basketball’s Chairman of the Board and retired Ballard Spahr partner John Langel. Adds PYB President and CEO Kenny Holdsman. “I could not think of two better people to carry on a high-level conversation about the potency of the game in the lives of kids and communities.”

The event,  tipped-off a huge weekend of basketball in Philadelphia with the first-ever Ivy League men’s and women’s basketball tournaments at the Palestra. The were discussions of The Audacity of Hoop basketball and the community, coaching and mentorship and tradition, as well as diversity in the game and what it teaches everyone who touches it.

“Basketball is the ultimate meritocracy,” said Holdsman. “The game honors diversity and disrespects the typical dividing lines of race, economic circumstance and even neighborhoods. None of that matters when you step on the court. Nobody knows that better the Craig Robinson and Alex Wolff.”

About Philadelphia Youth Basketball
Philadelphia Youth Basketball is a passionate, diverse, and committed group of organizers and investors who have come together to build a premiere, basketball-based youth development program, organization and center to empower young people, especially those from under-resourced families and communities, to reach their potential as students, athletes, and positive leaders.

Ghost Fairs

This week in North Philly Notes, Thomas Keels, author of Sesqui!: Greed, Graft, and the Forgotten World’s Fair of 1926debuts a new video for his book and explains the appeal of World’s Fairs.


In 1964, I was ten years old and living on a farm outside Princeton, New Jersey. Like many baby boomers, I was taken to see the New York World’s Fair. Like many baby boomers, I was blown away by the fair’s gleaming vision of the 21st Century, an endless episode of The Jetsons sprung to life. Ours would be a future filled with personable robots, out-of-this-world architecture, self-driving cars, and push-button picture-phones. Not to mention an endless supply of Belgian waffles!

Later, I was haunted by images of the fair’s demise after it closed on October 17, 1965. The media were filled with pictures of such seemingly enduring attractions as the Bell Systems and IBM Pavilions being reduced to rubble by the barest touch of a bulldozer.  Like the second Mrs. de Winter revisiting Manderley, I began to dream of returning to a ghost fair magically restored to its full glory. I would stroll past the Court of the Astronauts and through a sea of fluttering flags toward the Unisphere, its fresh steel gleaming in the sun and surrounded by sparkling fountains. All of these wonders still had to exist somewhere.  How could such a perfect world be realized for only a few short months, only to be obliterated?

Perhaps this childhood experience explains why I was fascinated by the Sesqui-Centennial International Exposition of 1926 – aka “the Sesqui.” I stumbled across the Sesqui when I uncovered pictures of a giant Liberty Bell that straddled Broad Street at what is now Marconi Plaza in South Philadelphia. It became the cover of my first book with Temple University Press, Forgotten Philadelphia: Lost Architecture of the Quaker City. Forgotten Phila sm I knew nothing about the fair, since I was a relative newcomer to Philadelphia. Then I realized that most people – even lifelong residents well-versed in local history – knew nothing about the Sesqui. It was a true ghost fair that survived only in faded photographs.

As I wrote Sesqui!: Greed, Graft, and the Forgotten World’s Fair of 1926, and researched the fair further, I learned how it had become a victim of the virulent boss politics that choked Philadelphia during the 20th century. Originally designed by Paul Philippe Cret to grace the Fairmount (now Ben Franklin) Parkway, the Sesqui was shoved down to the southern tip of town by a cadre of politicos in thrall to William S. Vare. Vare was the boss of Philadelphia’s all-powerful Republican Organization, and the U.S. Congressman for the city’s First District. Critics compared him to Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini for his iron grip on the city’s politics and purse-strings.

The Sesqui’s new site just happened to be in the heart of Vare’s district. His constituents gained jobs, paved streets, sewers, and trolleys. Vare’s construction company scored millions of dollars in lucrative contracts. And the Sesqui lost any chance of succeeding, since it cost over $10 million just to fill in the swampy soil before a single building went up. When the Sesqui opened on May 31, 1926, its huge exhibition halls were still wet with paint and empty of exhibits. Its first guests, a quarter-million Shriners holding their annual convention, took a gander, went home, and told their friends not to bother.

