Stoll writes: “At a time when some predict that the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic could leave many unemployed for months or years, and when the working-class already endures the worst of everything, in a rolling crisis of despair, Modern Times doesn’t look like an excavated relic but a message from the dawn of the American Century to its dusk. The story of the Worker, played by Chaplin, and his homeless partner, the Gamin, played by Paulette Goddard, depicts alienation and disillusionment with capitalism, law enforcement, and the world of industrial work that had failed the working class.”
On Saturday, August 3, 2019, in El Paso, Texas, a 21 year old white male brandishing a semi-automatic rifle walked into a Walmart known to be popular with Americans and a convenient destination for Mexicans crossing the nearby border for their weekly shopping excursion into the United States. He began to shoot, deliberately targeting people of apparent Mexican and Latin American descent. Twenty three people died in the shooting (the last dying in April of 2020), and another twenty three were injured. News organizations identified the dead as thirteen United States Americans, eight Mexicans, and one German citizen. A deeper look, though, reveals that of the thirteen Americans killed, eleven were of Latinx descent. As a result, the El Paso Walmart shooting was the worst mass murder of Latino people in modern American history.
The murderer has been identified as a white supremacist with a deep hatred of Latinos, someone who consumed white supremacist literature and wrote a manifesto at the time of the shooting. This is not a surprise, as in the last five years the United States also has suffered mass shootings of African Americans (Charleston, June 17, 2015) and Jews (October 27, 2018). In his manifesto, the shooter argued that Mexicans specifically, and Latinxs generally, are invading the United States, taking jobs away from U.S. citizens, and endangering the white majority populace. This rhetoric reveals anti-Latinx sentiments with roots deep in United States history. It also calls attention to the historical and continuous race-based and structural violence that affects minority communities in the U.S. and at the border.
Father McShane has suggested that the Fordham community commemorate and discuss these tragedies in November. For now, though, it is important to mourn the victims of August 3 and to remember how and why they died:
Andre Anchondo, 23
Jordan Anchondo, 24
Arturo Benavides, 60
Leonard Cipeda Campos, 41
Angelina Englisbee, 86
Maria Flores, 77
Raul Flores, 77
Guillermo Garcia, 36
Jorge Calvillo García, 61
Maribel Hernandez, 56
Adolfo Cerros Hernandez, 68
Alexander Gerhard Hoffman, 66
David Alvah Johnson, 63
Luis Alfonso Juarez, 90
Ivan Hilierto Manzano, 46
Gloria Irma Marquez
Elsa Mendoza Márquez, 57
Margie Reckard, 63
Sara Esther Regalado, 66
Javier Rodriguez, 15
María Eugenia Legarreta Rothe, 58
Teresa Sánchez de Freitas, 82
Juan Velázquez, 77
Father McShane asked the University Church to offer the Sunday (August 2) Mass on behalf of the victims and the El Paso community, an appropriate gesture for a community and a people very serious about their religious faith.
For our part, we mourn the dead and summon the living to reflect on what we can do to support our own communities. The El Paso Museum of History will display a digital memorial in remembrance of August 3. The public can join virtually by submitting pictures and memories on Digital El Paso at http://www.digie.org. We invite you to take part and encourage everyone to become active in supporting some of those organizations working on behalf of our communities in El Paso, the Southwest, and in New York. We can best honor the dead by fighting for and supporting justice at home and around the nation:
Westenley Alcenat, an assistant professor of History, Urban & American Studies at Fordham University, says black history curriculums in all schools are either “inadequate, inaccurate, or simply non-existent.”
“I went to high school in Minneapolis, actually, exactly in the same areas that were deeply affected by the George Floyd incident,” Alcenat told CBS News. “I can confidently tell you that much of what I know regarding American history within the context of what contributions or roles black people made to it… was not something that I really learned as much about in high school as something I learned in adulthood.”
Alcenat said African American history is often sequestered from the larger narrative of American history. Instead, children at all education levels should be learning about the contributions African Americans made throughout history.
“We are not taught enough about how black men and women put their lives on the line to create what we know today as the multiracial vision of American democracy,” Alcenat said.
“Given the type of society we’re striving towards, the type of society we’d like to be, let’s let our kids know very early on what [African Americans’] particular contributions really are,” he said.
In the wake of nationwide protests against racial injustice, new efforts are being made by many American institutions to advance diversity and equality and address longstanding biases. Companies are suddenly recognizing the need to rebrand products like Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben’s due to their racist imagery, the country band Lady Antebellumchanged its name, and NASCAR banned the Confederate flag.
While these changes may be welcome, some believe real progress can only be made if a fuller version of history is taught in schools.
“Without knowledge of history, how do you put together an empathetic, humane response to horrible situations like the George Floyd murder, which we know is a symptom of the larger historical forces of racism in this country?” Alcenat said. “It’s incredibly important that we try to provide a correctness to how it’s all being taught at the moment. Or else we risk not necessarily repeating history, we risk not knowing how to deal with ourselves when these moments of history come upon us.”
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We would like to congratulate Dr. James Smith on passing his dissertation defense on April 29, 2020. He becomes only the second person in the history of the Fordham’s History Department to pass his dissertation virtually.
Dr. Smith’s dissertation is titled, “A Clash of Ideals: Human Rights and Non-Intervention in U.S. Foreign Policy, 1977-1988.”
