Genocide denial by default

—Nicole Rafter

The great centennial commemoration of the Armenian genocide is almost over. With parades in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York City, massive rallies in Argentina, prayer services in Washington, D.C., historical displays at the Library of Congress, and a formal remembrance by the European Union, Armenians and their supporters have kept alive memories of the atrocities of 1915.

In Boston, over three thousand gathered at the Armenian Heritage Park to honor the 1.5 million Armenians slaughtered by the Turks, a genocide that saw men tortured and shot, women raped and beheaded, and children forced to jump into the Black Sea to drown. Pope Francis recognized the event as “the first genocide of the 20th-century.”

Trouble is, the Pope—although admirable in his intentions—was wrong. So were others who memorialized the Armenians as the first 20th-century victims of mass atrocities.

The first victims of 20th-century genocide were in fact the Herero, a group of semi-nomadic tribes in South-West Africa (now Namibia). Before colonization by Germany began, in the 1880s, the Herero’s tribal confederation consisted of about 85,000 people. Caught up in the “scramble for Africa,” Germans settlers moved into South-West Africa as if by right, taking the natives’ cattle, building railroads on their grazing lands, raping and shooting women, and flogging men to death until the Herero decided to rise up.

The Herero knew they could not possibly win a fight against the Germans settlers and their army. “Let us die fighting,” counseled one chief, “rather than die as a result of maltreatment, imprisonment, or some other calamity.”

The surviving son of a Herero leader said his father “knew that if we rose in revolt we would be wiped out in battle because our men were almost unarmed and without ammunition. The cruelty and injustice of the Germans had driven us to despair, and our leaders and the people felt that death had lost much of its horror in the light of the conditions under which we lived.”

In response to the uprising, the German emperor put the colony under military rule and sent in Lieutenant General Lothar von Trotha, who had already brutally suppressed rebellious blacks in East Africa. Delivering his opinion of “race war” with Africans, von Trotha declared that “no war may be conducted humanely against nonhumans.” To his soldiers (as to the general himself), Africans seemed more like “baboons” than human beings.

Hung, burned, shot, starved, and driven into the desert to die of thirst, few Herero survived von Trotha’s extermination order. More than three-quarters died, while survivors became virtual slaves to the German settlers.

Germany held onto the colony for another decade but was forced out by an invasion from South Africa during World War I. After that, the British took control of what had once been Herero lands.

This was the first genocide of the 20th-century. If the Herero genocide is more obscure today than the Armenians’, it may be because of race, location, and geopolitics. It is wonderful that we have, in the Armenian case, monuments and memorials commemorating white people who were targeted for extermination partly because the Turks wanted their land. At the same time, we should remember these black people who were targeted for extermination because Germany wanted African land.

Genocide denial comes in many forms. We are familiar with the brazen dismissals of Holocaust deniers. We are also familiar with Turkish insistence that their country did nothing but “relocate” the Armenians. A more subtle but equally insidious form of erasure is genocide denial by default—by inadvertence or ignorance.

Unfortunately, the Pope’s claim that the Armenian genocide was “the first genocide of the 20th-century” marginalizes and ignores the near-extinction of the Herero.

This too is a form of genocide denial.

Nicole Rafter is Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Northeastern University. She is the author of Criminology Goes to the Movies: Crime Theory and Popular Culture (NYU Press, 2011).

Celebrating Revolutionary Blackness: Haitian Flag Day

—Bertin M. Louis, Jr.

[This post originally appeared on Mark Anthony Neal’s blog, NewBlackMan (in Exile).]

Haitian-flag3

In communities across the globe, thousands of Haitians celebrate Haitian Flag Day every May 18 at concerts and ceremonies, on the Internet and at festivals and parades. The flag not only reflects pride in Haitian roots but it is the flag of the first black republic in the world. The Haitian flag takes on renewed meaning as an anti-racist symbol of revolutionary blackness and freedom in a continuing time of white supremacy and anti-blackness. Its inception was from the Haitian Revolution (1791-1803).