When the Sesqui closed on December 31, it had attracted roughly five million customers instead of the anticipated fifty million. Its official cost to the city was $33 million, although the real price tag was far higher. And the “Flop Heard Round the World” made Philadelphia a national joke. One of the reasons the Sesqui is forgotten today is that the Organization made a concerted effort to bury it the mSESQUI!_smoment its doors closed, both literally and figuratively. It was the only way to conceal the financial shenanigans and political chicanery that had doomed the Sesqui from the start.

I dream about the Sesqui sometimes.  Except my version is the fair that was meant to be, the visionary Cret design along the Parkway. I stand in Logan Circle and look at the great Beaux-Arts structures around me – not only the Free Library but the Palace of Justice and Victory Hall, an auditorium honoring the Great War dead. I stroll along the Parkway, lined with the new headquarters of the city’s leading institutions, from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts to the Philadelphia Club. I cross the Court of Honor and ascend the steps to the Museum of Art. Heading west, I cross the Schuylkill River via a magnificent bridge copied after the Pont Alexandre III in Paris. I gaze downriver at the beautiful fountains and ornamental gardens that grace both banks of the Schuylkill. And I give thanks for the ghostly Sesqui-Centennial, the seminal event that transformed grimy, industrial Philadelphia into a true City Beautiful.

France’s Approach to Fighting Racism: Pretty Words and Magical Thinking

I first came to France twelve years ago during my junior year abroad. I was the first person in my family to get a passport and I could barely contain my excitement. In the winter of 2003, two years before the riots that followed the untimely deaths of 15 year old Zyed Benna and 17 year old Bouna Traore, I landed in Paris bright-eyed and bushy tailed, armed with a very shaky grasp of French and a naive fascination with this beautiful country.

As an African-American, I was vaguely aware that France did not deal with issues of race the way we do in the United States. And when I happened to forget, French white people were keen to remind me. In one of the sociology classes I took at a university in the south of France, I hesitantly raised my hand to ask a question. The white French professor had been lecturing on youth and delinquency. I asked, in my broken French, if the dynamics he described had any relation to racial or ethnic belonging. “We don’t have that kind of problem here,” he said, adding: “This isn’t the United States.” Embarrassed and flustered, I nodded and continued taking notes. After class, one of the only other black students pulled me aside: “We do have those kinds of problems here. Hang out with me and I’ll tell you about it.”

resurrecting-slavery_sm

My new friend was from Cameroon and had moved to France along with her sister and brother several years prior. Over the course of the semester, her family basically adopted me, inviting me to dinners, showing me the area and telling me about their lives. I learned that despite the fact that each of them had white French partners and white close friends, they nonetheless experienced racism. But, as I learned in that sociology class that day, many French people denied that racism was actually a problem in their supposedly colorblind society.

Twelve years later, I am now a sociologist and professor finishing a book on racism and the legacies of slavery in France. And while some things have changed here, many French people are still in denial. Over the past decade, French minority groups have made important gains. 2005 was a water-shed year for raising consciousness about the weight of racism in France. In addition to the riots sparked by the death of French minority youth fleeing the police, new anti-racist groups emerged, such as the Representative Council of Black Associations and Indigenes de la République. There is now a national day of memory for slavery and the slavey trade (May 10th) thanks to a law proposed by Christiana Taubira, now France’s first black (and female) Minister of Justice. New, powerful minority voices have emerged in the public sphere, including filmmaker, TV personality and activist Rokhaya Diallo and scholar-activist Maboula Soumahoro (who spearheaded France’s first “Black History Month” in 2012).

Ten years after the riots, the police involved in chasing Zyed Benna, Bouna Traore and their friends are finally being tried for negligence. Ten years later, it is more difficult for the French to deny the plight of ethnic and racial minorities — though some, especially conservatives, deny this reality daily.

Yet, despite these transformations, the French government seems to have almost entirely abdicated its responsibility for dealing with racism. In terms of policy, French “anti-racism” is a total disaster. Instead of formulating anti-racist policies and collecting anti-discrimination statistics, the country contents itself with anti-racist discourse and magical thinking. In 2011, the U.N. issued a report condemning France for its “racist climate” and lack of “real political will” to address racial discrimination. In 2013, French politicians took steps to remove the word “race” from its laws, apparently guided by the magical belief that changing words is enough to fight racism.

