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.

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Wildlife crime: Understanding the human and social dimensions of a complex problem

This week in North Philly Notes, William Moreto, editor of Wildlife Crime, writes about how criminology as a field has much to offer in the understanding and prevention of wildlife crime.

In recent years, wildlife crime has generated considerable public attention. This can be partly attributed to growing concerns over environmental issues, including climate change, as well as increased attention on wildlife trafficking and its impact on the status of endangered iconic megafauna, like elephants and rhinoceros. The hard sciences, including biology, has tended to take the lead in the assessment and investigation of crimes that harm the environment, including the poaching and trading of wildlife products. This is not surprising given that the unsustainable overharvesting of wildlife can result in long lasting ecological and environmental impacts, as well as potentially devastating public health concerns resulting in the consumption of unregulated and unsanitary wildlife products.

Although wildlife crime has historically tended to fall within the purview of the hard sciences, the role of the social sciences, including geography, psychology, and economics, have increasingly been recognized in both academic and non-academic circles. Indeed, while wildlife crime is very much an environmental issue, it is also inherently a human and social problem as well. Recently Bennett and colleagues (2017) helped reinforce this reality when they published an article in a leading conservation journal, Biological Conservation, demonstrating the role that 18 distinct social science fields have within the conservation sciences. Noticeably missing from this list, however, were the fields of criminology (the study of criminal behavior), criminal justice (the study of how the criminal justice system responds and operates), and crime science (the study of crime). For ease, and I hope my fellow colleagues can forgive me, but I’ll refer to this group collectively here as “criminology.”

Wildlife Crime_smCriminology as a field has much to offer in the understanding and prevention of wildlife crime, while also contributing to broader conservation science topics. The volume, Wildlife Crime: From Theory to Practice, adds to the conservation science literature by underscoring how criminological theory and research can provide unique insight on a complex problem like wildlife crime. Questions related to the why specific activities and practices are outlawed, how such regulations are viewed by communities who are affected, why individuals begin, continue, or desist as offenders, how the criminal justice system responds to such actors, and what strategies can be developed in addition to the criminal justice system are all discussed in the volume. Additionally, scholars detail their experiences conducting research on active offenders involved in wildlife crime and further highlighting the very human aspects from those involved in such activities, as well as the researchers who perform such study.

Finally, the inclusion of practitioners in the volume who are or were involved in day-to-day conservation practice cements the need for more social science research that directly focuses on those tasked with the implementation and management of conservation policy and regulation. Essentially, by better understanding how conservation policy is implemented and the real-world challenges faced by individuals who work on the front-line is essential in understanding what strategies can be effective, what may be unsuccessful, and what may ultimately prove to be counter-productive or even harmful. In sum, Wildlife Crime: From Theory to Practice contributes to the growing literature on wildlife crime by illustrating the value of viewing the issue from a criminological perspective, promoting the need for increased academic-practitioner collaborations, and reinforcing the place of social science within the conservation sciences.

 

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.

Alas, poor Luka, alas.

This week in North Philly North, Grant Farred writes about the unlikely connection between Jackie Robinson and Croatian footballer Luka Modrić.

Only sport can properly bring home to us the true meaning of the event. If, that is, we understand the event as a specific happening that completely changes everything. At the very least, the event as such radically alters how we see the world. Over the course of three books on sport and philosophy, of which The Burden of Over-representation, is the most recent, this is the argument I have tried to make.

In its most basic form, the event might be understood as a dramatic last minute touchdown, a penalty opportunity denied, a spectacular catch that saves a game, or, maybe it preserves a World Series win. All these are memorable occasions, ones that change our outlook on the world. Think about the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series in 2016 after more than a century of futility, or the Philadelphia Eagles upsetting the Patriots in Super Bowl LII. For a Cubbies fan, or an Eagles fan, this alters how the world works; no more “wait until next year.”

