“Safe Space -” A review of Christina Hanhardt’s (#AMST 525)

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Contemporary racial discourses are defuse and far-reaching; yet, within the fast-pace news media cycle, and a mainstream media more invested in the sensational and the spectacle, rarely do these conversations move beyond talking points, buzz words, and bumper stickers. This aptly describes the nature of racial discourse emanating from mainstream media and political discourses. While evidence in a myriad of issues, mainstream coverage of social movements, marriage equality, gentrification, and crime is most certainly emblematic of a flattening and flattened discussions of these crucial issues facing the nation.

Dr. Christina Hanhardt, associate professor of American Studies at University Maryland, steps into this historical vacuum, offering readers an important book on “how LGBT calls for ‘safe space’ have been shaped by broader public safety initiatives that have sought solutions in policing and privatization and have had devastating effects along race and class line.” Offering insight into the histories of urban development and neoliberalism, into social movements and GLBT civil rights activism, into race relations – conflicts and alliances –, and into discourses and policies around crime, Dr. Hanhardt not only chronicles several important chapters in urban history but also offers a framework for dialectical and intersectional discussions. To talk about and understand gentrification requires understanding the racial history of redevelopment, which requires understanding the white supremacist imagination with respect to crime; all of this helps us understand discourses around policing and state violence, from anti-sodomy laws to stop-and-frisk; in the end (or the beginning), this complicates our discussions of the history of anti-GLBTQ state violence and the experiences of communities of color. Amassing “extensive archival and ethnographic research in New York City and San Francisco,” Safe Space: Gay Neighborhood History and the Politics of Violence is a powerful text on so many levels.

In recent years, there have been many discussions of relations between (white) GLBTQ communities and the black community. Much of contemporary media discourse and reporting continues to focus on black homophobia, seemingly arguing that black homophobia is an obstacle to not only political power and equality (cue various reports about Proposition 8 and the limited coverage of black activists working for marriage equality in New York or Maryland) but to progress (p. 13). Dr. Hanhardt offers some historic perspective, making me wonder why the conversation always focuses on “blacks turning their back on fight for marriage equality” and not on how the focus on crime and safety from GLBT activist groups was a far more deleterious betrayal. Dr. Hanhardt pushes the discussion beyond the claims of heightened black homophobia to reflect on how blackness is imagined in connection to GLBT communities. Framed as an obstacle, and a source of pathology, mainstream discourse frames blackness as a pollutant compared to the integration of GLBTQ communities into neighborhoods as a source of maturation and growth. Whether through narratives of homophobia, opposition to redevelopment, or crime, Dr. Hanhardt highlights the many ways that blackness is imagined as an impediment to progress and urban renewal in a cultural, economic, and political sense.  

The issue of visibility is also a prominent theme within Safe Space. Here, Dr. Hanhardt argues that visibility has been central to LGBTQ activism, especially in a post civil rights context. Movements have consistently argued that visibility of GLBTQ communities, or the legibility of queerness, correlates with levels of violence. In other words, visibility leads to increased danger. At another level, Dr. Hanhardt argues that mainstream GLBTQ civil rights groups have also seen visibility is also a source of power, security, and safety – that visibility and awareness of hate crimes results in attention, political mobilization, and police attention. “Decades of activism produced innumerable organizations and agencies to deal with ‘homophobia – whether expressed by police misconduct, antigay violence, or even unneighborly hostility,” writes Hanhardt. “Laws against private, consensual sodomy were eliminated as a general criminal category, and LGBT activists largely succeeded in dissociating the generic terms of homosexuality – and to a lesser degree, transexuality – from the broad category of criminal” (p. 5).

Safe Space brilliantly and importantly illustrates the ways that these narratives and frames privilege whiteness and middle-class identities (as well as those experiences of gay men). The presumption of safety resulting from invisibility works from particular assumptions about safety and the possibility of invisibility – Dr. Hanhardt persuasively documents how this focus on visibility erases transgender communities, communities of color, and lesbian and bisexual communities that neither benefit from the associated respectability nor the gender/race/sexuality/class privileges. Likewise, the argument that visibility of violence will compel action presumes that all members of the GLBTQ communities and all neighborhoods are afforded equal levels of humanity and care. The illegibility of pain and innocence for certain communities highlights the limitations of this approach.

