Is "gringo" offensive?

Latina feminist columnist Daisy Hernandez talked on NPR this week about her relief when she learned that the Arizona mass-murderer wasn’t Latino.  I heard this when it was first broadcast on Wednesday afternoon, and thought that it was terrific, because she explains how the world looks from her perspective, and it’s not a perspective that most white people would probably imagine on their own:

It’s safe to say there was a collective sigh of brown relief when the Tucson killer turned out to be a gringo. Had the shooter been Latino, media pundits wouldn’t be discussing the impact of nasty politics on a young man this week — they’d be demanding an even more stringent anti-immigrant policy. The new members of the House would be stepping over each other to propose new legislation for more guns on the border, more mothers to be deported, and more employers to be penalized for hiring brown people. Obama would be attending funerals and telling the nation tonight that he was going to increase security just about everywhere.

In short, the only reason the nation is taking a few days to reflect on the animosity in politics today is precisely that the shooter was not Latino.

I thought that this was a completely sensible thing to point out, but apparently NPR was hit with e-mails and comments about how “gringo” is an offensive word.  I have never heard this–and I live in the American West, where both white and Latin@ people use the term casually and usually playfully.  (Example:  Continue reading

History Under Attack, part II: Can splitters be polemicists?

Get to work, friends!

 Last week, we had a conversation here inspired by incoming American Historical Association President Tony Grafton’s call to arms in this month’s Perspectives, the AHA’s monthly magazine.  I’ll republish here what I saw as the nut of his argument: 

For history has its own special place in these indictments. Critics rebuke historians for drawing politicized conclusions from their research—and even, in some notorious cases, for deliberately distorting or inventing the evidence to support their own left-wing views.They criticize authors of textbooks and public historians for subverting patriotism, claiming that they emphasize violence, inequality, and oppression in European and American life at the expense of more positive qualities. . . 

.       .       .       .      .       .      

[T]he indictment is hydra-headed. . . . It’s here that the real difficulty arises.  The real nub of the criticism is not financial but scholarly and ethical: it’s that our research and teaching are nothing more than sterile pursuits of mind-numbing factoids, tedious and predictable exercises in group think, or politicized exercises in deploying the evidence to prove predetermined conclusions. If we can’t answer those criticisms convincingly, we will lose on all fronts: history positions will disappear, and so will neighboring departments in foreign languages and other fields, without which we can’t function. 

The discussion in the comments here included some great points and contributed many important nuances to the conversation:  many of you noted that our perception of these issues varies by the kinds of institutions academic historians were educated in and now work in; others commented on problems of anti-intellectualism within the profession and within our own universities; there were several comments about the double-bind most of us are in with respect to the adjunctification of the profession:  in spite of popular representations of our work in the media and in political discourse, most of us in fact spend much more time teaching than we do in research, but 4-4 and 5-5 teaching loads don’t lead to better teaching, they just lead to more teaching.  And the pious critics of higher ed who insist that we spend more, not less, time in the classroom don’t in fact want to spend the money it would take to pay for more higher-quality instruction, which would mean reducing, not expanding, the teaching loads of most of us–they just want to beat us rhetorically with the unfounded assumption that those large classes and scantron exams are due to faculty research agendas rather than the casualization of academic labor. 

I think Grafton is correct that “[t]he real nub of the criticism is not financial but scholarly and ethical,” but I have real doubts about our profession’s ability to answer his call with a polemic or ideological defense of our work.  Historians are, by nature, splitters rather than lumpers.  We aren’t united by a methodology or single set of disciplinary practices, and our writing and teaching more often than not seeks not to impose order on a given topic but rather to provide nuance and complexity. Continue reading

Rape: a crime too terrible to be named.

This morning, we have more evidence of the widespread refusal in our culture to name a rape a rape:

Former University of Colorado linebacker Michael Sipili was arrested Tuesday morning on suspicion of sexually assaulting a 22-year-old woman last month at an off-campus apartment, according to Boulder police.

.       .       .       .      .       .      

Witnesses told police that Sipili went into a room at the apartment with one woman. He then entered a room in which his friend and the other woman were engaged in consensual sex.

That woman told detectives that the next thing she knew, Sipili began having sex with her. She said she told him to stop and said “this hurts” numerous times.

She said Sipili had sex with her for about five to 10 minutes before leaving.

When the woman got up to leave, the affidavit said, she noticed blood on the sheets and said Sipili’s friend tried to cover it up.

A rape examination later revealed she had suffered multiple tears to her vagina, according to the affidavit.

