So I’d like to make a suggestion to jettison the Firsts, Festivals, and Foods trio of Black History Month for a different style of learning about Black and American history. Kids learn who the First Black astronaut was, the First Black senator, and so forth. But what happens after the First? I suggest we do away with how we teach about ‘Firsts,’ and I’ll leave the Festivals and Foods to other, more creative minds.
When we focus on the Firsts, and not What Followed, we allow ourselves to be seduced by the silence in between milestones of Black History. If we do not look into the gaps between the Firsts, then we fail to see the ways that other individuals, institutions, and social practices worked—often quite deliberately—to crush the spirit of those Firsts, and to make it plain that Black people who wanted to follow in their footsteps would be met with massive resistance.
So I ask that we pair the question ‘What Followed and Why?’ with each First, to ensure that our students can understand the reasons why we still celebrate Firsts, why they remain rarities decades after slavery and Jim Crow.
What happened after Benjamin Banneker made plans for our nation’s capitol, the First Black engineer to be recognized as such by white folks? Why the gap in Black urban planners between Banneker and… well, I must admit I cannot bring to mind a famous Black urban planner. What stymied efforts to bring up generations of Bannekers to design welcoming, sustainable urban spaces to be shared by people of all colors? Why are so many urban areas still segregated, decades after the First Black mayors were elected?
Until we look closely at What Followed, and try to learn lessons from that part of our American history, our celebrations of Firsts will feel less festive and more frustrating as time goes by.
“This is one of the reasons…it’s so difficult to be a female executive…Everything you do is hyper-scrutinized. And you are…judged if you don’t put a particular social agenda—advancing women—incredibly high on your priority list in a way that men don’t have to. [Yahoo CEO Melissa] Mayer bans flexible work and we can’t stop talking. Men do this all the time and we just never hear about it.”—
“In the context of the privileged boys prep school in Dead Poets Society, such rhapsodizing is a romantic and affordable indulgence: cultivating bohemian fantasies for the kids who will inevitably grow up to become Masters of the Universe.”—Michael Serazio, on Apple’s latest iPad commercial (via The New Republic)
“We may never touch queerness, but we can feel it as the warm illumination of a horizon imbued with potentiality…an ideality that can be distilled from the past and used to imagine a future. The future is queerness’ domain. Queerness is a structuring and educated mode of desiring that allows us to see the future beyond the quagmire of the present. The here and now is a prison house. We must strive, in the face of the here and now’s totalizing rendering of reality, to think and feel a then and there. Some will say that all we have are the pleasures of the moment, but we must never settle for that minimal transport; we must dream and enact new and better pleasures, other ways of being in the world, and ultimately new worlds … Queerness is essentially about the rejection of a here and now and an insistence on potentiality or concrete possibility for another world.”—In memory of José Esteban Muñoz, from his book, Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity
“… Jewish children never, it emerged, begged to be taken to church. Rather, they begged for decorated trees and Santa Claus. Jews replied with Hanukkah.”—Dianne Ashton, from the introduction of Hanukkah in America(NYU Press, 2013)
Hot summer nights in upstate New York in the late 1970s were made more bearable by trips to the drive-in movie. Family movie night, Mom’s Charlie perfume wafting through the car, Dad opening another can of Genesee cream ale, grubby hands reaching into brown paper bags filled with homemade popcorn. Windows down, bouncing over rutted fields in the red paneled station wagon, backing into the spot next to a speaker, flipping down the back door, spreading out blankets and pillows and settling in for a movie. Smokey and the Bandit sequels galore—Sally Field, Burt Reynolds, Dom Deluise.
Once, when we arrived to a later showing, there was not the typical family friendly flick– instead, a killer bee movie! My brother and I begged to stay and predictably regretted it once the first 15 minutes established what was to come. Peeking through our hands, bees invaded, swarmed, stung, and killed. They were unstoppable, traveling across oceans and continents to ‘get us.’
