A recent Winthrop University poll across eleven southern states reveals striking differences between whites and blacks’ attitudes on several social issues. The poll’s methodology is scientific and sound. Of particular interest are questions directed at southerners’ opinions on (1) monuments or memorials to Confederate soldiers who died during the Civil War; and (2) statues honoring Confederate war heroes. Continue reading
Using comprehensive lynching data from the Beck-Tolnay Inventory, I analyzed Southern episodes of lynching from 1877-1950 using Tableau software.
In the storyboard, you can play around with a few important variables (state, race, sex) to see differences in where lynchings took place, and the demographics of the victims. With the maps, you can identify the number of lynchings in an area down to the county level.
If clicking on the map below doesn’t take you to the story, just click here.
The University of Mississippi’s Critical Race Studies Group, for which I am currently co-chair, has created a petition through Change.org demanding our Governor, Phil Bryant, amend or retract his proclamation that April 2016 be Confederate Heritage Month. You can click the above link to sign and share the petition. Below is the full text:
On February 10th, 2016, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant declared the month of April 2016 ‘Confederate Heritage Month.’ Governor Bryant has issued similar proclamations in the past, yet this year carries special significance. The murder of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina by a white supremacist with an affinity for Confederate imagery led to protests and calls for the removal of Confederate iconography from public spaces across the nation. In addition, Bryant’s proclamation preceded the Mississippi Legislature’s failure to act upon nineteen different bills proposing a change to the stage flag. It remains the only state flag in the US that bears the Confederate battle flag in its emblem.
In his proclamation, Governor Bryant declares that “it is important for all Americans to reflect upon our nation’s past, to gain insight from our mistakes and successes, and to come to a full understanding that the lessons learned yesterday and today will carry us through tomorrow if we carefully and earnestly strive to understand and appreciate our heritage and our opportunities that lie before us.”
The 1861 Mississippi Declaration of Secession stated plainly “our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery.” In spite of this, Governor Bryant’s proclamation makes no mention of the millions of enslaved men, women, and children who suffered and died in captivity, or the Confederate cause to keep them in bondage. As citizens of this State, we ask that Governor Bryant clarify what specifically about our nation’s past he intends that we reflect on; what insight is to be gained from the error of owning other human beings and, in turn, fighting for that right; and to make clear the specific mistakes and successes of the Confederacy, so that we can not only come to a fuller understanding of our shared heritage, but learn from it.
Therefore, whereas the history of the Confederacy consisted of the victimization of state enslaved men, women, and children of African descent in the four-year period of 1861-1865; and
Whereas the influence of the Confederacy allowed the continuation of the victimization of millions of black Americans within Mississippi and elsewhere following their emancipation in 1865; including state-sponsored denial of economic, educational, health, and socio-political rights; and
Whereas Confederate Heritage Month, Confederate Memorial Day, and other commemorative events surrounding the Confederacy and its legacy risk the perpetuation of false values and narratives without well-defined grounds, goals, or necessities for such proclamations;
Now, Therefore, we, as citizens of Mississippi, and friends across the world, call upon Mississippi’s elected officials to recognize the pain and suffering of its enslaved population, and honor their survival; while also recognizing the continued effects of this dreadful past on our present. We call upon Governor Bryant and other elected officials to make good on their claims of civic enlightenment through economic and political support for statewide efforts to tell richer and more factually accurate narratives of our state history, through social science public education, creative arts programs, and cross-racial dialogues. We insist that only a deliberate and intentional reckoning with this shameful legacy of injustice will carry us through to a better tomorrow. Until that reckoning, we reject the validity of Governor Bryant’s proclamation, and call upon Governor Bryant to either (1) clarify his intentions or (2) retract it entirely.
The University of Mississippi Critical Race Studies Group and The William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation
The University of Mississippi Critical Race Studies Group (for which I am co-chair this year) just received notification of our first scholarly publication, in Sociology of Race and Ethnicity.
You can find the abstract to our publication below. If you’d like a copy of the article but can’t get through SAGE’s paywall, just email me.
I’m late in announcing this, but my latest book, Affective Labour: (Dis)Assembling Distance and Difference (with Jennifer G. Correa) is now available as a hardback, paperback, and e-book. If you buy directly from Rowman and Littlefield, you can use the following promotional code and save 30%: RLI093
Below are some of the reviews:
Thomas and Correa offer an important empirical study of affective labor’s central role in sustaining two pillars of inequality: racial difference and socio-spatial distance. Noteworthy for its comparative and relational approaches, Affective Labour reveals the entwinements between racism and affect in everyday practices and places.
— Paula Ioanide, Associate Professor of Comparative Race and Ethnicity Studies, Ithaca College
In this theoretically groundbreaking yet remarkably accessible book, Thomas and Correa establish a strong case for why affect should matter to scholars of race and racism, as well as to activists working for social justice. Affective Labour describes the painstaking work of identification, the crafting of difference, and the production of social distance, in effect asking how forms of violence and exclusion become imaginable or unimaginable. The book takes the reader on an intellectual journey from a college-town bar scene to the US-Mexico border, through the contemporary diversity regimes of predominantly white institutions. The authors then bring the lessons from these case studies to bear on the emergent affective politics of Black Lives Matter and similar radical democratic social movements. In spite of the grimly neoliberal landscapes of difference and inequality it explores, Affective Labour remains optimistic in its evocation of coming into being and the potential for an affect of liberation in progressive politics.
