Saturday, September 19, 2020

Honoring RBG and the Brooklyn She Grew Up In

Like RBG, I grew up in Brooklyn in a time when young people like us- the children and grandchildren of once despised immigrants- had hope that the country would finally welcome us and that we could change it for the better. People like Carol King, who went to the same high school as RBG, used music as their vehicle of expression; people like Bernie Sanders( also a Madison grad) found their mission in electoral politics; Ruth Bader Ginsburg transformed the nation through the practice of law Although I went to different high schools than they did, I was swept up in the optimism of post war America and saw no contradiction between my own dreams of upward mobility and my vision of the US as a more just society. Today, as dreams of upward mobility fade in an increasingly unequal society, and racism and white supremacy have returned to haunt us in the ugliest forms, we should take the time to honor Justice Ginsberg for devoting her life to bringing out the best in this country, and the best in all of us. We may no longer have Justice Ginsburg as a daily presence, but we have to work extra hard to keep her dreams and her legacy alive If we don't do this, we may see the US become a place that people of conscience have to leave, rather than a place which dreamers from all over the world see as a place to fulfill their destiny

Friday, September 11, 2020

Nothing Can Stop the Progression of Scholarship in African American History

I have been teaching the history of race in America for more than 50 years, largely to college students, and have been writing about that history even longer. Hundreds of my students have taught this subject on a high school and elementary school level; a slightly smaller number teach it at Universities, and a few of my students have become world renowned scholars in the fields of race studies and African American History And I will tell you this--- NOTHING, and I mean NOTHING, can stop the progression of scholarship in African American history and its honest uncovering of just how much of the wealth of US society was created through the forced labor of people of African descent, some of it occurring after slavery ended.. If people are threatened by bringing this history into the workplace, into schools, into private businesses, even into the sports arena, they are going to be very disappointed in how rapidly this kind of inquiry is spreading. I can tell you this- it is certainly spreading at Fordham. And will continue to spread when people in my generation retire.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Why I Will Continue to Post About the Dangers of The Trump Presidency

The Donald Trump Presidency represents the ascendancy of the worst impulses in US History- a turn toward racism and xenophobia at the expense of the idealistic and optimistic impulses that made this country a symbol of hope to immigrants the world over. It is not a foreign implant- it is the ghost of slave auctions, internment camps, lynching parties and massacres of Native Peoples coming back to haunt us. This is why Trump has just banned anti- racist education and training in federal agencies. He does not want people to be exposed to the full extent of the crimes that were committed in the name of white supremacy, crimes that his own Administration want excised from its vision of American identity If you want a sanitized portrait of the American past, or a normalization of the nation's current political atmosphere, you will not find it here Every day, I am going to sound the alarm about the dangers Donald Trump and his supporters pose to future of this country and do so by invoking examples from US and world history. That is going to be my mission until this election is over and quite possibly for years to come.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Tribute to a Bronx Legend: PS 140 Principal Paul Cannon Retires

Yesterday, Paul Cannon made the big announcement; after two decades leading a great elementary school in the same Bronx neighborhood he grew up in- PS 140 in Morrisania- he was retiring from the NYC Department of Education. My emotions about this announcement are mixed. On the one hand, I am happy that Mr Cannon will be able to escape the stress and sleepless nights that are the Principal's lot during this Pandemic. On the other hand, I am sad that a new generation of young people will lack the guidance of a person who loved his school, loved his students, loved the Bronx and loved life. I first met Paul Cannon during the heroic early days of the Bronx African American History Project when we were doing 3 oral history interviews a week, many of them documenting the rise of a Black community in the Bronx neighborhood of Morrisania. Someone who knew Paul set the interview up, and it was a memorable experience. An older gentleman who joined Paul for the interview shared some memorable stories about life in the legendary Blue Morrocco, one of Morrisania's leading music clubs in the 50's and 60's; Paul himself regaled us with stories about growing up on Union Avenue and having to run home from Columbus High School whenever the Italian kids at that school got in a fight with a Black kid; but the thing that impressed me most during the interview was Paul describing how he organized Sunday basketball games for neighborhood fathers at PS 140 so they would be more involved with their children's education. Any principal who was in their school 7 days a week had my attention, and I arranged to visit PS 140 on a school day and play in one of the Sunday basketball game Thus began a 15 year relationship between PS 140 and the Bronx African American History Project that has included numerous visits by its students to Fordham, the creation of an "Old School Museum" in the school honoring the legacy of Historic Morrisania, "School Yard Jams" where students dressed up and performed the music of neighborhood artists like the Chantels, Eddie Palmieri and Grandmaster Flash- one of which took place at the 2008 Convention of the Organization of American Historians-and tours of the school which I organized for visitors ranging from a member of the NY State Board of Regents, to education scholar Pedro Noguera, to social workers and musicians from Germany. What stands out most to me from all these visits and events is Paul Cannon's love for his students, his determination to do everything possible to make his school a welcoming place, from having beautiful murals all over the building, to having couches in the school lobby for neighborhood grandparents, and his genius in making Bronx pride and Morrisania pride an integral part of his school culture! You could not enter PS 140 without feeling the joy with which Mr Cannon approached his job, even at a time when schools in the Bronx were being threatened with closure and deluged with tests. Under those pressures, many schools in the Bronx closed down their community history programs and did nothing but test prep. Not Mr Cannon. Even in the height of the school closing mania under Michael Bloomberg, at PS 140, community history was always front and center Paul Cannon is a true hero of the Bronx-someone who took pride in its history, shared that pride, and used it to enhance the experience of thousands of young people growing up in the Borough. He also turned his school into a center for neighborhood renewal efforts, working with the Bronx Old Timers group to organize summer programs for local youth and have streets and schoolyards land marked to honor neighborhood heroes. I always tell my students that though many people associate the Bronx with crime and decay, its revival in the face of multiple catastrophes make it a great American success story. Paul Cannon is one of the individuals who spearheaded that revival. Working with him, and building a friendship with him, has been one of the great joys of my life

