Unorthodox Captures Many Truths of Leaving Hasidic Communities

This week in North Philly Notes, we repost Degrees of Separation author Schneur Zalman Newfield’s recent article from The Society Pages that considers the Netflix series, Unorthodox, about exiting ultra-Orthodox communities, the subject of his new book.

Like many who left ultra-Orthodox communities in which they were raised, I eagerly awaited the release of the Netflix miniseries Unorthodox, loosely based on Deborah Feldman’s first memoir by the same title that chronicles her journey out of her Hasidic community in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and her efforts to join the broader secular society. I was curious to see in what ways the narrative of the miniseries would reflect the experiences of the 74 ex-Hasidic men and women I interviewed for my PhD dissertation and forthcoming book, Degrees of SeparationIdentity Formation While Leaving Ultra-Orthodox Judaism. Hasidic communities adhere strictly to Orthodox Jewish law, members tend to marry young and have large families, and generally shun non-Jewish culture and outsiders.

Degrees of Separation_smThe miniseries revolves around the attempt of Esty Shapiro—brilliantly portrayed by Shira Haas—to leave her socially and culturally isolated Williamsburg community and start a new life in Berlin, Germany. The miniseries is deeply compelling and captures many truths about the lives of the people I interviewed as well as many others who make the complex journey out of ultra-Orthodoxy.

The miniseries highlights Esty’s traumatic experiences inside her Hasidic marriage. Although Esty rejects the term “escaped” to describe her journey and protests that her community was not “a prison,” she did suffer a lot. As Esty reflects at one point about her life in Brooklyn to her new friends in Berlin, “God expected too much from me.” She is perplexed when informed just before her wedding of the basic mechanics of sex and the complex details of the “family purity” laws that require her to chart when she is menstruating and to abstain from sex during those times and for a week afterwards. Esty cries through the sheering off of all her lush hair the morning after her wedding and is terrified and alienated when she visits the ritual bath (mikvah) and immerses herself in order to make herself “pure” and available to have sex with her husband. She also suffers extreme physical pain when having sex with her husband and after months of trying, they are only able to engage fully in intercourse a single time. The physical pain is only heightened and given an added sting by her nosy and insensitive mother-in-law’s intrusions into her sex life aimed at securing her another grandchild. Ultimately, her mother-in-law encourages her son to divorce Esty because it is believed she will never be able to get pregnant.

I will focus on three themes of the exit process from religion that are significant in my own research and are all dramatized in Unorthodox: the dire warnings from community members to potential exiters; the maintenance of religious beliefs and practices by exiters even after they exit; and the hybrid technique of integrating aspects of an exiters’ past into their present and future.

While still in Williamsburg, Esty secretly took piano lessons for several years from a non-Jewish woman who rented an apartment from her grandfather. Before Esty leaves Brooklyn, the music teacher gives her student a small compass to help her find her way once she exits her community. Indeed, it is an extremely difficult task for exiters to create a new life for themselves once all the rules, norms, expectations that they grew up with are discarded. These communities tell those contemplating or suspected of contemplating leaving that it is impossible to do so, that all who leave are crazy and end up with ruined and dysfunctional lives. It is clearly a lie, but for those inside the community lacking information about the outside world and those who make it out, this can be a very compelling argument to stay.

One of the most powerful scenes occurs shortly after Esty clandestinely travels from Brooklyn to Berlin and finds herself on a beach, surrounded by scantily clad carefree swimmers splashing around and enjoying their time in the sun. Esty is still wearing her Hasidic garb, including her conservative long skirt, thick opaque brown tights, and wig (sheitel). We feel Esty’s internal struggle, her desire to be “normal” and join in the fun, while being simultaneously horrified that people could expose so much of their bodies to total strangers. She has internalized the teachings of her community that stipulate that the body, especially a woman’s body, must always be covered up in order to protect its sanctity and the purity of those around her. Esty wavers for a moment, but then gathers her courage. She takes off her opaque tights and walks into the lake fully clothed. As she enters the shallow waters, she pulls off her wig and releases it. It floats away. This emersion is a sort of reverse mikvah, a ritual cleansing of her former life and a symbolic rebirth into her new secular identity.

Esty’s internal struggle mirrors what many of my interviewees grapple with once they leave their community but still hold onto numerous religious practices and beliefs from their old community, such as an aversion to eating pork—which is strictly forbidden by Jewish law—and the persistence of belief in God, and conservative views of gender and race. These practices and beliefs can prove difficult, if not impossible, to jettison.

One of the best techniques that Hasidic exiters have found for integrating into the broader secular society is taking a hybrid approach to their life. That is, to find a way to incorporate elements of their past into their present and future. This approach is powerfully exemplified in the final scene of the miniseries when Esty auditions for entrance to a prestigious Berlin music institute. Esty first sings a short piece from Schubert entitled “An die Musik,” and does a competent job. Then she is asked to sing another song and chooses a Hasidic one with Hebrew words that was chanted at her wedding. She sways (shuckles) just as Hasidic Jews typically do when lost in a melody.  Her rendition is soul stirring. The viewer is mesmerized by Esty’s blending of classic European and Hasidic music. In that moment she has decided not to ghettoize her past but to allow it to blend into her present and future. In my book I call this “embracing a hybrid identity.” It’s not a brief transitional phase, but a long term strategy for pursuing a life that is deeply different from the life one was raised and trained in. Examples of hybridity include schuckling, like Esty in Unorthodox, while engaging in secular activities such as studying American law, or occasionally taking the time to study a passage of Talmud while pursuing a doctorate in French literature.

The main weakness of the miniseries is its inclusion of a spy-like theme that distracts from its beauty and authenticity. This theme begins in the opening scene of the miniseries with Esty surreptitiously collecting hidden items from around her bedroom—a wad of cash from inside a foam wig holder—in preparation of her departure. The covert ops continue with a scene where Esty is taken by an aunt to a kosher supermarket so that her prospective mother-in-law can furtively inspect her, like a piece of meat at a butcher shop, to see if she passes muster. This entire scene makes no sense. The mother-in-law doesn’t know her from around the small and close-knit neighborhood?  She can’t ask a friend? The espionage intensifies when the Rebbe, the spiritual leader of the Hasidic community, orders Esty’s sheepish husband Yanky, accompanied by his cousin Moshe, a thuggish character and former renegade himself, to travel to Berlin to track down and bring back Esty. Moshe even receives the obligatory box with a pistol when he checks into his Berlin hotel. Who does he get the gun from and what exactly is he supposed to do with it once he meets up with Esty?

