Race and Racism

The Prison House of Language

The Prison House of Language

On Rachel Kushner and Sergio De La Pava

The women in the novel are subjected to sexual violence so regularly that it is treated as if it is just another part of their punitive program. For many of them, this sexual violence is not unique to their time in jail. Kushner wisely demonstrates throughout the novel that patriarchy and its parallel oppressive structures are not phenomena specific to incarceration; they groom these characters from birth to feel comfortable in the rigidly authoritative structures of prisons. “I had been a waitress at IHOP right after I graduated high school,” Romy says. “I was waitress 43, and the cooks would call, Forty-three! Your order is up! Which, as I only saw later, had been preparing me for here.” With wrenching flashbacks to Romy’s youth that bare the bruises of innocence forcibly taken, Kushner shows us Romy navigating and bucking authority throughout her life, in her predatory friendships, in her work as a stripper, and in her experiences with men. By the time she ends up in prison, like the rest of the women around her, she hardly has the capacity to question or resist authority.

Martin Luther King Jr. and the Meaning of Emancipation

Martin Luther King Jr. and the Meaning of Emancipation

He was a revolutionary, if one committed to nonviolence. But nonviolence does not exhaust his philosophy

As a theorist of inequality, King is our contemporary. But he was also a philosopher of equality, and thus of emancipation. At the core of his thought one finds the political subjectivity that the civil rights struggle was helping to engender. Important as his final year was, the radical outlines of this project are visible from 1955 to 1963, as King was drawn deeper into political activism and answered the call to engage in a political sequence that exceeded the boundaries of the existing situation.

The Los Angeles Teachers Go on Strike

The Los Angeles Teachers Go on Strike

The number of students in public school classrooms is irrefutably political.

The problem the union faces is that, on its own, it cannot create the type of system it wants. To ensure that a service like education be available at high quality to every family in the population, general standards must be established and monitored across the community. The district and its schools are the only tool suited to this task. Choice is invidious when the underlying options are so poorly distributed. Smaller classes, with student access to serviceable institutions such as libraries, nursing, and counseling, will require action from municipal and state authorities, from the Board of Education, through the City of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles County Office of Education, to the Governors office and the State Assembly. Fighting the effects of the trends the district has set in motion won’t suffice; the teachers must reverse those trends. Can they do it alone?

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

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.