Reading Round Up, September 30, 2016

I’m personally dedicating my no-Trump vote to Martha Cook, the mother of an Arkansas State University alum, who was burned to death this spring by her violent ex-boyfriend.

At Everyday Feminism, women  recognize Trump for the abuser he is, noting that he employs tactics “straight out of the handbook of toxic masculinity.” Hillary Clinton can shimmy, but Trump’s degrading, threatening words are hurting women.  

I’m less concerned about a Trump presidency (I think even some of the high profile Republicans who say that they are supporting him are going to pull the HRC lever in November because they’d rather the nation suffer under Clinton than implode under Trump, and they would rather the Republican party be out of office for at least 4 more years than to fall into the hands of Trump supporters) than I am about the years it’s going to take to undo the climate of hate that he has encouraged. To that end, left leaning folks in states where it’s going to matter should probably “Vote for the Lying Neoliberal Warmonger” in order to send the message to hatemongers that they have no future in politics.

That message needs to be heard by folks like Gabriel James Wilson, a 19 year old from Salina, Kansas, who is promoting white nationalism in the Sunflower State. Wilson has been attacking Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kansas, for its efforts to be more racially inclusive. This included attacks on the president of the college, a white man with a multiracial family.

Or Chuck Wasko, the mayor of West York, Pennsylvania, who has shared terrible racist and threatening comments about President Obama on his Facebook page. Good for members of the city council for moving against him.  York has a history of racism, including recent (and also older) significant Klan activity and, in the 1960s, race riots. (And, yes, I’m from the Red Rose City, so I feel especially obligated to point out what the racism of the White Rose City. I’m not saying that York is objectively a more hateful place than Lancaster.)

Don’t understand the link between Trump and the right’s racism? Check out In These Times’ A Brief History of the Right’s Racist Hate: 1885 to Trump.”

I find Hillary Clinton likeable (not that I think likeability matters in national politics), but I loved her on Between Two Ferns.  And I mean I really felt a lot of warmth and affection for her.

FiveThirtyEight talks to the always-smart R. Marie Griffiths about evangelical support for Trump, a phenomena that continues to puzzle evangelical author Philip Yancey, who apparently had to explain to readers that not wanting to vote Trump doesn’t mean he endorses Clinton.

Goshen, Indiana, has opened its first LGBT health clinic.

Some Mennonites embarrass themselves as the New York Times explains how “Torn Over Donald Trump and Cut Off by Culture Wars, Evangelicals Despair.”

Then some of them redeem themselves, again in The New York Times, in a piece about how very easy it can be, even for those of us with a narrow set of experiences, to choose loving each other. I hope the Odgaards read it and “[open their] hearts just a bit wider.”

GQ teaches us how to love our children better in My Son, The Prince of Fashion.

Prejudice toward black men starts young—in preschool, according to researchers at Yale’s Child Study Center. The answer to “Do Early Educators’ Implicit Biases Regarding Sex and Race Relate to Behavior Expectations and Recommendations of Preschool Expulsion and Suspensions?” is yes. Parents of black children already likely know this through experience. Parents of white kids, what are you doing about it?

And higher education isn’t all that much nicer to its black professors. In the Washington Post, UPenn’s Marybeth Gasman answers the question of why there aren’t more people of color in academia bluntly: ““The reason we don’t have more faculty of color among college faculty is that we don’t want them. We simply don’t want them.” It’s a disappointing reality but also a reminder that we can do it differently if we want to. White faculty, what are we doing to change our culture?

Dr. Randal Jelks engages the question “Is the Conversation on Race Working?” on KCUR’s Central Standard. It’s just 19 minutes in length, so listen up!

President Obama defends the right of people to protest the US national anthem (cool, because, you know, that’s the Constitution and our president is a Constitutional lawyer) but then makes the comparison between the pain that families of fallen members of the military feel when they see athletes take a knee and the pain those athletes are expressing over police brutality. I’m not quite sure how that comparison works since, first, soldiers and their families are taking on that risk when they join the military (which doesn’t lessen the loss but does provide a frame for grief) and people who are shot because they are driving, walking, asking for help, or reading while black don’t voluntarily take on that risk. And, uh, second—war and police shootings are both violence enacted by the state. So maybe President Obama should be thinking about the pain that the state causes in war and policing.

Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore is determined to go down in history as one of the most famous bigots of Alabama, which is saying a lot. He was just suspended from the bench of instructing probate judges to ignore federal orders about gay marriage.

I wish we lived in a world where breastfeeding was better supported, not by guilting mothers but by a totally different relationship between parents and work. A new study led by Harvard Medical School’s Melissa C. Bartick examines the health outcomes for those who breastfeed in Maternal & Child Nutrition, calculating that “for every 597 women who optimally breastfeed, one maternal or child death is prevented” and noting that most (nearly 80%) of the excess deaths and costs of suboptimal breastfeeding fall on mothers.

In honor of Banned Books Week, the LA Times reports that you can get Hitler’s Mein Kampf and David Duke’s racial awakening memoir out of prison libraries in Texas but not works by Langston Hughes, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Sojourner Truth, or Richard Wright. Or an astonishing other 15,000 books that are off limits to prisoners.

Banned Books Week Reading Wish List, taking me back to some American lit classes, I loved, especially those taught by Dr. Mark Hochberg at Juniata College and Dr. Beth Schultz and Dr. Susan Harris at KU: Moby-DickLeaves of GrassCatch-22In Cold BloodTheir Eyes Were Watching God, and To Kill a Mockingbird. 

_A Doubter’s Guide to God_

I’m not sure what is going on at Peace Mennonite Church in Lawrence, Kansas, but the place is producing a lot of good writing and writers now. Carol Grieb has a book out on Hamlet, Ryan Ellett has written a great account of early African American radio, plus one about the Texas Rangers, and pastor Joanna Harader blogs regularly for The Christian Century. (I trust my friends at Peace to update me if my list is incomplete.)

Long-time PMCer Roger Martin was a good writer before he started attending Peace two decades ago, as proven by Cows are Freaky When They Look at You: An Oral History of the Kaw Valley Hemp Pickers, which he co-edited with Susan Brosseau and David Ohle. And he made a career shaping words for the University of Kansas, winning lots of awards for his work with the university’s research magazine along the way. As a former member of Peace (and continuing booster), I’ve been privileged to hear Roger’s words on many occasions, and they are always a delight and a challenge.  So I was eager to get my hands on Roger’s new book, A Doubter’s Guide to God.

Despite the title, it’s not a how-to book for those searching for a religious experience.  Instead, it’s a spiritual memoir (if spiritual memoirs are allowed to cite peer-reviewed scholarship) that will speak to those whose head and heart are both committed to the chase of a God who is always cutting out, one who knocks on the door but doesn’t respond when you ask “Who’s There?”, the God who absconds.

Roger is wise enough to know that that this is a serious chase that might never lead to the discovery of God—and that’s a good thing. Lutheran theological Gerhard O. Forde argues in Theology is for Proclamation (Fortress Press 1990), “The constant temptation of the theologian of glory in us is to try to penetrate the ‘hidden majesty’ of God. Were we able to do that… nothing but destruction would result. Enough mischief is accomplished by our unsuccessful attempts to do so” (20).

Roger isn’t a mischief maker, at least in this regard, and so A Doubter’s Guide is less about God and instead about the stumbles forward over a Baby Boomer’s lifetime of looking for faith. The story is told in uneven chunks—we hear a bit about Roger’s childhood, mostly in terms of his mother’s faith, his father’s moodiness, the curiosity-dulling sermons of his childhood pastor, and a few moments in adolescence that affirm that, like most smart kids, Roger had some doubts about the relevance of religion, and, from there, the story skips over big parts of his life to focus on the moments where his life took unexpected turns—a foray into studying dreams; an arrest, complete with helicopters circling his house, for growing marijuana; a chance encounter outside the campus chapel.

Even these “plot points” are less important to the story than are the people—Roger’s mother, whose quiet and consistent faith impress him, especially when he is able to view it against his own youthful condescension toward religion; his wife Barbara, with whom he has experienced the maturity of love, which means not only actively loving but also withholding your unkindness; and Steve, who is the straight man to Roger’s color commentator during years of team-teaching youth Sunday school. One of the treats, for me, in this book is Roger’s account of his relationship with Steve, a person I have long-admired and who is a model of steadfast friendship and dedication to church and community. Steve might be seen as the anti-Roger, which clearly tickles Roger—and which makes me value Steve’s contribution to their friendship all the more.  Roger is passionate and can be too often in love with love and too sharp with words, even if he is right. Steve is mindful and can lower the heat of a conversation, helping people to tap into their more noble selves and building their capacity to tolerate dissent and discomfort in the quest to hold sometimes fraught relationships together.

