By Mark TreckaPostcommodity first began discussing the logistics of the Repellent Fence project with the Tucson-Pima Arts Council eight years ago. At several points throughout the weekend, the artists joke that Roberto Bedoya, the head of the council, thought they were crazy in the early stages of their talks. The projected site was moved several times over the years, responding to local political issues, safety concerns, and practical realities. Eventually, the border towns of Douglas, Arizona and Agua Prieta, Sonora emerged as an an ideal location for the work because they are “two communities really interested in binational cooperation,” Cristóbal Martínez explains.
By Kay WhitlockWhen I am filled with pain, and seeking change in my life but unclear, uncertain, or even ambivalent about new directions and possible choices, I spend time in quiet reflection and meditation. Then I head for The Crossroads. I go to make an inchoate plea for insight, revelation, and guidance—what some folks would call a prayer. I go when the daylight language of “issues” and politics as usual sounds like meaningless gibberish and possesses such a profound aura of lifelessness that even zombies cannot arise and lurch toward us in its presence.
By Caroline LightThis week we shoulder the weight of our grief and outrage after yet another mass shooting by a heavily-armed gunman, this one directed at patrons of an LGBTQ night club in Orlando on Latin night. Forty-nine innocent people are dead and more than fifty wounded. Once again we struggle to make sense of the senseless, asking how we keep following the same nightmarish script. But just as the loss feels most raw, and some of us may be tempted by reductionist appeals to xenophobia, it is urgent for us to take stock of the cumulative effects of our nation’s violent past.
By Rashod OllisonFresh-cut watermelon smelling like rain and ribs sizzling on a grill bring the music back. The songs complement the food and the weather and Technicolor the memories of when we were all just kids with nothing in our pockets but waxy penny candy. We thought we knew everything. We knew nothing. All that mattered was that my cousins and I in Arkansas—with our Jheri curls and short sets, scarred knees and Tabasco tongues—were all together and that Cousin Rodney’s boom box had fresh batteries.
By Mark TreckaInside the Saddle and Spur Tavern in Douglas, Arizona, it is easy to forget that about a mile south down G Street, just past the Douglas Meat Warehouse, the United States ends and Mexico begins. It is easy to forget that the U.S.-Mexico border is a mile away even though the Saddle and Spur doubles as the Gadsden Hotel’s bar. Opened in 1907, the hotel is named for the 1853 Gadsden Purchase, in which John Gadsden, the American ambassador to Mexico, negotiated the $10 million purchase of 30,000 square miles of Mexico. The deal determined the line of 1,945 miles that is the present-day border
By Dina Gilio-WhitakerThe war that is Native American cultural appropriation rages on. And make no mistake, this is a war for the control of meaning on what constitutes cultural appropriation, and thus what is considered acceptable in the U.S. American mind when it comes to American Indian culture and even intellectual property rights. In the world of media those with the biggest platforms have a decided advantage when it comes to influencing public opinion. It’s something Dan Snyder, owner of the notorious Washington Redsk*ns, knows full well.
By Sharon Leslie MorganOn January 23, 1977, more than 100 million people across America tuned their television sets to ABC to watch one of the first and still few programs to truthfully tell the story of American slavery. The historic miniseries, based on the novel by Alex Haley, recounted the genealogical saga of one of the first black people in America to successfully trace his ancestry backwards from the tobacco fields of Virginia, through the Middle Passage, to the West African Gambia village of Juffure. Revolutionary in its content, it was a story that embodied extreme examples of both horror and hope, along with the emotionally wrenching roller coaster of events that tied those reactions together.
By Nicholas DiSabatinoOne of the most gratifying aspects of working on Dr. Christopher Emdin’s New York Times bestselling book, For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood…and the Rest of Y’all Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education, is seeing the reaction of educators on Twitter. Since it went on sale this past March, the book has elicited enthusiastic and thoughtful tweets, fulfilling a definite need in the conversation in the world of urban education.
By José OrduñaA large bearded man named Tommy rolls a shopping cart full of wooden crosses into a small square off the Pan American Avenue. Someone has painted them all white. One block south of where we stand, the United States ends abruptly. Between a double wall made of iron, a concrete trench is filled with loose coils of concertina wire. The metal teeth glint under the red sun. To our west sits an air-conditioned McDonald’s and just past that a Wal-Mart sprawls into the horizon.
A Q&A with Margaret ReganStarting in the 1980s, we began to have a policy of detaining immigrants. We didn’t really have detention centers ever since we shut down Ellis Island and Angel Island in the 1950s. 1980s policy changed. We were going to do detention centers. So, what do you do? You suddenly start needing prisons. You go to the private sector because they’re agile, they can do things. Corrections Corporation of America began around 1983. Their first project was an immigration detention center in Houston, Texas. And they quickly moved into the regular prison sector also. So they are a for-profit corporation.