This espionage subplot seems truly absurd. It makes Hasidic Jews and those who leave their community seem entirely foreign to the viewers who are finally coming to know this “exotic” community through shows like this one and to see them for the normal human beings they are, albeit living a wildly different lifestyle.

Sociologically speaking, exiting from strict religious communities is an example of the broader phenomenon of personal transformation and resocialization, similar to the processes people experience after a divorce and when immigrating to a new country. Leaving a religion is traumatic and complex, but not unrelated to other kinds of social experiences. It is helpful to think of religious exiters in relation to other forms of exiting. This helps humanize religious exiters and helps us realize that the process of resocialization is a more common one than we might otherwise imagine. People from all walks of life may need to engage in resocialization at some point or another.

Ironically, the actress who plays Esty, Shira Haas, starred in the international hit show on Netflix Shtisel, which was a huge success because it made the ultra-Orthodox appear normal, or more accurately, as troubled and complex as everyone else. They have distinct religious dress, beliefs, and rituals, but they too have romantic problems, marital disharmony, financial woes, struggles to find a career, and disappointments from their children.

Notwithstanding the distraction from the spy element, Unorthodox is a powerful series that celebrates the human capacity for personal transformation. It affirms that birth is not destiny, and gives voice to a group of survivors that are often marginalized in mainstream culture.

Schneur Zalman Newfield is an Assistant Professor of Sociology in the Department of Social Sciences, Human Services, and Criminal Justice at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, City University of New York. Visit him online at zalmannewfield.com.

Celebrating Earth Day

This week in North Philly Notes, we celebrate Earth Day with a handful of recent Temple University Press titles about nature and the environment.

2470_reg.gifIn Defense of Public Lands: The Case against Privatization and Transfer, by Steven Davis
Debates continue to rage over the merits or flaws of public land and whether or not it should be privatized—or at least radically reconfigured in some way. In Defense of Public Lands offers a comprehensive refutation of the market-oriented arguments. Steven Davis passionately advocates that public land ought to remain firmly in the public’s hands. He briefly lays out the history and characteristics of public lands at the local, state, and federal levels while examining the numerous policy prescriptions for their privatization or, in the case of federal lands, transfer. He considers the dimensions of environmental health; markets and valuation of public land, the tensions between collective values and individual preferences, the nature and performance of bureaucratic management, and the legitimacy of interest groups and community decision-making. Offering a fair, good faith overview of the privatizers’ best arguments before refuting them, this timely book contemplates both the immediate and long-term future of our public lands.

2474_reg.gifSinking Chicago: Climate Change and the Remaking of a Flood-Prone Environment, by Harold L. Platt
In Sinking Chicago, Harold Platt shows how people responded to climate change in one American city over a hundred-and-fifty-year period. During a long dry spell before 1945, city residents lost sight of the connections between land use, flood control, and water quality. Then, a combination of suburban sprawl and a wet period of extreme weather events created damaging runoff surges that sank Chicago and contaminated drinking supplies with raw sewage. Chicagoans had to learn how to remake a city built on a prairie wetland. They organized a grassroots movement to protect the six river watersheds in the semi-sacred forest preserves from being turned into open sewers, like the Chicago River. The politics of outdoor recreation clashed with the politics of water management. Platt charts a growing constituency of citizens who fought a corrupt political machine to reclaim the region’s waterways and Lake Michigan as a single eco-system. Environmentalists contested policymakers’ heroic, big-technology approaches with small-scale solutions for a flood-prone environment. Sinking Chicago lays out a roadmap to future planning outcomes.

Gone_Goose_SM.jpgGone Goose: The Remaking of an American Town in the Age of Climate Change, by Braden T. Leap

Sumner, MO, pop. 102, near the Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge, proclaims itself “The Wild Goose Capital of the World.” It even displays Maxie, the World’s largest goose: a 40-foot tall fiberglass statue with a wingspan stretching more than 60 feet. But while the 200,000 Canada geese that spent their falls and winters at Swan Lake helped generate millions of dollars for the local economy—with hunting and the annual Goose Festival—climate change, as well as environmental and land use issues, have caused the birds to disappear. The economic loss of the geese and the activities they inspired served as key building blocks in the rural identities residents had developed and treasured. In his timely and topical book, Gone Goose, Braden Leap observes how members of this rural town adapted, reorganized, and reinvented themselves in the wake of climate change—and how they continued to cultivate respect and belonging in their community. Leap conducted interviews with residents and participated in various community events to explore how they reimagine their relationships with each other as well as their community’s relationship with the environment, even as they wish the geese would return.

Ecohumanism_and_the_Ecological_Culture_SM.jpgEcohumanism and the Ecological Culture: The Educational Legacy of Lewis Mumford and Ian McHarg, by William J. Cohen

Lewis Mumford, one of the most respected public intellectuals of the twentieth century, speaking at a conference on the future environments of North America, said, “In order to secure human survival we must transition from a technological culture to an ecological culture.” In Ecohumanism and the Ecological Culture, William Cohen shows how Mumford’s conception of an educational philosophy was enacted by Mumford’s mentee, Ian McHarg, the renowned landscape architect and regional planner at the University of Pennsylvania. McHarg advanced a new way to achieve an ecological culture―through an educational curriculum based on fusing ecohumanism to the planning and design disciplines. Cohen explores Mumford’s important vision of ecohumanism—a synthesis of natural systems ecology with the myriad dimensions of human systems, or human ecology―and how McHarg actually formulated and made that vision happen. He considers the emergence of alternative energy systems and new approaches to planning and community development to achieve these goals.