— Rebecca R. Scott, Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Missouri-Columbia
Bringing together critical social, cultural and political analysis, phenomenology and original ethnographic research, this book is a must read for anyone interested in the politics of affect. Thomas and Correa provide an imaginative and incisive account of how the manufacturing of gendered, racialised, sexualised, and classed relations of distance and difference is a matter of affective labour. Through a diverse range of in depth examples – from American nightlife cultures, to University diversity-initiatives, to the #BlackLivesMatter movement – the book offers a refreshing and distinctive examination of the affective work of everyday life and its wider critical implications. The analysis offered is at once productively troubling and optimistic: Contemporary forms of affective labour frequently work to reproduce relations of domination, but they also fuel solidarity, resistance and ‘a sense of hope for what can be, despite the reality of what is’.
— Carolyn Pedwell, Senior Lecturer in Cultural Studies/Cultural Sociology, University of Kent
Thomas and Correa’s expansive research into distance and difference takes us on an immersive journey into configurations of affective subjectivity – from above and below. Carefully crafted case studies of urban nightlife in Columbia, Missouri, ‘War on Terror’ at the US-Mexico border, diversity regimes in higher education, and the #BlackLivesMatter Movement, underline why affect should be of critical concern to social, cultural and political theorists. Affective Labour is an original and timely contribution that will have implications for how we approach the politics of difference in the classroom, the polity and on the street.
— Christopher Kyriakides, Associate Professor of Sociology, York University, Canada
**Note: Much of this history has been covered elsewhere, and much more substantively. I’ve provided links to the sources I consulted while writing this piece. For a strong academic treatment of Sharp End, see Jason Jindrich’s 2002 Master’s Thesis for the University of Missouri’s Department of Geography. This thesis serves as the foundation for how local papers and historians discuss Sharp End and the history of racial exclusion in Columbia, Missouri.
With so much coverage over recent racial unrest at my alma mater, the University of Missouri, I thought it would be appropriate to provide a bit more context—historical and geographical—for those interested in understanding the underlying conditions of racial inequality that many students, faculty, and staff are calling attention toward. However, I want to broaden the perspective, and situate the demands for inclusivity and equity within the larger narrative of Columbia, Missouri.
A few days ago, a Facebook friend declared, “Never in our lifetime have we had any real racism that represented a large portion of our society as a whole…I’ve lived in Columbia my entire life and never has there been a real race problem until now.”
This person is near my age (I’m 33), so I was shocked to hear him claim that Columbia is an exemplar for racial tolerance. I’m a three-time alum from the University of Missouri, and spent roughly twelve years living, working, and going to school in the city. My instincts tell me that this friend’s statement is more a reflection of a failure to understand what racism actually is. This wouldn’t be uncommon. Numerous sociological studies show that often, when people discuss racism, they frame it as individual acts of hatred toward members of a racial or ethnic minority group. Shouting racial slurs, or proclaiming your own individual hatred of a certain racial group, are familiar tropes.
While these acts of intolerance are racist in the sense that they articulate a set of beliefs about a particular group’s inferior status based on that group’s racial membership, racism isn’t just a set of beliefs or attitudes. Racism also refers to the actions and practices guided by these beliefs and practices. Ideologies are the cement from which a whole architecture of policies and practices arise. Democracy, for example, isn’t just a belief in representative government, it’s also how that belief is put into practice. Racism, then, is not just a set of beliefs in the inferiority of other racial groups. It also includes practices at the individual and collective levels that flow from those beliefs.
One set of practices that has received incredible attention among scholars and journalists alike is urban renewal, and the displacement of low-income and nonwhite residents that typically follows. Columbia’s history of redevelopment is no different than that of many other cities, yet I’m surprised it has received so little attention by national and local media, who seem to think the recent racial unrest at the University of Missouri is new, and in sharp contrast to the perceived serenity of this popular college town. So, allow me to introduce many of you to a brief history of Sharp End, a once-thriving black business district in the heart of downtown Columbia, that was completely wiped out by Columbia’s first foray into ‘urban redevelopment’ in the mid 1950s.
Sharp End was located within the historic Douglass neighborhood, an area that was once home to Columbia’s business center—Market Square—in what is now the Flat Branch area. Figure 1.1 shows the approximate location of Douglass, marked by the red square. Within the southern border of Douglass is Sharp End, denoted by the smaller black rectangle. The larger, black shape to the south of Douglass and Sharp End is a rough approximation of the University of Missouri (per 2010).