In France, it is illegal for the government to include race or ethnicity on the census, as doing so is framed as a violation of so-called “Republican” values, which insist that the French Republic is “indivisible” and should not be distinguished in terms of race or ethnic origin. The problem with this is that the majority population fails to acknowledge that the Republic has been making racial and ethnic distinctions for a very long time. This, too, stems from denial and ignorance. The truth is that French people who cherish dominant interpretations of “colorblind” Republicanism help maintain the racial status quo. By refusing to support the collection of statistics that could be used to generate policies and measure their effectiveness, they undermine the work of minorities and activists who are working hard to counteract the tide of Republican denial.

While some argue that France doesn’t need more data to fight racism, this almost argument is never made concerning sexism. Most people are aware that sexism exists, but it would be absurd to say: “We already know sexism exists and therefore don’t need data on gender discrimination..”Yet, this is the same kind of magical thinking that prevails in much of the so-called “anti-racist” discourse one encounters in France.

Some of France’s most visible “anti-racist groups” have continually opposed anti-discrimination statistics. Just this week, I appeared on France24 to debate the issue with Hadrien Lenoir, a representative of SOS Racisme — one of the most vocal critics of ethnoracial statistics. During the lively debate, Lenoir presented SOS Racisme as supporting such statistics “in research” — as long as they’re not collected by the government. What he did not admit is that SOS Racisme virulently opposed the cutting edge work of French scholars who produced, for the first time, a large scale study of discrimination in France using ethnoracial statistics. Even if the group claims to have changed its position, the reality is that most French research is sponsored by the government. Thus, expressing support for ethnoracial stats “in research” as long as the government is not involved is nonsensical in a nation where most research is funded by the state. These are the kinds of mind-boggling contradictions that anyone studying French racism has to confront—contradictions that, for many years, made me never want to study race in France again.

It is true that some French people still deny that racism exists—despite the many studies that have documented discrimination. But other groups, like SOSRacisme, actually use their fear of racism in the government to argue against the collection of ethnoracial statistics. They point to the racism of the government during the Vichy regime of World War II as proof that the state cannot be trusted. Most recently, when Robert Menard, a far-right mayor of the town of Beziers, admitted to ethnoracially profiling Muslim children, groups like SOSRacisme argued that this, too, was proof that the government had no business counting people by race or religion. Of course, in making this argument, they draw a false equivalence anti-racist and racist usage of statistics.

In my view, the lesson gleaned from Menard’s racism is simple: People in power will gather data to profile minorities whether or not the government calls itself colorblind. Indeed, 13 Black and Arab men are currently suing the French state itself for engaging in racial profiling.

The more time I spend in France, the more it seems to me that some French people (especially politicians) are extraordinarily skilled at talking about principles that they have no intention of doing anything about. Perhaps the French are stuck because they are far too philosophical and not at all practical when it comes to anti-discrimination. I don’t doubt the sincerity of most anti-racist groups that oppose policies that would actually expose and address racism. I have not always had the policy positions I have now. Certainly when I started my research in France, I did not have strong opinions. While I always saw myself as anti-racist, I was not informed enough to have a clear sense of whether ethnoracial statistics or “American-style” policies were needed in France. But after spending nearly three years living in France and interviewing over 100 French activists and ordinary people, my views began to change. It became increasingly obvious that the French population is mired in ignorance about the social and historical reality of race. Even moreso than in the United States, French discourse “about race” is incredibly superficial, asociological and ahistorical. Of course they don’t know how to fight racism.

I denounce white supremacy in the United States on a daily basis and I have no illusions that numbers will save the day. But it matters that activists and scholars in the United States can point to statistics within communities, organizations and institutions to measure just how much has changed — and just how much has not. It matters that we can use these numbers to inform policies and measure their effectiveness (or lack thereof). No, these statistics are not a panacea. Yes, black people and other minorities continue to experience the on-going racial tyranny of white supremacy. But the numbers help combat the denial and magical thinking frequently found among white people and other dominant groups — denial that would have you believe that centuries of race-making can be undone with beautiful principles and kumbaya colorblindness.

For a country that presents itself as secular, France nonetheless asserts religious conviction in the power of words to erase social and historical realities. In terms of dealing (or rather, not dealing) with racism, France is like a country that prefers faith-based healing over modern medicine for its ailing children. To take the analogy even further — the French political establishment is like a parent who infected their own children with an illness — only to refuse diagnostic tests and treatment.