The relationships that feature most prominently in The Doubter’s Guide to God are those that turn and then push its author in new directions and support his skeptical but committed pursuit of God. If, in his effort to catch a glimpse of God, these friendships are what Roger captures instead, he’s blessed.





Republicans Prefer Leaders Who Conform to Physical Stereotypes

Remember when Donald Trump suggested that Carly Fiorina was too unattractive to get votes? It was during the primary, in an interview with Rolling Stone, when he exhorted his fans to “Look at that face!” He asks them, “Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?!” As the crowd quiets, understanding the mean-spiritedness of his comments, he chooses to continue: “I mean, she’s a woman, and I’m not s’posedta say bad things, but really, folks, come on. Are we serious?”

The moment should have been humiliating for Trump, not the object of his scorn, but he refused to be humbled, instead insisting that we heard him all wrong—that his comments were about her “persona” not her appearance, but “women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said,” as Fiorina noted in a later debate.

Likewise, we all heard his more recent comments on Hillary Clinton’s appearance (she doesn’t have that “presidential look”) for what they were—sexism, with some implied racism and ableism (particularly his false concern about her health) thrown in. When the standard for the “presidential look” is the template we’ve been working from for 200+ years, then we expect our presidents to be white, non-disabled men (and here “white” also means “not Jewish”). We would need SIXTEEN more back-to-back black presidents before we saw a black person serve in the White House for as long as we elected slave owners to do the same. (Twelve or 13, as there is some dispute over Buchanan, of the first 18 presidents, owned slaves, and eight of them were slave owners while serving as in office.) And, of course, we elected plenty of post-13th Amendment white men who were bigots. (Oh, the list of presidential racism is too long, so let’s just name some highlights from the 1900 onward: eugenics lover Teddy Roosevelt, who was always worrying that white women weren’t having babies fast enough; Woodrow Wilson, who frequently supported racism, including his efforts to make interracial marriage illegal in Washington D.C.; FDR, who supported the forced removal of Japanese Americans into internment camps during World War II; Eisenhower, who couldn’t bring himself to act on the mandate of Brown v. the Board of Education; Anti-Semite Richard Nixon; outright racist and Civil Rights hero LBJ.)


Can a woman be president? the not-very-funny Kisses for My President asked in 1964.  In 2016, Donald Trump answers “Are you serious?!?”

So if our standard of “presidential” is based on these candidates, Clinton, as a woman, can’t compete, and the deck is likewise stacked against anyone with visible disabilities, a non-Anglo last name, a racial and ethnic background that isn’t white, or markers of a non-Christian religion.

This is, of course, exactly what Trump meant because he is actively appealing to voters who feel threatened by diversity. As he asked of his audience as they were mulling over a primary vote for Fiorina, “Are we serious?” For Trump and those like him, who cannot consider the possibility of a woman president (“really folks, come on”), looks—both in terms of conventional attractiveness and in terms of race, sex and gender, and disability status—matter.

And the science is there to prove it.

In 2012, Christopher Y. Olivola, Abigal B. Sussman, Konstantinos Tsetsos, Olivia E. Kang, and Alexander Todorov, a team comprised of researchers from the University of Warwick, Princeton, University College London, and Dartmouth, published an article in Social Psychology & Personality Science titled “Republicans Prefer Republican-Looking Leaders: Political Facial Stereotypes Predict Candidate Electoral Success Among Right-Leaning Voters,” and almost everything important in the article is there in the title. The only thing to add is that the findings didn’t hold true for liberal voters; that is, liberal or progressive voters didn’t much care if their candidate “looked presidential.”

So Trump’s words, as usual, weren’t a misspeak, and we didn’t misunderstand him. His words weren’t rantings of a candidate who shoots from the hip. They are a carefully crafted appeal to his party and their desire for the security of stereotypes.

