Category Archives: Society

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

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

Why I’m Not Writing this Essay

I’ve been writing blog posts at this website for over six years now.  Well over 500 to date.  But I’m not doing it today.  I’m not writing an essay today.

Why, you ask?  Why am I refusing to entertain my loyal dozens (and countless accidental readers) with yet another rambling jeremiad today?  Well, there’s a whole bunch of reasons, really.  Behold.

I’m a Lazy Bastard: My whole life I’ve loved nothing better than doing nothing.  Sometimes I come clean and admit my lethargy.  Yet people often refuse to believe me.  “You have a Ph.D.  You’ve published three books.  You helped negotiate the Peace of Westphalia.  You can’t possibly be lazy.”  I wave off their protestations.  I insist that I am really quite slovenly.  I remind them that professors are notoriously lazy, barely rousing themselves to fabricate random grades for their students.  But the skeptics just pshaw and in insist I’m energetic.

Yeah?  Well not energetic enough to write this essay.

There’s a Stray Cat on the Back Porch: I think he might be part Maine Coon.  He’s got pointy ears that sprout tufts of hair.  He’s not fully grown but looks to be getting quite large.  And he doesn’t seem to mind the cold.  Hell, I think he enjoys it.  A few weeks back it got down to 14F at night.  For you fancy people with your hip, scientific measurements, that’s some big negative number in Celcius. Continue reading Why I’m Not Writing this Essay

The Counter Revolution

The United States boasts a deeply conservative economic tradition.  From its origins as a colonial, agricultural society, it quickly emerged as a slave holding republic built on the ethnic cleansing and occasional genocide of Indigenous peoples.  After the Civil War (1861-65), it reshaped itself in the crucible of unfettered laissez-faire capitalism straight through to the Roaring ‘20s.  A post-Depression Keynesian consensus led U.S. leaders to reign in the most conservative impulses during the mid-20th century, but the Reagan Revolution of the 1980s set the stage for the current neo-liberal moment.

Consequently, ever since the industrial revolution, the United States has typically trailed other developed nations in establishing a basic social welfare system.  It has never fielded a competitive socialist or labor party.  It was the last major nation to implement an old age pension.  More recently, ObamaCare made it the last major nation to mandate that all of its citizens receive some sort of healthcare coverage, even if it’s quite wanting in many cases.

Amid its overriding conservativism, the United States has had only three presidents with any real socialist tendencies: Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1933-45), Harry S. Truman (1945-53), and most recently Lyndon Baines Johnson, whose presidency (1963-69) ended before half of current Americans were born (median age 37.9)

The election of Donald Trump as president and, just as important, the impending Republican dominance of Congress, make certain that the United States will not correct its social welfare shortcomings anytime soon.  Indeed, the nation may take significant steps backwards.

However, a quick review of America’s stunted progressive history suggests that the opportunity for a progressive counter-revolution may be closer than it appears at this dark moment.  And not because Trump’s victory represents the last gasp of an aging generation or the violent undulations of a shrinking white electorate.  But rather, because Trump and his Grand Old Posse have the potential to wreak so much damage and engender so much ignominy upon the national consciousness as to generate the kind of rare and extreme circumstances that have previously led the United States to make genuine progress in developing modern social welfare.  The chaos and horrors of a Trump presidency may yet produce opportunities for improving the nation. Continue reading The Counter Revolution

Dear Readers: Let’s Make Me Bad

professor-plumApparently there’s a new sheriff in town, and its name is Professor Watch List.

In case you hadn’t heard, its a website dedicated to spying on and publicly decrying liberal college professors.  Its mission is to “expose and document college professors who discriminate against conservative students, promote anti-American values, and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.”

Anti-American values?  That’s my middle name!

So far they’ve outed about a couple of hundred college professors, a rambling list that is organized by the professors’ first names because maybe  . . . they couldn’t manage anything more sophisticated than hitting the Sort button?

From this long and growing list, highlighted for ridicule on the site’s home page are: a white woman, a Latino, a Jew, two blacks, and an Italian American who, gasp, is “an admitted socialist.”

Diversity!