Dr. Hanhardt not only documents these discursive articulations but how these racial, class, and gender lenses shape the “understandings of the roots of, and remedy for, misogynist, racist and anti-LGBT violence” (158). The racialized and gendered understandings contribute to certain remedies and activists agenda that ultimately replicate inequality and state violence engendered throughout contemporary America.

The focus on ideology and activist framing extends beyond a discussed of the deployed rhetoric embraced by mainstream GLBT civil rights groups but is evident in the embrace of hegemonic understandings of safety, neighborhood, community, quality of life, and crime. In this context, Dr. Hanhardt highlights the consequences of the focus on violence (indexed through black bodies, through the conflation of street crime and antigay violence – the “bashers and the criminals” ) in terms of policy and activist initiatives that have privileged protected “gay neighborhoods” (p. 225) and heightened police activity. These choices, and political maneuvers not only shape the activities initiated by these groups (which issues; where) but also elicit consent for state and neoliberal activities that run counter to the needs of communities of color, the poor, and youth (and this includes GLBTQ communities of color). “The establishment of protected gay territories and the identification of anti-LGBT violence as a designated criminal category – must be paired with two of global capital’s own ‘spatial fixes’: gentrification and mass imprisonment” (14).

While much of the book reflects on the ways that GLBT civil rights activism colludes with the projects of transnational capitalism and its racial/gender/class logics, Safe Space is equally invested in spotlighting spaces and movements of contestations. Offering ample examples of GLBT organizations that sought to challenge the mainstream rhetoric and policy initiatives, Dr. Hanhardt speaks to the contested spaces. Here, Dr. Hanhardt’s powerful discussion and her analysis FIERCE reminds me of the work of Critical Resistance and how demands for complicated and intersectional discussions of safety and security have been central to activists movements in recent years:

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Just as Critical Resistance advanced an abolitionist agenda, one that sought to connect poverty to ubiquity of environmental toxics to criminalization to mass incarceration to housing and educational inequalities, groups like FIERCE linked gentrification to mass incarceration to police brutality to stop and frisk to antigay violence.

Safe Space advances these important conversations in powerful ways, offering theoretical frameworks, historic context, critical interventions, and the language for not only reflecting on these movements and the deployed rhetoric but also enacting research in the name of freedom dreams. Dr. Hanhardt “asserts that mainstream and LGBT discourse has substantially transformed the category of anti-LGBT from the social to the criminological, and that this shift was grounded in privatized claims in neighborhood, the process was neither foretold nor total” (9) – this history continues to be written and the future continues to be contested. With Safe Space, Dr. Christina Hanhardt reveals the level of debate and struggle, providing readers with the necessary historic insight, theoretical templates, and tools to best understand these dynamic movements of change all while empowering in the persistent march toward equity and empowerment – safety – across communities and boundaries, from Islan Nettles to Matthew Sheppard.

The Myth of the Student-Athlete – Remix … March Sadness

By C. Richard King and David Leonard

"Basketball and Chain" - Hank Willis Thomas

“Basketball and Chain” – Hank Willis Thomas

With back-to-back nights of national championship games, with Mark Emmert and others denouncing player unionization, and with the NCAA propaganda wing – ESPN – continuing to paint a rosy picture of college sports, thought it would be instructive to return to this piece.  This is part of a piece that was published after the conclusion of Bowl season at Mark Anthony Neal’s site, New Black Man.  That piece also includes more discussion of football.  Read here and then read there

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Although a longstanding concept, one that ultimately constrains agency and power resulting in a system of exploitation and abuse, the history of the student-athlete parallels the increased financial power of collegiate sports. With each television contract, with 7-figure coaching salaries, and a corporate partners ranging from CBS to the U.S. military, the NCAA needs the “student-athlete” mythology more than ever.

The mythology surrounding student athletes creates a system where student-athletes have no power regarding their future. From the fact that scholarships are renewable each year to the inability of students to take their talents to another university, the lack of protections resulting from the amateur myth creates a system devoid of freedom.

For example, shortly after the hall-of-fame coach Larry Brown arrived on campus at SMU, he told several players that their services were no longer needed; in other words, he kicked them off the team. Can you imagine if a university hired a new department chair, and the first order of business was to tell several teaching assistants their services were no longer needed? That is what Brown told several student-athletes, although each would be allowed to remain at the school on scholarship. Despite the public pronouncements regarding the importance of academics, about student-athletes, the dismissal of these players is yet another reminder of what counts: athletics performance and wins/losses.