Figure 1.1: Columbia, Missouri 1950
Around the turn of the 20th century, city planners recognized that this bottomland was prone to flooding, and relocated Market Square to present-day 8th and 9th streets in downtown Columbia. Because Columbia was still highly segregated due to Jim Crow laws, free blacks could not live in white neighborhoods, or frequent many white establishments. The newly deserted area in Flat Branch was one of the few areas in the city where free blacks could live. As whites left, free blacks moved in, and began building what would soon become a commercial and cultural hub for black residents. Sharp End was solidified as a black business district sometime after 1910, and over the next forty years was home to a collection of thriving black-owned shops, bars, and restaurants that stretched along Walnut St., and between 4th and 6th streets. During Jim Crow, these were important alternatives to white-owned businesses that blacks were prohibited from patronizing.
Nevertheless, the city’s neglect of the Douglass neighborhood through the first half of the twentieth century was blatant, and had severe consequences. City officials refused to pave or repair roads, and Douglass residents were denied many city services enjoyed by whites. As late as the 1930s, the city was dumping its refuse into Flat Branch creek, which ran through the western edge of Douglass. The city gas plant was also found to have leaked oil into the water of the creek, which accumulated human and livestock waste as it passed between black residences on Park and Ash streets. Finally, intense segregation—both residential and occupational—made for high concentrations of poverty among Columbia’s black residents in the inter-war years.
As a result, many Douglass residences consisted of wooden shacks, often without plumbing or electricity. Few black residents were able to afford city sewage, so their waste from their privies often flowed into the neighborhood creeks. A survey of Columbia’s waste management in 1919 revealed that, city wide, only 5% of black residences were connected to a sewer, compared to 80% of white residences. Landlords often regarded Douglass-area property as a lost cause because it was black-occupied. For example, one landlord is quoted as saying, “Negro property is a fine investment because you don’t have any upkeep expense. All you have to do is pay taxes and insurance, and the taxes are very low on that property. Then besides, the niggers pay their rent, they don’t get behind like other people do.”
As a teaching point, we should recognize that while this landlord’s statement reflects racism, it isn’t racism simply because the landlord uses the word “nigger.” The landlord’s statement, rather, reflects the dominant ideology of the time: blacks are less than human, and therefore do not require humane conditions or treatment. Importantly, this ideology cemented itself through specific actions (or in this case, inaction), resulting in massive racial disparities in the distribution of resources and opportunities. The practice of neglecting predominantly black neighborhoods on account of them being predominantly black—a practice that was institutionalized and supported by local government— is racist with or without the use of a racial epithet.
Importantly, the historical neglect of the Douglass neighborhood by city officials and local realtors alike laid the foundation for justifying the forced removal of its residents and black businesses in the 1950s. Following the 1949 Federal Housing Act, Columbia, like many other cities across the country, took advantage of redevelopment loans and grant programs by the Housing and Home Finance Administrator. Title I of this act authorized local public agencies to purchase or condemn areas of the city deemed “blighted or deteriorating.” Cities were then authorized to clear that land and “make it available, by sale or lease, for private or public redevelopment or development in accordance with predetermined local redevelopment plan for the area.” In the case of Douglass and Sharp End, any ‘blight’ within that neighborhood was a direct consequence of the intentional and explicit denial of basic city services, including proper sewage and road maintenance.
Columbia twice failed to pass an ordinance for the creation of a local housing authority in 1952. However, in 1956 voters approved the formation of the Land Clearance Redevelopment Authority, and its first meeting took place that June. Records from the Western Historical Manuscript Collection, housed at the University of Missouri, show the authority had, as its objective, “slum clearance and urban renewal.” The authority selected 126 acres within the Douglass neighborhood for its first project, including within it the Sharp End district. Under the U.S. and Missouri constitutions, the city of Columbia was allowed to condemn Douglass under eminent domain laws. Though the law requires that the taking of private property must be justified for a public purpose, and that property owners must be compensated fairly, this was not the case for black residents and business owners. In 1958, a consultant hired by the LCR Authority had estimated the total worth of the 126 acres at more than $1 million. Yet, the city managed to only pay $591,000 for the land; or, less than 60 cents to the dollar. Residents who refused to sell had their properties condemned under eminent domain, and were forcefully removed.
The Douglas School Urban Renewal Project began in May of 1959, and was completed by July of 1966. When it was finished, more than three hundred structures were completely eradicated, including at least eighty black-owned businesses. A portion of the Douglass neighborhood was rebuilt as public housing. However, many former black homeowners were not eligible for residency. Yet, because they were black, they were unable to secure loans for new homes. Local lenders still operated under revised models of the Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC) and Federal Housing Authority (FHA), which had pioneered a ‘risk rating’ system that incorporated race as a marker of credit-worthiness as well as property value. By the logic of HOLC, and later FHA, black homebuyers ‘invaded’ neighborhoods, and compromised the value of surrounding properties. Realtors and lenders were discouraged from showing black renters and homebuyers potential properties in predominantly white areas, denying even blacks with capital the opportunity to purchase affordable homes that would retain their value over time.