Burden of Over-rep_smIn The Burden of Over-representation, however, I concentrate on something else. Often, this book recognizes, the event turns on a singular individual, whether or not that individual accepts these terms or not. The fate of a team, for example. Or, as I argue in The Burden of Over-representation, the future of race relations in post-War America depended – or, so it seemed – on baseball’s “great experiment:” the “Negro” player Jackie Robinson’s entry into Major League Baseball in April, 1947.

Not only in that moment, April 15th, 1947, but for many seasons after, every move Jackie Robinson made, on or off the field, during the season or before it (or, after it, for that matter), assumed a disproportionate importance. Jackie Robinson represented not only himself, but his entire race. What a burden Robinson bore, and how he bore it. With fierceness, with anger, with bitterness, all of which was grounded in a singular determination to win.

I was reminded of how much this notion of the burden is with us this summer, this summer of the World Cup. I was reminded of it because I watched the round of 16 games as well as the quarter-finals in Croatia. The round of 16 games in Zadar, on the Dalmatian coast, and the quarter-finals in Zagreb, the Croatian capital.

In truth, the enormity of the burden born by the exceptional individual could not have been brought home more forcefully than in Zadar. For those who don’t follow football (soccer), and who don’t know the finer points about the Croatian national team, Zadar is the home of the Croatian captain, Luka Modrić. It would have been enough to know that Modrić grew up poor as a child on the outskirts of Zadar. It would have been a heartwarming tale of local boy makes good, because Modrić is now not only among the most highly regarded players in the name but he is also the captain of his national team. Football has made him a very wealthy man. It would have enough, but also much more disturbing, to have known that Modrić survived the violence of the war that wracked havoc with life in the Balkans in the 1990s. In that war, in which the old Yugoslavia fell apart, splintering into so many competing nationalisms, ethnic Serb fighting ethnic Bosnian, Catholic Croats, Orthodox Serbians and Bosnian Muslims at each other’s throats. Modrić’s grandfather was killed in, and by, that violence.

Now 32 years old, in what is surely his final World Cup, Modrić bears the burden Croatian over-representation. He has been a massively successful player for his club, Real Madrid, winning a number of trophies – 3 times a Champions League winner, just for starters. In their turn, the Croatians expect him to now bring a much greater glory to “Hvartska.”

Much is expected of his team-mates as well, but, when all is said and done, it is Modrić who will have to shoulder the bulk of the burden.

In the round of 16 game, with the game knotted at a goal apiece, Modrić had a chance to seal the game with a penalty late in the match against Denmark. Uncharacteristically, he seemed a little unsure of himself. He missed, his face a study in disappointment. He had let the team down. His miss might cost Croatia the chance to advance to the quarter-finals. The match went to extra-time, which yielded nothing, and then to a penalty shootout.

Up stepped Modrić, and he converted his penalty this time. Croatia went on to win.

Next up, Russia, in the quarter-finals. Again, the score was tied (1-1) at the end of regulation, and in the extra period the two sides each added a goal. 2-2. Once more the game would be decided by penalties.

Again, Modrić stroked his penalty home.

Croatia won. On Wednesday, it will play England in the semi-finals.

What struck me while watching in Zadar was how revered Modrić is, how he is being made to stand for his nation. This local boy, who is physically small but huge in stature, who has endured so much and achieved even more, he incarnates all Croatia’s (footballing) hopes, he is a bulwark against its fears. His, Modrić’s, failure, will not be his. At least not his alone. No, the entire nation will stand or fall with Luka.

He is not allowed the luxury of a mistake. The nation can’t afford it and so he must perform to perfection.

Croatia, on the football field, for what remains of Croatia’s games this World Cup, is Luka Modrić.

Surrounded by Croatians in Zadar, in Zagreb, watching the crowds in Pula on TV, I suddenly, when I least expected it, got a glimpse, one for which I was not at all prepared, into what life must have been like for Jackie Robinson.

“Football is not a matter of life or death,” the famous Liverpool FC manager Bill Shankly remarked, “it is much more important than that.”

Luka Modrić, in Croatia if nowhere else, knows what such expectation – the life or death of a nation, life or death as both metaphor and far more than a metaphor – feels like.