Back home, other summer nights were perfect for made-for-television, movies-of-the-week about killer bees, daring me to watch them while babysitting my brother. At night, alone in the house, I clamped the storm windows down tightly sealing our house. The next morning, my mom complained about the stuffiness—clearly, she did not understand the craftiness of bees when they thirst for the kill. Obviously screens are no barrier against these killers, and I’m not sure if she knew I had also closed the fireplace flue.
The titles of these movies from another era indicate the attitude then associated with the insects: The Deadly Bees (1967), Killer Bees (1974), The Savage Bees (1976), The Swarm (1978), The Bees (1978), Terror Out of the Sky: The Revenge of the Savage Bees (1979). Bees, traveling from South America via Mexico and originally from Africa – were lethal, and news stories confirmed they killed dogs and children. I imagined them crawling all over me, stinging. Writhing as the swarm covered my entire body, in my mouth, my ears, my nose.
So it makes sense that when a “beehive” was identified in between suburban yards that summer, the unsupervised neighborhood boys spent a few days throwing rocks at the colony, girls witnessing from the periphery. As is usually the case, gangs of bored children were unsatisfied and things escalated to long sticks poked into the enormous grey hive high above the ground. We were furiously dedicated to creating spear-like sticks, which we called ‘javelins,’ made pointy and sharp by friction, rubbing them on blacktop. The girls took the role of javelin sharpeners. Fingertips were worn down as we frantically attempted to make the sharpest tip. One very aggressive lancing brought the hive crashing to the ground. Angry bees came flying from the smashed up hive, drilling into the group of screaming children. Frenzied, I quickly made it to the family room first and manned the sliding glass door to let in my screaming friends.
Thinking that we were all safe, I decided to lead a team to inspect the hive. “Maybe we should use the hose to douse the bees with water,” I suggested. I reviewed the plan with my crew and pulled the door open. My shrieking brother fell into the shag carpet clutching his eyes. When I pulled his hands from his face, he looked as if he was pulling back his eyelids. The swelling was immediate and I feared that the venom would kill him instantly. The killer bees had gotten him. He gasped for air. I screamed for my mom and we piled into the station wagon to race my brother to the hospital. Once treated and released, he was diagnosed as allergic to bees and gravely warned of future threats from bees. From that moment on, he became one of the elementary schoolchildren who immediately were ushered out of the classroom once a bee entered. He had to carry medication in case of a sting.
As an adult, I know now that those ‘bees’ were actually paper wasps. Bees are often mis-identified and all flying, stinging animals are generically called ‘bee.’ But what is striking to me about my beliefs about bees is how much my animal ‘instinct,’ fostered by bad movies and crappy TV shows, has been about reacting from a place of fear. My instinct, fueled by other agendas set by pop culture and parents, was to kill, harm, or injure the bees. Even though I had never been stung as a child, I swatted, shrieked, and sprinted with the best of them. Little did I know that one third of my food was pollinated through bees’ labor, life was made sweeter through their hives, and beautiful flowers flourished under their diligent work.
Here's what's up: Wednesday October 16th - Wednesday October 23rd
Here are the upcoming events from Wednesday October 16th through Wednesday October 23rd featuring NYU Press authors!
Wednesday 10/16 6:00PM | Charlene Mires 1154 Boylston Street, Boston MA Charlene Mires, author of Capital of the World: The Race to Host the United Nations, will present an illustrated talk about the dramatic, surprising, and often comic story of civic boosterism awakened by the UN’s search for home.
Thursday 10/17 12:30PM | Constance Rosenblum JCC on the Palisades, Tenafly NJ Constance Rosenblum, author of Habitats: Private Lives in the Big City, shares the intimate stories of how New Yorkers who reside in places as Park Avenue palaces, brownstone apartments, mansions, lofts and garrets really live.
Thursday 10/17 6:15PM | Theresa Morris 1250 Albany Avenue, Hartford CT Theresa Morris, author of Cut It Out: The C-Section Epidemic in America, will speak about her new book at the Albany Branch of the Hartford Public Library.