Consider the following racial dot map of Columbia, Missouri in 1970. Just over a decade after the initial razing of Douglass and Sharp End, we can see the extreme residential segregation of black residents in relationship to whites. Each orange dot in the map represents two black residents; each green dot represents two white residents. According to data from the U.S. Census, there were a total of 3,863 blacks living in Columbia in 1970. More than half (~56%) were concentrated in Tract 8, which encompassed the former Douglass neighborhood. Though, as the map shows, the southern edge of Douglass, including Sharp End, were nearly devoid of residents, indicating this land was in the midst of being redeveloped for primarily commercial interests.
Figure 1.2: Racial Dot Map, Columbia, Missouri 1970
By 2013, the former Douglass area had a lower concentration of black residents. However, if we take into account the two neighboring census tracks directly to the north and the tract directly to the west, those four tracts (including the one that encompasses the historic Douglass neighborhood) accounted for nearly 35% of all black residents in Columbia, Missouri (Figure 1.3).
Figure 1.3: Racial Dot Map, Columbia, Missouri 2013
Complimenting the racial dot map is the following map of average gross rent for black-occupied units in Columbia, Missouri, in 1970 (Figure 1.4). As this figure illustrates, blacks were primarily concentrated directly to the west and north of the former Douglass Neighborhood. Because so few blacks were able to rent in any other area of Columbia at the time, there is no available data for the average amount of money black residents paid in rent throughout the rest of Columbia. Average rent for blacks ranged from $74 per month in the former Douglass neighborhood and encompassing census tract, to $153 per month just to its South, where the current University of Missouri campus now extends.
Figure 1.4: Average Gross Monthly Rent, Black-Occupied Units, Columbia, Missouri, 1970
Now, let’s overlay that with the composite gross monthly rent, irrespective of race (Figure 1.5). Here, the story becomes even more interesting. The blue shaded tracts are spaces where blacks’ gross monthly rent exceeded the composite gross monthly rent of that same area. In the tract directly to the north of the former Douglass neighborhood, the average gross monthly rent for blacks was 1.3 times higher than the composite gross monthly rent ($112 to $99). Directly to the south of the former Douglass neighborhood, overlapped by the south side of the present-day campus, monthly rent for blacks was nearly 1.4 times higher than the composite gross monthly rent ($153 to $112). This data suggests that, despite federal laws prohibiting such practices, Columbia realtors and landlords were still engaging in racist rental practices in 1970.
Figure 1.5: Gross Monthly Rent for Blacks vs Composite Gross Monthly Rent, 1970
Finally, let’s look at the median value of homes in these areas. In 1970, the median value of homes in Columbia, Missouri was $21,900. In the areas in which blacks were primarily concentrated, the median value of homes ranged from a low of $10,824 in the former Douglass neighborhood, to a high of $15,627 just to its west (Figure 1.6). Put differently, the median value of homes in neighborhoods in which blacks were primarily concentrated ranged from 49%-71% of the median home value for the rest of the city.
Figure 1.6: Median Home Value, Columbia, Missouri, 1970
By 2013, not much had changed (Figure 1.7). The median value of a home in Columbia, Missouri was $169,800. In the former Douglass neighborhood, it was $101,400 (59% of the median value). Just to the north, it was $66,500 (39%).
Figure 1.7: Median Home Value, Columbia, Missouri, 2013
My goal with this very brief analysis of the Sharp End District and its demise at the hands of city government is two-fold. First, I want to illustrate that Columbia, Missouri is far from a racial paradise. Like most other cities in the United States, it has a long history of institutionalized racism, clearly identifiable in the local politics and decision-making among city officials, planners, and developers. Second, I hoped to demonstrate with this analysis that the effects of this institutionalized racism do not simply disappear because we wish for it. Without intentional, deliberate anti-racist policies and practices, racism and its effects will continue to fester. In the case of black residents of Columbia, Missouri, a multi-generational community, and its wealth, were nearly eradicated through deliberate practices by local government and developers.
As of 2015, the north side of the former Sharp End district houses the Columbia Post Office. The south side of Sharp End was converted into a parking lot upon the first phase of urban renewal. It remained so for nearly fifty years, until in 2011 it was converted into a ten-deck parking garage.
 Jason Jindrich, “Our Black Children: The Evolution of Black Space in Columbia, Missouri” (M.A. Thesis, University of Missouri, 2002), Microfilm, University of Missouri Libraries.
 All maps and figures derive from data from the U.S. Census Bureau, and were created using Social Explorer.
 August F. Larson, A Housing Survey of Columbia, Missouri (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri, 1919).
 Audrey Nell Kittel, The Negro Community of Columbia, Missouri (University of Missouri, 1938), 44.
 United States Senate, “Housing Act of 1949” (United States Government Printing Office, 1949), 2, https://bulk.resource.org/gao.gov/81-171/00002FD7.pdf.
 Arcenia Harmon, “Columbia’s Sharp End,” Columbia Daily Tribune, April 4, 2004, http://archive.showmenews.com/2004/apr/20040404feat009.asp.