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

A Message to Trump Supporters- And To All of Us

To all the people who will be voting for Trump in spite of, and perhaps because of, his cruelty, his lies, his incompetence and his fomenting of violence and racial divisions. You have your own reasons for doing this, your own moral calculus through which you can explain your actions. What you are doing not only saddens me, it enrages me. I may not say anything or do anything about my feelings. People have the right to vote for who they want to. But I will not soon forget this injury, to me, my students, my family, and my country, To me, voting for Donald Trump is a rejection of everything I was taught to aspire to when I grew up in a more innocent age. It is a rejection of everything I was taught that America represented. Given what we know about him, what we learn about him every day, the Donald Trump Presidency marks the end of the grand illusion that the United States was a society that other nations should aspire to be like, and that people all over the world would want to come to Now, we are just another failed state led by liars and thieves, a place where raw power rules, where there is no common legal or moral fabric, and where the rich and powerful get their way without significant opposition I guess I should be thankful to you for killing a dream that was always an illusion. But those dreams motivated me powerfully during my childhood and youth, and I mourn their passing. The America of my dreams is dying fast. I am not sure there are enough people who care enough to revive it

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Official Statement: The Mission of Fordham's Department of African and African American Studies in a Challenging Time

Official Statement: The Mission of the Department of African and African American Studies in a Challenging Time August 31, 2020 We, the faculty of the Department of African and African American Studies at Fordham University, write this statement during an extraordinary time when the dual pandemics of COVID-19 and racism have transformed our lives, livelihoods, and institutions. Our condolences go out to members of our community who have lost loved ones during this difficult time. We find hope and strength in our commitment to justice, equality, and freedom which are the core values of African and African American Studies. We stood in full solidarity with the millions of people who marched across the country and the world in past months following the brutal killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and so many other people of color in spite of a global pandemic. Jointly with other departments and programs at Catholic Universities and Colleges around the country, we issued a statement expressing our full solidarity with Black Lives Matter movement and the protests in defense of justice and equality. We believe that the protests in the streets will not be enough to transform our society, nor will statements alone. The world is changing around us but it is not changing soon enough to address the evils of our society that have terrorized black people and people of color for too long. COVID-19 has exposed the profound impacts of the existing structural injustices in the U.S. Blacks and people of color are disproportionately affected by the dual pandemics. During this difficult time, faculty members and students in the department have increased their level of activism, joining Black Lives Matter protests and vigils both in person and remotely, supporting our students in demands for change at the University, launching a Bronx COVID-19 Oral History Project and working with Mutual Aid groups throughout the city to bring resources to underserved communities. We welcome Fordham Action Plan to combat racism and injustices, but we urge its leadership to take meaningful actions to move forward. We call upon the University to increase funding for African and African American Studies and take steps to expand its faculty and the number of black students on campus, develop partnership with neighboring communities, empower the perspectives of the most marginalized, and address the vulnerabilities that black students face with police and policing culture that affect them on campus. We are committed to a new academic orientation that paves the way for a new America free from racism, hate, and injustices – a new America that renews its commitment to the highest ideals of humanity: that every human being is sacred. As a department, we pledge to offer a safe space to faculty, students, and members of the public to debate difficult and challenging questions about who we are and how we get here in order to imagine our collective future. We will grapple with the histories of slavery, segregation, lynching, and mass incarceration that shaped our collective memories about the current state of affairs. We will strive to equip our students with the tools that they need to cultivate a new way of knowing, of imagining America in the midst of pandemic, isolation, despair and fear. This reality has underscored in many ways the fact that we are all historical actors in an unparalleled historic moment. We must use our collective powers to create every opportunity to enact substantive and transformative change—whether that is in our classes, at home, or in our local communities. Whatever our discipline or department, now is the time for Fordham members to shine their light in the world and to use our thirst for knowledge to advance what is good and just. As we begin our classes on-line and in-person this fall, we have been very proud of the efforts of faculty, students, and staff to come together in the spirit of solidarity and compassion. Despite the challenges, we continue to produce brilliant scholarship and our students continue to challenge us to think critically about our collective future. We hope you are having a healthy and safe semester! Signed, Members of the Faculty of the Department of African & African American Studies Fordham University

Sunday, August 30, 2020

I Know You: My Short Portrait of Trump Supporters

I know you. You can't watch sports on television without feeling enraged, whether it is from athletes taking a knee during the national anthem, the proliferation of Black Lives Matter shirts and signs at sports events, or the Modelo Beer ads praising the heroism of Latino immigrants. You can't even turn on ESPN anymore because of all the talk about racial oppression and social justice, Your children's schools are becoming places where white kids are the minority. You worry about their safety, and about the rising tax bill you have to pay for extra services for recent immigrants. You look at the Democratic ticket and think it is a set up to make a Black Woman President some time in the next five years, and feel the clock is ticking for white people in the United States. You look at the thousands of Black Lives Matter protests around the country, some of them leading to disorder and fear the country is descending into anarchy The only time you feel good about the country is when you see Donald Trump speaking to you on television, or read his tweets. And you will do anything in your power to make sure he stays president, because everywhere you look, you see threats to your family and your children's future.