There is good news, though, for voters who want the election to be about the substantive policy and leadership differences among candidates: the Oliviola, Sussman, Tsetsos, Kang, and Todorov article was published in September 2012—two months before Mitt Romney, who looks like he was genetically engineered to be president, was clobbered in the voting booth by Barack Obama. So while the findings in that Social Psychology & Personality Science article look pretty sturdy to me, they don’t have to predict the outcome of the election. The key is getting voters to the poll who choose to think beyond stereotypes.

Reading Round Up, #BLM Edition, September 26, 2016

A special collection of recent writing on Black Lives Matter that I’ve been reading

North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory, always happy to sacrifice the welfare and rights of his state’s residents to the prejudices of the powerful, has decided that North Carolina’s police don’t have to share body camera footage with the public unless compelled to by the court. We would expect transparency to increase public confidence in the police, but that kind of assumes that the transparency would show us a police force that is serving and protecting, not controlling and terrorizing.

Speaking in North Carolina, Donald Trump said that “Our African-American communities are absolutely in the worst shape they’ve ever been in before.” That inanity compelled a rebuke from President Obama, directly from the floor of the newly opened National Museum of African American History and Culture, who understatedly pointed out that both slavery and legalized segregation were pretty tough on black people.

The Fraternal Order of Police has endorsed Donald Trump for president, which makes one wonder about the relationships between the 30% of FOP officers who are people of color and their white peers. Philadelphia’s black officers are critical of the police union over the endorsement.

Unions, of course, have a long history of racism. Andrew Tillett-Saks explains “Why the Labor Movement Must Join the Anti-Racist Struggle to Make Black Lives Matter” in In These Times.

In an opinion piece in Ebony, author Lasha describes the “rancid taste of the cocktail of fragility, perpetual perceived innocence and self-centering” that usually informs her conversations with white women about race in her call for readers to recognize the role that white women play in violence against black men.

Awesomely Luvvie speaks directly to white people about our responsibilities:

White people. Yes, you. Even you nice ones. These things that are happening? These horrifying things that are happening to my people? They are because people who look like you, have set up a system of supremacy that flourishes…. White people, I’m talking to you. THIS. IS. YOUR. PROBLEM. TO. FIX. Y’all got some work to do, because this system that y’all keep on privileging from, you’ve got to help us dismantle it. Because those of us who are Black and Brown. We have tried. You created this robot, and it is yours to deactivate. My skinfolk don’t have the passcode. This is your monster to slay.

Sarah Watt’s “White Fragility is Real: 4 Questions White People Should Ask Themselves During Discussions of Race” gives some basic but useful advice for checking to see if precious white people are invoking white fragility in discussions of race. Of course, not getting defensive about racism is the least white people can do. Janee Watts offers some more concrete advice for white allies in Black Lives Matter, as does Luvvie.

Black activists work against police brutality against white people in LA and stand with water protectors in North Dakota.

In The Atlantic (thanks, Mom, for the subscription!), Ta-Nehisi Coates explains “What O.J. Simpson Means to Me,” arguing that Simpson most probably committed a horrific crime and then, face “the kind of treatment typically reserved for rich white guys.” Coates places the Simpson case in the context of Rodney King, Latasha Harlins, and rampant terrorism of people of color at the hands of the LAPD and asks us to think hard about class, race, and privilege in the legal system.

Writing for Those People, John Metta roots his argument about white people’s assumed superiority in a long, long history, one that begins before the slave trade. Now, 151 years after the 13th Amendment, he writes,

white people often carry prejudices about slavery without realizing it. That is why the white refrain of “slavery was a long time ago, get over it” falls on deaf Black ears. It’s not Black people holding on to slavery, it’s white people, carrying the prejudices in their culture.

In other words, black people aren’t the ones who “make everything about race”—white people are.

Turns out that we’ve known for a solid ten years that white supremacists are infiltrating the police force.

Vanity Fair reviews some of the studies on race and policing, and the results are, generally speaking, not all that surprising.

Recognizing the disproportionate policing of black people, the Massachusetts State Supreme Court has decided that “Black Men May Have a Legitimate Reason to Flee Police” and that fleeing alone cannot be construed as a sign of guilt. The Court writes:

[T]he finding that black males in Boston are disproportionately and repeatedly targeted for FIO [Field Interrogation and Observation] encounters suggests a reason for flight totally unrelated to consciousness of guilt. Such an individual, when approached by the police, might just as easily be motivated by the desire to avoid the recurring indignity of being racially profiled as by the desire to hide criminal activity.