A look at the longer list reveals some odd choices.  Continue reading Dear Readers: Let’s Make Me Bad

This Is Not About White People

white-personMaybe one day I’ll publish the 2,500 word screed I just wrote about how fucking sick I am of white people.  And not just the racist, sexist assholes who eagerly voted for a racist, sexist asshole flaunting racism and sexism as a central part of his campaign; or the not-racist, sexist assholes who held their noses and pulled the lever for a racist, sexist asshole, and in doing so exhibited moral bankruptcy by giving public sanction to racism and sexism; but also the middle class, white liberals assholes who valiantly fought hard to prevent a racist, sexist asshole from reaching the White House but, once they lost, became self-centered, self-indulgent turds who had to publicly make everything about themselves, because nobody fucking suffers like white people.

Maybe one day I’ll publish that essay.

But not today.  Because publishing that essay, ironically enough, would be just one more way in which a white, middle class asshole (me) found a way to use his privileged platform (this and other, larger websites where I publish) to make public declarations about white people.  And even though it’s a blistering critique which I stand behind every word of, it would just be another example of a white person making this all about white people.

And right now, this is not about white people.  This is about what we, as Americans, choose to do amid the horror that some of us have wrought.

So instead of going an angry rant, I am going to write in support brown people, in support immigrants, and in support women, and in support of LGBTQ people. Continue reading This Is Not About White People

The Founders Didn’t Want You to Vote, But I Do

founding fathersI’ve been blogging for just over six years.  During that time, I’ve published nearly 500 essays.

By far, the article that has been linked to more than any other is one of the first I penned back in 2010.  It is entitled “The Founding Fathers Did Not Want You to Vote.”

Traffic to that essay has been up and down over the years, tending to do well during election season.  But this year was different.

Online views began a consistent upward trend last November, experienced several spikes during primary season, and picked up steam as the party conventions aired.  Since September, it has been viewed dozens, and then hundreds of times per day.

So far in 2016, the essay has received more than three times as many hits as it had during the previous five years combined.

To date it has been viewed nearly 7,000 times at my website, with another 150 views today before by 10:00 AM.

I run a small, non-profit, personal web page.  An idiosyncratic little blog with fewer than 70 subscribers and just over 500 Facebook followers.  The popularity of “The Founding Fathers Did Not Want You to Vote” dwarfs anything else I’ve ever published, including my many essays cross-posted at much larger sites like 3 Quarks Daily, or various pieces that have occasionally caught lightening in a bottle.

I have no illusions about the essay’s popularity.  I realize that many people who click to the page do not actually read it, or much of it.

But I also know how people are finding it, and I think that says something. Continue reading The Founders Didn’t Want You to Vote, But I Do

Talking to a High School Student about Racism

high-schoolRecently, a high school student contacted me because she had questions about racism in America.  Specifically, she wanted to interview me for a school project on the topic of institutional racism.

Institutional racism is a tricky subject, and I did my best to introduce her to the complexities and nuances of something that often flies under the radar.  Many white Americans are unaware of the issue, or have trouble understanding it if they are aware.  And so after I answered her questions, I decided to re-print our Q&A.

Here is my conversation with a high schooler about racism in America.

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Thank you very much for helping me with my project by taking the time out of your day to answer a few of my questions on the following questions/topics.

How do you define institutional racism?  And how prevalent would you say it is in modern North American society?

We normally associate racism and bigotry with the intentional actions of an individual or group of people.  But institutional racism is the result of larger social forces that can be difficult to detect.  Instead of one person or a few people doing or saying something racist, institutional racism comes about when society at large expresses racism in more subtle and impersonal ways. Continue reading Talking to a High School Student about Racism

An Open Letter to Trump Supporters

open-letterLet’s be honest.  This probably  isn’t the type of website that attracts many Trump supporters.

But that’s not just a Public Professor thing.  It turns out that online or off, most Clinton supporters have minimal contact with Trump supporters and vica versa.  It’s a national phenomenon that speaks to the profound geographic and social segregation of partisan America.

Indeed, it’s probably a bit pointless for me to post an open letter to Trump supporters here.  But honestly, I’m not sure where else to turn.  After all, I don’t get to hoist monthly essays onto any Republican-leaning websites, and what follows is bound to be a bit too long for that modern day version of a Letter to the Editor, the beastly maelstrom known as a Comment Section.

So if you happen to be among that slim minority of Clintonistas who has real and meaningful interactions with Trumpatistas, feel free to share this with them, he said, like pen pal in want of a postman.

Dear Trump Supporter:

I get it.  Clinton supporters can be insufferable, condescending elitists. Continue reading An Open Letter to Trump Supporters