Jeremiah Samarrippas, the Mustangs starting point guard was one of those dismissed from the team, telling the “school’s student newspaper that Brown basically told him that he “wasn’t good enough to play for him.’” The callousness of a system that has turned student-athletes into athletic commodities is nothing new, in part resulting from a NCAA rule change in the 1970s that made scholarships renewal each year. Regarded as little more than property, these players were tossed away with little regard for their future.

Such disregard has become commonplace, and is evident in the recent case involving a student-athlete at Florida International University. Dominique Ferguson decided that FIU was not the place for him. Like other students, athletes and otherwise, he realized that FIU was not the best fit for him academically and personally. “I wanted to go to a school close to my family in the Midwest. I went to Hargrave [Military Academy in Virginia] my senior year in high school and came straight here and had seen my family only a handful of times. It was hard on me and affected how I played,” Fergusson told ESPN.com.

Unfortunately, his request was denied first by the athletic department and then by a “3-person academic board,” who paternalistically and arrogantly sent the following email: “After considering your email appealing the decision of the Athletic Department to refuse to grant you permission to speak to and transfer to another institution, and after listening to you during the appeal hearing, the appeal panel affirms the Athletic Department and denies your appeal. We believe it is in your best interest to continue your studies here at FIU. We would particularly encourage you to apply yourself to your courses for the rest of the semester.”

According to Fergusson, his experiences at FIU was a stark reminder of what Dave Zirin describes as collegiate sports’ “sham-amateurism:” “It was like I was held hostage,” Ferguson said. “They made me feel like I could never leave here.” While coaches, fans, and administrators often balk at any invoking of the phrase slavery to describe collegiate sports, situations like Fergusson’s make it hard not to make connections with the history of servitude. As noted by Taylor Branch, in The Shame of Sports, “Slavery analogies should be used carefully. College athletes are not slaves. Yet to survey the scene—corporations and universities enriching themselves on the backs of uncompensated young men, whose status as “student-athletes” deprives them of the right to due process guaranteed by the Constitution—is to catch an unmistakable whiff of the plantation.”

The experiences of Fergusson are emblematic of the cartel model embraced within collegiate athletics. The power of the NCAA and their respective members is able to restrict the movement and opportunities available to student-athletes. Isn’t this by definition a cartel? Unable to transfer to a school that met his academic needs and his desires to be close to home, Fergusson has decided to enter the NBA draft, one of the few paths available to him in his search for freedom.

The myth of amateurism fuels the exploitative relationship and the lack of compensation.  Student athletes are required to spend their wages at the “company store.” Akin to sharecroppers who not only worked the land for virtually no compensation, but what little compensation they received had to be spent at the company store (usually owned by the land owner).  From food to tools, sharecroppers were forced to use their wages at these stores, often leading to debt and additional subservience.

Collegiate athletics is similar to sharecropping in that student-athletes must use their wage to pay for tuition, books, and room and board within the campus community.  According to McCormick and McCormick, “By this last arrangement, then, these athletes, unlike any other working people, are not free to spend their limited wages where they choose, but must spend them on college tuition, books, and other institutionally related expenses, regardless of their real needs or those of their families.”  The tuition provided to student-athletes in compensation of blood, sweat, and tears, is losing its value each and every year.  Beyond abysmal graduate rates and the funneling of student-athletes into “jock majors,” student-athletes are paid in a wage that is losing its value.
Sports, particularly basketball and football, and its athletes generate millions for the NCAA, its representative schools, coaches, and a number of corporate partners.  It is a billion dollar industry.  Yet, the wages paid are dubious at best and the value of that compensation is in steady decline.  This becomes even more striking as we focus our attention on the disproportionate number of African American student-athletes within revenue sports. 

The level of exploitation is certainly aggravated by the amounts of money generated by these athletes within these sports.  Worse, yet given the continued significance of race, the level of compensation provided to black “student-athletes” is that much worse.  The unemployment rate for black college graduates over 25 is almost twice the national average for blacks compared to whites (8.4 versus 4.4).  Studies have also shown that blacks are 50% less likely to receive a call-back from a potential employer; that whiteness is worth 8-years of job experience; that a white job candidate with a felony conviction is more likely to secure a job than black men without any criminal record, and we can see the fools gold that is collegiate athletics.