Latinx_Environmentalisms_sm.jpgLatinx Environmentalisms: Place, Justice, and the Decolonial, Edited by Sarah D. Wald, David J. Vázquez, Priscilla Solis Ybarra, and Sarah Jaquette Ray.
The whiteness of mainstream environmentalism often fails to account for the richness and variety of Latinx environmental thought. Building on insights of environmental justice scholarship as well as critical race and ethnic studies, the editors and contributors to Latinx Environmentalisms map the ways Latinx cultural texts integrate environmental concerns with questions of social and political justice. Original interviews with creative writers, including Cherríe Moraga, Helena María Viramontes, and Héctor Tobar, as well as new essays by noted scholars of Latinx literature and culture, show how Latinx authors and cultural producers express environmental concerns in their work. These chapters, which focus on film, visual art, and literature—and engage in fields such as disability studies, animal studies, and queer studies—emphasize the role of racial capitalism in shaping human relationships to the more-than-human world and reveal a vibrant tradition of Latinx decolonial environmentalism. Latinx Environmentalisms accounts for the ways Latinx cultures are environmental, but often do not assume the mantle of “environmentalism.”

Untitled-1.jpgThe Winterthur Garden Guide: Color for Every Seasonby Linda Eirhart
Intended as a guide for the everyday gardener, The Winterthur Garden Guide offers practical advice—season by season—for achieving the succession of bloom developed by Henry Francis du Pont in his garden. This handy book highlights the design principles that guided du Pont and introduces practical flowers, shrubs, and trees that have stood the test of time—native and non-native, common as well as unusual. Lavishly illustrated, with new color photography, this handbook features close-ups of individual plants as well as sweeping vistas throughout. Whether addressing the early color combinations of the March Bank, the splendor of Azalea Woods, or the more intimate confines of the Quarry Garden, The Winterthur Garden Guide presents the essential elements of each plant, including common and botanical names; family origins and associations; size, soil, and light needs; bloom times; and zone preferences—everything the gardener needs to know for planning and replicating the “Winterthur look” on any scale.

Social Distancing with Shakespeare

This week in North Philly Notes, Jeffrey Wilson, author of Shakespeare and Trump, writes about why people are cycling experiences with coronavirus through Shakespeare.

First came the meme to wash hands for the duration of Lady Macbeth’s “Out, damned spot” speech.

Soon society was shutting down. “I’m worried about Covid-19 causing theatres to go dark,” tweeted theater-maker @MediocreDave on March 9, 2020. “Not because I’ll lose income, but because we’ll inevitably be subjected to opportunistic Shakespeare scholars making smug but superficial analogies to the playhouse closures of the late Elizabethan plague years.” That’ll be the end of that, I thought.

The next day, Slate ran a piece from Ben Cohen, “The Infectious Pestilence Did Reign: How the Plague Ravaged William Shakespeare’s World and Inspired his Work, from Romeo and Juliet to Macbeth.” Two days later, Shakespeare scholar Emma Smith was historicizing appropriations of Lady Macbeth’s hand-washing scene for Penguin Books. Another two days, and The Atlantic ran Daniel Pollack-Pelzner’s “Shakespeare Wrote His Best Works During a Plague.”

The content of these essays—Shakespeare born in plague, shuttered theaters prompting his poetry, Romeo and Juliet derailed by quarantine, playwrights sustained by wealthy patrons, disease threatening rival acting troupes, great art created in isolation—is not as fascinating as the questions raised by their method. Why are people cycling experiences with coronavirus through Shakespeare? What do we gain from comparisons between social distancing in Shakespeare’s time and in ours? How might our experiences with social distancing help us better understand Shakespeare’s? How can these examples help us think about academic work in 2020?

On March 14, @rosannecash caused a collective groan by tweeting, “Just a reminder that when Shakespeare was quarantined because of the plague, he wrote King Lear.”

Twitter did its thing. “Just a reminder that when Shakespeare was quarantined because of the plague, he wrote Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” wrote @sydneeisanelf. “Just a reminder that when Shakespeare was quarantined because of the plague, he masturbated incessantly,” said @emilynussbaum.

With doors shuttered, some theaters offered plays and programming online, free to the public, including Shakespeare’s Globe, the Royal Shakespeare Company, the National Theater, the Public Theater, and the Folger Shakespeare Library. Then came pop-up performances like Patrick Stewart’s #ASonnetADay and The Two Gentleman of Verona on Zoom. What is the value of art in times of social distancing? How is social distancing changing the way art is done? Based on the analogy to Shakespeare, what might the art that comes out of coronavirus look like?

Academics followed suit. On March 23, Andy Kesson, Callan Davies, and Emma Whipday launched A Bit Lit, featuring open-access, of-the-moment interviews with early-modern literary scholars. What is the role of humanistic thought and conversation in times of social distancing? What is the importance—if any—of studying Shakespeare when society is in such turmoil?

Social distancing with Shakespeare soon became A Thing. Kathryn Harkup in The Telegraph on March 15; Andrew Dickson in The Guardian on March 22; James Shapiro on CNN on March 30. The genre was common enough to call for satire. On April 1, Daniel Pollack-Pelzner wrote “What Shakespeare Actually Did During the Plague” for The New Yorker: “Day 25: Definitely too dark. Keep the mood light! No one wants to see a tragedy after a plague.”

Emma Smith tackled that tension with a straight face in the New York Times, arguing that “[Shakespeare’s] fictions reimagine the macro-narrative of epidemic as the micro-narrative of tragedy.” Is our experience with coronavirus tragic? What makes something tragic?

Elsewhere in the New York Times, Ian Wheeler cited Shakespeare to argue that, in America, “We need a better patronage system for artists.” In The New Yorker, James Shapiro lobbed Coriolanus-shaped bombs at the Trump administration: “The casual insults, the condescension, and the refusal to accept responsibility will be familiar to anyone who has lately tuned in to the daily White House briefings on the coronavirus pandemic.”

Shakespeare and Trump_smThese various ShakesTakes sift into terms developed in Shakespeare and Trump, my recent book about the surprising—and bizarre—relationship between the provincial English playwright and the billionaire President of the United States. There are the ShakesMemes. There are the Politicitations. And there is the Shaxtivism.

Above all, the Shakespearean gloss on social distancing shows the power—and pitfalls—of Public Shakespeare, where scholars eschew peer-reviewed academic writing in favor of public engagement.

I come not to bury Public Shakespeare, nor to praise it. I want to ask what it is, where it comes from, how it works, and why it elicits simultaneous enthusiasm and nausea. What is behind the push in some scholars to filter current events through Shakespeare? What is behind the tendency in others to get annoyed when they do?

