A Q&A with Alexandra Minna Stern | I wrote Proud Boys and the White Ethnostate to bear historical witness to disturbing and reactionary political and cultural changes that were afoot in the United States in the mid-2010s. Specifically, I became interested in how and why eugenic ideas from the early 1900s, including race suicide—repackaged today as white genocide—were making a comeback and being disseminated by what came to be called the alt-right. Once I started writing the book, I became more and more interested in understanding the transnational dimensions of the rise of populist nationalism, and how this connects to the resurgence of white nationalism in the United States.
By Christian Coleman | Let’s play the word association game. Come now. It’ll be fun! Peanut : Butter. Instagram : Celebrity. Identity politics : Divisive. Wait. Let’s back up. Divisive? That word has been coming up lately when presidential candidates make identity politics a talking point in public discourse. At an LGBT gala in Las Vegas, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg, the first openly gay candidate, said identity politics have created a “crisis of belonging,” leading us to get “divided and carved up.” Vermont senator Bernie Sanders has criticized identity politics for focusing only on the endgame of diversity—another word with contentious associations and dubious meanings depending on who’s defining it—and neglecting the needs of working people.
Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall riots. We reached out to some of our authors to reflect on the impact of this landmark and turning point in the centuries of queer history in America and the ongoing fight for queer equality. We share their statements with you below.
By Melinda Chateauvert | This year on the fiftieth anniversary of Stonewall, I won’t be participating in the parties and parades that celebrate a movement for LGBTQ equality. It’s not JOMO (Joy Of Missing Out), really. I won’t be “gay” on June 25, because I want to honor the transwomen of color who started this protest and still haven’t gotten what they wanted. Stonewall was a riot. It was led by sex workers, street kids, drug users and hustlers, by marginalized African Americans and Latinx who were pissed off with police harassment and police violence. As World Pride approaches, I’m going to remember what caused that 1969 riot, and refuse to participate in the historical amnesia.
Carlos A. Ball | There has been much commentary on the internet and social media about a recent Gillette ad showing a father helping his transgender son shave for the first time. The ad gives a whole new meaning to Gillette’s long-time slogan “The Best a Man Can Get.” The ad also reflects the extent to which corporate America has fully embraced LGBTQ visibility and equality. In many ways, large corporations have become crucial allies of the LGBTQ rights movement.
A Q&A with Michael Bronski | The idea for YA versions of books in Beacon’s ReVisioning American History series largely came from educators and librarians. My editor, Gayatri Patnaik, and I learned that teachers were looking for resources, and Gayatri suggested we answer their call with a young reader’s edition. With support from the Fund for Unitarian Universalist Social Responsibility, senior editor Joanna Green reached out to educators, librarians, and adapters, who generously and enthusiastically collaborated on this effort. At the moment, Beacon is releasing my book A Queer History of the United States for Young People as well as Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States for Young People. There have been, in the past five years or so, a surge in YA nonfiction publishing, particularly adaptations of adult non-fiction for younger readers. So, the time seemed right, and the fiftieth anniversary of Stonewall seemed to be perfect timing.
By Dina Gilio-Whitaker | For many years now I have been studying, writing, and thinking about what environmental justice means for Indigenous peoples. In my most recent book, As Long as Grass Grows: The Indigenous Fight for Environmental Justice From Colonization to Standing Rock, I take on the topic in very broad but specific ways. I see United States settler colonialism as a history of environmental injustice; in other words, colonization and environmental injustice go hand in hand for Native people.
A Q&A with Dominique Christina | When I got into poetry, I was just trying to expel my own ghosts. No lofty notions about saving the world or addressing the ills therein. I just didn’t want to get off the planet with all of those skeletons hanging on my neck. I realized pretty quickly, though, that my personal traumas reflected my/our historical traumas, and in that regard, whatever medicine I am offering to myself, I am also hoping to speak into the dis-ease in such a way that there is balm enough for all of us.
By Jeanne Theoharis | At the urging of both E. D. Nixon and Virginia Durr, in the summer of 1955, Parks decided to attend a two-week workshop at the Highlander Folk School entitled “Racial Desegregation: Implementing the Supreme Court Decision.” The Durrs had worked with Nixon on various civil rights cases, and on Nixon’s recommendation, Parks had started sewing for the Durr family, one of Montgomery’s most liberal white families
By Michael Coogan | Throughout history, many groups have thought of themselves as divinely chosen, exhibiting what has been called a “holy nationalism.” For the ancient Egyptians, the divine gift of the annual inundation of the Nile was proof they had been specially chosen; the Egyptians’ neighbors, whom they called “the vile Asiatics,” had clearly not been chosen, because their equivalent of the dependable Nile was unpredictable rain. Roman poets such as Virgil and Ovid celebrated the divine plan that had brought Aeneas from the burning ruins of Troy to Italy, from where eventually the emperor Augustus would rule the Mediterranean world. But one ancient people’s claim of divine chosenness has profoundly affected religious and political self-identification for thousands of years, especially in the West: the biblical view that God, the only God, has a favorite people, the Israelites.