Fusion, a pop culture site, has a quick and useful video out, “Police  Brutality Isn’t a New Problem. It’s the Same Old Problem,” that links current police brutality to a long history of white control of black bodies.

I’ve been both an English teacher who teaches soc and a soc prof who teaches poetry. I taught the police shooting of Amadou Diallo for years alongside Audre Lorde’s “Power.” (Thanks to my AP English teacher, Bill Lewis, now a professor at UDel, for making me memorize a poem my senior year and for letting me choose Lorde’s work for that project.) Bruce Springsteen wrote “American Skin (41 Shots)” in response to the Diallo shooting in 1999, winning an award from the NAACP for his work. He’s performing it on his current tour, and it occurs to me that I’ve taught a dozen new cases of police violence against people of color, including children of color (Trayvon Martin, Andy Lopez, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Philandro Castile, Tamir Rice, Keith Lamont Scott, Eric Garner, John Garner III, Eric Harris, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray…) between the first and most current performances of that song.

A banner supporting Black Lives Manner was stolen from the Ecumenical Campus Ministries building at the University of Kansas. It was later returned—with a note of apology.

I’m proud of the open letter, “Do Not Be Silent,” that KU adminstrators from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences,” wrote in opposition to hate acts on campus and, specifically, their linking of anti-LGBT and anti-black biases. I’m even more proud that a disproportionate number of those who signed the document are or have been associated with American Studies, the department where I did my graduate work.


Poet Jonterri Gadson reading Lorde’s “Power.

On my reading list: The Contested Murder of Latasha Harlins: Justice, Gender, and the Origins of the LA Riots by Brenda Stevenson (Oxford 2015), Coates, Brian Stelfreeze, and Laura Martin’s Black Panther, William M. Tuttle’s Race Riot: Chicago in the Summer of 1919 (Illinois 1996), Luvvie’s I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual (Holt 2016), Ian Chaney Lopez’s Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class (Oxford 2015). I’m teaching Dog Whistle Politics in the next few weeks and am eager to see how my students respond to it. And Bill Tuttle’s book is on this list as a re-re-re-read for me. As a grad student, I was fortunate to take a class in African American history with Bill, and Race Riot blew me away, so I revisit it frequently. I can’t imagine writing a book that thoughtfully crafted, but it’s been the standard I use to measure the quality of research and writing in everything else I read. I grew tremendously as a writer from reading that book. And it’s a foundational text for understanding the history of racial violence in the US.



Reading Round Up, September 23, 2016

Most of my reading this week has focused on Black Lives Matter, police brutality, and protests. I’m working on a special Reading Round Up just on those topics. For now, though, here’s the rest of what I’ve been reading this week.

Chelsea Fagan blogs about her experience with money at The Financial Diet (a title I dislike, but that’s another story). I don’t see the two of us having much in common, which makes me appreciate her insight into why gender expectations for women and the need for money to support them even more. She writes:

I used to think that all of the things I wanted as a woman — cooking dinner each night, traveling, having children and a career at the same time, living in a well-appointed home that I loved being in — were simply lifestyle choices, and that being budget-savvy would be my way to get them without ever seeing a particularly high number on a paycheck. But what I’ve learned since starting TFD is that it’s quite the opposite: the version of all of these things that I had in my head were put there and maintained by women who were rich enough to pursue them as a life choice.

3% of Americans own half the nation’s guns—which is interesting, but not as interesting as the fact that the rest of the guns are spread so thinly, with many, many people owning just one or two. Researchers find that “self-protection” is the primary reason this one-gun owners own a handgun—even though the US is, overall, safer than it’s ever been. Researchers are still working on figuring out why Americans are so fearful of each other.

But I do need to give credit to off-duty officer and former police chief Jason Falconer for intervening in a mass stabbing in a St. Cloud, Minnesota shopping mall.  Notably, Falconer wasn’t just some “good guy with a gun” who had little to no fire arms training toting a gun through the mall, as so many states now allow; he owns and teaches at Tactical Advantage, a firearms training company, where he focuses on “reality-based” training.