Why are Shakespeareans suddenly authorities on everything—from presidential politics to social distancing? At a time when Donald Trump nonchalantly disclaims, “I’m not a doctor,” then proceeds to use his power and platform to promote hydroxychloroquine, why are Shakespeare scholars going widely outside their areas of expertise surrounding a 400-year-old English playwright to comment on current events?

Four points:

  1. As an early-modern playwright who often represented medieval and ancient history, Shakespeare built into his texts the practice of engaging the present with the distant past.
  2. As artworks that often have scholarly sources, yet are performed for a broad audience of mixed social backgrounds, Shakespeare’s plays have public engagement built into them.
  3. The long tradition of modern-dress Shakespearean performance and adaptation provides a model for scholars looking to bring ideas that are old and artistic into conversation with current events.
  4. At a time when the humanities are said to be in crisis, Public Shakespeare gives scholars a platform to illustrate the practicality and utility of our field.

There is tremendous energy right now behind public-facing ShakesWork with an ethical if not activist edge. There is also legitimate skepticism of that endeavor. As @ClearShakes wrote on April 12, “Guys, sometimes there just isn’t a Shakespeare play that’s relevant to our situation.”

But recognizing Public Shakespeare as more closely related to Shakespearean performance than Shakespearean scholarship helps us understand why, like any show that takes creative risks, some cheer and some hiss.

 

What the Temple University Press staff are reading while sheltering at home

This week in North Philly Notes, we ask the staff what they are reading while self-quarantined.

Shaun Vigil, Acquisitions Editor

While acclimating myself to the Press’s frontlist, it was a special pleasure to discover Kimberly Kattari’s Psychobilly, due for publication this spring. As a longtime fan of the genre — as well as a voracious reader of books on musical subcultures — nothing could have better signaled that my arrival at Temple. This book is truly a perfect match. Kattari’s in-depth accounts have not only helped to launch me into a world outside of my apartment during quarantine, but have also inspired me to pick up my Gretsch guitar and start brushing up on my picking!”

Kate Nichols, Art Manager

I just finished the design/layout of the first pass pages for Amy Finstein’s Modern Mobility Aloft: Elevated Highways, Architecture, and Urban Change in Pre-Interstate America, forthcoming in October. The book focuses on New York, Chicago and Boston and includes 103 halftones and 12 maps. I read a bit as I work, but I primarily focused on the images. Having spent a lot of time living in both New York and Boston, I was very interested in the historic photographs. Once published, I will give this book to my brother who is an architect in Boston.

As for a non-Temple book, I just began reading The Overstory by Richard Powers.

Ann-Marie Anderson, Marketing Director

I didn’t bring any recent TUP books home. It was too short notice, so along with new book projects, I’m reading and relaxing with James McBride’s Deacon King Kong. Luckily, I bought it before the pandemic hit and since the book is new, there are loads of reviews of it online. Being a former Brooklynite I’m enjoying an escape into a hilarious sixties Brooklyn neighborhood, told in McBride’s usually captivating way.

Aaron Javsicas, Editor-in-Chief

I’m reading Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, which is just the right kind of escapism for me right now — a voice from another world, in which records and relationships somehow managed to command center stage. Wouldn’t it be nice to go back?

Mary Rose Muccie, Director

I just finished The Clockmaker’s Daughter, by Kate Morton. I’m a big fan of how she interweaves the past and present around a transformative event, usually a death.  I’ve started an older book of hers, The Secret Keeper. 

Gary Kramer, Publicity Manager

Before our offices closed, I grabbed a copy of our recently published book, Action = Vie, by Christophe Broqua about the history and accomplishments of Act Up-Paris. It is an interesting title to read during the pandemic. I had read (and seen) and been inspired by David France’s How to Survive a Plague, so I am seeking similar inspiration from Broqua’s Action = Vie.

 

Imagining attending the OAH conference

This week in North Philly Notes, we surveyed a handful of Temple University Press authors who might have attended the cancelled Organization of American Historians conference.

Knowledge for Social Change_smIra Harkavy, John Puckett, and Joann Weeks, three of the co-authors of Knowledge for Social Change, reflected, Some of us remember our co-author and dear deceased colleague Lee Benson’s powerful controversial 1981 keynote paper at the OAH on “History as Advocacy,” in which he called on historians to abandon value-free history and social science and to study and write history to change the world for the better. That argument is at the center of Knowledge for Social Change, which argues for and proposes concrete means to radically transform research universities to function as democratic, civic, and community-engaged institutions.

Shirley Jennifer Lim, author of Anna May Wong: Performing the Modern observed, I was looking forward to attending the OAH, catchingAnna May Wong_sm up with friends and colleagues, and presenting at my panel “Racial Rogues of Hollywood,” with Anthony Mora and Ernesto Chavez.

In addition, I am honored that my book was a finalist for the OAH’s Mary Nickliss Award, especially since March is Women’s History Month. (From the Prize Chair: The Committee was extremely impressed by the book’s extraordinary research, eloquence, originality, timeliness, and depth of analysis; undoubtedly Anna May Wong will have a substantial impact on the field of women’s and gender history and we commend Professor Lim for this tremendous accomplishment.)

 

Howard Lune, author of the forthcoming Transnational Nationalism and Collective Identity among the American Irish, opined, All things considered, I’d rather not be attending a conference right now. But, as a sociologist writing on socio-historical topics, I need a certain amount of engagement with American historians to keep me from making any serious errors. I find the dialogue between the two fields to be necessary to our shared areas of interest, which is why I am disappointed to miss out on the OAH meeting.

Transitional Nationalism_smIn researching and writing Transnational Nationalism, I periodically emerged from my archives and photocopies to run my thoughts by actual historians. In this work I am looking at the continuity of certain ideas about collective identity, nationalism, power, and citizenship among the Irish from 1791 to 1921. My particular focus is on the transnational dimension—the back and forth between the Irish in the U.S. and those in Ireland—from an organizational perspective. I find that the emergent vision of twentieth century Irish independence was both rooted in 18th century Irish activism and nurtured in abeyance through American organizing during times of repression. All of that was supported by the historical records left by the organizations in question. But my constant fear was that I remained unaware of key historical events or crucial moments that threw all of this into question. I remain grateful to the several scholars who looked at early drafts or just sat around with me talking about Irish identity while the work was in progress. Hopefully I will have a chance before too long to take this conversation to a more public level.

