White Poverty and the Legacy of Slavery in the US South

While the moonlight-and-magnolias myth of the Old South continues to persist, the region’s history actually is much more sinister and grim – even for many white Southerners. Recently scholars have revealed the brutal, bloody realities of slavery in the late-antebellum Deep South. Yet to truly understand the gross inequalities endemic to slave societies, it is also important to acknowledge what happens to excess workers when a capitalist system is predicated on slave labor. With the rising global demand for cotton, and thus, slaves, in the 1840s and 1850s, the need for white laborers in the American South was drastically reduced, creating a large underclass who were unemployed or … [Read more...]

Ansley Erickson and Kevin Kruse on the Many Histories of Segregation

A few weeks ago, we shared the first episode of the new podcast series Doomed to Repeat with a circle of our friends and colleagues--a sort of "soft open."  But we're ready to begin rolling out episodes of the first season on a regular basis over the next few months.  We're hoping to offer conversations with historians and other experts on issues as different as the history of craft beer, the anti-vaccination movement, and the long and fascinating evolution of America's relationship with Russia.  And we hope to do so in a loose and informal way, with a bit of humor and an eye toward how these histories intersect with the problems facing the world today. In our first episode, we get to chat … [Read more...]

How the Labor Movement Shot Itself in the Foot: Rock Edition

“Ambition makes you look pretty ugly,” Thom Yorke sneered on Radiohead’s seminal 1997 album OK Computer. He did not mean aesthetic ambition, of course—the band had that in spades—but the crass materialism of a yuppie careerist, the proverbial “kicking, screaming Gucci little piggy.” The next year, rapper Amil made a very different declaration on a classic Jay-Z track: “Ambition makes me so horny… My hoochie remains in a Gucci name.”  Their two perspectives on material aspiration could not be more different—the art-rocker disdains the trappings of consumerism, while Amil is totally frank about the fact that she wanted her art to succeed commercially, to bring the comforts that upward mobility … [Read more...]

Get Out: The First Great Film of the Trump Era

We need books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is my belief. Suffice to say this quotation was not written by a Hollywood producer looking for the next big hit.  Driving an axe into the deepest fears and anxieties of audiences is not a recipe for success—perhaps not even in the horror genre. The words of Franz Kafka will likely provide cold comfort to those who already know and understand the black American experience firsthand—those for whom the disaster and the suicide that Kafka … [Read more...]

Introducing Doomed to Repeat, the Podcast with a Toothache in Its Heel

Listen to episode one, on the promise and pitfalls of school desegregation, here. Why, hello there! Glad you could check in! Have you ever wanted to hear what this blog would sound like in audio form? Have you wanted to hear experts talk about what they know best, but brought into a conversational style? Aren’t you at least a little curious about what editor Alex Cummings sounds like? It’s not as awkward as you might think! (Editor's note: it is.) Over the past few months Alex and I have been developing a podcast companion to Tropics of Meta that we are calling Doomed to Repeat. My name is Nic Hoffmann. You may have seen me on this blog before, and now I am here to talk in a much more … [Read more...]

What We Can Learn from America’s Other Muslim Ban (Back in 1918)

President Trump’s January 27th Executive Order attempted to ban the entry of nationals from seven Middle Eastern countries and suspended the resettlement of refugees unless they are “persecuted religious minorities,” a terminology that is itself selectively deployed to refer to Middle Eastern non-Muslims in general, and Christians in particular. This policy has correctly been understood as part of Trump’s campaign promise to create a ban on Muslim travel to the United States; the order is currently facing legal challenge in 9th District Federal Court. As a scholar of Middle Eastern migration, I am stunned by this administration’s unwillingness to engage the expertise of refugee resettlement … [Read more...]

Getting Past the Bad Math of the #MuslimBan

As someone who studies global migration for a living, it has been hard to choose where to begin when it comes to denouncing Donald Trump’s Executive Order on immigration and refugees.  Where to start?  There is, of course, the Order’s bedrock of Islamophobia: Trump has ignorantly conflated Islam with terrorism. And then there’s the constitutional angle: the Order violates the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, among other things.  Or we could counter with the fact that more than 50 years ago, Congress outlawed national origins bans with the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act. Or the statistical “probabilities” generated by think tanks: The CATO Institute says that your chance of being … [Read more...]

Sipping on the Indian Haterade: Hindu American Whiteness and Support for Trump

Unlike other communities of color in the United States, it has not been so easy for South Asian Americans to organize and act as one.  The very complexity of South Asia and the myriad of internal politics make mobilization a difficult issue.   Even during my time in Atlanta conducting ethnographic research on the South Asian American sporting community, organizations like South Asians for Unity struggled to collectively engage the heterogeneous ethnic, class, and religious South Asian American community in Atlanta.  Sikh American elders and I (a Christian Tamil) shared a sentiment of feeling minimally included in the discussions about peace on the subcontinent. Thus, even the coming … [Read more...]

The Story of Boogaloo Sam as Told by Izel Gaye

We all have that one piece of clothing, be it a fresh new hat or a favorite pair of jeans, that when we slip it on it makes us feel like a million bucks.  You walk a little taller and feel as though your outlook for the day may be brighter simply by adorning yourself in this one item.  For Izel Gaye, a 58-year-old man who has lived most of his life on the west side of Fresno California, that special item is a pair of dancing shoes that were given to him by his friend, Poppin’ and Boogaloo icon Sam Solomon. “When he gave you something,” Mr. Gaye reflected in a recent oral history, “It was like oh boy you better hang on to this… it's got the magic touch.  Then when I put ‘em on I feel like I’m … [Read more...]

Sorry, Folks, but Trump Really Is Different

Trump is different. Wow—a really big breakthrough discovery, huh? Maybe it is. Some contributors to this discussion seem determined to carry a brief for the Left by proving that Trump is merely the coming home to roost of GOP chickens. His misogyny and racism is “nothing new,” or just the logical conclusion of 40 years or more of GOP rhetoric. As tempted as I am to accept this analysis, I cannot. Something new—or at least, not terribly old—is happening right now. To explain away Trump by citing Willie Horton or Strom Thurmond or something is to choose not to reckon with the evidence of the recent past.  Sure, the GOP made robust use of dog whistles and “coded” language to play on the … [Read more...]