An amazing collection of primary sources culled from Mississippi newspapers that chronicles Mississippi Summer Project organized by the Student Non-Vi...moreAn amazing collection of primary sources culled from Mississippi newspapers that chronicles Mississippi Summer Project organized by the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and other civil rights organizations in 1964 (now more popularly known as "Freedom Summer"). Incredible to see how much has changed—the naked, overt racism and violent white supremacist rhetoric unabashedly published in mainstream papers—and how much remains the same. These sources show that the logic and ideology of anti-Black conservative politics remains largely unchanged from the era of Jim Crow to today; there's far less use of the n-word and much more coded racism, but the underlying arguments leveled by conservatives against efforts towards racial justice and equity, then and now, are virtually identical. Also worth reading for a person in the street perspective from white Mississippians on segregation and civil rights activism. Some of the letters to the editor in this collection are frankly astounding, and yet also disturbingly familiar in their rhetoric (e.g., "The white man is now a slave in his own country"). An illuminating read.(less)
A collection of primary sources detailing and contextualizing the Mississippi Summer Project put on in 1964 by SNCC to encourage more Black Mississipp...moreA collection of primary sources detailing and contextualizing the Mississippi Summer Project put on in 1964 by SNCC to encourage more Black Mississippians to attempt to register to vote. Chilling accounts of both organized and spontaneous white supremacist violence, and as disturbing, the compulsion whites felt to keep Black people "in their place" and how normal regularly harassing, terrorizing, and brutalizing Black people was to them.(less)
I will definitely be writing a longer review of this. Suffice it for now to say that it's a masterful and paradigm-changing exploration of what it mea...moreI will definitely be writing a longer review of this. Suffice it for now to say that it's a masterful and paradigm-changing exploration of what it means for literature to be "American." Specifically, what does it mean that the vast majority of literary criticism has ignored or overlooked the centrality of Blackness - Black characters, the imagery and vocabulary of Blackness in texts, and silences and erasures around Blackness - in American literature, from its earliest examples. Morrison convincingly argues that there is no real understanding of the American "canon" without reckoning with this pervasive deployment and concealment of Blackness in our national literature. It's a paradigm-shifting claim, since it means that virtually all traditional scholarly interpretation of American literature is seriously incomplete, if not entirely wrong.
I often waver on what rating to give a book - in terms of what *I* got out of the book personally, I'd probably give it a 4. This isn't any fault of the book or Morrison's; it's simply because I haven't read any of the texts that she focuses on in these essays. While I followed her argument, I would have gotten even more out of it had I been familiar with the texts she discusses. But as a work of craft - the prose, the cogency of the argument, and the incredible significance to scholarship on American literature and history - this is absolutely a 5.(less)
An excellent and overdue account of how evangelical demand for adoptions is sharping the global adoption industry. Very worth the read. More detailed...moreAn excellent and overdue account of how evangelical demand for adoptions is sharping the global adoption industry. Very worth the read. More detailed review to come.(less)
Heartbreaking. One of those books that starts out achingly sad and you just know is building up to catastrophe, but the characters get so under your s...moreHeartbreaking. One of those books that starts out achingly sad and you just know is building up to catastrophe, but the characters get so under your skin that you hope against hope that something will break their way. There's a lot to mull over here about family secrets, about complicity and who ends up getting caught in the middle, about the often limited choices available to women when it comes to marriage and family, about the awful behavior men get away with.
This would have been an easy story to push into melodramatic/soap opera territory; Jones goes for slow buildups and indirect reveals instead of overwrought drama. There are a number of quiet, understated scenes that are absolutely devastating. Just amazing, masterful writing. This one is going to stick with me for a while.(less)
Smith's account of the many, many ways state and societal violence have been and continue to be perpetrated against indigenous people (focusing mostly...moreSmith's account of the many, many ways state and societal violence have been and continue to be perpetrated against indigenous people (focusing mostly on the Americas) is a difficult but necessary read. Seriously, all non-indigenous Americans should read this book. Longer thoughts coming.
eta:Conquest starts with the observation that sexual and reproductive violence against Native women are forms of racial and colonial violence, unpacking the various ways in which sexual violence "serves the goals of colonialism," an examination that Smith argues "forces us to reconsider how we define sexual violence, as well as the strategies we employ to eradicate gender violence." In her analysis, environmental racism and exploitation, forced assimilation/cultural genocide, spiritual appropriation, medical discrimination, and colonialism/empire are all connected to sexual and reprodutive violence against Native people.
