Walk with Me: Laibach Plays North Korea

laibach north korea

As summer comes to a close, two anniversaries—decades and miles apart—collide. The Slovenian industrial band/artists collective Laibach celebrates 35 years of professional provocation this year. Across the globe, Korea marks seven decades since liberation from Japanese occupation. On August 19th and 20th, Laibach performed in Korea to celebrate both events—but in Pyongyang, not Seoul surprisingly enough. The first rock band to perform in North Korea is a band that never had a Billboard hit or headlined stadium tours in the United States, as one might expect. For those unfamiliar with the band, Laibach came together in 1980 in what was then Yugoslavia, now Slovenia. They formed mere months … [Read more...]

Was the Constitution Racist? Sanders and Wilentz May Both Be Wrong

Sean Wilentz Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders thinks America was founded on racist principles. Sean Wilentz, the Pulitzer Prize nominated historian, disagrees. “The myth,” wrote Wilentz in an op-ed published in the New York Times, “that the United States was founded on racial slavery persists, notably among scholars and activists on the left who are rightly angry at America’s racist past.” So who’s right? Neither. Bernie Sanders’s statement about America’s racist Founding was not a proper argument, nor was it really meant to be. Sanders’s concern is justice today, and whether it is income equality or racial injustice he is targeting, the past is more of a convenient backdrop than a site of serious inquiry. Sean … [Read more...]

Rachel Dolezal and the Racial Trickster: A Local Perspective on Crossing and Crafting Identities


I live in Spokane, WA, where I write and teach about race, identity, and social justice. I have never met Rachel Dolezal, who also resides in Spokane, though we have at least a few acquaintances and causes in common. My own visceral reaction to the Dolezal story is tied to but also goes beyond the fact that I am a resident of Spokane as a well as a student of race. In part it’s a reaction to the racial crossing and how she did it. But it’s also a disappointment because she had been effective as an activist on the local scene.  Dolezal was an effective and cogent organizer and talking head—bodies and boots matter, and she did bring them out. (Then again, I don't want to discount organizations … [Read more...]

From Bus Riders Union to Bus Rapid Transit: Race, Class, and Transit Infrastructure in Los Angeles

Metro Orange Line BRT | Photo: Dan Reed/Flickr/Creative Commons

In episode four of the much maligned season two of True Detective, writer Nic Pizzolatto made an odd reference to one of Los Angeles' more notable moments of transit conflict. As a bevy of cops and the doomed trio of detectives walked into a hail of gunfire and official cover up, behind them dozens of Angelenos picketed city transit service reminiscent of the Bus Riders Union in the early 1990s.  Judging from the demonstration the issues aggrieving ridership remained much the same: overcrowded buses, poor service, and a failure to serve working Angelenos.  When nearly all the protesters end up dead as the nearby police raid  goes so very wrong, one … [Read more...]

Ten of the Greatest Books in Food Studies

pakistani desi chicken manchurian

In addition to taking over America’s public imagination – isn’t everyone a “foodie” these days? – Food Studies has firmly established itself as a serious academic discipline over the past decade. While the majority of popular food studies books fall into one of three categories (single commodity histories; explorations of individual ethnic foodways; and often problematically universalist and racially and class- biased works of food politics), many of the best critical works view the study of food as offering the possibility of a radically cross-disciplinary and trans-national re-engagement of key topics in studies of the Americas. This list offers some of the most important texts that … [Read more...]

Austerity vs Democracy: What’s Happening in Greece?

In the 1970s, they called it an "excess of democracy"

Like most folks, I’ve found the dizzying pace of events in Greece a challenge to grasp. Over the weekend, in a historic referendum, voters there rejected the latest harsh terms for a bailout offered by the nation’s European creditors. Emboldened by the “No” vote, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his left-wing coalition, Syriza, now seek softer terms from the unsympathetic leaders of the European Union (EU), specifically the “Troika”: the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. Why does this matter? For those who want to understand why Greece is staggering under the weight of an economic catastrophe and is poised on the razor’s edge of ejection … [Read more...]

Who Were the Monte Boys?


“Law And Order Monte Boys Style” is the title of a chapter in one of the more recent histories of El Monte. Those six words capture the popular stories associated with the men of the nineteenth-century township. Any written history of Los Angeles County has to at least mention the Monte boys. Their involvement with “the repression of crime” is characterized variously as the work of righteous citizens, frontier-savvy former Texas Rangers, or all-too-eager vigilantes. From the 1850s through the 1870s and perhaps beyond, if there were bandits to be caught, murderers to be punished, or horse thieves to be hanged in the county, the men from Monte seemed always to be on the scene. Their … [Read more...]

Jeff Davis’s Ghost: The Long Battle over the Memory of the Civil War


History versus heritage? Memory versus history? Whose history and why? These questions are currently brewing a controversy at the University of Texas-Austin campus. The controversy swirls around a statue of Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederate States of America. The turn-of-the-century statue is being hotly contested because of its association with a certain memory of the Civil War and for the heritage it represents. To opponents of the statue, Davis represents a racist past – one incongruous with a multicultural present. Those battling to preserve the statue, namely the Sons of Confederate Veterans, claim that the Davis statue represents a piece of heritage. Contestations over … [Read more...]

Redefining Asian America: Japanese Americans, Gardena, and the Making of a Transnational Suburb

Kashu Realty had branches in Crenshaw, Wilshire, Los Feliz, and Monterey Park | Google Street View

Naomi Hirahara never "got" Raymond Chandler. The dark, mistrustful view of Los Angeles that Chandler's work so embodied seemed foreign to the award-winning mystery writer. "He has set a tone for stories about the darkness under L.A.'s glitz for 80 years, but I can't relate to the paranoid view Chandler had of my Los Angeles, or his fear of 'the other,' or how his loner detective Philip Marlowe navigated his investigative cases without the weight of family or community," she confessed in a recent article. Rather the Pasadena-born Japanese American writer knew a life of family and strong immigrant networks. L.A.'s sense of reinvention, not alienation, she confided to readers, was its real … [Read more...]

What Did the Three-Fifths Compromise Actually Do?

constitution 1787

Occasionally, a student asks a question so basic, about a presumption so fundamental to the teaching of history, that an instructor is caught completely unaware. A friend of mine found this out in his US history survey—in teaching about the colonization of the Americas, he made the commonplace assertion that indigenous peoples were highly susceptible to diseases brought from the Old World. Of course, we all know that smallpox, measles, and yellow fever ravaged the New World—at times literally decimating local populations—while the Americas only really sent back syphilis and lung cancer in return. But why, one student asked, were Native Americans so highly vulnerable to diseases from … [Read more...]


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