On May 18, 1803, in the city of Archaie, not far from Haiti’s current capital of Port-au-Prince, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the leader of the blacks and the first leader of an independent Haiti, and Alexandre Pétion, the leader of the mulattoes, agreed on an official flag, with blue and red bands placed vertically. Haitian heroine Catherine Flon, who also served as a military strategist and nurse, sewed Haiti’s first flag. However, the flag was modified on Independence Day (January 1st) when the blue and the red bands were placed horizontally with the blue band on top of the red band. Haiti used the red and blue flag until 1964, when President-for life François “Papa Doc” Duvalier used a vertical black and red flag and added a modified version of the arms of the republic during the Duvalier regime, which lasted from 1971 to 1986. On February 25, 1986, after Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier fled Haiti on an American-charted jet and the Duvalier regime fell apart, the Haitian people in its vast majority requested that the red and blue flag be brought back. The red and blue flag remains the official flag of Haiti.

Haiti was the French colony of Saint-Domingue before the revolution. A 1697 treaty between the French and the Spanish created the colony on the western third of the island of Hispaniola. Saint-Domingue was known as “the pearl of the Antilles” because the industrialization of sugar in the region enriched its French absentee owners and made it one of the most successful sugar colonies in history. The arduous labor required for sugar production resulted in the virtual eradication of the indigenous Taino Arawak population and an average seven-year life span for Africans who were brought against their will. In an area roughly the size of Maryland enslaved Africans produced indigo, tobacco and at one point in history two-fifths of the world’s sugar and almost half of the world’s coffee.

Physical and psychological violence were used to maintain plantation production processes. As sociologist Alex Dupuy writes it was not uncommon for slave masters to “hang a slave by the ears, mutilate a leg, pull teeth out, gash open one’s side and pour melted lard into the incision, or mutilate genital organs. Still others used the torture of live burial, whereby the slave, in the presence of the rest of the slaves who were forced to bear witness, was made to dig his own grave…Women had their sexual parts burned by a smoldering log; others had hot wax splattered over hands, arms, and backs, or boiling cane syrup poured over their heads.” Within this violent and dehumanizing environment, many enslaved Africans resisted and fought against their captors and participated in the most radical revolution of the “Age of Revolution.”

The Haitian Revolution was more radical than the American Revolutionary war (1775-1783) and the French Revolution (1789-1799) because it challenged chattel slavery and racism, the foundation of American and French empires. As the late anthropologist Michel-Rolph Trouillot wrote: “The Haitian Revolution was the ultimate test to the universalist pretensions of both the French and the American revolutions. And they both failed. And they both failed. In 1791, there is no public debate on the record, in France, in England, or in the United States on the right of black slaves to achieve self-determination, and the right to do so by way of armed resistance.” The Haitian Revolution led to the destruction of plantation capitalism on the island where both modern-day Haiti and the Dominican Republic are located.

Through the efforts of black people and the leadership of Toussaint Louverture, British and Spanish forces were defeated and independence from the French colonial master was achieved. The only successful slave revolt in human history resulted in the formation of Haiti as the world’s first black republic, which extended the rights of liberty, brotherhood and equality to black people. Unlike the United States and France, Haiti was the first country to articulate a general principle of common, unqualified equality for all of its citizens regardless of race unlike the United States where only propertied white males had the privilege of full citizenship.

The Haitian Revolution would spawn uprisings among captive Africans throughout the Caribbean and the United States. The revolution also influenced other Western Hemispheric liberation movements. Haitian blogger Pascal Robert observes that Venezuelan military and political leader Simon Bolivar went to Haiti to receive the military assistance and material support from Haiti’s then president Alexandre Petion. Bolivar used those Haitian connections to liberate colonial territories from Spanish rule. The Haitian flag reflects and symbolizes this unique and promising moment for people of African descent – black freedom in a world dominated by white supremacy.