It’s amazing, really — this intransigent, irrational belief that the language of “colorblindness” can actually undo centuries of race-making. The French seem to believe, that through the magical power of language alone, they can talk racism into oblivion. Nevermind the fact that France spent centuries establishing racial hierarchies at home and in its colonial empire for the purpose of enriching the state. Some truly believe that words like “Republic” and “citizenship” and “indivisible” can suddenly undo processes that were produced and institutionalized over the course of four hundred years.

In my view, French magical thinking about race is reinforced by the near total ignorance of the population with regard to its racial past. The French are struggling, in part, because they do not have widely read sociologists or historians of race. During my time in France this spring, I’ve met young French scholars of race who are doing really important, desperately needed work. But the political and intellectual landscape in which they must work is absolutely depressing. Not only does the French academy lack serious programs in race, but it is also overwhelmingly white and elite. One does not need statistics to see this. Enter any French elite university and you will find very few minority professors, chairs of departments or administrators. There are only a few books that could fall under the umbrella of “Black Studies” in France. Not only is there nothing even approaching “post-colonial studies” — the history of colonialism itself is mostly a non-lieu de memoire : barely taught in schools, mostly forgotten and marginalized in the nation’s collective memory. There is no French equivalent of W.E.B. Du Bois (who essentially founded urban sociology in the United States and pioneered studies of race, racism and whiteness). And there has not yet emerged a French equivalent of Kimberlé Crenshaw or Patricia Hill Collins — scholars who have revolutionized entire fields of thought through their contributions to Black Feminist scholarship and critical race theory. Yes, the Nardal Sisters and Cesaire and Fanon exist, but French scholars of color are still mostly ignored by white French people. Indeed, negritude was far more influential outside of hexagonal France than within it.

The only thing most French people seem to know about race is that racial categories were used against the Jews during WW II. That’s it. If you ask French people to tell you about racism in French colonialism, racial exclusion in the metropole prior to WW II, most probably would have little to say. Most French people can’t explain in any degree of detail where the concept of race came from, how racism perpetuates itself over time or how it is institutionalized. How could they? They do not (and, with few exceptions, cannot) learn about these things at school. But they think they can “fight” racism in a context of near complete social and historical ignorance about what race means and where it came from.

If there was ever a case study in the epistemology of ignorance — and its relationship to white supremacy — France is it. As I argue in the book I’m finishing now, white supremacy and racial ignorance are both key to understanding race in France. Already in the United States, racial ignorance and denial run wide and deep. And yet, despite these challenges, we have intellectual resources and minority networks the French can’t even dream of. And I don’t say this to brag — it’s not like these intellectual resources have saved us. They haven’t. But they matter. They help.

I don’t think most people (French or otherwise) understand that it takes centuries of diligent activism, statistical tracking, policy making and scholarship to even begin to address the damage of racism. The U.S. case shows that it is extremely difficult to confront and combat racism, even when you have the intellectual resources and data. But the French case shows that it is impossible to effectively identify and challenge racism without these things.

Further, French chauvinism prevents many people here from actually embracing a global understanding of racial processes and white supremacy. References to race in the United States or the UK are portrayed as too foreign — imposing an “anglosaxon” lens. White French people will sometimes say that their country can’t learn anything about race from the United States because the two societies are so different. And yet, the same people point to the continued existence of racism in the U.S. as “proof” that our approach to using ethnoracial statistics “hasn’t helped”. But if the U.S. is “too different” to teach anything to the French about race, then it cannot also be used by the French as “evidence” that ethnoracial statistics are a bad idea. It is intellectually dishonest to claim that one can’t learn anything from another society, yet also use that same society to justify one’s position. Further, the fact that France does not collect ethnoracial data means that it is impossible to seriously compare the situation of minorities in most spheres of life (e.g. housing and employment discrimination, political representation and so on). But the French think that they don’t need data to say that their society is less racist than the U.S. — all they need are Republican words. Thus, instead of learning from other nations that have a much longer history of studying race, many of the French prefer their colorblind ignorance.