By Christopher EmdinIn his proclamation for this year’s National Teacher Appreciation Week (May 2-6), President Barack Obama states that “our country’s teachers—from the front lines of our civil rights movement to the front lines of our education system—have helped steer our country’s course. They witness the incredible potential of our youth, and they know firsthand the impact of a caring leader at the front of the classroom.” Associate professor and educator Christopher Emdin is certainly at the front lines of a radical approach to teaching urban youth.
By David StovallThe 2016 report issued by the Southern Poverty Law Center (The Trump Effect) reveals a disturbing, but commonly known fact in US public schools: the United States has NEVER intended to educate the majority of its populace. Because it hasn’t, we find ourselves in a constant struggle to make sense of a world that masks the realities of economic decline, imperialism, and white supremacy. The inability to provide an education that provides the masses with the capacity to ask critical questions of themselves and government feeds into a sordid process that engages a mythical relationship. With a problematic account of history that is imbued in the larger racist colonial project of stereotype, violence, and innuendo, our society rewards diversions from historical accuracy through the glorification of the contributions of rich white males.
By Alondra NelsonGenetic genealogy testing aligns with an enduring human desire: the search for roots and identity. The appeal of genetic ancestry testing cannot be understood without also understanding the backdrop of the specific example author Alex Haley provided about how this should be accomplished and what effects it might produce. Roots, for which Haley received a Pulitzer Prize, tells the story of Haley’s colorful family genealogy, which he traces back to The Gambia. The story is framed as the author’s “epic quest”: his prodigious efforts across years and continents to uncover his family’s past. In 1977, when Haley’s work was transformed into a television miniseries, the story of his ancestors’ trials, tribulations, and resilience held the country in rapt attention for eight days.
By Molly AltizerPresidential candidate Donald Trump demonstrated his brand of blatant racism when he accepted an invitation by local Republicans to speak in the town of Patchogue, NY, last week at a Republican fundraiser just blocks from where Ecuadorian immigrant Marcelo Lucero was murdered in 2008.
By Dina Gilio-WhitakerIndigenous peoples have long fought for meaningful inclusion in international political fora, beginning at least as far back as 1923 with the League of Nations, the United Nations’ precursor. Despite the fact that Indigenous peoples (IPs) have always practiced the art of international diplomacy with each other and outsiders who invaded their territories—and the fact that their existences as nations typically far predate today’s modern states—they have been largely shut out from the contemporary world’s political processes.
A Q&A with José OrduñaHappy Publication day to José Orduña and his memoir, The Weight of Shadows: A Memoir of Immigration and Displacement! The Weight of Shadows chronicles the process of becoming a North American citizen in a post-9/11 United States. It is a searing meditation on the nature of political, linguistic, and cultural borders, and the meaning of “America.” Our executive editor Gayatri Patnaik spoke with Orduña to discuss James Baldwin’s influence, Orduña’s hopes for the book, and how he crafted the narrative.
A Q&A with Andrea RitchiePublic awareness of police brutality is growing, spurred by stories about individual Black men who have been murdered by police across the country. But Black women and women of color have been rendered largely invisible in discussions about state-sanctioned violence, even though they too are targeted and killed by police officers. What can we learn from their experiences of injustice, and from their resistance and activism? Black lesbian police misconduct attorney and organizer Andrea Ritchie, co-author of Say Her Name: Resisting Police Violence Against Black Women and Queer (In)Justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States, takes on these issues in her forthcoming book, Invisible No More, due out next spring. With Women’s History Month still fresh in our mind, we caught up with Ritchie to ask what to expect in her eye-opening account.
What sacrifices does a Pakistani wife have to make while living under a military dictatorship? Why are there still so few women working in the hard sciences? Which historically misunderstood workforce forged alliances with activists in the women’s rights and black freedom movements? The answers lie in the books we are featuring this year during Women’s History Month, which explore and applaud the contributions women have made—through survival, activism, trailblazing—to history. Ranging from the individual voice of memoir to the joint voices of the collective biography, their narratives ring out with equal intensity.
By Theresa PerryAs I was reading this book, I remembered Dr. Emdin’s March 2014 Simmons College—Beacon Press Race, Education, and Democracy Lectures, upon which this book is based. To the rapt audience, overflowing with high school and college students, teachers and teacher educators, community activists and organizers, the excitement was palpable. The young and the elderly enthusiastically embraced Dr. Emdin’s ideas about urban education and urban youth. Most importantly, all of us in the room could feel Dr. Emdin’s passion, love, and respect for our youth.
By Premilla NadasenWelcome to the third entry in our Montgomery Bus Boycott Turns 60 Series. Domestic worker Georgia Gilmore was one of the little-known organizers and activists in the boycott, which is why, during Women’s History Month, we are putting the spotlight on her. Gilmore raised money for the boycott and founded the organization Club from Nowhere so that black donators could give money to the cause anonymously without drawing unwanted attention from their white employers and losing their jobs. She cooked out of her own home for people involved in the boycott after she was fired from her own job because of her activism. As this excerpt from Premilla Nadasen's Household Workers Unite shows, Dr. King would not have become the leading civil rights leader he was without the behind-the-scenes work of people like Gilmore who kept the cause afloat.