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...]

Why the Civil War Happened

Slavery. … [Read more...]

The Untold Story of a Prison Guard’s Struggle

With a generator powering the house, my family reluctantly went through belongings at my sister’s home. While going through her bedroom, deciding what clothes to keep and what to donate, I discovered a journal containing my sister’s own words about her time as a prison guard. At the age of twenty-one my sister, Jami, went off to the California Correctional Academy with dreams of having a lifelong career. After completing and graduating from the academy at the top of her class, she received a job at Corcoran State Prison. When it opened in February 1988, Corcoran State Prison was only the nineteenth prison established by the state of California since 1852. The opening of Corcoran, however, … [Read more...]

Unofficial Archives: Crafting History from Family Documents & Material Culture

At its best, public history combines theory, practice, and experimentation. Rather than a set of skills, I approach public history as a process, often a collaborative one. My own training emerges as much from my participation in the South El Monte Arts Posse, an arts collective based in South El Monte, as it does from my efforts to think and write about the history of transnational migration and citizenship. For “East of East: Mapping Community Narratives in South El Monte and El Monte,” SEMAP arrived at a theory of public history only by simultaneously thinking about and constructing new ways to collect primary sources and present and experience history. For example, East of East’s most … [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...]

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...]

A Brief History of Sanctuary Cities

As everyone with a twitter feed already knows, Donald J. Trump is no friend of immigrants. In a spate of hot-headed executive orders this week, he slammed the door shut on refugees, banned visitors from seven Muslim countries, and promised to build a “Great Wall” physically separating us from Mexico. But his wrath extended past Mexican day laborers and Muslim asylum seekers to take aim at the traitors within. In an executive jeremiad, Trump torched “sanctuary jurisdictions” for “willfully” violating federal law and causing “immeasurable harm to the American people and to the very fabric of our Republic.” To such harmers of the Republican Fabric he threatens to withhold all federal funds, … [Read more...]

A Blaxican’s Journey through Fresno’s Racial Landscape

In the summer of 1973, DJ Kool Herc tried something new on the turntables: by extending the beat, breaking and scratching the record, he allowed people to dance longer and entertained them with his rhymes as an MC. After that moment, everything changed. The sound that emerged out of the South Bronx in New York City led to a cultural movement that changed the lives of generations around the world.[1] For Phillip Walker, a mixed race kid from Fresno, California, hip-hop not only served as the soundtrack of his youth, but provided a way to understand his neighborhood and build a multiethnic community. Phillip Ernest Walker Jr. was born on January 28, 1976 in Fresno, California. He is the son … [Read more...]

The Fight to Exonerate Ethel Rosenberg

Why is the sixty-five year-old spy case of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg back in the news? Anderson Cooper reported a segment for 60 Minutes, and Democracy Now joined numerous newspapers in continuing the siren’s call.  The case is grabbing unprecedented attention because the Rosenberg sons – Michael Meeropol and Robert Meeropol – want to get President Obama’s attention before he leaves office.  They are asking him to posthumously exonerate their mother – Ethel Rosenberg – for being wrongly convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage and executed in 1953. They have good reason to ask.  The 1951 trial was a mess, plagued with shocking irregularities and illegalities.  President Harry … [Read more...]