All posts by The Public Professor

About The Public Professor

The Public Professor is Akim Reinhardt, Associate Professor of History at Towson University in Baltimore.

Charlottesville, Heather Heyer, and America’s Quest for White Martyrs of Racial Violence

It began with Emmett Till.

He was a fourteen year old black boy from Chicago visiting relatives in Mississippi in 1954 when two white men lynched him to death for whistling at a white woman.  That in itself, sadly, wasn’t so unusual.  Thousands of African Americans were lynched to death during the first half of the 20th century.  What was different about this particular lynching was his mother’s response.

Till’s mother demanded her son’s body be returned to Chicago instead of getting a quick burial in Mississippi. She then insisted upon an open-casket funeral so the world could see what they had done to her boy.  The black press covered the funeral as upwards of 50,000 mourners passed by the coffin. Jet magazine and The Chicago Defender newspaper published photos of his body, mutilated almost beyond recognition.  Afterwards, mainstream (white) national publications also ran the pictures and covered the story in depth, and Emmett Till entered the larger white consciousness as a martyr of racial violence.

Needless to say, there have been countless black (and Latinx and Indigenous and Asian) victims of racial violence in America over the last four centuries.  How many black people have been killed or maimed by whites for, essentially, being black? The number is impossible to know.  As an American historian, I suspect that tens of thousands would be an underestimate.  When considering the ravages of slavery and decades of subsequent lynch violence, the number could easily be in the hundreds of thousands.

Yet prior to Emmett Till, almost none of them ever entered white consciousness as martyrs.  Till became the first, the token black, the only one from among the countless thousands who most white people ever learned about in school or could cite by name.  Slavery and Jim Crow repression wrought horrible violence was no secret.  But upon whom, specifically?

In the 1960s, Till was joined in this sad canon only by Martin Luther King, Medgar Evers (briefly), and Malcolm X (but only to a minority of whites).  However, with the death of King in 1968, white consciousness considered the civil rights era over, largely went into hiding on the issue of race, and stopped acknowledging new black martyrs of white racial violence.

Why? Continue reading Charlottesville, Heather Heyer, and America’s Quest for White Martyrs of Racial Violence

Man-Child Author of the Google Memo

I finally got around to actually reading the now-infamous internal Google memo about women in the workplace.  The first thing that strikes me is that The Atlantic is absolutely correct: The press coverage has largely been atrocious.  In fact, it’s the kind of thing that really gives the press a bad name.
 
In short, the memo is decidedly NOT an attack on diversity as so many outlets have erroneously reported.  Quite to the contrary, the memo’s author goes out of his way to say that he supports diversity in the work place and wants there to be more of it.  Shit, he even offers up a bunch of solutions to “reduce the gender gap” at Google.  Just read this quote from the memo and tell me it’s a “screed against diversity” like so many articles have claimed.
I hope it’s clear that I’m not saying that diversity is bad, that Google or society is 100% fair, that we shouldn’t try to correct for existing biases, or that minorities have the same experience of those in the majority.

But why let that stand in the way of lazy reporting and inflammatory headlines?

So what exactly is the problem with this this memo [full text here]?

The author, former Google Senior Software Engineer James Damore (he’s since been fired), goes off the rails with his explanations for why there isn’t enough gender diversity at Google specifically and in the computer world more generally.

He makes a series of sexist claims about how women are different from men, and in the process spouts a bunch of pseudo-scientific gibberish about biological determinism of the sexes.  Among other things, Damore states that women relative to men supposedly:

Continue reading Man-Child Author of the Google Memo

There Is No Grand Conspiracy

Donald Trump’s most recent interview with a newspaper editorial board is here.  This time the Wall Street Journal had the privilege of sitting down for a tête à tête with the bloviating POTUS.

I think it’s a good idea to read extensive Trump interviews with serious journalists once in a while, whether they be from a liberal paper like the New York Times or a conservative one like the Journal.  Why?  Because they immediately dispel any notion of Trump as the master puppeteer choreographing a complex dance of political distraction.

There’s a line of thought, fairly popular at the moment, that Trump is some evil mastermind who makes outrageous comments to drag our attention away from his insidious plans, which are supposedly unfolding as we waste time parsing his tweets.

The truth is quite the opposite: Donald Trump is just not very coherent, and he lies a lot. Continue reading There Is No Grand Conspiracy

Interesting Times

I was wrong about Donald Trump winning the presidency.  Hell, I was one of those dopes who thought he wouldn’t even be able to get through the GOP primaries.  But at least one of my predictions did come true.