Examples: - Conquest pushes the definition of sexual violence to include reproductive violence and injustice. White/Western medicine has a long history of nonconsensual sterilization of and experimentation on Native bodies. Native women have been disproportionately exposed to more dangerous or experimental forms of birth control, often without their informed consent. Medical discrimination and systemic, racialized poverty mean that Native women and communities have less access to birth control, abortion, and maternal/family health services. - Smith also explores the impact of environmental racism and exploitation on reproductive and family health in Native communities (“women of color are suffering not only from environmental racism but environmental sexism” - p. 69). The burden of environmental pollution from toxic wastes, weapons testing, workplace exposure, and other sources disproportionately fall on people of color - e.g., reservations and other Native lands are frequent sites of waste dumps, mining for radioactive materials, and nuclear testing. These environmental injustices lead to higher rates of conditions like ovarian cancer, miscarriages and stillbirths, and birth anomalies in Native communities. - The long history of forced assimilation and cultural genocide through the boarding school system (Native children were taken from their communities to be “educated” into conforming to Christian/Western culture) meant Native youth were subjected to rampant abuses, including a high incidence of sexual abuse. The boarding school system also undermined the stability of Native families and communities, introduced patterns of gendered violence into these communities, and worked to displace traditions that provided Native women with positions of leadership with Western patriarchal norms. - Smith connects systemic appropriation of Native religious practices to the idea that Native bodies are inherently “rapable.” Appropriation of Native spiritualities is part of white/Western “taking [from Native people] without asking” that assumes the “needs of the taker are paramount and the needs of others are irrelevant, [mirroring] the rape culture of the dominant society” (126).
Smith shows how both colonizing cultures and mainstream social justice movements rely on historical and cultural narrative that requires Native people to "play dead." That is, we systematically pretend that Native Americans are long gone, absent, or vanishing. Indigenous people are either living relics or imagined symbols of a mythical past, which we can then ignore or appropriate the “memory” of as convenient ("Kate Shanley notes that Native peoples are a permanent “present absence” in the U.S. colonial imagination, an “absence” that reinforces at every turn the conviction that Native peoples are indeed vanishing and that the conquest of Native lands is justified.")
This tendency to treat Native communities as "dead" is evident in modern social justice movements, for example, in how mainstream environmentalism doesn’t center Native communities or even form pro-environment alliances with them, instead allying with groups that often have racist, classist, and anti-immigrant agendas (dedicated to “reducing population growth of all peoples in theory and of people of color in reality” - 78). Alarmist rhetoric about overpopulation is often a thin veil for implicit or overt prejudice against communities of color and a desire to restrict their reproduction, growth, and even movements. At the time of the book's writing, e.g., prominent members of the Sierra Club were also members of the anti-immigrant group FAIR; Smith also documents attempts to pressure the Sierra Club into advocating anti-immigrant positions. Meanwhile, mostly white/non-indigenous environmentalist groups often push for land “protection” policies that are harmful to Native people actually living on/off the land in question.
The major example Smith gives of how mainstream activism expects Native women in particular to “play dead” is the failure of both anti-racists/indigenous activists and advocates against domestic violence to center Native women in their work. Conquest calls on activists in both communities to adopt intersectional and community-based approaches to combating racism and gender violence together.
Approaches to gendered violence that rely heavily on state/police intervention and the prison system only address violence after the fact and have limited use in preventing domestic violence or protecting survivors in general. For Native women, Smith argues, these approaches are actively harmful in a culture where Native women, other women of color, and people of color in general are disproportionately and often unjustly incarcerated, and in a culture where state violence (police brutality, racism and sexism in the prison system, etc) are a major cause of and contributor to gender violence in Native communities.
Instead, Smith calls for domestic violence prevention and survivor support strategies that are based in community accountability and redressing economic injustices that make women of color more vulnerable to abuse and less able to leave abusive homes or partners. This model means creating communities that are educated about domestic violence, intervene in abusive situations, hold abusers accountable, and materially support survivors. The long-term goal of such a model would be to build “communities where violence becomes unthinkable” by fostering real communal consequences for and responses to abuse.