Imagined as amateurs, denied the rights as workers, and constructed through America’s racial fabric, today’s student-athletes, especially those with America’s revenue sports, are not only denied rights as laborers but also are denied the basic social contract. A lawsuit brought by former athletes, most notably Ed O’Bannon of UCLA, offers a case and point. The athletes filed suit against the NCAA, arguing rightly that they did not consent to having their likenesses used in popular and profitable video games, nor did they share in profits generated by them. 
We noted above some of the ways the slavery analogy applies to college athletics, it might be good to remind ourselves of the two complimentary systems consuming black bodies that satisfies the drives and desires of white America today, a nation in which those with power and privilege deny of the ongoing and systematic significance of race and power. On the one hand, the criminal justice system secures inequality and injustice through race-based policing and incarceration assuages the manufactured fears of white America; on the other hand, the sport-entertainment complex feeds its dreams of “one shining moment” and momentary intoxications during bowl season and March madness by capturing and controlling those supposedly free blacks, hiding their bondage under cover of academics and amateurism.

The most prestigious and profitable college sports programs in the country are all historically white institutions, some which resisted for decades efforts to integrate them, and which continue to remain overwhelmingly white with limited outreach to or interaction with historically under-represented groups . In addition many boast embarrassing rates of minority recruitment and retention. Now, ironically, even as these ivory towers remain disproportionately white, they happily exploit those too long excluded and marginalized.  Moreover, these white dominated institutions of higher learning still refuse to properly educate African Americans. 

To continue reading/read the entire piece please go Bowling for Dollars: The Myth of the Student-Athlete | NewBlackMan (in Exile).

Adjuncts Aren’t Slaves. Let’s Stop Saying They Are. | Vitae

Adjuncts Aren’t Slaves. Let’s Stop Saying They Are.

December 4, 2013

Amid the rightful discussion of our shift toward an entrenched, disposable academic laboring class, some adjunct advocates are making a striking analogy. Adjunct labor, they say, is a form of new slavery.

The comparison has become increasingly visible on blogs and within comment sections. Here’s one more example, from Langston Snodgrass: “It has been said that, ‘Adjuncts are the slave labor of higher education.’ This is factually true beyond doubt. Adjuncts are disrespected as teachers, as individual human beings, and as professionals in terms of what adjuncts are paid.”

So let’s be clear about this: Adjuncts are not slaves, and being an adjunct is not akin to slavery. Exploitation? In many cases, yes. Slavery? Absolutely not.

Slavery was (and continues to be) a system of forced labor, of lifelong servitude, of denied compensation and violence. Those who deploy the term as part of a rhetorical strategy are joining PETA, anti-choice crusaders, the G.O.P., Sarah Palin, Ben Carson, and a myriad of anti-Obamacareites by doing so. They are blinded by their cause, by historic myopia, and often by the privilege of whiteness.

Throughout history, slavery has been embedded within society. It has governed law, economic and political structures, and everyday realities. White supremacy has been a guiding ideology, a way to rationalize the exploitation and violence experienced by enslaved African and African-American people. Daily abuse, torture, sexual violence, and death have all been part of a system of slavery in the United States, and terror and violence were instrumental in maintaining a system of mass enslavement.

“Slavery for Black Americans was traumatic,” noted Patricia Moody Jefferson, a doctoral student in the Ethelyn R. Strong School of Social Work at Norfolk State University, during a recent discussion I participated in on Facebook. “Children and whole families were sold like animals. People, human beings were killed. Africans who were enslaved lost much of their identity.”

It should go without saying that being an adjunct is nothing like this.

It should go without saying that the ideologies and narratives leading to more and more contingent faculty don’t seep into every aspect of life. It should go without saying that violence and terror aren’t part of the adjunct experience, nor is being legally owned as a form of “property.” It should go without saying that being an adjunct isn’t a birth-to-death reality, one passed on to future generations. The analogy falls flat on its face. Not only does it deny and erase the history of enslaved Africans and African Americans within the United States, but it also obscures the real issues facing adjuncts in our contemporary system of higher education.

Continue reading at Adjuncts Aren’t Slaves. Let’s Stop Saying They Are. | Vitae.

#Madonna: The Legibility of Racial Slurs – Urban Cusp

#Madonna: The Legibility of Racial Slurs

By David Leonard on January 21, 2014

Usually a trendsetter, Madonna follows the actions of Paula Dean, Michael Richards, Riley Cooper, Richie Incognito, countless co-workers, neighbors, and college students to use the “n-word.” With her Instagram photo, she has become yet another white person who either doesn’t understand the meaning and history, or simply doesn’t comprehend or care about the harm, pain, and violence that comes every time a white person utters the word.