From day one, I told anyone who asked that a Trump presidency would be far more interesting than any other 2016 electoral scenario.  Indeed, a Trump presidency would be one of the most interesting political developments of the last hundred years, maybe of the next hundred.  And I’m afraid I was right.

After all, these are, if nothing else, interesting times.

There are many reasons to be deeply interested in the festering, moldy pyrotechnics of Trump’s amateur hour presidency.  There’s the sheer comedic value of watching him fumble and roar.  There’s the absolutely stunning, slow motion reshuffling of America’s role on the global stage.  There are the painful undulations and muted screams of a Republican Party unexpectedly confronting its own impotence in the hour of its great victory.  And there are all the things you were absolutely certain would happen that will not.

All of these funny, alarming, surreal shocks and many more cry out for explanation.  Anyone who’s paying attention desperately wants to understand just what the hell happening. Continue reading Interesting Times

Singing the Praises of James Bond

Roger Moore died last week at the age of 89.  He is the first important Bond to pass (sorry David Niven!), so predictably heated arguments ensued: Where does Moore rank in the canon of Bond actors?

It was a boring debate.  Moore was the worst, plain and simple.  He helped drive the franchise into a ditch of silly gadgets and bad puns.  Revisionists now praising Moore celebrate the supposed “camp” of his films are badly misguided.  They weren’t camp.

John Waters films are camp.  The Avengers and Charlie’s Angels are camp.  Drag queen lip sync cabaret is camp.  Roger Moore’s James Bond movies were just bad.

Moore’s first turn as Bond (Live and Let Die, 1973) was actually quite good.  That’s because he was still cowed by the towering shadow of Sean Connery, so he played it straight.  But director Guy Hamilton (who also pushed the franchise in the wrong direction) soon told Moore to stop imitating Connery and just be himself.  It sounds like the kind of genuine, supportive advice you should give any artist.  Except that Moore being himself, as it turned out, was little more than a dandy in a tux.  By his second film (Man with the Golden Gun, 1974) pubescent girls were “upstaging” him in a karate scene.  Har Har.  It wasn’t camp.  It was failed comedy, 1970s-style.  At that point Burt Reynolds could’ve been playing the role.

Part of the problem also stemmed from Moore’s age; he was simply too old for the part during most of his career.  Connery debuted as Bond at age 31.  Moore was 45 when Live and Let Die premiered.  From Moonraker (1979) on, his fight scenes were laughable and his love scenes with women half his age or less were creepy.  Bond the charming dilettante.  Bond the well groomed pensioner.  Bond as a candidate for late life romance on The Love Boat.

Jesus, maybe it was camp.

Nevertheless, when my favorite film critic, A.O. Scott of the New York Times, exalts Moore as the best James Bond on the grounds of camp and pshaws Millennials for not getting it, I just can’t go along.  I’m a Gen Xer like Scott, and I do enjoy camp, but this smells of defending the crap of our youth with rationalized nostalgia.  Waters wants to be camp.  Charlie’s Angels has to be camp.  But Bond movies can actually be good without being campy.

Anyway, instead of prattling on about who the best (or worst) Bond was, I’d rather tackle something a bit tastier: The Top 10 James Bond movie theme songs.  Drum roll please . . . Continue reading Singing the Praises of James Bond

My History Lecture on C-SPAN: Victorian Culture

C-SPAN has a series of televised lectures on American history by college professors.  A colleague was kind enough to recommend me to them.  C-SPAN then asked for a list of potential lecture topics.  I submitted the list, and to my surprise, they asked to film my lecture on Victorian culture in America.   The producer said they she selected this lecture because it’s a bit different from the usual topics they get on the Revolution, the Civil War, and such.

I wrote this lecture a few years ago for the freshman introduction course on U.S. History since the Civil War.  The topic is pretty far from my research area, and nothing I actually specialize in, but I included it on the list because it’s gone over well in the past.  Maybe because it includes a discussion of sex.

So for those of you who have ever wondered just how boring it would be to sit and listen to me ramble on about history for an hour, here’s your chance.  Highlights include photos of dazzling Victorian fashions for men and women, some botched spelling and word history, and a nice cutaway shot of a student yawning.

The lecture was filmed on February 23, 2017 at Towson University.  It originally aired on C-SPAN 3 at 8pm, and then again at midnight opposite Saturday Night Live.  I haven’t checked the ratings, but I’m pretty sure I crushed them.