Student evaluations of teachers and courses are a total waste of time, money, and effort, and can serve to further discrimination based on gender and race, which we’ve known for ages. Maybe this new study, plainly titled “Meta-analysis of faculty’s teaching effectiveness: Student evaluation of teaching ratings and student learning are not related,” will inspire administrators to get rid of them. But I doubt it. The university’s continued reliance on student evaluations of faculty performance despite a landfill’s worth of evidence against them is evidence that higher ed doesn’t respect its own work.

Every time a higher ed administrator said the word “entrepreneurial” and “ROI,” my soul dies a little. William Deresiewicz explains why in “The Neoliberal Arts: How College Sold Itself to the Market” in Harpers.

On my reading wish list this week: 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl by Mona Awad, The History of Religion in 5 ½ Objects: Bringing the Spiritual to Its Senses by S. Brent Plate, and An Anxious Age: The Post-Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America by Joseph Bottum.

The 2016 Republican Platform is Deplorable

I’ve been thinking a lot about Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” comment, made last week at a fundraiser in New York, for a number of reasons. The Republican faux-outrage at the comment dramatically highlights that party’s silence around the racist, Islamphobic, and sexist words of their own candidate. Clinton calls racists racists and Mike Pence pronounces her unfit to be president, but his running mate says racist comments all the time and the party is silent or Trump defenders insist that what we heard is not what we said—classic gaslighting.

Though Clinton apologized for her words (too bad, because they were lively and honest, I think), her claim was fundamentally correct: Trump supporters support bigoted positions and policies at a much higher rate than the rest of America, according to the results of research by Public Policy Polling, a highly reliable, slightly right-leaning research firm. According to PPP’s research, 65% of Trump supporters believe that Obama is a Muslim and 59% believe he was not born in the United States (Questions 17 and 18 of the PPI survey). Other research shows very high levels in belief in white superiority among Trump voters, which expresses itself as outright hatred as well as nostalgia for a time when white Protestants dominated all areas of American culture (and hence “Make America Great Again,” which hearkens to Reagan (though Trump claims he invented the slogan), to the mid-century, before Civil Rights, women’s rights, and gay rights, and to days before the Emancipation Proclamation). In the primary, he was heavily supported by voters who favor instant deportation of undocumented immigrants and a ban on Muslim immigrants. Republicans in general are less racially sensitized or attentive to the realities of racial inequality than are Democrats, with about 60% of Republicans saying that we pay too much attention to “race and racial issues these days” in a June poll from Pew, but Trump voters score highest in the worst qualities: ethnocentrism, anti-LGBT bigotry, white supremacy, xenophobia, anti-Muslim sentiment.

It turns out that probably well more than half of Trump voters support these nasty policies. And 7% of Trump’s own supporters see him as racist—and think it’s either perfectly acceptable to vote for a racist or that his racism is the very reason to vote for him.  After Trump was denounced months ago for failing to rebuke David Duke, Mike Pence just this week also refused to denounce the former Klan leader and white supremacist.

Trump’s own supporters see him as racist–and they like him that way.

And that only makes sense, too, when you read the 2016 Republican platform. Trump voters will find in that document plenty of efforts to turn their bigotry into policy:

  • the appointment of Supreme Court justices who will overturn the legalization of marriage between same-sex couples (pg. 10)
  • a federal law that would allow businesses with government contracts to discriminate against same-sex couples (pg. 31-32)
  • continued government support for the notion that the United States’ heritage is as a “Judaeo-Christian” nation (pg. 12), including support for teaching the Bible as literature (pg. 32) (which I think is a great goal, though it’s frequently done very poorly)
  • photo ID requirements for voters (pg. 16), which disproportionately disenfranchises poor voters and people of color—which is exactly why they push for those requirements
  • a radical reconsideration of “one person, one vote” (pg. 16), which disadvantages voters in districts with large populations of non-citizens
  • the gutting or destruction of welfare benefits (pg. 18), SNAP benefits (pg. 18), and Medicaid (pg. 23), all of which are seen by Republicans as unfairly benefiting people of color
  • support for the death penalty (pg. 40), which is disproportionately inflicted upon people of color
  • support for environmental policies that harm and insult native communities (pg. 50)
  • the codification of English as the official language of the United States (pg. 25)
  • no amnesty for undocumented immigrants and punishment for cities that refuse to cooperate with that plan (pg. 25-26)
  • the building of a wall between the US and Mexico, one that will stretch the entire length of the southern border and that is “sufficient to stop both vehicular and pedestrian traffic” (pg. 26)


Radical Republican Thaddeus Stevens, wondering what the hell happened to the party of Lincoln

Trump has both activated and fomented prejudices in America that are deep and long-lasting and never very far from the surface of our politics and our discourse. But he’s preaching this message standing on a much larger Republican platform.