Either way, her use of the word provides a window into what Leslie Picca, a professor at University of Toledo, and Joe Feagin, a professor at Texas A & M, describes as “backstage racism” – the utterances, slurs, racial jokes, and other dehumanizing language that is rarely seen or heard, yet has consequences.

A picture is worth a thousand words, especially with a racist hashtag.

Used to caption a picture of her son boxing, she noted, “No one messes with Dirty Soap! Mama said knock you out!” she wrote in the Instagram posting, to which she added the hashtag “#disni–a.”

The combination of her son boxing and the use of this word reflects the entrenched nature of racial stereotypes. I cannot help but wonder if her seeing blackness in relationship to boxing, violence, and physicality prompts her use the “n-word” here. Did the associations of blackness to hip-hop (“Mama Said Knock you Out”) and boxing inspire her to mark this activity with this particular hashtag?

One will never know her intentions and, in fact, her intent is irrelevant. She used this word, and she used it in association with her son boxing. Would she have used this hashtag had her son been practicing piano? What if he was preparing for an equestrian competition or polo match? What about preparing to take a test or audition for the ballet? I doubt it.

The word and its use in association with boxing highlight the entrenched nature of stereotypes. As Mark Anthony Neal notes in his book Looking for Leroy, blackness is often only visible as athlete, as violent, and as a physical body: “When we think about black men and boys, when we see them in certain kinds of roles we don’t even think twice about it,” noted Neal, a professor of African American Studies at Duke University. “When we see a black man with a basketball we don’t even have to process that… we know exactly what that means. If we were to see a black man with a violin that gives us reason to pause.”

For Madonna, her son boxing illustrated his blackness; his whiteness notwithstanding, his body was legibly black. The fact that Madonna saw her son as black, because he was, because it illustrates the power of stereotypes; the fact that she sought to identify this blackness with a racial slur tells us how un-post racial we are.

The faux apology is also a reminder of how far we have to come with regards to race in this country. Responding to the criticism, Madonna sampled from the greatest hits of non-apologies, noting “I am sorry if I offended anyone.”

Worse yet, she apologized for giving “people the wrong impression.” While claiming there is “no way to defend the use of the word,” she does just that with references to her intention and what she “meant.” #Weak! Rather than taking responsibility for her words, choices, and actions, she instead focused on how others may have (mis)perceived her “provocative” words.

Clearly, Madonna is preparing for her next album: “Confessions of White Privilege.” Her intentions for using the word are irrelevant, and to be clear, the word isn’t “provocative,” it’s seeped in a history of racism and white supremacist violence. She doesn’t have the power – much less the right – to simply say, “I mean it to be something else,” or to say, “it’s a term of endearment.”

I can hear the responses already; all of which will emphasize how she is a victim of “political correctness” and that this illustrates America’s racial double standards. Ignoring the fact that this entire piece is “one of endearment,” let me respond: America is a nation founded on double standards that provide daily benefits and structural advantages to whites in America. Madonna’s latest post is just more of the same #whiteprivileged #entitlement.

via #Madonna: The Legibility of Racial Slurs – Urban Cusp.

N-Words, R-Words and the Defense of White Power in the NFL

N-Words, R-Words and the Defense of White Power in the NFL | NewBlackMan (in Exile)

N-Words, R-Words and the Defense of White Power in the NFL

by David J. Leonard and C. Richard King | NewBlackMan (in Exile)

At best the recent news that the NFL would consider instituting a penalty for use of the N-word on the playing field is ironic or contradictory. This from a league that has maintained an active defense of the R-word as a legitimate and honorific name for one of its more popular franchises is At worst, each word highlights the entrenched racism of sports culture, and society at large, and a refusal to confront white power.

One word is read a racial slur, and only a racial slur, and must not be uttered even as the structures of violence, degradation and inequality remain entrenched in society; the other word, despite linguistic, historic, and psychological evidence, is framed as anything but a racial slur which can be used in marketing, media coverage, and fan cheers.

The former word is taken to be a reference to the bad old days of racism, best forgotten; a reminder of the unresolved history of slavery and the social death that rendered Blacks as property to be exchanged and exploited. The latter word is defended as a tradition, ideal or so it is claimed to the so-called time after race, the raceless present, and more a trademark, a valuable piece of property from which Dan Snyder, the league, media conglomerates, and countless others make obscene profits from distortion and dehumanization.