The bottom line is that from what I have seen, the French majority population does not think racism affecting people of color is important. The reason the French majority population doesn’t think racism is important is because they have not been made to believe it is important. French people of color currently lack the political power and internal organization to compel the majority population to care about addressing racism. And, the French government’s role in suppressing ethnoracial statistics continues to undermine people of color who are organizing to fight racism.

The irony of all this is that the French are currently moving forward with an intelligence law that rivals the Patriot Act in its blatant disregard for civil liberties. The French government wants to collect data on almost everything French people think, write or say but – but no data on racism! When it comes to fighting terror, the French know very well that knowledge is power. But when it comes to fighting racism? Data? Knowledge? Not necessary.

Too many French people seem to imagine that if they close their eyes to race, click their heels three times and repeat the words “Liberty”, “Equality” and “Brotherhood”, the boogeyman of racism will simply vanish and disappear. No systematic data or policies necessary. Only pretty, magical, colorblind words.

This President’s Day, Think Twice Before Posting That Meme of President Trump

This week in North Philly Notes, in honor of Presidents’ Day,  we re-post this Chicago Sun-Times op-ed by Thomas Foster, author of Sex and the Founding Fathers, which considers character attacks on the Commander-in-chief.

In our divided nation, one thing that both sides agree on is that Trump has broken the mold. The sense that never before have we had a President like this inspires some opponents to employ unusual tactics. But as anti-Trump discourses proliferate with every new move the administration makes, think twice before sharing that photo of his face superimposed on Queen Elizabeth’s body, or the criticism of Ivanka Trump as his daughter/First Lady, or the image of Trump as a gay man soliciting sex. There’s no shortage of such internet creations and although they might seem novel, all draw on character attacks as old as the nation and as antithetical to a progressive agenda as President Trump himself.

Take the artistic work of Indecline that cropped up in cities during the campaign. Trump’s naked body on full display was meant to speak volumes, to challenge a vision of him as powerful and virile. “The Emperor Has No Balls” read the plaque at the foot of the piece.

Many perceived this as an effective way to counter the accusations made by President Trump that Hillary Clinton lacked the “stamina” to be President. But still others rightly noted that it did little but support those who seek an idealized body-type for masculine leadership – body shaming, indeed.

Creative? Yes. New? Maybe not. Although ever-changing, body ideals have been mobilized since the American Revolution and have been, in modern times, used to make figures such as George Washington appear more masculine and more in keeping with current standards than eighteenth-century types.

G-000865-20111017.jpgThen there are the popular images of Trump as Queen Elizabeth, a commentary on his authoritarian leadership approach but also, undoubtedly, to undercut his claims to manliness – and drawing very effectively on long histories that shame gender-blurring. Such contrasts also highlight and play on bodily and character differences that we assume to exist between leaders (manly) and others. This occurred even at the time of the Revolution when Washington was depicted by the British as a cross-dressing tyrant. Today they inform politicized art, such as in a colorful mural that plays on the image of Washington as the man’s man and make it possible for an image of him in a dress to carry such shock and resonance.

Trump has also emerged as a gay man seeking casual sex – a photo of him holding up an executive order has been modified so the text is instead of a tawdry personal add, worthy of eighteenth-century attacks on personal character in an effort to derail public policies and presence. And there’s this one of him holding onto a leather-clad Putin.

Even the criticism of his family members has historical roots. Melania Trump has been criticized for not immediately occupying the White House with family in tow to complete the nuclear family that we’ve come to expect from the President’s First Family.

And, Ivanka has been tarred as a daughter-First Lady substitute in her stead. We’ve seen this before. Aaron Burr’s relationship with his daughter was the source of intense criticism about the nature of their relationship (complete with incestuous insinuations) and widowed Jefferson relied heavily on his daughter, Martha, to serve functionally as a First Lady.

So, yes, to be that clichéd historian, we’ve seen it all before.

It’s no wonder that the first shiny thing that opponents see that criticizes Trump, sparks a reflex to share or retweet. After all, nothing of substance has yet seemed to stop the changes that we are witnessing. Perhaps this photo of him in a dress will do it? And if not, it will at least bring humor to those feeling beleaguered?

The memes are obviously well-aimed to get under his famously thin skin. And yet anti-Trump discourses have too often reverted to old tropes — and progressives would do well to steer clear of them lest we find ourselves reinforcing a world we work hard to leave behind.

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