A Q&A with Pamela D. Toler | I’ve been fascinated by the concept of women warriors ever since I was a nerdy kid who read every biography of famous women I could get my hands on and who regularly blew her allowance on comic books with female superheroes. But the real trigger for me came in 1988, when Antonia Fraser published Warrior Queens. Fraser’s book not only introduced me to women I’d never heard of before, but also to a new idea: that women “fought, literally fought, as a normal part of the army in far more epochs and far more civilizations than is generally appreciated.” Once I was aware that women warriors had existed in many times and places, it seemed like I ran across references to them everywhere. I began collecting their stories with no particular purpose in mind. After a couple of decades, that file was pretty fat, and I decided it was time to share.
February: a month that’s too short to celebrate the centuries’ worth of contributions Black Americans made to American history—and in 2019, evidently, a hot mess of a breeding ground for racial stupidity in the news! Whether it’s Liam Neeson revealing his past racist vendetta. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam admitting he was in a racist yearbook photo involving blackface. Or Gucci apologizing for and removing its “blackface” sweater. So much blackface. Even though we’re in 2019, it keeps happening. And because it keeps happening, we need to keep learning why and what to do about it. Time to hit the books! Again! In the spirit of Ibram X. Kendi’s anti-racism syllabus, we put together our own.
By Richard A. Serrano | For years, I have carried around in my head a haunting tale—that of a handsome young black army soldier named John Arthur Bennett, and what occurred along a snowy winter creek in Austria and deep in the bowels of death row basement at the army’s Fort Leavenworth prison.
By Howard Bryant | For black men, sports was not as promising an employment opportunity as it appeared. Their bodies were valuable, but beyond playing, chances to coach, evaluate personnel, or run or own teams were as remote as they were in the non-sports world. And as for the Heritage, Jackie Robinson had created the template of the black political athlete, but it was still a game, and employees were still just ballplayers, with plenty of visibility but not nearly enough security (the million-dollar, guaranteed contract was a decade and a half away), so the tolerance for speaking out about social issues was low. Even during the obvious inequality of the Jim Crow era, the white mainstream was still confounded by the black demand for equality.
By Kay Whitlock | I am often drawn to historical battlefields and sites by a sense that the memories, the ghosts, the landscape will somehow reveal more than I have yet learned through book-and-documentary-related study. And by the inchoate sense that I may even be changed by it, that in mysterious ways, my justice vision will be moved toward greater wholeness. In solitary reflection in places where something terrible happened, I listen to the land, to winds, to the rustle of leaves. I cull histories, photographs, poetry, and survivor accounts to try to conjure in my imagination the people and the place and the moment. And sometimes something close to that happens, a quiet ripple in time and perception that somehow shifts how I see and experience everything. When I lived in southern Colorado, long before a national historic site was created, I periodically drove out east to Sand Creek, where a long-ago cavalry massacre of Cheyenne and Arapaho peoples—mostly women, children, and elderly people—took place. There, I sat alone for hours and in silence on land unmarked by buildings or pathways. For whatever reason, Shiloh still disquiets me in a way many other historic battlegrounds do not.
By Kay Whitlock | In the autumn of 2017, my partner and I joined a long car caravan winding slowly across White Sands Missile Range. Organized semiannually by the Alamogordo, New Mexico Chamber of Commerce, the trek set out from an empty lot adjacent to the local high school’s athletic fields. Journey’s end, Trinity Site, is where the first atomic bomb—scientists and officials working on the device called it “the gadget”—exploded at 5:29 a.m. on 16 June 1945. It is open to the public only two days each year, the first Saturdays in April and October.
A Q&A with Stephen Puleo: I’m proud to say that Dark Tide is still the only adult non-fiction book about the Great Boston Molasses Flood. The book has been out for fifteen years and is still the definitive account of the flood—and I hope always will be.
By Mary Frances Berry | Protest movements began to shift tactics in the late 1980s. Unlike earlier movements, which had identifiable leaders who demanded specific policy changes, political protests increasingly relied on creative expression to influence the public and public policy. Using storytelling, graffiti, alternative music, street theater, puppetry, and new media technologies, protests sought to change popular culture and mobilize support for progressive change. The medium became the message, as Marshall McLuhan had recommended decades earlier. Now there was rap music, zap actions by the Guerrilla Girls, and Critical Mass, which brings hundreds of people together for bicycle riding in the streets, and which San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown was finally forced to accept. Disruption remained the aim of these gatherings; however, it would be misleading to draw sharp distinctions between protest styles of the 1960s and 1990s.
By Gayatri Patnaik | A little over ten years ago, I found myself mulling over what kind of history books Beacon Press could successfully publish. With the incredible history titles published every year by both university and trade presses, what could Beacon do to distinguish our list in this competitive space? Certainly, the books would need to reflect Beacon’s progressive vision of social justice and also the inherently “cross-over” nature of our list. Cross-over in two senses—both in terms of the intellectually grounded but accessible writing, as well as our ability to find multiple audiences—trade, academic, and activist—for our titles.
A Q&A with Dominique Christina | I started writing when I was a senior in undergrad. I whimsically elected to take a creative writing course solely because the man who taught the course was a professor I would see on campus walking around in tye-dyed shirts and Birkenstock sandals with uncommercial hair. He was profane and funny, and I thought I would enjoy being in a classroom with him. What I did not know was that his course would change the trajectory of my life. He refused to let me hide in the writing which I fully intended to do. He insisted on authenticity and transparency and confession, and I found myself, for the first time really, having permission to say things I thought I would die with.