And it is hard not to see in this pattern that some kinds of racism matter; some types of utterances elicit discomfort and unease; some can be seen and described, and demand public action, while others remain invisible, unspeakable, and unmoving.

After a season that began with a white player, drunk at a concert, calling a security guard a n****r because he felt slighted, and ended with a damning report on the culture of the Miami Dolphins’ locker room–in which use of the same word figured prominently in the bullying of Jonathan Martin–it is perhaps understandable that the NFL wants to be responsive to “incivility,” if not outright hate.

Yet, the NFL’s refusal to deal with violence, to deal with racism in its many forms, points to the true motives here. This is ultimately about regulating (black) players’ – their utterances, their agency, and their bodies. Just as the Palace Brawl was used to rationalize and justify the NBA Dress Code, the elimination of straight from high school players, and countless other initiatives that disciplined and punished the NBA’s primarily black players, Goodell is using Riley Cooper, Richie Incognito and the growing debate around the N-word to increase his power.

This is all about bout respect, decency and discipline, as defined by Roger Goodell and his corporate partners. This is all about control, it’s about power, the politics of respectability, disciplining and punishment, selling it’s corporate multiculturalism, and regulating the voices and bodies of its primarily black players. This is why the focus has been on black players, on discipline, on the lack of respect that “today’s players” show for the game, each other, and social norms.

Not surprisingly then, some see in these contradictions as self-serving, even callous cynical hypocrisy. While acknowledging these patterns, we think they are part of a larger, unmarked problem, namely white power. And the proposed rule change and the defense of the Washington DC franchise both must be read as efforts to protect white power while maintain control over discourse and keeping the voices and bodies of people of color in their prescribed places. Despite appearance to the contrary both the refusal to #dropthename and the push to #droptheslur reflect a refusal to challenge racism. Each seeks to preserve white power and the profitability of the NFL; each privileges white desire ahead of anything else.

 

Continue reading at  N-Words, R-Words and the Defense of White Power in the NFL | NewBlackMan (in Exile)#dropthesl

Sunny Days?: Sesame Street, Prisons and the Politics of Justice – The Feminist Wire | The Feminist Wire


With Nelson Mandela’s funeral on the television, Sammy, who is 6, turned to me with a question that quickly grabbed my attention. Having already discussed his death, his activism, and apartheid, Sammy was very aware of Madiba’s struggles for justice. Listening to the commentators praise Mandela for his courage and beautiful spirit, he asked, “if he was so good, why would they put him in jail.” Inundated with messages that prisons are for bad people, he was clearly processing what felt like an incongruity of a heroic Mandela being locked up in a place that is suppose to be for bad people. This wasn’t the first time we’d engaged this topic, having pushed him to think about how PlayMobile imagines the world within its “police set,” which has police and robbers. We spent many minutes discussing why someone might steal and how such choices don’t inherently make someone a bad person. These conversations are never easy; they are messy and complex, which is made that much more difficult by the simplistic messages disseminated within kid’s culture. This past summer, I was hopeful when I learned that Sesame Street would shed light on the issue of mass incarceration.

Reflecting its history of engaging broader social realities (divorce, AIDS, death, perpetual war culture), Sesame Street broke the mainstream media’s relative silence regarding children of incarcerated parents in 2013. It introduces viewers to Alex, whose father is in jail. Upset by queries from friends about “where his Dad is,” Alex eventually tells the group that he’s in jail. Sofia notes that her dad was also “incarcerated” leading Abby Cadabby to ask, “what’s carcerate?” In response, she notes, “When someone breaks law, a grown-up rule, they have to go to prison or jail.” In another segment Murray and Nylo talk about the emotional difficulties of living with a family member in prison, emphasizing the importance of conversation and love. Another segment documents a little girl visiting her father, describing the bus ride, the rules, the sights, sounds, and emotional trauma of only getting to see a loved one within these conditions. Given the erasure of the impact of incarceration on families and the refusal to humanize those “made to disappear,” Sesame Street’s intervention is important.

The reaction to the Alex character was predicable; it highlights the importance of challenging dominant representations of prisons and incarcerated people and the dialects between America’s prison nation and its collective consciousness regarding those locked up.