 Phillip Sitter, “Sharp End District Remembered for ‘Togetherness,’” Columbia Missourian, May 19, 2015, http://www.columbiamissourian.com/news/local/sharp-end-district-remembered-for-togetherness/article_cdb41a50-fe83-11e4-83cf-c715d4cd44fe.html.
 Colin Gordon, Mapping Decline: St. Louis and the Fate of the American City (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009), 92.
 United States Department of Commerce, “1970 Census of Population and Housing, Columbia Missouri, Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area” (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Commerce and the Bureau of the Census, 1972).
 United States Bureau of the Census. “American Community Survey, 2009-2013 (5 year estimates.” Washington, DC. 2014. Accessed via Social Explorer.
 United States Department of Commerce, “1970 Census of Population and Housing, Columbia Missouri, Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area.”
I’m very proud to be a part of the University of Mississippi’s Critical Race Studies Group. Below is the link to our open letter to the University concerning Confederate iconography on our campus. Please share widely!
An Open Letter to the University of Mississippi Community On Wednesday, September 30th, 2015, student leaders from the University of Mississippi’s College Democrats and the UM Chapter of the NAACP called, separately, for the disavowal of Confederate iconography across our campus, including, but not limited to, the Mississippi state flag. Evoking the University of Mississippi’s own declaration that the flag and what it represents no longer aligns with our community’s core values, these student leaders showed the courage and conviction required to make this campus safe and inclusive for all students, faculty, and staff.
Since September 30th, many other student organizations have also publicly condemned the display of the Mississippi state flag and other Confederate iconography on campus, including: the Black Student Union, the National Pan-Hellenic Council, the University of Mississippi Pride Network, the University of Mississippi Black Law Students Association, and the International Student Organization. The Critical Race Studies Group, an interdisciplinary body of faculty and staff committed to racial justice and equity, is proud to declare our public support for these and any other student organizations for whom these symbols represent a threat, whether overt or subtle. We are here for you, and we want to work with you.
The near-daily presence of Confederate flags on cars and pick-up trucks parked on campus property, the continued display of Confederate merchandise in faculty and staff offices, the proud display of large Confederate flags in the historic Grove at every home football weekend, the continued playing of “Dixie” by the University band at home sporting events, and the referencing of our University as ‘Ole Miss’ (a term used by slaves to refer to white slaveholding women) over the University of Mississippi (the name of the institution) is not aligned with our institution’s stated commitment to inclusivity. Furthermore, these symbols serve as concrete barriers in our quest to truly transcend our institution’s legacy of racism.
As our state’s flagship public institution of higher education, the University of Mississippi has a unique responsibility to lead proactively on all matters of racial justice. As a leading institution of higher education committed to intellectual debate and discussion, we call on our University administration to show the same courage and conviction as these brave students.
In addition to an immediate disavowal of all Confederate iconography, we ask that our University leadership follow through on the recommendations provided by two outside consultants last year, and the ‘action plan’ from former Chancellor Dan Jones. Taken together, the Critical Race Studies Group asks the University to:
• Discontinue displaying the current state flag on campus.
• Give faculty, staff and students the option to use um.edu instead of olemiss.edu
• Take an active and public role in supporting the efforts of Mississippi legislators, including House Speaker Phillip Gunn, U.S. Senator Thad Cochran, and U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, who are demanding the removal of the battle flag emblem from the state flag.
• Reinterpret and modify our physical landscape to accurately reflect our institution’s historic involvement with slavery, Jim Crow segregation, and the University’s challenges and achievements in the post-Civil Rights era.
• Make a tangible investment on the part of University leadership into ongoing research by faculty on matters related to race and racism.
• Catalogue and promote all past and present race- and racism-related research conducted at the University
• Condemn publicly and officially the use of all Confederate symbols on university property, including their display in faculty and staff offices, in the Grove, and on vehicles parked on campus property
• Organize a public forum to allow for a debate on the merits of these symbols on our own campus. Such a conversation should be the hallmark of a leading liberal arts institution.
By confronting openly the presence of emblems of the Confederacy and white supremacy on our campus, we would be acting in concert with other leading public institutions such as Clemson University, the University of Virginia, and the University of Texas at Austin. The above changes, when combined, help tangibly demonstrate an ongoing, public recommitment to end the legacy of white supremacy on our campus.
After the Civil War, prominent Mississippi segregationists such as L.C.Q. Lamar and James K. Vardaman, both of whom have campus buildings named in their honor, continued to reinforce white supremacy. A critical rethinking of who and what we want to represent may help the campus community address how our racist past continues to affect campus life today. We recognize that these small changes alone will not disestablish the legacy of white supremacy on our campus. However, they are necessary first steps in moving towards a more inclusive, respectful, and enriching university community.
The Critical Race Studies Group
University of Mississippi
The Critical Race Studies Group is an interdisciplinary group of scholars and staff dedicated to the identifying and dismantling of racial and other inequalities at the University of Mississippi and elsewhere. For more information, see http://socanth.olemiss.edu/critical-race-studies-group/
I’ve been in the early stages of planning a new project, with colleague and friend Hephzibah Strmic-Pawl. We’re interested in collecting and analyzing the narratives of displacement resulting from urban gentrification.