C-SPAN Lectures in History: Akim Reinhardt on Victorian Culture Continue reading My History Lecture on C-SPAN: Victorian Culture

This Populist Moment

Last week, Barack Obama got beaten up on social media and called out by the press for accepting a $400,000 speaking fee from a Wall Street firm Cantor and Fitzgerald.  It was the day’s major kerfuffle, the non-Trump story of the week, and reactions to it by many of my smart, well reasoned friends surprised me somewhat.

They began with the stance that it simply wasn’t an issue.  Obama’s a private citizen now, so who cares? But lots of people did care.  When the story picked up steam despite their protestations, my friends then blamed the loony left for fabricating the issue, launching a general assault on fringe elements of the Democratic party and a firm defense of sensible liberal or centrist (depending on the friend) outlooks.  But of course it wasn’t just the left.  The right predictably piled on as well, without any prompting from the left.  The story also transcended the partisan divide as the centrist press ran with it.  Christ, even the BBC, the vanilla pudding of international news, covered it.

In the end, the defense of Obama that gained the most traction among my friends, and to some degree in the national media, was a racial analysis.  Some claimed that this brouhaha was another example of white people shaming a black man for earning a paycheck, the imposition of a racial double standard since white politicians and ex-politicians do this kind of thing all time.

This needs to be reckoned with.  Obama was always held to a higher standard, precisely because he was black.  He was always subjected to intense racism.  And the racist backlash to his presidency, as much as anything else, helps explain Trump’s victory.  So was this just another example of that racial double standard?  It’s an important question to ask.

In the end, I don’t think it was.  Which is not to say that Obama is no longer subject to racism and double standards; he obviously is.  And those issues are still at play here, but I don’t believe they’re the driving force.  Because to mark race as the reason for a vast public outcry against his acceptance of money is to ignore the most salient point: where the money came from.

People are not upset that he made money.  Private citizen Obama collecting a $400,000 speaking fee doesn’t violate anyone’s principles, even racist assholes’.  Rather, the problem is that he very specifically took money from Wall Street.  The proof is clear: There wasn’t nearly as much griping when he signed a $20,000,000 book deal last month.

Why did that eight-figure windfall spark nowhere near the outrage this five-figure fee did?  Because no one’s worried that publishing money has corrupted Washington.  No one’s bitter about the book industry crippling the U.S. economy ten years ago, only to reap a massive bailout from taxpayers, and now running amok again.  And thus, virtually no criticism of twenty-million to publish what will probably be the kind of bland, self-serving memoir that every ex-president of late has authored.  But $400,000 from Wall Street is different, if for no other reason than the general public now views Wall Street differently than it used to.

Why did Obama take the speaking fee?  Should he have?  Should people be upset about it?  None of those questions interest me.   Rather, I believe the issue worth considering is: Why exactly did so many people get upset about it?

That question speaks to the current political moment, which Obama seems to have misread, much as the Democratic Party mainstream he represents has been doing for over a year now. Continue reading This Populist Moment

April Fools

Donald Trump’s first hundred days as president are nearly tallied.  Enough time has passed that we can now divide people who voted for him into two groups:

1. Those who: never liked Trump (but made a calculated decision to vote for him); have more  recently developed doubts; or will soon become disillusioned when Trump not only fails to deliver on his promises but actually does the opposite in many respects (eg., loses good paying blue collar jobs instead of creating them; contributes to a national healthcare scenario that’s worse than ObamaCare; doesn’t build a wall or at least doesn’t get Mexico to pay for it, etc.)

2. Suckers

Ahh, the sucker.

Most of us like to pretend we’re immune to crass charlatanism.  I’m not that gullible, you tell yourself, refusing to believe you could be seriously suckered.  Surely, someone as smart as you sees through the vulgar farces dangling before us.

The embarrassing truth, however, is that we all get taken for the proverbial ride now and again.  Continue reading April Fools

Coal Mining or Arby’s?

There’s a Washington Post article making the rounds on social media.  The shocking headline blares:

The Entire Coal Industry Employs Fewer People than Arby’s

People see that and think, Gosh, what’s all the fuss about then?

Obviously this is a dying industry that has already lost tens of thousands of jobs, which are not coming back because of market forces (fracking and OPEC oil dumps) and mechanization (strip mining).

As the article points out, even the head of the nation’s largest private coal company says Trump can’t bring these jobs back.  And anyway, that’s probably a good thing since coal is such a dirty energy source.

It’s all true, of course.  But that line of thinking, devoid of any larger context, overlooks an important point.

Once upon a time, miners fought and died to unionize, transforming themselves from debt peons paid in company scrip to middle class wages earners.

Meanwhile, most of today’s Arby’s workers are essentially modern wage peons.

Continue reading Coal Mining or Arby’s?