Playing Major League baseball in a moment when blacks were being, were still being, lynched and subjected to Jim Crow laws (as much, if differently, in the North as well as in the South), I suspect that Jackie Robinson, much more than Modrić or Shankly, knew just how much was riding on his every performance. Robinson knew how much depended upon his every hit, his every stolen base, his every routine throw to first base; his every interview with a reporter, his every off-hand comment. No rest for the wicked, or, the just; or, the over-burdened.

Across sports codes, football to baseball, across an ocean that separates the continents of North America and Europe, across the decades that separate Robinson from Modrić, across that contentious divided that is race (and religion, ethnicity, and geo-politics), for just a single moment, my writing seemed to me possessed of a truth.

Not only is sport exceptional in its ability to bring home to us the significance of the event, but it is only through sport that I, at any rate, could glimpse upon Modrić . Or, maybe I should say I could sense, surrounded by expectant, hopeful, fearful, Croatians, the utter viscerality of this truth. Ironically, it was impressed upon me by people who have probably never heard of Jackie Robinson. In victory, so far, Modrić has borne that burden with a smile that is at once joyous and anxious. No wonder, how I wonder. In defeat, especially if he is the one to “fail,” just once (more), I can only imagine the look that followed his penalty miss against Denmark will once again overwhelm his face. In defeat, that is when the onerousness of the burden, perhaps the unjustness of it all, will, I suspect, make itself felt.

For Luka Modrić’s sake, I muttered to myself after Croatia disposed of Russia, I hope he knows who Jackie Robinson is.

Such knowledge, such acquired familiarity, might, if not dispense with the burden, but, in the moment of truth, which is, one way or the other, coming, it might help to lighten the burden. It might even help him to understand why so much is being asked of him. In order to lighten

the burden of over-representation I would want to make a historic, phantasmatic introduction: “Luka Modrić, meet Jackie Robinson.”

In a matter of hours, Wednesday will be upon us.

In that moment, which could well be decisive, I do not want to wax Shakespearean. I do not want to see a Croatian reenactment of the gravediggers scene in Hamlet.

I do not want to utter those fateful words, “Alas, poor Luka, alas.”

 

 

A sneak peek at the new issue of KALFOU

This week in North Philly Notes, we showcase the new issue of KALFOU, and the symposium on race and science, a highlight of Volume 5 issue 1.

Volume 5 Issue 1 of KALFOU features a symposium on race and science in which distinguished scholars from across the disciplines address the ways in which current developments in genomic research pose new challenges for analyses of the social construction of race. Advances in genetic research have provoked a revival of the claim that race has a genetic basis, a claim that has now been embraced by pharmaceutical companies seeking to make profits by marketing drugs that profess to address illnesses endemic to specific racial groups and by social scientists eager to explain racially skewed life outcomes as the product of the genetic defects of aggrieved groups rather than the result of racist practices, processes, and structures.  The symposium features astute and insightful articles by anthropologists Michael Montoya and John Hartigan, historians Terence Keel and Gabriela Laveaga-Soto, sociologists Ruha Benjamin and James Doucet Battle, and physician and public health scholar Claudia Chaufan.  Although these authors deploy a diverse range of scholarly methods and perspectives, their arguments cohere around an insistence that genetic research itself actually shows that race is a political rather than a biological category and that the “new” arguments about sciences and race are simply reiterations of very old forms of scientific racism.

George Lipsitz

Kalfou_generic-cover_102015Kalfou Vol. 5 Issue 1. Table of Contents:

SYMPOSIUM ON RACE AND SCIENCE • edited by Terence D. Keel and George Lipsitz

Race on Both Sides of the Razor • Terence D. Keel
Facing Up to Neanderthals • John Hartigan Jr.
What Can the Slim Initiative in Genomic Medicine for the Americas (SIGMA)
Contribute to Preventing, Treating, or Decreasing the Impact of Diabetes
among Mexicans and Latin Americans? • Claudia Chaufan
Race, Genetics, and Health: Transforming Inequities or Reproducing
a Fallacy? • Michael J. Montoya
Prophets and Profits of Racial Science • Ruha Benjamin
Race and the Epigenetics of Memory • Gabriela Soto Laveaga
Ennobling the Neanderthal: Racialized Texts and Genomic Admixture • James Doucet-Battle
Concluding Remarks: Social Justice Requires Biocritical Inquiry • Terence D. Keel