Masumi Izumi, author of The Rise and Fall of America’s Concentration Camp Lawwas keen to present her paper entitled, “Keepers of Concentration Camps?: Federal Agents who Administered Japanese Americans during World War II” She writes:
Rise and Fall of America's Concentration Camp Law_smThe wartime mass removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II is generally perceived as wrongful exclusion and detention of American citizens based on racial prejudice. While the racist nature of this historical incident is unquestionable, I scrutinized the implications of Japanese American (JA) incarceration in the light of the wartime/emergency executive power regarding American civil liberties in my book, The Rise and Fall of America’s Concentration Camp Law. I found out that the JA internment heavily affected the postwar debates on civil liberties and anti-communist security measures. To continue my investigation, I was going to focus at the OAH annual meeting on the Federal agents who administered Japanese Americans in the camps during World War II. My paper particularly focuses on the directors of the War Relocation Authority, Milton Eisenhower and Dillon Myer, and contextualize their choices in the light of the agricultural policies utilizing theories such as settler colonialism and racial liberalism.

Ryan Pettengill, author of the forthcoming Communists and Community, offers these thoughts: One of the biggest reasons I wrote this book was to further the Communists and Community_smconversation as to what unions and other working-class organizations do. Throughout the book, I try to establish the concept that debates involving equality, civil rights, and a higher standard of living took place in a community setting; they took place through a public forum. Now, more than ever, the study of history is proving to be critical to the preservation of our democracy. I have always found the Organization of American Historians conference to be a wonderful convergence of academics, students, as well as members of the general public with an interest in an examination of the past. The feedback I have received at conferences has proved essential in the revisions of papers that later ended up in scholarly journals but more importantly, conversations involving how working people have advocated for themselves and pursued equality is a timely debate. To that end, I am deeply sorry to not be able to attend the conference this year.

Meanwhile, Richard Juliani, author of Little Italy in the Great War reflected on writing his book. 

Several people have already asked me why I wrote this book.  I prefer to see the question as why I had to write this book.  The answer is complicated.

Little Italy in the Great War_smFirst, years ago, when I was working on my doctoral dissertation on The Social Organization of Immigration: The Italians of Philadelphia, I spent much time in interviewing elderly Italians about their life in America.  One of the questions that I usually asked them was why they had chosen to come. Much to my surprise, a few of them had included—among other reasons—that they did not want to serve a compulsory military obligation in the Italian army. But they also often went on to say that they ended up serving as an American soldier on the Western Front during World War I. In later years, I often thought about that answer as I continued in my research and writing to explore Italian immigrant experience.

Much more recently, while I was trying to put my most recent book into a broader perspective, I found myself thinking about those comments again. I realized that those men went into the war as Italians, often unable to even speak English, but by coming back to Philadelphia as veterans of the American army, they returned as Italian Americans. But if they had been changed as individuals, their “Home Front” in Little Italy, by its involvement in the war, had also been altered from a colony of Italian immigrants to an Italian American community. What gives it scholarly significance is the fact that when we study assimilation, we often refer to an abstract but somewhat vague process to explain individual and collective transformation, while my study was really focusing on a specific mechanism that served as a concrete pivot for that outcome.

One last point: while I was growing up, I often heard my father talk about his experiences as a veteran of the Italian army during that war. By becoming a part of my own intellectual formation, it enabled me to connect my personal and profession life in later years.

And this is what this book is about.

Examining Gender and Power in Fantasy Sports

This week in North Philly Notes, Rebecca Joyce Kissane and Sarah Winslow, co-authors of Whose Game?, discuss fantasy sports and a COVID-19 world without sports.  

Over the last few weeks, sports fans have witnessed the cancellation and postponement of nearly all sporting events and seasons. Colleges and universities took the lead, with the Ivy League cancelling their basketball tournaments on March 10, 2020. Others (e.g., the Golden State Warriors) moved from announcing plans to play games without spectators to pausing, delaying, or cancelling specific events and/or entire seasons. The NBA suspended the 2019-2020 season on March 11th after a player tested positive for the virus, and on March 13th, the NCAA cancelled March Madness and all its basketball championship tournaments; the NHL suspended its 2019-2020 season; U.S. soccer cancelled women’s and men’s national teams matches for March and April; the PGA cancelled its March tournaments; and the MLB cancelled spring training games and delayed the start of the regular season by at least two weeks. All this left sports fans and reporters wondering how to survive a world without sports and suggesting ways to cope with this sudden loss

Whose_GameCOVID-19, however, also directly impacts a parallel sporting universe important to millions of Americans—fantasy sports. The absence of live and televised sporting events also means the absence of fantasy sports, which depend upon the performance of real athletes to determine scoring, and, thus, wins and losses. In our book, Whose Game? Gender and Power in Fantasy Sports, we focus on everyday participants’ perspectives on traditional fantasy sports—those fantasy sports in which the players manage their teams over the course of an entire season alongside people they typically know. A key motivator for playing fantasy sports is entertainment, but we find that the hobby is more than just a simple source of enjoyment for players. This is particularly so for men who numerically, ideologically, and structurally dominate the hobby and often render women outsiders. Fantasy sports offer a personalized, competitive fandom that gives participants more potent and direct feelings of control over and connection to the successes of real-life athletes than being a regular sports fan does. White, highly educated, professional men (who represent the average player) can use fantasy sports to achieve and perform an expanded yet legitimate form of masculinity we call jock statsculinity. Jock statsculinity contains elements of traditional masculinities, as men utilize fantasy sports to exert control, compete, and exercise dominance. But jock statsculinity also has a nerdy quality, insofar as competition and dominance in this space center on testing and demonstrating intellectual acumen and knowledge of statistics and sports. Additionally, jock statsculinity involves a boyish element, as men play, act juvenilely, and relive their childhood dreams of being involved in professional sports. Finally, we find that jock statsculinity is about escape—as men use the hobby to blow off steam and avoid demanding aspects of work and home.