What???  A “rape examination?”  The story said merely that the alleged perpetrator “had sex with her.Continue reading

Sadly, no surprises: young, mentally ill man murders 6 and injures 14

The assassination attempt yesterday in Tucson of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the attendant massacre of 6 of her constituents and the injury of 13 others was apparently the work of an obviously mentally unstable young man.  Here’s a report from his community college instructor and a fellow student, in which they report that they were afraid he’d bring a gun to class.  (More details here in this earlier report.)  (H/t to this thread at TalkLeft.)

As I’ve written here before, on sadly too many occasions in the past three years, it’s clear that this massacre was the work of the same kind of person who always engages in spectacular incidents of gun violence.  Continue reading

The Kennedys yanked by the "History" Channel: 'not a fit for the History brand'! (Plus, they've got several episodes of Pawn Stars already in the vault.)

After all the sturm und drang last winter about the alleged historical inaccuracies of the “History” Channel’s planned miniseries The Kennedys because of the political sympathies of the creators, the “History” Channel itself has pulled the plug on the show (via The Daily Beast.)  The Hollywood Reporter says that a network rep released a statement that “upon completion of the production of The Kennedys, History has decided not to air the 8-part miniseries on the network. . . . While the film is produced and acted with the highest quality, after viewing the final product in its totality, we have concluded this dramatic interpretation is not a fit for the History brand.” 

Developed by Joel Surnow, the conservative co-creator of 24, along with production companies Asylum Entertainment and Muse Entertainment and writer Stephen Kronish, the project drew fire from the political left and some Kennedy historians. Even before cameras rolled, a front-page New York Times story last February included a sharp attack from former John F. Kennedy adviser Theodore Sorenson, who called an early version of the script “vindictive” and “malicious.”
History and parent A&E said at the time that the script had been revised and that the final version had been vetted by experts. Indeed, the script used in production had passed muster with History historians for accuracy.

“History historians?”  WTF?  How bad does it have to be to not be fit to share the same channel as Ice Road Truckers? Continue reading

Brief interlude: from the mixed-up files of the brain-dead critique of higher ed

Mike Rosen, in today’s Denver Post, with some advice for our incoming Governor John Hickenlooper:

Instead of more money for higher ed, propose an across-the-board salary cut. Labor costs have been a major driver of higher tuition.

I could actually get behind this, if the cuts were restricted to senior and mid-level administrators, who at my university are making in the mid-six figure range (or, 5 to 6 times what I make.)  My guess is that they can afford the sacrifice more than the faculty I know–but those cuts would be merely a pi$$hole in the snow, as my mother-in-law likes to say.  Rosen clearly has no data and no clue about the adjunctification of higher ed, let alone the salary freezes faculty at Baa Ram U. have labored under since 2008.

Anyone who thinks that “labor costs” (at least among the faculty) are “a major driver” of higher tuition is so out to lunch he should just never come back to his desk.

"History Under Attack:" Tony Grafton is spoiling for a fight.

Anthony Grafton

Incoming 2011 American Historical Association President Anthony Grafton, the distinguished early modern European intellectual historian at Princeton University, has published a stemwinder of an article in the January 2011 issue of Perspectives, called “History Under Attack” (sorry–subscription required!  I’ll do my best to capture its essence here:)

It’s not easy to think straight—not easy to think at all—when you are under attack. And we historians—like many other humanists—have been receiving more flak than flowers over the last few decades. . . .

For all their disagreements on detail, almost all of these critics agree, not only on the symptoms but also on their causes. They have met the enemy, and he is us. We professors have shed our basic responsibility, teaching, in favor of research. Instead of grounding eager young people in the liberal arts, nine or twelve or fifteen hours a week, we barely enter the classroom. Instead we are off-campus, secluded at home or in a library or archive, pursuing specialized research. Every year we write more and more about less and less, filling libraries with unread books and articles and babbling at pointless conferences. And every year we are rewarded for this dereliction with higher salaries and more privileges.

(Oh, if only!)  As I have argued here before, premier dailies like Kaplan Testing’s house organ and the New York Times write as though all universities are run like the Ivies or top-ten flagship state unis.  They only publish op-eds from people who are affiliated with those top institutions, and those are the disciplinary experts they like to quote in their stories.  But of course, that’s not the life of most U.S. American faculty.  A lot of you readers are in fact in classrooms nine or twelve or fifteen hours a week, and you’re sure as H-E-double-hockey-sticks not enjoying “higher salaries and more privileges” for your troubles!  Grafton continues: Continue reading