Race and Racism

Objective Clarity in Our Visions of Each Other

Objective Clarity in Our Visions of Each Other

On Adrian Piper

In an essay from 1988 called “The Joy of Marginality” Piper made explicit the scope and purpose of her own political and socially-critical art. “My work is an act of communication that politically catalyzes its viewers into reflecting on their own deep impulses and responses to racism and xenophobia, relative to a target or stance that I depict,” she wrote. To achieve this goal (or any goal of effecting psychological change through art), Piper thought it was essential to engage the viewer in what she called the “indexical present” of the work of art: a here-and-now created in the transaction between artist and audience. (Conversely, she expressed skepticism about the efficacy of “global political art” that attempts to educate or persuade the viewer concerning a situation represented as being external to the viewer’s own experience). In another text, “Performance: The Problematic Solution,” Piper championed the didactic and the confrontational as central aspects, or modes, of this form of artist–viewer engagement.

What a Long Day, Now Pizza!

What a Long Day, Now Pizza!

Tweets of the post-troll

Though he can come across as unhinged, Salvini knows exactly what he’s doing—unlike Trump, who only seems to stumble, periodically, into a message that resonates. Trump would never repeat criticism of himself without distorting it beyond recognition. Salvini, a fan of the suggestive retweet, confronts his haters head-on: last month he retweeted a La Repubblica piece that declared him “racist and a populist” and “like Mussolini” and a remark by a Democratic Party politician who said that “[Salvini’s] words sound like HITLER’s.” “Unbelievable! He should be ashamed,” Salvini replied, fully aware that his fans enjoy the frisson of the comparison. He used the hashtag #ècolpadiSalvini—“it’s Salvini’s fault”—when he retweeted a newspaper article titled “migrants revolt against Salvini.” Salvini understands the political utility of smug irony. The best way to persuade Italians that he is the uomo forte—the strong man who’s come to do the dirty work—is to be above it all while not being above anything.

The Church of Food

The Church of Food

On Anthony Bourdain, 1956–2018

The episodes about regions of great migration, which frequently covered cities outside of Europe, revealed that Bourdain’s sense of food could follow a people beyond their national borders and recent history. In an episode on Tanzania, a snack of Mandazi (a fried dough Swahili dish) and Bagias (a fried lentil dish) became a way of describing Indian migration and Zanzibar’s multi-ethnic history. In Houston, conversation over a meal at a restaurant that blends Indian and Pakistani food transitioned smoothly to a portrait of Houston, as a city in which people from all over the world are co-mingling. The mixing of culinary cultures for Bourdain was the best record we had of ethnic migration and mixing. In this, Bourdain was like Hortense Spillers in “Peter’s Pans.” After pages of dense criticism attempting to reckon with a history of physical, economic, and epistemic violence against African-Americans, Spillers sketched a culinary tour of the food of African-derived people as evidence of the past’s lingering, far-reaching and ever-changing grasp on the present. For Spillers and for Bourdain, the blending of flavors on a plate was history in motion.

You Can't Read

You Can't Read

They need to feel you’ve been properly flayed

What’s that you’re saying now? Oh, it was your grandmother who didn’t know how to read, and you’ve been in the school system from preschool to college? I see, so you really don’t get what’s going on when people talk to you. Your grandmother, your sister, you, it’s all the same. Don’t you get it? You believe in assimilation, you only wore a headscarf for a couple of years when you were a teenager — that’s fine. But, I mean, we can’t just let go and leave what is French in your hands.