Haitian Flag day celebrations take on renewed meaning when we recall the recent treatment of Haitians in the Western Hemisphere. In February 2015 a young Haitian man was lynched in the Dominican Republic. This lynching occurred at a time where the Dominican state has revoked the citizenship of Haitian-descended Dominicans. Essays from sociologist Regine O. Jackson’s edited volume Geographies of the Haitian Diaspora (Routledge 2011) discusses how Haitians serve as repugnant cultural “others” in Jamaica, Guadeloupe, and Cuba. In Haiti a post-earthquake cholera outbreak introduced by Nepalese soldiers from the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) has claimed 9,000 Haitian lives and affected more than 735,000 people. This preventable tragedy is in addition to earthquake aid that did not go to Haitians but mostly went “to donors’ own civilian and military entities, UN agencies, international NGOs and private contractors.” A recent essay from Latin Correspondent reporter Nathalie Baptiste recognizes anti-Haitian policies in Brazil, Canada, the Dominican Republic and the United States.

While we must attend to the differences in the local histories, varying socioeconomic factors and political situations of each country mentioned, a pattern of alienation, expulsion, elimination, marginalization and stigmatization of Haitians is evident when reviewing recent news and scholarly publications.

Anti-Haitianism is also prevalent in the Bahamas where I conduct anthropological research and where a new immigration policyadversely affected Haitians. A brief anecdote that I discuss in my book My Soul Is in Haiti: Protestantism in the Haitian Diaspora of the Bahamas (NYU Press 2014)”illustrates this fact. Towards the end of ethnographic research in New Providence, I was invited by a Bahamian friend to speak about the importance of education to elementary school children at an afterschool program. The children, who all sat around me in a circle, were black. As I spoke to them about the importance of reading, studying, doing well on tests, and getting help when they encountered difficulties, one girl was struck with a look of astonishment when I mentioned that I was of Haitian descent. After my speech I took the opportunity to ask her why she was so stunned. She replied that I didn’t look Haitian to her but that I looked Bahamian. So I asked her “so what does a Haitian look like?” Replying in Bahamian Creole she and her friends replied that Haitians were “scrubby,” meaning that they have an uneven or mottled dark complexion. They also said of Haitians that “Dey (They) black,” “Dey smell bad” and “Dey look like rat.”

These comments came from children who are of African descent (85 percent of the Bahamas is black) and the darkest black-skinned Bahamian child in that group said that Haitians were “scrubby.” This story from the field reflects the current crisis in Haitian identity in the Western Hemisphere and why it is necessary to celebrate Haitian Flag day as a way to resist the dehumanizing effects of anti-blackness. Anti-blackness is a key component of white supremacy “an historically based, institutionally perpetuated system of exploitation and oppression of continents, nations, and peoples of color by white peoples and nations of the European continent, for the purpose of maintaining and defending a system of wealth, power, and privilege.” In this example, young Bahamian children do the work of white supremacy through their use of anti-Haitian and anti-Black stereotypes.

The stigmatization of Haitians in the Western Hemisphere should alarm other black people because Haitian instability also reflects the current insecurity of blacks around the globe. The deaths of West African migrants in the Mediterranean on their way to Europe, Ethiopian Jews who are encouraged to either leave Israel or be imprisoned, police brutality against blacks in favelas in Brazil, and attacks against African immigrants by black South Africans should remind us of this ongoing crisis, which many people view as normative (i.e. there’s always death and destruction among Africans and in the African Diaspora). But we do not have to look outside of the borders of the United States to understand the deprivation of the humanity of black people. The current #BlackLivesMattermovement against police killings of unarmed black people is another reminder of the disposability of black life in the modern world which continues a pattern of anti-blackness that harkens back to the transatlantic slave trade.

Anti-blackness began with the forced marches of Africans from the interiors of the continent to African coasts where they were sold as chattel and would become the engine that fueled European colonial wealth. It continued during the Middle Passage where white captains tightly packed blacks together on slave ships and threw black bodies into the Atlantic Ocean with the hope that large numbers of human cargo would offset increased deaths. Anti-blackness was codified in the colonies and territories where the legally imposed identity of slave was passed from mother to child and became associated with blackness.

Anti-blackness is prevalent during this contemporary period in the media coverage of the killings of Walter Scott and Eric Garner as corporate news channels show their video-recorded killings at the hands of American law enforcement on a loop and refer to the black youth of Baltimore rebelling against unequal treatment under the law as “thugs.” Anti-blackness is also reflected in the current relations between Haitians and the nations they live in as well as how other countries treat people of African descent.