Below is his dissertation abstract:
The dissertation argues that Carter, Reagan, and other domestic and international actors deployed the ideals of universal human rights and state sovereignty as a political language. The protean meanings they assigned to the terms of that language were contingent upon calculations of political and strategic interests. The discourse of rights and sovereignty in domestic and international politics served as a means to justify or check political change, rather than as nonideological, moral, and legal imperatives. In short, Carter, Reagan, and others used morality and law as political strategy. The study proceeds from an analysis of records from the Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan presidential libraries. The personal papers of Patricia Derian, Barry Goldwater, Henry “Scoop” Jackson, and Donald Fraser provide additional context for the political uses of rights and sovereignty. So too, the papers of William Casey, Warren Christopher, and many of their contemporaries archived at the Hoover Institute enriched this analysis. The author also analyzed digital and other published collections of primary documents, interviewed and corresponded with former public officials, and reviewed memoirs, diaries, interview transcripts, and Congressional hearings and reports. While the dissertation probes the official mind of Washington in the manner of traditional diplomatic history, it also broadens that perspective by assessing how competing domestic and international actors deployed the conflicting ideals of rights and sovereignty. The dissertation builds upon the secondary literature by examining how Carter and others deployed human rights and non-intervention in the 1970s and 1980s. It connects that discourse to the history of U.S. foreign relations, domestic politics, international law, and the movement for economic decolonization. Then, after examining Carter’s embrace of rights and non-intervention as a campaign strategy and the contentious transformation of that rhetoric into policy, the dissertation employs as case studies U.S. relations with Panama, Nicaragua, and Iran. Finally, the dissertation assesses continuity and change in Reagan’s use of the ideals of rights and sovereignty in a foreign policy marked by anti-communism and democracy promotion.
You can reach Dr. James Smith at email@example.com if you are interested in learning more about this fabulous dissertation.
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In The New Republic, Fordham Historian Prof. Saul Cornell argues that “Liberal legal scholars are at risk of falling into a right-wing trap.” Cornell continues to argue: “In the pending congressional impeachment inquiry, the House Judiciary Committee is charged with (among other things) taking up the question of what the constitutional process of impeachment means. To aid them in this solemn task, committee Chairman Jerry Nadler and his colleagues on Wednesday summoned an impressive list of constitutional scholars to offer authoritative interpretations of the Constitution’s impeachment clauses.”
He continues: “The present debate over Donald Trump’s impeachment has largely been framed in originalist terms. But for all of this doctrine’s supposed appeal as a settled form of legal interpretation, it would be prudent to recognize that originalism now comes in about as many flavors as the Ben and Jerry’s product line. The dominant model, for the moment, is what’s known as public meaning originalism. Champions of this approach contend that the goal of interpreting the Constitution is to identify what a competent and reasonably well-informed speaker of American English in 1788 would have thought the words of the text meant. For Republicans and many movement conservatives, public meaning originalism is the default mode of inquiry for virtually every constitutional question. The Federalist Society, the influential right-wing legal group that now effectively issues the union card for entry into right-wing politics and law, has made public meaning originalism its unofficial philosophy, arguing in essence that originalism is not simply the best, but is indeed the only legitimate mode of interpreting the Constitution.”
Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments is an exploratory, experimental history of the lives of young black women in northern cities in the early twentieth century. Its author, Saidiya Hartmann, had just won a MacArthur “genius” grant for her innovative scholarship when we sat down to discuss the book earlier this month. I think that it was at this moment that the seven students in History 5410 Race and Gender in Modern America really gelled. The day’s student seminar-leaders guided us through a provocative, wide-ranging discussion about how Hartmann’s method beautifully evoked the inner worlds of women largely invisible in the historical record where they mostly appear as statistics in sociologies of the ghetto, names on police blotters, or case files of detention centers. We considered what Hartmann taught us about these young women’s lives with her method that we might not have understood otherwise and discussed whether or not this was a method that graduate students in history might want to embrace.
Hartmann’s book is
among a set of histories of race and gender in the U.S. since 1877 that the
course includes. We have read about miscegenation, farmworkers and migrants, and
women’s employment and “economic citizenship” and are moving on to
civil rights, conservative politics of the family, and mass incarceration. Katie,
a first-year doctoral student in the department, comments that “I have
never explored race and gender exclusively in a course and the well-selected
readings and discussions have forced me to re-evaluate my preconceived notions
of both of these concepts. This class has challenged me to really understand
how race and gender construct one another in today’s world.” Grace
Campagna, a senior history major, echoes the point, observing that “The
biggest takeaway from the class so far has been seeing the range of ways that
those in power have used race and gender to construct and uphold social,
political, and economic systems.”
The seminar is
based in a student-centered pedagogy. Will Hogue, a second-year doctoral
student, says that “Dr. Swinth’s commitment to experimenting with new and
more democratic pedagogical methods has been very rewarding.” He adds, “The
collaborative syllabus model gives the students not only the chance to tailor
the course to their personal needs and goals, but also the chance to practice
some lesson planning and course construction. In all, it has been helpful for
our development both as scholars and teachers.” In fact, the class just
completed a collaborative process to set the topics for the last four weeks of
the seminar, all chosen by students to reflect their interests and to pursue
questions that have arisen in the first part of the course.
At its most basic, this course investigates the ways that race and gender have shaped what it is like to live in the United States today. It draws upon the field of history and the skills, talents, and creativity of committed graduate students (and an accompanying professor) to explore the key categories and mechanisms that have made race and gender “tick” in American culture and society since Reconstruction. In many it is a traditional graduate readings seminar. Course readings analyze how these key, intersecting categories shaped American politics, economy, culture, state, and criminal justice system. But beyond that, the seminar’s deeper goal is to follow the class’s collective interests. What do class members, as individuals, and the class, as a group, want to understand better and more deeply about the history of race and gender in the U.S.? This course is as an opportunity to figure out why learning about this topic matters to comprehending U.S. history, why it matters to students (personally, professionally, as citizens/contributors), and why it matters to the larger world, future students, and other audiences we have yet to identify.
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