One of the sites we’re interested in studying is Kinloch, Missouri. Kinloch was, for several decades, a vibrant and flourishing (nearly) all-black township in the northwest part of St. Louis County, Missouri. However, in the 1980s, the city of St. Louis began to buy up surrounding property for the future development of Lambert International Airport, and, as consequence, most of the black residents were displaced.
I got to playing around with census data from Social Explorer in order to map this shift over time, from 1940 through 2013. 1940 was the first decade in which census tracts were used for measurement in St. Louis, so I’m unable to show what Kinloch looked like prior to this period. Click on the link below to view the map.
Below is an excerpt from a book-in-progress I’m writing with friend and colleague, Jennifer Correa, entitled Affective Labour: (Dis)Assembling Difference and Distance. In the book, Jennifer and I want to first ground the concept, affective labour, through four ethnographic case-studies, demonstrating how affective labour is employed to assemble differences and distance among and between social groups. Toward the end of the book, we want to consider how affective labour is, and can be, manipulated toward more radical, progressive ends. The excerpt below is derived from that chapter. Jennifer and I welcome any feedback!
from Chapter 5: Affective Labour and World Building–Toward a Theory for Radical Change
Affect, and its manipulation, circulation, and distribution as part of hegemonic articulations on the part of neoliberal, neoconservative establishments has, we hope, been quite clear to this point in our book. However, we want this chapter to provide our readers with a hope for how we might envision the role of affective labour in a radical democratizing project. What role does, or can, affect play in a ground-based populism that resists privileging any one subject position over others?
In 2012, for the 7th Berlin Biennale, a bi-annual event aimed at establishing an “open space that experiments, identifies, and critically examines the latest trends in the art world, the event featured a proposed project by Czech artist Martin Zet that would make use of Thilo Sarrazin’s Deutschland Schafft Sich Ab (Germany Does Away with Itself). Sarrazin’s book, widely regarded as anti-immigrant, xenophobic, and racist, was nevertheless the most successful work of political non-fiction by a German author since World War II. Zet proposed collecting as many copies as possible from the German public to first display them at the 7th Berlin Biennale, after which he vowed to “[recycle] them for good purpose.[i] A media frenzy unfolded, in which Zet’s promise to get rid of the books fueled a collective imaginary in which ‘git rid’ became interpreted as ‘burning books.’ In a comment on the project, Chantal Mouffe wrote the following statement:
I think Martin Zet’s project is a legitimate initiative. He is curious to know what is the opinion of those who bought the book. Asking them to donate it is to give them the possibility to express that they disagree with its content. The artist has a right to do it and it is a democratic act. What should be avoided is to have only moral denunciation of the book without a serious discussion. I see this art project as a way to give an answer to Thilo Sarazzin in visual terms and as a proposal for an agonistic discussion. I find problematic that a lot of people just dismiss the book without asking what it touches in the German public? What makes it such a bestseller? If there is very little response to Zet’s call, does it mean that the book is treated very seriously by the readers? It will be interesting to see what happens. We should also wonder why some people see flames in the call for collection of second-hand books? What are the first reactions to this project tell us about the psyche of the German society at the moment? I would never have thought about burning the books seeing the recycling sign. It rather suggests reusing it to publish something different. It recalls a strategy of situationist detournement. To see flames has more to do with the German psyche than with the actual meaning of the project Martin Zet plays on affects. People on the left very often ignore the role of affects. In contemporary politics unfortunately only right-wing populist parties try to mobilise citizens through emotions. Why shouldn’t the left also address them? Affects and passions are very important driving force in politics and they can also be mobilized in a progressive way. There can be a passion for equality and there can be a passion for justice. This should be an important field of intervention for critical artistic practices.[ii]
In the latter half of the quote, Mouffe makes clear the role affects and passions do play in hegemonic projects led by those on the Right, and what role they might play for progressive causes. Equality and justice are not just discursive, they are pre-discursive, a condition of affect not atypical for Laclau, Mouffe, their students, and more recent contributions by other scholars within the critical affect studies tradition.[iii] Returning to Laclau and Mouffe’s definitions from Hegemony and Socialist Strategy, we might think of affects as types of elements: those differences “that are not discursively articulated because of the floating character they acquire in periods of social crisis and dislocation.”[iv] If we acknowledge the openness of the social, or the “constant overflowing of every discourse”, affects would be those forces that have yet to be articulated into partially fixed meanings. They are the literal and discursive power to both articulate, and disarticulate, discursive structures—to provide coherence or rupture, hegemony and insurgency.[v] Their role in the ongoing project of radical democracies is in the power of affect to expand the chains of equivalence through cathectic investments in the commonality of differently located subject positions, or intersubjectivity. As Laclau stated in a 2010 interview, “There is radical democracy whenever there is a widening of popular interventions in the public sphere on the basis of the expansion of equivalential chains of democratic demands around a hegemonic popular core.”[vi] The theory of hegemony put forward by Laclau and Mouffe, and modified over the past thirty years in social and political thought, is a strategy. It entails a “performative agency of ideological interventions that is capable of quilting contingent field of differences and providing precarious regularities of social order.”[vii]
What does this look like in practice, however? If our case studies delineate how affective labour is used to assemble difference and distance to the benefit of white supremacy, capitalism, heteropatriarchy, and nationalism, are there identifiable projects for radical democracy taking place, where affect is centered, that might give us insight into how this can be accomplished? How, then, rather than eliminating difference and distance, can they be disarticulated from their current hegemonic expressions and reorganized through a logic of equivalence centered around a populist core?