In closing, the Haitian flag reminds us that white superiority and black inferiority are fallacies and have no basis in biology and that white supremacy can be challenged and defeated as the Haitian Revolution demonstrated. Due to the poor treatment of Haitians throughout the Western Hemisphere we should also understand why Haitians are proud of their heritage and celebrate the anniversary of their flag. But the Haitian flag is also a flag that belongs to people of African descent around the globe, as do other flags. It is one of many symbols that Haitians and other people of African descent should utilize in resistance to the dehumanizing and deadly effects of capitalism, state power and white supremacy on black bodies. Overall, Haitian Flag Day should remind all of us to celebrate revolutionary blackness and to continue to challenge white supremacy in the struggle to create dignified lives for black people worldwide.

Bertin M. Louis, Jr. is the author of My Soul Is in Haiti: Protestantism in the Haitian Diaspora of the Bahamas (NYU Press, 2014) and an Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Africana Studies at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He is also the creator of #ShamelesslyHaitian, a Twitter event where Haitians express pride and educate others about their history and culture on Haitian Independence Day and Haitian Flag Day. Follow him on Twitter @MySoulIsInHaiti.

One Day in December: Starred review in Library Journal

One Day in December casts a spotlight on the remarkable “missing actor” of the Cuban Revolution, Celia Sánchez. Based on ten years of original research, the biography draws on interviews with Sánchez’s friends, family, and comrades in the rebel army, along with countless letters and documents.

Alice Walker “loved the book;” Sapphire, author of Push, called it “a damn good read;” and most recently, the book has received a much-deserved starred review in Library Journal!

Praise for the book from LJ appears below, excerpted from the full review in the May 1, 2013 issue.

 

“In this impressive biography Stout (reference librarian, Fordham Univ. Libs.; Havana: La Habana) utilizes interviews, Cuban archives (to which she was granted special access by Castro himself), letters, and other documents to provide an accurate portrait of Sanchez, who ran the planning organization of the revolution after the death of Pais in 1957. Slight in stature, Sanchez saw combat and was arguably the most influential among Castro’s cadre of revolutionary leaders. Her role during and after the revolution was remarkable, and Stout’s biography tells her story as well as offering insights into other revolutionaries and their contributions. Sanchez’s death from cancer in 1980 shook Castro and all of Cuba but her legacy remains in buildings and projects that bear her name. VERDICT: Highly recommended for readers and scholars of Cuban history.”

Want more? Read the introduction by Alice Walker or an excerpt from the book—and watch our exclusive interview with author Nancy Stout.

Why restrict jury duty to citizens?

—Andrew Guthrie Ferguson

[This article originally appeared in The Atlantic online. Read it here.]

A few weeks ago, the California Assembly passed legislation that for the first time would make non-citizens eligible for jury service. If passed by the State Senate, California would be the only state to decouple citizenship and jury duty.

A chorus of criticism has been raised over the proposed bill without thinking about the fundamental question it presents. Why do we limit jury service to citizens?

The answer does not lie in history. At the time of the framing of the United States Constitution, jury service was limited to property-owning white men–as, for that matter, were voting rights in most states. Recent immigrants who owned property could sit on juries, but other citizens (women and others without property) could not. Thus, as originally understood, citizenship did not define who could sit on a jury.

Nor is the answer that citizens possess some special civic knowledge. There are no educational requirements for jury service. No special “citizen training” classes. Qualification for federal jury service simply requires that the potential juror “be adequately proficient in English to satisfactorily complete the juror qualification form.” In an era where studies show that most Americans fail basic civic literacy tests (including the official government citizenship test), we can honestly wonder about this collective lack of civic knowledge. Thus, assuming that many non-citizens are equally knowledgeable (or ignorant) about American civics and law, knowledge cannot be the reason for preferring citizens.