FEATURE ARTICLE
Feminist Mobilization in MEChA: A Southern California Case Study • Gustavo Licón

IDEAS, ART, AND ACTIVISM
TALKATIVE ANCESTORS
Cedric Robinson: “For a People to Survive in Struggle”

LA MESA POPULAR
The Septuagenarians’ Sankofa Dialogue • Kalamu ya Salaam and Jerry W. Ward Jr.

ART AND SOCIAL ACTION
The Play’s the Thing: An Interview with Rosten Woo • J.V. Decemvirale

MOBILIZED 4 MOVEMENT
“It Is Time for Artists to Be Heard”: Artists and Writers for Freedom, 1963–1964 • Judith E. Smith

TEACHING AND TRUTH
A UK–US “Black Lexicon of Liberation”: A Bibliography of African American
and Black British Artists, Artworks, and Art-Making Traditions • Celeste-Marie Bernier

IN MEMORIAM
James Oliver Horton, 1943–2017 • Melani McAlister

How state governments touch on nearly every aspect of public policy

This week in North Philly Notes, Michelle Atherton, co-editor of Pennsylvania Politics and Policywrites about what states do and how much power they have within modern politics and policy.

In the midst of the modern 24/7 news cycle, and the focus on the tweet of the moment from our president, it’s easy to forget that politics in our federal system runs much deeper than the national level. Americans in general are woefully unaware of what states do and how much power they have within modern politics and policy. Statewide and local elections have much lower voter turnout than presidential years, as if the composition of state legislatures and governors’ offices barely matters compared to who occupies the White House. Many would argue these governing bodies matter even more to the lives of the average citizen, as state governments touch nearly every aspect of public policy.

Pennsylvania Politics and Policy_smRepublicans in control in Washington, DC did not manage to repeal the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), but it was originally up to the states to create their own healthcare exchanges, and whether to expand Medicaid. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed in 2017 lowered federal taxes for most individuals—and especially corporations—but it also capped the state and local tax (SALT) deduction at $10,000, greatly effecting the calculus of state and local governments’ approaches to maintaining revenues.

Pennsylvania, for example, is one of the states most highly dependent upon property taxes for the support of public schools, collected locally, as opposed to relying on state taxes. Will the wealthy Philadelphia suburbs revolt come November’s general election as higher income households lose thousands of dollars in tax deductions? Perhaps the results will strengthen the case among many voters for doing away with the property tax altogether as a source of funding for public schools in the Commonwealth.

This issue and many others are explored in the first publication of Pennsylvania Politics and Policy: A Commonwealth Reader. Further topics include:

  • What would it mean for Pennsylvania to adopt direct democracy such as the citizen-initiated referendum and recall like other states? Would politicians be more responsive and less prone to corruption?
  • Why doesn’t the state of Pennsylvania place a severance tax on natural gas production? Every other state does. Alaskans each receive a dividend from fossil fuel extraction, yet Pennsylvania’s legislature refuses to move the issue forward even in the face of severe budget woes.
  • Why doesn’t the state fund education based on the number of students in schools? Every other state in the nation bases funding on real student counts. In Pennsylvania, the politics of party and leadership control in the legislature dictates funding.
  • Why does Pennsylvania not tax any form of retirement income, one of just a handful of states to do so? And, what does the rapid aging of the state mean for the bottom line of funding services both for the elderly and younger individuals and families?
  • Why did it take so long to be able to buy wine and beer at the local supermarket? Pennsylvania took a unique approach to policing vice.

Another election for the governor, the entire House, and half the Senate of Pennsylvania is just around the corner. Here’s hoping Pennsylvanians find their way to the polling place to vote in proportion to the gravity of the election’s policy implications.