…In concluding our previous chapter on the affective labour of state-based violence toward black and brown bodies in urban America, we briefly touched upon the emergent #BlackLivesMatter movement as a contemporary example of a populist core articulating itself vis-à-vis the expansion of a chain of equivalents: from three black women, two of whom identify as queer, a movement emerged largely through social media that expanded to include not only the specific issue of police violence toward men and women of color, but also to institutional racism as it plays out within the realms of housing, the criminal justice system, and even public schooling. Though still an emergent movement, we believe the #BlackLivesMatter movement for racial justice represents one unique case study from which social theory, and social movement organizations, can better understand the power of affect in the production of democratic reform.
Recall from the previous chapter how Alicia Garza, one of the co-founders of the movement, described its origins: “When we began, #BlackLivesMatter was a series of social media platforms that connected people online to take action together offline.”[viii]. How members were mobilized, however, is key. For the founders, #BlackLivesMatter refers to “an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise.”[ix] As the riots in Ferguson, Missouri in August and September of 2014 unfolded, #BlackLivesMatter expanded its chain of equivalents, drawing in not only other men and women of color, but the internet hacktivist group, Anonymous, infamous for, among other things, its vocal role in the Occupy Wall Street movement against global wealth inequality. Both of us recall, with amazement, how, as militarized police rained down teargas and rubber bullets upon protestors, young and old, men, women, and children, night after night, social media became a serious platform through which other movements around the world could connect to the events in St. Louis. Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, using the #BlackLivesMatter and #MichaelBrown hashtags, began circulating information on how best to treat, and prevent, exposure to teargas. The global network of Anonymous became a significant resource, shutting down the computer systems of the Ferguson police department, its city hall, and even ‘doxing’ the Ferguson police chief and other officers in the department.[x]
Following four days of heavy-handed police violence toward protestors in St. Louis, much of which played out on national television through major network coverage, a National Moment of Silence was organized for the evening of Thursday, August 14th of 2014. The moment of silence began as a simple conversation on August 10th, between New York City social worker and community organizer, Feminista Jones and another user on Twitter on how best to demonstrate solidarity following the death of Michael Brown. During their conversation, Jones stated, “I think we should have a national vigil for #MikeBrown and all recent victims of police brutality. Same day. Same time. Every city we can.” Using the hash tag, #NMOS14, information rapidly spread, and by August 14th, massive moments of silence had been organized in nearly every major city across the United States.[xi] Importantly, the moments of silence were not just relegated to large, urban cores where police violence against communities of color is most typical. In Oxford, Mississippi, where JT lives and works, a University of Mississippi student from the St. Louis area organized a moment of silence on the downtown courthouse lawn for that evening. Standing in a circle, with a reported 60-70 other black and white women, men, and children, participants raised their hands as a gesture of non-violence and in solidarity with Michael Brown, who it was claimed yelled “Hands up, don’t shoot!” before being gunned down by Officer Darren Wilson.
The student organizer, in describing the event and his inspiration for organizing it, stated, “I just want to tell everyone in Ferguson to be strong and stand up for their rights in the face of brutality – and be safe. I want to tell the police that this kind of militarization is not acceptable in any way, and black lives are worth just as much as all other lives.”[xii] Another student from Tupelo, Mississippi stated she attended the event because “I am against police brutality, and I’m against the things going on in Ferguson, Missouri, right now. I think anything I can do to speak out against that, I should do.” Meanwhile, the executive director for the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation at the University of Mississippi also attended, declaring, “We’d like to stand with the victims of police brutality, with folks in the city of Ferguson who are hurting and hoping for answers and justice. We just want to declare our oneness with humanity (emphasis ours).”[xiii]
If, as we noted in the last chapter, political subjectivity is born from the condition of unassimilability to the state as a result of it being the target of state power, then we might consider how political intersubjectivity, that is, the relations between political subjects of the state, is also born of the same condition. Unassimilability, as a discursive and affective condition (one feels one’s sense of place in a racialized, classed, and sexed system), becomes the nodal point through which chains of equivalence are articulated and expanded. The absence of place-ness, felt in the realization of one’s body being ‘out of place’, becomes the empty signifier through which concepts like ‘justice’, ‘fairness’, ‘equality’, and ‘community’ overdetermine. The recognition of unassimilability, attained through the real and discursive violence upon bodies by state apparatuses, becomes the point of cathectic investment among politicized subjects. That investment, however, is not something that becomes directed toward the interior of political subjectivity—it becomes harnessed, and directed outward, creating those intersubjective relations so important for creating and sustaining broad-based movements, and for creating a hegemonic populist core. Fear, anger, rage, along with hope, compassion, and our ‘oneness with humanity’ are outwardly expressions that circulate, and in their circulation, they become powerful, producing new ways-of-being among one another.
