A follow-up to Amanda’s post about teaching in the time of Trump. Trump’s campaign and administration represent an opportunity to teach about racism in the construction of national identity. I stumbled into this subject accidentally in my globalization course last week, with an assignment that asked students to write a response to “Is France or the USA a more global society?” Students were supposed to reference the following items:
- Zoe Chace, “Act One: Party in the USA,” This American Life, episode 600, 28 October 2016, http://tal.fm/600/1.
- Sarah Shin, “Alain Badiou on riots and racism,” Verso Books, 22 August 2011, http://www.versobooks.com/blogs/681-alain-badiou-on-riots-and-racism-daily-humiliation.
- Justin E. H. Smith, “Does Immigration Mean ‘France Is Over’?” The New York Times, 5 January 2014, https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/01/05/does-immigration-mean-france-is-over/.
- David Wong, “How Half of America Lost Its F**king Mind,” Cracked, 12 October 2016, http://www.cracked.com/blog/6-reasons-trumps-rise-that-no-one-talks-about/.
Yesterday I heard this radio report about residents of Newton, Massachusetts, one of the wealthiest and therefore whitest communities in the USA:
- Gabrielle Emmanuel, “A Caustic Trumpian Tone Invades Newton’s Politics,” WGBH news, 31 January 2016, http://news.wgbh.org/2017/01/31/politics-government/caustic-trumpian-tone-invades-newtons-politics.
And then there is this 2015 comparison of the racially-charged rhetoric of Trump and George Wallace and why it wins U.S. elections:
- Jamelle Bouie, “Donald Trump is Our George Wallace,” Slate.com, 27 September 2015, https://goo.gl/fhW7u2.
All of the above items present in not-so-coded language examples of Americans (or the French) defining what it means to be American (or French) in racial terms, where immigrants and others are assigned to undifferentiated categories and castigated as threats to the existing national sexual, economic, and political order. The radio stories from This American Life and WGBH are especially enlightening in this regard — references to the dangers of miscegenation and infectious disease abound.
If you want students to explore the formation of racialized national narratives in a historical context, I can recommend the following:
- Noel Ignatiev, How the Irish Became White (Routledge, 1995), especially chapter 6.
- Jack Zipes, “Once Their Were Two Brothers Named Grimm,” the introductory chapter in several editions of Zipes’ translation of the Grimms’ fairy tales.
Ignatiev’s subject is self-explanatory. Zipes discusses the Grimms’ use of a very diverse body of oral traditions to create a literature that promoted what they viewed as the essential characteristics and values of the German volk.
Finally, on the topic of making white America feel safe again, there is this item on availability bias and the psychology of fear:
- Jenny Anderson, “The psychology of why 94 deaths from terrorism are scarier than 301,797 deaths from guns,” Quartz.com, 31 January 2017, https://qz.com/898207/the-psychology-of-why-americans-are-more-scared-of-terrorism-than-guns-though-guns-are-3210-times-likelier-to-kill-them/.