 

A Passion Reignited

This week in North Philly Notes, Bill Double, author of Charles E. Hires and the Drink that Wowed a Nation, writes about his passion for Hires Root Beer. 

Whether a frosty mug at a Stewarts’ drive-in or the brain-clearing rush of herbal effervescence from a freshly opened bottle of Hires at home, I grew up with a yen for root beer. Fortunately, this habit proved nonaddictive. As I moved on, the drink faded into a pleasant memory, occasionally relived but hardly a compulsion.

Neither did this early craving influence my decision to chronicle the life of Charles Elmer Hires, who turned a humble homemade root beer into an iconic national brand.  Hires was an intrepid entrepreneur and an authentic American success story. His life and times would have fascinated me as much had he instead concocted a new ginger ale, pet food or soap powder.

Charles E. Hires_smNonetheless, researching Charles E. Hires and the Drink that Wowed a Nation reawakened my latent root beer thirst.  I ordered an eight-pack of modern-day Hires from Amazon (of all places) and began to sample other brands.  Root beer seemed to be less prevalent today and certainly less promoted in the popular media. Was the spicy, woodsy flavor enjoyed by millions during Charles Hires’ heyday fading from the public’s palate? My findings suggested otherwise.

I discovered a thriving root beer subculture, a legion of fiercely loyal aficionados who shared my taste and interest in the brew. An array of websites, Facebook pages and blogs are devoted to discussing, dissecting and exalting root beer. Some sites, it is true, are mounted by commercial bottlers eager to pitch their wares. But others are clearly labors of love maintained by dedicated root beer buffs. Among these: Root Beer Review (“Root beer reviews by root beer lovers.”); The Root-Beer Blog (“Root Beer is a goodness, government is not and freedom and liberty are worth having and so is a good Root Beer!”), the Stark Raving (Root Beer) Blog! and the Association of Root Beer Enthusiasts.

Eric’s Gourmet Root Beer Site, perhaps the most comprehensive, presents histories of the vintage brands, industry news, reviews of new craft root beers and reader comments.

After perusing the painstaking instructions offered root beer homebrewers on other websites, I decided to join their ranks.  I purchased a three-ounce bottle of Zatarain’s Root Beer Extract, a product quite similar to Hires’ original, and followed his 1880 instructions closely.  To my surprise, my first attempt yielded a dozen bottles of root beer that were both delicious and nicely carbonated.

I also found that the craft beer movement, instrumental in improving the quality of real beer in America, had spawned dozens of craft root beers. Brands include Virgil’s, Maine, Boylan, Fitz’s, Dominion, Saranac and Sprecher. The online Root Beer Store offers details on these brews and many others.  They are available at venues ranging from soda pop stores to Trader Joe’s and even some old-style taprooms.

This proliferation of craft brewers would not have displeased Charles Hires, provided they used natural ingredients and did not infringe on his trademark. However, another modern trend – alcoholic root beer – would surely have evoked his ire. One such brew, aptly dubbed Not Your Father’s Root Beer, boasts an alcohol content over 5 percent.  While all fermented root beers contain a trace of alcohol, temperance advocate Hires was forced to battle a WCTU boycott that falsely contended the level in his drink was alarmingly high.

Meanwhile, “Big Soda” continues to woo root beer fanciers with traditional offerings – Barqs, Dads, Mug, Hanks and Frosty. Dr. Pepper Snapple alone produces four root beer brands – A&W, IBC, Stewarts and Hires. Regrettably, Hires ranks lowest in the company’s promotional pecking order.

In conclusion, I am pleased to report that the drink Charles Hires perfected and so successfully promoted over a century ago is at no risk of becoming a relic. While failing to attain the popularity of Coke or Pepsi, its unique flavor still delights and inspires a discerning minority. Indeed, root beer’s longevity reminds me of jazz music, another of my long-time passions. Neither root beer nor jazz has quite managed to achieve mainstream respectability in the modern era. Yet both tenaciously continue to endure, evolve and reward those receptive to their charms.

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