[ii] Chantal Mouffe, “Comment by Chantal Mouffe – Berlin Biennale,” accessed July 17, 2015, http://www.berlinbiennale.de/blog/en/comments/comment-by-chantal-mouffe-17542.
[iii] Jenny Edbauer Rice, “The New ‘New’: Making a Case for Critical Affect Studies,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 94, no. 2 (May 1, 2008): 200–212, doi:10.1080/00335630801975434; see also Patricia Ticineto Clough and Jean Halley, eds., The Affective Turn: Theorizing the Social, 1st Ed. edition (Durham: Duke University Press Books, 2007); Patricia T. Clough et al., “Notes towards a Theory of Affect-Itself,” Ephemera: Theory and Politics in Organization 7, no. 1 (February): 60–77; Brian Massumi, Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation, First Edition edition (Durham, NC: Duke University Press Books, 2002).
[iv] Howarth, Norval, and Stavrakakis, Discourse Theory and Political Analysis, 7.
[v] Laclau and Mouffe, Hegemony And Socialist Strategy, 99.
[vi] Glynos and Stavrakakis, “Politics and the Unconscious – An Interview with Ernesto Laclau,” 241.
[vii] Rafal Smoczynski, “Naming And Affect. Ontological Function Of Ideology In The School Of Essex’s Discourse Theory,” Educação E Filosofia 25, no. 50 (2011), http://www.seer.ufu.br/index.php/EducacaoFilosofia/article/view/13368.
[viii] Pleasant, Liz. May 1, 2015. “Meet the Woman Behind #BlackLivesMatter—The Hashtag That Became a Civil Rights Movement.” Yes! Magazine. Accessed June 18, 2015 (http://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/make-it-right/meet-the-woman-behind-black-lives-matter-the-hashtag-that-became-a-civil-rights-movement).
[ix] Alicia Garza, “A Herstory of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement by Alicia Garza,” The Feminist Wire, accessed July 17, 2015, http://www.thefeministwire.com/2014/10/blacklivesmatter-2/.
[x] Doxing is a tactic often employed by hacktivists that entails leaking private information about individuals to the public. This information includes everything from home addresses, to banking and credit card information, to sealed legal documents.
[xi] Michelle Broder Van Dyke, “Protesters Rally In Cities Across The U.S. In Solidarity With Ferguson,” BuzzFeed, accessed July 17, 2015, http://www.buzzfeed.com/mbvd/protesters-rally-in-cities-across-the-us-in-solidarity-with.
[xii] Errol Castens, “Moment of Silence against Brutality Held in Oxford – Daily Journal,” Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, accessed July 17, 2015, http://djournal.com/news/moment-silence-brutality-held-oxford/.
On April 15th, workers from around the country are planning a massive rally to support raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour and union representation for low-wage workers in the fast food, retail, and childcare industries.
There is strong public favor toward raising the federal minimum wage. A 2014 Bloomberg poll, for example, found 69% of Americans were in favor of President Obama’s call to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour. But is $10.10 per hour enough? Is the $15 per hour demanded by millions of fast food, retail, and other low-wage industry workers sufficient?
For over ten years, researchers at MIT have been collecting and analyzing several key indicators of economic well-being in order to determine what an actual “living wage” threshold would be for ordinary Americans. Taking into account the cost of food, childcare, housing, health care, and other basic necessities, then adjusting for geographic differences, this research calculates the minimum wage necessary for any household makeup in any area of the country. For a household of two adults and one child in Oxford, Mississippi to have financial independence while maintaining housing and food security, the calculated living wage threshold is $17.26 per hour.
Not surprisingly, few employers in Oxford use this standard for their own workforce, including the University of Mississippi. In combing through the job descriptions and pay rate ranges available through the University of Mississippi’s Department of Human Resources, there are more than 295 job titles, or approximately 25% of all occupations at the University, whose MAXIMUM hourly salary range is below the living wage threshold of $17.26 per hour.
The state of Mississippi has no state minimum wage rate, however, making Mississippi workers subject to the federal standard of $7.25 per hour. Importantly, in March of 2013 Governor Phil Bryant signed into law legislation that prohibits individual counties and municipalities in Mississippi from establishing their own mandatory minimum wages. Despite these obstacles, no law or policy prohibits individual employers from establishing wage standards that exceed the current federal and state minimums. This means that the University of Mississippi, as the economic engine of the Oxford/Lafayette County area, has a real opportunity to lead from the front on the issue of economic inequality in our own backyard. We, as members of this community, implore the University administration to acknowledge, and begin taking steps toward addressing, the issue of a living wage for our campus workforce.