Hell, Coffee, and Bees

I shared last week some good-natured teasing that local companies in Utah use in marketing in a region heavily populated by members of the Latter Day Saints, Jack Mormon Coffee Co. being my current favorite. A few folks asked for more details, and the religion scholar in me couldn’t resist tracking down the answers. So, a quick analysis of the Jack Mormon Coffee Co. sign, featured below.


A Jack Mormon, as I explained previously, is one who doesn’t follow the rules of the Mormon faith, including those that dictate diet. In Doctrine and Covenants 89:18-19, Mormons are told that “All saints who remember to keep and do these sayings … shall receive health in their navel and marrow to their bones; and shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge.” These instructions, called the Word of Wisdom (WoW), include prohibitions against alcohol and “hot beverages,” which has come to be interpreted as coffee and tea. Caffeine isn’t forbidden (a position clarified in 2012).

A ban on coffee and tea doesn’t mean, though, that Mormons can’t be in a coffee shop (though some are concerned that this “gives the appearance of evil,” which is warned against in 1st Thessalonians 5:22) or do business there. There are even handy guides to insuring that you are following the Word of Wisdom in what you order.

Drinking coffee, though, doesn’t actually mean you’re going to “roast,” as the Jack Mormon sign says, because Mormons don’t believe in a literal hell of fire and brimstone where sinners are tortured for eternity. Drinking coffee does, though, prevent you from entering the temple, which requires special permission, given after an interview, with your bishop.

The Jack Mormon sign encourages customers to “choose the right beans”—a teasing reference to the Mormon hymn “Choose the Right.” The hymn gave rise to the motto “Choose the Right,” which is stressed especially to LDS children. The letters “CTR” appear often in LDS culture, especially rings, as a reminder of this slogan.

CTR ring.jpg

The LDS church owns the trademark for this particular stylization of the letters CTR and shield.

 The slogan at the bottom of the Jack Mormon sign—“This is the place (for fresh roasted coffee beans)”—alludes to Brigham Young’s proclamation that the Salt Lake Valley was to be the home of the Church of Latter Day Saints. (The Northwestern Shoshoni, who already lived here, probably liked it a lot, too, but the story of LDS-First Nations interactions is a for a different day.)

In 1839, Mormon pioneers, led by founder Joseph Smith, entered a city they would soon rename Nauvoo (an Anglicized version of the Hebrew word meaning to be beautiful), in Illinois, as they fled government persecution in Missouri. The Nauvoo years were a pivotal time in LDS history, both in terms of theological innovation and organizational change. It was here, in 1844, that the central figure of the faith, Smith, was shot and killed by an armed mob.


A view from Utah Valley. It probably wasn’t a desert 150 years ago, either.

Subsequently, Brigham Young became the first post-Smith leader of the main body of Latter Day Saints. He moved the group westward, to Utah, and to Salt Lake City, through Emigration Canyon. Pioneer Day, a major state holiday, marks the arrival of these pioneers on July 24, 1847, and Young’s proclamation that the group had arrived in their mythical State of Deseret (deseret referring to the term used to describe honeybees in the Book of Mormon; Utah is still called the Beehive State and bee motifs and beekeeping are popular), where they would “make the desert blossom like a rose,” though, really, it probably wasn’t quite so desert-like when they arrived.


A beehive is featured on Utah’s state seal, as well as highway markers.

Today, This is the Place Heritage Park is a popular attraction in Salt Lake City commemorating this moment in LDS history. It’s about four and a half miles from Jack Mormon Coffee Co., so you can pick up a cup on your way to visit.


Reading Round Up, September 16, 2016

A brief list of what I’ve been reading this week, mostly about religion, politics, sex, and hate groups, but with a little bit of celebrity parody thrown in.

Goshen College doesn’t play the national anthem, and it’s just fine.

Stories matter, and we need to give more attention to the ones we tell our children. Little House on the Prairie fostered modern conservatism, argues Christine Woodward in Politico.