Continue reading at Sunny Days?: Sesame Street, Prisons and the Politics of Justice – The Feminist Wire | The Feminist Wire.

Spaces of Conflict, Sounds of Solidarity by Gaye Theresa Johnson- A Review #AMST525

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Mainstream American racial discourse loves conflict between marginalized groups.  Turning every instance into a spectacle, these narratives erase the tensions and material conflicts, often times pathologizing communities for an inability to get along with one another.  From the media to Hollywood, from the halls of Washington to the ivory towers, discourses around interracial conflict deny/erase/ignore the context of racism, letting power, governing ideologies, and dominant institutions off the hook.  We have seen this with media discourses around Blacks and Latinos, Blacks and Jews, and Blacks and Asians.  Of course, the centering of blackness is instructive given the centrality of narratives of pathology and efforts to imagine blackness as a destructive and undesirable pollutant. Not surprisingly there is little room to discuss resistance, to document coalitions and shared struggles against white supremacy, and the articulation of “freedom dreams” (Kelley 2003).

Dr. Gaye Theresa Johnson, with Spaces of Conflict, Sounds of Solidarity: Music, Race, and Spatial Entitlement in Los Angeles (UC Press), steps into this narrative vacuum.  Challenging the erasure of resistance efforts that sought to claim foreclosed space, Dr. Johnson offers an important discussion of a history that remains “illegible” (Neal 2013) given the hegemony of narratives of conflict, hostility, and pathology.  Spaces of Conflict, Sounds of Solidarity “examines interracial anti-racist alliances, divisions among aggrieved minority communities, and the cultural expressions and spatial politics that emerge from the mutual struggles of Blacks and Chicanos in Los Angeles from the 1940s to the present.”  Challenging “institutional and social repression” that has resulted in “both moments and movements” “Blacks and Chicanos have unmasked power imbalances, sought recognition, and forged solidarities by embracing the strategies, cultures, and politics of each others’ experiences.”

This work is less invested in the formation of organizations or specifics mobilizations but instead the everyday resistance, the “hidden transcripts” (Scott) and “informal infrapolitics” (Kelley).  The focus here leads readers to see the genealogy of resistance, to see the many ways that spatial foreclosure and the denied rights of citizenship were consistently inspired opposition that moved across racialized lines.

Building on a myriad of works that have documented the history of race within Los Angeles, and race relations in the city of Angels, Dr. Johnson brings an important focus on space, the sonic, and micro-politics.  From Zoot Suits to community newspapers, from car culture to graffiti, from punk music to hip-hop, Black and Latino youth have carved out spaces of resistance, challenging not only dominant representations and everyday violence but the refusal to recognize their “collective entitlement to national membership” and citizenship.

Dr. Johnson chronicles a history of Blacks and Latinos in postwar Los Angeles as one defined by immobility – segregation, job dislocation, economic stagnation, mass incarceration, and confinement.  It is equally a history of space, evidence by the destruction of public transportation, the construction of freeways at the expense of communities of color, the privileging of the needs of capitalism ahead of the needs of people (Chavez Ravine), the movement of manufacturing plants from urban to suburban (& into transnational spaces) and the role of the police/criminal justice as the principal arbiter of ownership and access to space.  The discussion of mobility, place and space are so powerful within this book, as Dr. Johnson highlights the interconnections between space, mobility, power, and citizenship.

Yet, Dr. Johnson is less invested in chronicling sixty years of white supremacist violence in Los Angeles, instead offering readers insight into how Blacks and Latino challenged these spatial arrangements through the creation of “spatial strategies and vernaculars” used “to resist the demarcations of race and class that emerged in the postwar era.”

In this context, Dr. Johnson highlights the importance in the development of spaces of congregation.  Faced with growing state and police power, which sought to disrupt interracial mixing (crackdown on Central Ave; freeways dividing communities), Blacks and Latinos created spaces in opposition.  In 1948, John Dolphin responded to racism within the Los Angeles music industry.  Realized that “most music stores in Hollywood and downtown Los Angeles refused to carry records by Black artists” he established a record store in South L.A (p. 49). 

Naming it “Dolphin’s of Hollywood,” this store would not only emerge as a place of gathering, of cultural exchange, and the production of “shared soundscapes” (p. xiii) but it would articulate a shared grievance regarding segregation and racial exclusion.  Far from Hollywood, the decision to name the store “Dolphin’s of Hollywood” offered a powerful source of resistance.  “He reasoned that although blacks were unwelcome in Hollywood, he could ‘bring Hollywood to the Negroes’…. The glamour previously attached to Hollywood as a physical place could not travel across town as a component of discursive space” (p. 49).