One thing I really appreciated about Smith’s take on community-based responses to violence is that she acknowledges the the serious obstacles that exist to putting it into practice effectively:
Sometimes it is easy to underestimate the amount of intervention that is required before a perpetrator can really change his behavior. Often a perpetrator will subject her/himself to community accountability measures but eventuality will tire of them. If community members are not vigilant about holding the perpetrator accountable _for years_ and instead assume he or she is 'cured,' the perpetrator can turn a community of accountability into a community that enables abuse. (164)
In addition to this, so much of what allows abusers to get away with violence is community investment in preserving the group. Or rather, a particular understanding of group “safety” that often means that the safety of vulnerable members of the group - often women and children - is treated as less of a priority. What Smith argues for is a reversal of this mindset, to one where the wellbeing and safety of women and youth (rather than the protection of abusers) are seen as central to the health of the community. But this requires a pretty radical cultural shift for many communities. For this reason I have a lot of concerns about the effectiveness of community-based approaches in keeping survivors and vulnerable populations safe and keeping abusers to account (of course, the current system isn’t terribly effective, either).
All in all, Conquest is a great book, persuasively and clearly written. Some historians might be skeptical of how Smith works with chronology and geography, jumping back and forth between different periods and places. I think it's very effective at showing the continuities between the genocide and exploitation of indigenous peoples that we think of as being in the past and the present, global realities of state and interpersonal violence against indigenous people. Conquest raises a lot of thought-provoking questions that the mainstream feminist and anti-violence movements still haven’t started to grapple with, but really need to.(less)
This is a really engaging and well done analysis of how power and selective silences are involved at all levels of history-making: from the production...moreThis is a really engaging and well done analysis of how power and selective silences are involved at all levels of history-making: from the production of sources, to the consolidation of archives and museums, to the production of public and professional historical narratives and retrospective significance. Despite being a fairly short book it covers a lot of ground, so it's kind of difficult to summarize beyond that. Suffice it to say I highly recommend it as a general discussion of why and it what ways history matters (really vague, I know).(less)
A well-written, insightful analysis of the ways in which the culture and structure of white evangelicalism perpetuates racial inequities and division...moreA well-written, insightful analysis of the ways in which the culture and structure of white evangelicalism perpetuates racial inequities and division despite overt commitments to racial equality. Factors include white evangelical insistence that all sin and division between people can only be the product of individual choices or faults (leading many to blame blacks and other people of color for racial inequality), which both prevents the possibility of recognizing structural factors that create racial inequity and perpetuates those factors. Further, the vast majority of white evangelicals are racially isolated (with social networks that are over 90% white), and thus not exposed to the perspectives of black Americans and other people of color on race, and not confronted with the daily evidence of racial disparities in America. The racial segregation of the American church, in combination with the fact that the dominant voices in American religion are racially isolated whites, means that serious efforts from within the church to address structural inequalities are marginalized. Emerson and Smith's findings paint a bleak picture about the role of religion in American race relations - e.g., they find that white conservative Protestants are significantly more racially isolated (segregated) than white Americans in general, and also significantly more likely than white Americans in general to assign blame to black Americans for racial inequality and deny the reality of structural racism.
The one issue I had with their argument was their repeated assertion that white conservative Christians have the best of intentions when it comes to race relations. It's certainly the case that most white evangelicals vocally state a belief in the equality of all people regardless of race, and it's also true that white evangelicals are generally open to modest, individual-level efforts to bridge racial divisions. It's a rather large leap from there to the conclusion that white evangelicals sincerely intend an end to racial inequality - especially given the authors' consistent findings that in fact, white evangelicals on the whole don't consider racial inequities or tensions to be a problem of any priority. There's a world of difference between benign intent and "the best of intentions" - when most white evangelicals don't consider racism a problem worth seriously addressing, despite a general awareness that people of color do find it to be a problem worth addressing, that can hardly be described as having the "best of intentions" towards people of color. That objection aside, the book is very well done. It should be required reading for all evangelicals, and for anyone who wants to understand why there's so much racial animus against the president and communities of color right now.(less)
The impending sense of doom got a bit heavy for me, and I've been advised that I might not want to read this book while pregnant, so it's back on the...moreThe impending sense of doom got a bit heavy for me, and I've been advised that I might not want to read this book while pregnant, so it's back on the to-read shelf for now. I may pick it up again later this summer, though . . .(less)