Controversy rages over fire policy in Linville Gorge, which was the first designated Federal Wilderness in the East with the passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964. Currently, the policy is to suppress any fires that threaten manmade structures, but to allow lower-intensity lightning-strike fires to burn. The latest management plan proposes prescribed burns in the Gorge to promote pines and rare plants and to reduce fuel loads. Homeowners in the Gingercake Acres development, perched on the eastern rim of the Gorge, understandably worry about risk to their homes. Advocacy organizations like Save the Linville Gorge Wilderness argue that fire destroys the wild character of the landscape. Skeptics scoff that the Forest Service maintains only an illusion of control over something as unpredictable and powerful as fire.
Looking at the history of the evil stepmother stereotype I think explains some of the staying power of these familiar tales. Although stepmother characterizations have been negative since as far back as ancient Greece, in Western culture the need for evil stepmothers became more urgent in the United States in response to a new idea of the proper family in Enlightenment Europe. Sentimental families, as they were called, became the ideal for the rising middle class in Western Europe.
But the Act has another flaw, deeper and more consequential than its 100 percent proficiency mandate. Written into NCLB is an assumption: that imparting basic math and reading skills should be the purpose of our schools. In mandating a tested-and-sanctioned proficiency in these basics, the Act quickly reduced the purpose of public education to a very narrowly defined type of academic achievement.
I won’t argue the importance of reading and math—these are necessary skills. But I will argue that schooling should be about more than reading and math, especially the sort of reading and math that can be measured on a state test.
What is the relationship between residential segregation and racial inequality? Scholars have spent decades analyzing data and arguing that residential segregation is the “linchpin” of racial inequality in the United States. The conclusion that many draw, therefore, is that residential integration is the key to reducing racial inequality. Pretty straightforward, right? Well, not quite.
My attachment to the Thanksgiving relish tray began with my grandmother, whose tray contained her homemade pickled peaches, homemade bread-and-butter pickles, homemade watermelon rind pickles—and store-bought, bright red, spiced apple rings. The rings sort of came out of left field and I don’t know the story behind them, but as a kid I loved their sweet, Technicolor addition.
Over the last decade around New York, a host of more localized concerns and groups have mobilized around a new bevvy of “green” causes: banding together to rebuild after Sandy, campaigning for locally grown and organic food, and fighting against fracking. At the People’s Climate March, they found welcome and common cause with those pushing for divestiture from fossil fuels, as well as those from more far flung locales, those rebuilding on the Gulf Coast after Katrina, those from island nations and from other communities on the “front line” of environmental change. In an earlier era, “the environment” had gained traction because of how it linked so many issues long considered separate, from pollution to wilderness preservation. Now “climate” may have proven itself sufficiently capacious to serve as an entire movement’s umbrella.
It is generally known that the American banjo’s origins trace back to West Africa and a gourd-like instrument the gnomi, among other names. However, the plantations were something of an incubator for music of the African American slaves in a variety of forms: the fiddle, learned at the plantation house; the call-and-response work songs from the toil of the plantation fields; spirituals stemming from church worship—often clandestine services or camp meetings with hidden messages of freedom’s call; and the hush lullabies sung by mammies to their babies, and sung with irony to the children of the plantation overlords.
Unlike the covert electronic infringements by the NSA, some other infringements are open and obvious—for example, security check-points at airports and government buildings, or surveillance cameras covering public spaces. These are examples of what I term “reverse transparency.” Traditionally, transparency has been a standard applied to organizations, such as corporations or governments, by which we require that their decisions be clear and open in order to permit accountability. Increasingly, however, under the pressure of homeland security concerns, this traditional conception has been, as it were, stood on its head.
This year marks the sixtieth anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark Supreme Court decision that found racial segregation in schools unconstitutional. In large measure, the decision worked. Though it took many years—and the added weight of executive orders, U.S. troops, and the Civil Rights Act—slowly, the nation’s schools began to integrate. By the late 1980s, gains in desegregation were significant, particularly for black students. The South saw the largest gains: the year of the Brown decision, no black student was attending a majority white school, but, by 1988, 44 percent were. The South had become the most integrated region of the country. Today, though, we see a different reality: our nation’s schools are resegregating.
What is a traditional American family? In a recent article in AARP Magazine, “The New American Family: Meet 6 clans who embody our country’s changing ideas about what kinship is,” Brennan Jensen, citing high divorce rates, argues that modern families now include “a tumble of step- and half-siblings.” I applaud Jensen’s effort to complicate what we think of as a “real” American family, but I would suggest that the “new” American family is actually the “old” American family—at least in terms of the presence of stepfamilies.
“Black-on-black crime” is not real. It only exists to suggest being black is the true crime, and to deflect attention away from the fact of ongoing inequality. What many have termed “black-on-black crime” tells us more about white supremacy, and the devaluation of black life, than it does about crime. Connecting crime and blackness is central to racial control, as is the link between guns and white supremacy. The true crime is that black lives have less value to society and to even to other black people.
The way in which bullfighters put themselves repeatedly on the path of a half-ton of rage, shifting at the last moment, is shocking. I am especially awed by the tribute of the bits of their own flesh left on those horns. It makes me wonder what we historians are increasingly giving up by finding our sources in air-conditioned rooms with lockers and vending machines, where the only tribute we pay is a cordial email to a helpful archivist, who then gets a credit in the standard acknowledgements page. Remotely accessible digitized collections are already making some of our work possible from the convenience of coffee shops with Wi-Fi.
These discoveries have changed the way I teach about Islam even at the introductory level. I now try to put Black people at the center of my course rather than on the margins of it (and by extension, on the margins of Islam).
The recent debate over the exact status of the tens of thousands of Central American children attempting to cross the U.S. border reminds us that there is often a very fine line dividing an immigrant from a refugee. It turns out that, according to a survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute, a majority of Americans—regardless of age or political or religious affiliation—view these children as refugees rather than as illegal immigrants. Of course, the term “refugee” designates a special legal status that carries a wide range of political and bureaucratic implications.
Winning respect for female elders was an issue that cut across the color line separating black and white feminists in nineteenth-century America. The white transcendentalist Margaret Fuller urged women to cast aside their fear of becoming “old maids” and cultivate talents rather than youthful beauty. Sharing the same goal, the black abolitionist Frances Harper crafted poetry and fiction centered on a new type of heroine, one “not vainly striving to keep her appearance of girlishness,” who dedicated herself to growing old in the service of antislavery and women’s rights.