What’s more, fantasy sports provide participants with a reason to interact with others and a valued topic of conversation. Men make greater use of and depend more fully on fantasy sports than women to “stay in touch” and bond with, typically, the men in their friend groups. Notably, this bonding frequently rests upon trash and dominance talk, which further support masculine hierarchies and, at times, create discord. Sometimes, too, men express getting overly emotional, lashing out, and finding their day or week “ruined” by fantasy sports disappointments.

Given our findings, the (hopefully temporary) loss of sports and fantasy sports in the wake of COVID-19 mean more than just a loss of entertainment and a leisure activity. For men, it means the loss of a key vehicle by which they can perform and accomplish masculinity. We see suggestions of this throughout social media as men lament having to spend “the evening with my girlfriend watching Real House Wives of New Jersey” [sic] instead of participating in the appropriately masculine world of sports. Moreover, fantasy sports’ virtual platform make it ideally suited to keeping people socially connected while maintaining physical distance. Without sporting events, this potential is unrealizable. This may be particularly challenging for men, who rely heavily on fantasy sports to bond and keep in touch with family members and friends. This suggests that they will feel the socially isolating effects of COVID-19 more so than women who are more likely to have other outlets for connection. Lastly, Whose Game? demonstrates how fantasy sports provide a key respite from the demands of work and, particularly for men, home. As work and home meld, particularly for the typical highly educated fantasy sports player likely to now be working remotely, the loss of fantasy sports will leave many scrambling for other ways to relax and connect.

Don’t Take Your Local Newspaper for Granted

This week in North Philly Notes, Mary Lou Nemanic, author of Metro Dailies in the Age of Multimedia Journalismwrites about the importance of the daily newspaper. 

I’m endlessly troubled by the politicization of the news media and their demonization as the public enemy rather than as the providers of information that is vital to our democracy. Whenever I hear the news media trashed, the 1787 words of Thomas Jefferson come to mind:

“The way to prevent these irregular interpositions of the people is to give them full information of their affairs thro’ the channel of the public papers, & to contrive that those papers should penetrate the whole mass of the people. The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

Metro_DailiesI couldn’t agree more. Newspapers today are comprised of individuals who provide us with a critical public service. They should be appreciated for this, not denigrated because the exposure of the facts conflicts with a political agenda.  I wrote Metro Dailies in the Age of Multimedia Journalism to emphasize this point and to make people aware of what profiteering corporations are doing to local newspapers across the country. We need to appreciate the public service our news media provide in speaking truth to power and in illuminating the issues and concerns that are significant in our lives.

The COVID-19 (corona virus) pandemic is a good example of this. While I often go to the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s website for breaking news and I regularly get email summaries of major stories, the newspaper is where I go for in-depth information on international, national, regional, and local levels. There are infographics that show the spread of the pandemic, information on school and business closings and information on the Mayo Clinic fast-tracking a vaccine. There are resources for people who have questions and there are stories with experts who debunk popular social media myths about the disease.

Studies show people prefer long reads utilizing print rather than online platforms, and that newspapers—not online sources—provide readers with most of the original reporting available. And that includes investigations of political corruption and of major community issues, such as COVID-19. Yet, a rather alarming statistic unearthed by the Pew Research Center in 2018 indicates that more than 70% of Americans believe their local news outlets are faring well financially.

However, that means few are aware of what I witnessed in the six years of my study—that major metro newspaper staffs have shrunk from more than 100 to as few as 30 under the ownership of profiteering corporations. Of the five case studies in my book, three newsrooms were stripped to the bare bones. My hometown paper, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, suffered this fate at the hands of Alden Global Capital, a hedge fund that made double digit profits as the staff was laid off or offered buyouts until it was reduced to approximately 45 people. This tiny staff is responsible for both a newspaper and a website covering a city of more than 300,000 people.

Dave Orrick, a union representative and state government and politics reporter at the St. Paul Pioneer Press, is even trying to broker a deal to get local investors to buy the newspaper from Alden. Alden typically buys distressed companies, harvests them for substantial profits, and then sells off the remains. No individual or group has stepped up yet to buy the St. Paul paper, but Orrick hasn’t given up hope. His dedication to his newspaper and to journalism in these troubled times is truly impressive.

My appreciation for the free press dates back to my days at the University of Minnesota where I majored in journalism. The Journalism School there instilled in me a great respect for the free flow of information. As an undergrad, I had a chance to work for the student newspaper, The Minnesota Daily, the fourth largest daily newspaper in the state and a champion of the free press. In a lot of ways, Metro Dailies, is a book in defense of the free press at a time when its credibility is constantly under assault. I urge people to protect their local newspapers from profiteering ownership and to realize that is in our best interest for newspapers to survive and continue to be watchdogs over government and disseminators of essential information so vital to our democracy.

Here’s how the gender gap in presidential politics breaks down by issue

This week in North Philly Notes, a recent commentary by Mary-Kate Lizotte, author of  Gender Differences in Public Opinion from MarketWatch about what women want presidential candidates.

Gender_Differences_in_Public_OpinionMuch has been written about the gender gap in American electoral politics. In this year marking the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, a Democrat cannot win in November without women voters and without minority voters, particularly African Americans and Latinx. And what the majority of women want, according to my research as a political scientist, is for a candidate who promotes social equality and policies that provide for the well-being of all.

Democratic primary candidates and President Donald Trump should take note of these influences when strategizing how to promote women’s turnout and garner women’s vote in November.

Data on the presidential vote choice of men and women by demographic subgroup from 1980 through 2016 reveals that women are more likely than men in the same demographic subgroup to vote for the Democratic presidential candidate.

The overall gender gap between men and women who voted in the presidential race that election year during that period is only 6 percentage points. But within subgroups, the gap varies in size from 2 percentage points among African Americans and to 8 percentage points among those born prior to the boomer generation. These gaps are statistically significant.

What is most striking, though, are the differences between subgroups. The biggest difference is the race gap: 99% of black women voted for the Democratic presidential candidate in those years compared to only 38% of white women.

MW-IB466_lizott_20200304153901_NS

It is still true that women, across the different subgroups, are more likely than men to vote for the Democratic presidential candidate. Why? Political science research, including my own, provides insight into what issues and other characteristics explain this phenomenon. Attracting the majority of women voters, especially white women, college-educated women, and black women, requires presidential candidates to highlight a vision of a more equal society and a government that protects the well-being of its citizens through a strong social safety net, a commitment to anti-discrimination policies and a green environmental policy agenda.