Similarly, the rearticulation of “freedom” and democracy by Charlotta Bass, editor of The California Eagle, LA’s largest black newspaper, and Luisa Moreno, a prominent activist, advanced a rhetorical space that spotlighted shared grievances, shared experiences, and shared struggle against racism in a postwar moment.  Deploying the language commonplace during the war, Bass and Moreno offered “rhetorical strategies of interethnic affiliation.” Through rhetorical framing and organizing, they “shaped the narrative of the Black-Brown political alliance and its cultural corollaries for years to come” (p. 5).  That is, their work, and their emphasis on shared experiences with white supremacist violence reflects Dr. Johnson’s idea of “spatial entitlement,” in that it allowed for the “imagining, envisioning, and enacting” of “discursive spaces that ‘make room for new affiliations and identifications” (p. 1).

Similarly, Spaces of Conflict, Sounds of Solidarity reveals the powerful ways that culture operates as a space of not only interracial gathering but a process where the necessary frames, identities, and shared grieves were articulated.  For example, Dr. Johnson explores the ways that Black, Latino, and Jewish youth donned zoot suits in the face of exclusion, violence, and invisibility.  “Space, sound, and racial politics were powerfully intertwined with the music associated with the political moment and with zoot suit culture more specifically, which included Black, Brown, and Jewish working class populations,” writes Johnson, an associate professors at UCSB. “Linking human rights to soot suit culture,” these sartorial choices and the contested meaning “became a culmination of intersecting constellations of decades-long struggles over style, body, and public space” (p. 26).

Evident here, and elsewhere, power rests in how Blacks and Latinos responded to disempowerment, disenfranchisement, and limited access to space with the construction of spaces that allowed for displayed humanity, legible grievance, shared “freedom dreams.”  She describes these spaces of resistance as follows:

When the decimation of neighborhoods and the loss of leisure spaces could not be regained in physical space, people from disenfranchised groups claimed the kinds of spaces that were available to them, and in those spaces often created important democratic and egalitarian visions and practices.  This did not translate, usually into permanent spaces.  But spatial claims could manifest in temporary locations that announced the relevance and rights of Black and Brown people on the landscape of postwar Los Angeles . . .. Enacted entitlements of space took place on Whittier Boulevard in East Los Angeles, where Chicano cruisers congregated in a neighborhood that was once theirs; at an A & W drive-in among Black, Brown, and white car club members; and in El Monte and Pacoima, where music revues attracted interracial audiences outside city limits, where they were relatively free of police harassment (p. 65)

It is within these spaces that readers are pushed to look at various artists that cut across a multitude of genres – WAR, Ozomotali, Rage against the Machine, Señor Soul, & Thee Midnighters – that provided an “important register of shared grievances and interconnected struggle for social space and new liberatory identities” (p 95).  These artists created songs that made you think and groove; songs that compelled people to dance and demand a freedom; artists that inspired artistry and movements of change.

They, like Gaye Theresa Johnson, envision a “good day.”  That is, “in the midst of this political upheaval, cultural workers created new places and spaces through street demonstrations, mural self-defense groups, consumer collectives, and sites for performing music, theater and poetry” (p. 195).

This is evident in murals that are still visible throughout Los Angeles, or in the music that found a home at “Dolphin’s of Hollywood” or KDAY; it can be seen in the historic legacies of interracial organizations and the formation of ethnic studies at UCLA, USC, and countless California State University and community colleges in Los Angeles; it can be seen in the development of the Garden, or in the development of dance crews, or swapmeets, or in the shared histories on basketball courts and baseball fields.  The history of Los Angeles is not one of a Hollywood film, whether that of white wealth or Black-Latino-Asian conflict, but one of everyday resistance and the ceaseless agitation for visibility and space, mobility and inclusion, understanding and the realization of “freedom dreams.” Gaye Theresa Johnson Spaces of Conflict provides a necessary and important counter to these ubiquitous narratives, shining a spotlight on the many interventions and spaces of resistance that have demanded justice and full-citizenship.  Like the artists and individuals documented in this book, Johnson powerfully offers readers “freedom dreams” to be experienced inside and outside of academia.