Thursday 10/17 7:00PM | Mark Anthony Neal 1201 Fayetteville Street, NC Mark Anthony Neal, author of Looking for Leroy: Illegible Black Masculinities, will explore the criminalization of the black male image in contemporary popular American Culture and how these distortions often lead to antagonism toward black men in the public imagination.
Wednesday 10/23 6:30PM | Constance Rosenblum 91 Orchard Street, New York NY Constance Rosenblum and guests Mary Sansone, Carol Zakaluk, Kim Ima, Bharati Kemraj and Jose Diaz Oyola, all of whom are profiled in her book Habitats: Private Lives in the Big City, will discuss their lives, their homes, and their deep roots in New York City.
Wednesday 10/23 6:30PM - 8:30 PM | Robert Ji-Sing Ku, Martin F. Manalansan IV, Anita Mannur 19 West 4th Street, New York NY Robert Ji-Sing Ku, Martin F. Manalansan IV, and Anita Mannur, editors of Eating Asian America: A Food Studies Reader, discuss Eating Asian America with Krishnendu Ray (Chair of the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies & Public Health, NYU Steinhardt) alongside some of the most prominent figures in Asian American food.
For more information, check out our events page here.
“You will search in vain in the Constitution of the United States … for that word ‘white,’ it is not there … The omission of this word — this phrase of caste — from our national charter, was not accidental, but intentional.”—John Bingham, the father of the Fourteenth Amendment, helped put a guarantee of individual equality into the U.S. Constitution.
Jury duty is constitutional duty—and a core responsibility of citizenship! The first book written for jurors, Why Jury Duty Matters provides readers with an understanding of the constitutional value of jury duty. (Also, be sure to read the author’s excellent piece in The Atlantic on ways to the make the Constitution relevant to our daily lives.)
America’s Founding Son sheds light on the forgotten father of the Fourteenth Amendment, John Bingham—who helped put a guarantee of fundamental rights and equality to all Americans (not just white men) into the U.S. Constitution.
“Ashton’s thorough treatment of her topic is sure to enlighten—she discusses everything from the official observances of Hanukkah at the White House to how the rise of the celebration affected mainstream ad campaigns and the number of opportunities available to Jewish women. It all adds up to powerful support for her thesis that Hanukkah now enjoys ‘a more significant place in the American Jewish calendar than it had known’ since the events it commemorates.”—Starred Publishers Weekly review of Hanukkah in America by Dianne Ashton, on sale October 7.
Love is not more legitimate or good or valuable if the state makes it official, and garnering a basic victory is not the same as making the world a more genuinely amenable place for sexual difference. Girlfriend, listen up: this is a simple civil right that we shouldn’t even have to fight for, a right to enter a kinda problematic institution that was historically rooted in ownership and gender inequity.
Put that on your wedding cake.
Suzanna Walters, on why the end of DOMA is not enough
“Meanwhile, for 40 years gay activism has taken shape amid a period of wealth inequity that would make 19th century robber barons blush. The upshot? Queers are at an economic disadvantage, with little economic voice among power brokers.”—Lisa Henderson, author of Love and Money: Queers, Class, and Cultural Production, on queer class solidarity. Her article gives us another perspective on Pride, and a fresh imagining of queer politics. Check it out!
“So I wait for the Supreme Court decisions, and wonder how the outcome will shape the landscape of gay rights. Will we become even more fixedly two Americas for gay people: one that supports its gay residents, and one that continues to push gay people into the toxic closet? If so, have I chosen the wrong America?”—Contemporary LGBT culture may seem centered in urban areas, but Bernadette Barton, author of Pray the Gay Away: The Extraordinary Lives of Bible Belt Gays, moves away from the metronormative lens to highlight the challenges of queers living in the rural South. Check out her new article on the upcoming Supreme Court rulings and the uneasiness of queers living in the Bible Belt.