Over at HarvSpot, Harvey Yoder is chronicling a Trump PAC’s efforts to woo Amish voters. It’s not going well.

KimKierkegaardashian’s Twitter feed is my favorite current internet silliness.  Almost inspired me to revisit Either/Or.  

A Muslim woman in NYC was set afire this week. She was not injured, thankfully. Investigators have ruled that this attack was not inspired by her religion as three other women had been threatened with similar attacks by the same man. So it’s a crime aimed at women, not Muslims. Somehow, I don’t feel any better about this.

It’s not universally true that conservative religion hurts women, but Hasidic women in NYC are being denied a right to an education.

Bob Zellner tells of his work as a white man working as a Civil Rights activists and notes the things that can pull rural people together—including pulling Klansmen out of the Klan. Part of his success was in recognizing that people want to live with integrity, so that their words and actions match. The trick was in figuring out how to work this so that people moved away from racism and toward justice. A highlight:

“[W]e knew that people’s rhetoric can be the last thing that’ll change. We told them we don’t care what you believe as long as you act in an equal way, knowing that people don’t want a disconnect between what they’re doing and what they’re thinking, and their thinking begins to change. “

Science Friday explores what we can learn when we share data. (Thanks to my pal Jamie for sharing this with me. I can see a fun assignment for my research methods students coming out of it.) But sometimes data does not serve our vision of a just world well, as Cathy O’Neil argues in Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy.  

“Grit” is b.s. Nicolas Tampio explains why “Teaching ‘Grit’ is Bad for Children, and Bad for Democracy” in Aeon.

Helaine Olen is the smartest financial writer we have in the U.S., in part because of her ability to connect personal finance and larger structural forces. She takes a narrow question—why the liberal arts keep getting kicked around in public discourse, though they are one of the best ways to foster critically-engaged citizenship—and uses it to ask us to question our ideas about democracy, the nation, and the future.

If you aren’t following Olen on Twitter, then you missed a great analysis of the Wells Fargo meltdown. Find it and follow her.

Women working in the White House strategically support each other in meetings to insure that their voices are heard. Learn what they did and other feminist strategies for respecting women’s contributions at work.

Beer, Coffee, and Religious Demography

Our family recently moved to Ogden, Utah, whose history as a railroad depot, racial and ethnic diversity, artsy vibe, seedy pockets, and relatively smaller Latter Day Saint population (about 60%, as opposed to parts of Utah were more than 80% of the population is Mormon) has given rise to the motto “Keep Ogden Sketchy.” Unlike the place where we moved from, which is perhaps the driest state in the nation, you can buy beer without traveling across the county line—including the 3.2 stuff you can purchase right in the grocery store.

LDS teachings prohibit or discourage alcohol or stimulating beverages such as coffee, and the state is one of 17 that organize alcohol sales through a state board. Other efforts to control alcohol sales include the “Zion Curtain,” which separates bartenders from patrons so that they cannot see alcohol being poured (and presumably protects the eyes of children who might be dining at the restaurant). Though, as everywhere, cheap booze, probably mostly bought by people with alcohol addiction, dominates sales, local breweries and wineries are doing brisk business in the state while poking a bit of fun at LDS culture with products such as Polygamy Nitro Porter (“Utah’s Second Favorite Vice”) out of Wasatch Brewery, which has pubs in Salt Lake City and Parky City, and Bishop’s Daughter Pie Cherry Wine from The Hive Winery in Layton.


But my favorite bit of LDS teasing is currently Jack Mormon Coffee Co., a little place in Salt Lake City that roasts their own. A Jack Mormon, as I learned from a neighbor who considers herself one, is a Mormon who doesn’t follow all the standards of worthiness. (A Molly Mormon, or MoMo, as my friend Laura told me when she introduced me to Jack Mormon’s Coffee Shop on a recent visit to SLC, is a goody-two shoes Mormon.) Those Jack Mormons are likely driving up the numbers of reported LDS folks in the state who are labeled “in-transit” by LDS researchers, who consider everyone who has not removed themselves from the church record to be a member until they are 110 years of age or are identified as deceased.

Though I’m not a Mormon, I’m also not a coffee, wine, or beer drinker. Still, Utah has had a lot to offer. Turns out the state is a leader in ice cream sales. And, of course, there is a lot of religious culture to learn about.

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