Statistical mediational analysis allows one to determine to what extent different factors explain the gender gap in presidential vote choice. Each of the factors discussed below were analyzed separately, and thus, the percentages do not add up to 100%.

• Egalitarianism, or a preference for an equal society, is a political value on which there is a gender difference. Egalitarianism explains 34.56% of the gender gap in presidential vote choice.

• Support for a social safety net includes a desire for more government spending on public schools, health care, and childcare; for more government services; and for a reduction in income inequality. Women across demographic subgroups of race, age cohort, income, and education prefer a strong social safety net compared to men of the same subgroup, and this explains an astounding 60.95% of the gender gap in vote choice.

This could prove detrimental for Trump’s 2020 campaign given his administration’s proposed budgetary cuts to such programs. It also may shed light on Sen. Bernie Sander’s popularity given his income equality campaign messaging and Vice President Joe Biden’s popularity because of the legacy of the Affordable Care Act.

• Women also are more likely than men to back anti-discrimination policies and express more progressive attitudes toward women and African Americans. With respect to discrimination, women are more in favor extending rights and legal protections to gay men and lesbians. In addition, women are more in favor of affirmative action compared to men. Attitudes toward gay men and lesbians having the legal right to adopt explains 28.99% of the gender gap and having legal protections against discrimination explain 25.47% of the gender gap in presidential vote choice.

In the past, attitudes toward affirmative action and women’s role in society has not been a factor in presidential vote choice. Of course that could change given the salience of #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo.

• Racial resentment, a measure of negative attitudes toward African Americans, explains 18.21% of the gender gap in vote choice and a strong predictor of presidential vote among white and Black voters.

• Environmental policy preferences also divide men and women. In comparison to white men and college educated men, white women and college educated women want more government spending and regulations to protect the environment. Among Black Americans, both men and women report high levels of support for environmental protection policies, including government spending and greater regulations. Attitudes toward government spending and regulations to protect the environment explain 14.81% and 20.93% of the gender gap in presidential vote choice.

Simply put, women are more likely to want a candidate who advocates for policies that promote equality and provide a social safety net. To motivate turnout among and procure votes from women, candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination should stress such a vision and emphasize how they differ from President Trump on these issues, on equality, and on compassion more generally.

Mary-Kate Lizotte is an associate professor of political science in the department of social sciences at Augusta University in Augusta, Ga., and the author of Gender Differences in Public Opinion.

Color for Every Season

This week in North Philly Notes, we feature a post by Linda Eirhart, author of The Winterthur Garden Guideabout the March Bank, which flowers in the winter. 

The calendar just now says March, but the March Bank at Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library near Wilmington, Delaware, has had flowers in bloom since January. Henry Francis du Pont began planting bulbs in the woodland to the north of the family home in 1902. The area is called the March Bank due to its historic flowering time in March.  The display features the minor bulbs, snowdrops, winter aconites, snowflakes, squills and glory-of-the-snow.

March_Bank_by_Lois_Mauro resizeDu Pont planted thousands of these bulbs in large drifts in the style of the “wild garden.” The planting style was promoted by nineteenth-century British gardener and writer William Robinson.  In his words, the term “is applied essentially to the placing of perfectly hardy exotic plants in places and under conditions where they will become established and take care of themselves.”  With a little care over the past hundred years, the bulbs at Winterthur have multiplied to create a spectacular display.

March_Bank_3_by_Lois_Mauro resizeOn the March Bank, giant snowdrop, Galanthus elwesii, is the first to flower, with its lovely white petals with green markings. A close look at this simple flower reveals a variety of thin, wide, long, puckered or possibly even doubled petals. The common snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis, begins to flower slightly later and extends the white display. It also deserves a closer look for the detailed differences in the flower forms.  The different species and cultivars can provide color from fall through March.WS02 Calanthus nivalis

Color, to du Pont, was a “vast field in itself” and, in the garden, “the thing that really counts more than any other.” By 1962 du Pont had been gardening for sixty years, and the Garden Club of America had recently named him “perhaps the best gardener this country has ever produced.” At Winterthur, he created a garden of surpassing beauty that in its complexity and coherence is a marvel of ingenuity. Plants bloom almost continuously throughout the year, with outstanding areas of color coming into focus in a well-planned sequence. In turn, each area melds seamlessly with its neighbors to form a unified whole. Such sequencing and continuity did not come about without a great deal of work and planning.

WS06The spring snowdrop display is brightened with the yellow of Amur Adonis, Adonis amurensis, and winter aconite, Eranthis hyemalis, both with round, multi-petal flowers that resemble large buttercups.  Adonis will spread slowly in the garden, but winter aconites are vigorous growers that readily self-sow once established. Avoid planting them by smaller more delicate spring plants that they might smother.

To heighten and extend the yellow display, du Pont chose Japanese cornel dogwood, Cornus officinalis, an understory tree whose yellow flowers begin to shine while the giant snowdrops and winter aconites are still flowering.  As the snowdrops and aconites fade, this dogwood’s flowers will continue to bloom while the March Bank transitions to a brilliant carpet of blue.

Chionodoxa forbesii

Chionodoxa forbesii

Primarily responsible for the blue phase is the glory-of-the-snow, Chionodoxa forbesii, which covers acres on the March Bank and throughout the garden. This small bulb grows well in both the woodlands and in the lawn.  In some areas, Siberian squills, Scilla siberica are planted with it and overlap somewhat in flowering time. Early daffodils, Narcissus, add a soft yellow sprinkling among the waves of blue.

Winterthur GardenAs spring progress, Virginia bluebells, poeticus daffodils, ostrich ferns and hosta will cover the dying foliage of these early bulbs and create wonderful displays for late spring and summer. Though these displays cover acres at Winterthur, you can apply the concepts of the “wild garden,” successional bloom and layering plants to gardens of all sizes. Consider a small drift of snowdrops to brighten the winter entrance to your home or planting glory-of-the-snow in your lawn to create a sea of blue.