Italy’s Christian Colony

Italy’s Christian Colony

The Lega and the myth of the Celtic origins of northern Italy

At one of his final campaign events in Milan, in a crowded Piazza del Duomo, Salvini brought out a rosary and copies of the Italian Constitution and the Gospels. These were his closing remarks: “I undertake and swear to be loyal to my people, to 60 million Italians, to serve them with honesty and courage. I swear to apply the Italian Constitution, unknown to many, and I swear to do so respecting the teachings contained in these sacred Gospels . . . Let’s go govern and take back our splendid country!” The stunt was rebuked by various Catholic officials, including the archbishop of Milan. In news articles and blogs, people debated whether the act was a blasphemous use of Christian symbolism. Salvini was called a “living oxymoron” and some observers issued the familiar injunction that Christ was a Middle Eastern migrant. Even the extreme fundamentalist Mario Adinolfi wanted to impress upon Salvini that the Gospels and rosary were not ampoules.

Zombie Liberalism

Zombie Liberalism

A plea for liberal nationalism ignores what it has looked like in practice.

Despite the appeal to pragmatism, Mounk’s political vision is utopian, his ideal polity a kind of liberal sublime. In a distant place far outside of history, virtuous trustees of public reason skillfully mobilize the best of nationalism while fending off its “dangerous excesses.” Entranced, Mounk sees in nationalism a muscular tool for legitimizing the political-economic order: “Nationalism is like a half-wild beast. As long as it remains under our control, it can be of tremendous use.” Who is the “beast,” and who is the “us” into which Mounk places the reader?

White People Anonymous

White People Anonymous

So again, cis people won, but this was unsurprising.

The story had gone away after that. A local organization for trans women of color, one that Penny had been a part of, put up a billboard in her honor at Tulane and Broad for a while, a smiling cartoon of her backed by the shadowy stone walls of the courthouse, looking down from curtains of text that informed New Orleans about the details of her murder. Patience’s errands only rarely took her that far south on Broad, but she’d felt peaceful and still, seeing it. She basked in the care evidenced by the billboard like it was sunlight, like she was a voyeur, as she rolled (infrequently) past it, let herself wonder what other people in other cars thought of it, allowed herself to believe that they could read text announcing the murder of a black trans woman with grace, at least with something besides indignation or contempt. At least not contempt, she prayed.

Ice Age

Ice Age

Society as checkpoint

The details of ICE terror are so on-the-nose they would seem downright corny as fiction. This starred-and-striped Gestapo now targets not only schools, workplaces, and homes—as it had done, of course, under Democratic as well as Republican presidencies—but immigration offices themselves, the very places once meant to offer the way out of hiding and persecution.

When a Person Goes Missing

When a Person Goes Missing

Freedom, she asks: What is it?

It strikes me that to miss or be missing, in my brother’s case, requires a part-of-speech modification, too—one that could perhaps help me, at least, understand his particular condition, meaning the Condition of Bruce as it intersects with the subjugated identities we know are related, race and gender. To be missing, as a noun, would be the designation itself, like a black, the racial category without the noun person. A failed sight. A passed by without touching. A failed inclusion. An unattended. A missing.

Morbid Capitalism

Morbid Capitalism

and its racial symptoms

In Alabama and other parts of the American South, garment manufacturing never went entirely extinct. Instead, it disappeared into small shops—and behind prison doors. Lying 200 miles southeast of Florence in Wetumpka is the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women, and 300 miles due south is Holman, a close-custody prison for men that also houses Alabama’s death row. Holman and Tutwiler are sites of thriving clothing-manufacturing operations. Here, there is no shortage of sewers.

Take a Knee

Take a Knee

The revenge of Colin Kaepernick

It will no doubt strike many as inappropriate, to say the least, to speak of Colin Kaepernick’s protest as a kind of revenge. Before this year, I would have agreed with them. Tactically it has seemed necessary to downplay the mounting evidence that not only was Kaepernick’s protest working, but that it was actually tearing the league apart. Letters poured in from aggrieved white patrons demanding an end to the protests, ratings started to drop and they’re still dropping, such that it now seems impossible to deny what the fascists have been saying for a while now, that Kap has succeeded where concussions, Deflategate, and roughly thirty thousand hours of advertisements per game had failed: it has given people a reason to give up the game for good.