Du Pont experimented in the Winterthur garden for more than sixty years. The Winterthur Garden Guide shares the plant combinations and design principles that have stood the test of time.

 

 

Celebrating Black History Month

This week in North Philly Notes, we provide a roundup of some of the Press’s recent and classic Black History titles. 

The Great Migration and the Democratic Party: Black Voters and Realignment of American Politics in the 20th Century, by Keneshia Grant

The Great Migration and the Democratic Party frames the Great Migration as an important economic and social event that also had serious political consequences. Keneshia Grant created one of the first listings of Black elected officials that classifies them based on their status as participants in the Great Migration. She also describes some of the policy/political concerns of the migrants. The Great Migration and the Democratic Party lays the groundwork for ways of thinking about the contemporary impact of Black migration on American politics.

Envisioning Emancipation: Black Americans at the End of Slaveryby Deborah Willis and Barbara Krauthamer

In their pioneering book, Envisioning Emancipation, renowned photographic historian Deborah Willis and historian of slavery Barbara Krauthamer have amassed 150 photographs—some never before published—from the antebellum days of the 1850s through the New Deal era of the 1930s. The authors vividly display the seismic impact of emancipation on African Americans born before and after the Proclamation, providing a perspective on freedom and slavery and a way to understand the photos as documents of engagement, action, struggle, and aspiration.  Envisioning Emancipation illustrates what freedom looked like for black Americans in the Civil War era. Filled with powerful images of lives too often ignored or erased from historical records, Envisioning Emancipation provides a new perspective on American culture.

Silent Gesture: The Autobiography of Tommie Smith, by Tommie Smith and David Steele

At the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, Tommie Smith and his teammate John Carlos came in first and third, respectively, in the 200-meter dash. As they received their medals, each man raised a black-gloved fist, creating an image that will always stand as an iconic representation of the complicated conflations of race, politics, and sports. In this, his autobiography, Smith fills out the story around that moment–how it came to be and where it led him. Smith engagingly describes his life-long commitment to athletics, education, and human rights. He also dispels some of the myths surrounding his famous gesture of protest: contrary to legend, Smith was not a member of the Black Panthers, nor were his medals taken back by the Olympic Committee. Retelling the fear he felt in planning and carrying out his protest, the death threats against him, his difficulty in finding work, and his determination to live his values, he conveys the long, painful backlash that came with his fame, and his fate, all of which was wrapped up in his “silent gesture.”

Tasting Freedom: Octavius Catto and the Battle for Equality in Civil War Americaby Daniel Biddle and Murray Dubin

As Philadelphia prepares its first monument in honor of Octavius Catto, a little-known civil rights activist, the publication of a new paperback edition is especially timely. In Tasting Freedom Daniel Biddle and Murray Dubin chronicle the life of the charismatic black leader, a free black man whose freedom was in name only. A civil rights pioneer–one who risked his life a century before the events that took place in Selma and Birmingham, Catto joined the fight to be truly free–free to vote, go to school, ride on streetcars, play baseball, and even participate in Fourth of July celebrations.

The Battles of Germantown: Effective Public History in America, by David W. Young
David Young, a neighborhood resident who worked at Germantown historic sites for decades, uses his practitioner’s perspective to give examples of what he calls “effective public history.” The Battles of Germantown shows how the region celebrated “Negro Achievement Week” in 1928 and, for example, how social history research proved that the neighborhood’s Johnson House was a station on the Underground Railroad. These encounters have useful implications for addressing questions of race, history, and memory, as well as issues of urban planning and economic revitalization.

Healing Our Divided Society: Investing in America Fifty Years after the Kerner Report, edited by Fred Harris and Alan Curtis

In Healing Our Divided Society, Fred Harris, the last surviving member of the Kerner Commission, along with Eisenhower Foundation CEO Alan Curtis, re-examine fifty years later the work still necessary towards the goals set forth in The Kerner Report. This timely volume unites the interests of minorities and white working- and middle-class Americans to propose a strategy to reduce poverty, inequality, and racial injustice. Reflecting on America’s urban climate today, this new report sets forth evidence-based policies concerning employment, education, housing, neighborhood development, and criminal justice based on what has been proven to work—and not work.

Mediating America: Black and Irish Press and the Struggle for Citizenship, 1870-1914, by Brian Shott

Mediating America explores the life and work of T. Thomas Fortune and J. Samuel Stemons as well as Rev. Peter C. Yorke and Patrick Ford—respectively two African American and two Irish American editor/activists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Historian Brian Shott shows how each of these “race men” (the parlance of the time) understood and advocated for his group’s interests through their newspapers. Yet the author also explains how the newspaper medium itself—through illustrations, cartoons, and photographs; advertisements and page layout; and more—could constrain editors’ efforts to guide debates over race, religion, and citizenship during a tumultuous time of social unrest and imperial expansion. Black and Irish journalists used newspapers to recover and reinvigorate racial identities. As Shott proves, minority print culture was a powerful force in defining American nationhood.

The Parker Sisters: A Border Kidnappingby Lucy Maddox

In 1851, Elizabeth Parker, a free black child in Chester County, Pennsylvania, was bound and gagged, snatched from a local farm, and hurried off to a Baltimore slave pen. Two weeks later, her teenage sister, Rachel, was abducted from another Chester County farm. Because slave catchers could take fugitive slaves and free blacks across state lines to be sold, the border country of Pennsylvania/Maryland had become a dangerous place for most black people. In The Parker Sisters, Lucy Maddox gives an eloquent, urgent account of the tragic kidnapping of these young women. Using archival news and courtroom reports, Maddox tells the larger story of the disastrous effect of the Fugitive Slave Act on the small farming communities of Chester County and the significant, widening consequences for the state and the nation.

Upon the Ruins of Liberty: Slavery, the President’s House at Independence National Historical Park, and Public Memory, by Roger C. Aden

The 2002 revelation at Philadelphia’s Independence National Historical Park that George Washington kept slaves in his executive mansion in the 1790s prompted an eight-year controversy about the role of slavery in America’s commemorative landscape. When the President’s House installation opened in 2010, it became the first federal property to feature a slave memorial. In Upon the Ruins of Liberty, Roger Aden offers a compelling account that explores the development of this important historic site and the intersection of contemporary racial politics with history, space, and public memory.

 

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