Nor, is it about community representation. Juries, of course, have always acted as a community conscience. Community morals and judgments provide both the legitimacy for a jury verdict and a check on government power. The right to a criminal jury trial is a right to a local jury. Yet, including non-citizens on juries would not necessarily change that community dynamic. In fact, including non-citizen members of our community might provide a closer approximation of the actual community sentiment. After all, a lawful permanent resident of California (who has lived in the state for twenty years) might be much more representative of the community than a recent citizen moving from Alabama or New Hampshire.

So why has jury service been limited to citizens? Here are three good reasons.

Citizenship symbolizes and preserves self-government. In a democracy, citizens are the sovereigns and sovereigns have to govern themselves through institutions like the jury. This is a structural power – a reservation of political control to citizens. One cannot outsource the responsibility of self-government, including jury duty. Those who have been entrusted with the responsibility to govern must do the hard work of self-government.

Second, citizenship has come to define our political identity. For much of early American history, we denied full political rights to women and people of color. As a result, the battles for political equality have been framed in terms of citizenship. The Women’s Suffrage Movement explicitly linked jury service and voting in its push for political equality, knowing that just gaining the right to vote would not be enough for women to be considered full constitutional citizens. The Civil Rights Movement in the South began with a series of jury discrimination cases recognizing that jury participation symbolized a measure of constitutional equality. Those victories established that to be a full participant in the constitutional system, one had to identify as a citizen juror.

Finally, citizenship involves a legal and social relationship with the government – a granting of constitutional rights and an acceptance of civic responsibilities. American citizenship is a legal commitment to certain participatory values, including participation in juries. The badge of citizenship marks individuals as belonging to a national community that guarantees certain liberties and opportunity in exchange for democratic participation. As the Supreme Court stated in Powers v. Ohio, jury duty “affords ordinary citizens a valuable opportunity to participate in a process of government, an experience fostering, one hopes, a respect for law. Indeed, with the exception of voting, for most citizens the honor and privilege of jury duty is their most significant opportunity to participate in the democratic process.”

A shift to non-citizen jurors would alter this balance of sovereignty, identity, and the relationship between citizen and government. Of course, many non-citizens would make excellent jurors, just as many actual citizens make poor jurors, but the underlying legal relationships would be significantly affected. This change to non-citizens juries may come, as the history of the jury has always evolved with social norms, but such a change would restructure the current balance of rights and responsibilities in a way that Californians and others should weigh very carefully.

Most importantly, the debate over non-citizen jurors has resulted in new awareness that jury service matters. However the California legislature ultimately decides the issue, the controversy has highlighted a deep-felt sense that jury service goes to the heart of what it means to be an American citizen: It is not patriotism alone, but commitment to the participatory values of democracy. Next time you are asked to serve, wear your juror badge proudly.

Andrew Guthrie Ferguson is an assistant professor of law at the UDC David A. Clarke School of Law, and author of Why Jury Duty Matters: A Citizen’s Guide to Constitutional Action (NYU Press, 2013).

Marathon bombers’ refugee roots shed light on trajectories

Silvia Domínguez, author of Getting Ahead (NYU Press, 2010), recently appeared on the Huffington Post with an excellent piece on the refugee roots of the Boston Marathon bombers. An excerpt appears below.

Dzhokhar was eight years old and Tamerlan was 15 when they arrived in the U.S. Both brothers became involved in sports, attended a mosque on Prospect Street, and enrolled in Cambridge Rindge and Latin School — perhaps the most culturally accepting secondary school in the nation. In this environment, Dzhokhar thrived. Emigrating at a young age, he attended schools with the same friends he grew up with, gradually lost his accent, and became a well-liked and respected student. On the other hand, Tamerlan emigrated as a teenager, arguably the most difficult age of transition for adolescents. Although he became an excellent boxer according to his trainers in Lowell, he never lost his accent and his English was difficult to understand, opening himself up to discrimination.

Refugees are often from areas where conflict is historically embedded and marked in ideology and injustice. The Tsarnaev family emigrated from the Chechen diaspora in Kyrgzstan, a region Stalin deported the Chechens to in 1943. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1991, Chechens engaged in a battle for independence from Russia that led to the Tsarnaevs’ petition for refugee status in the early 2000s. While Dzhokhar was only a child during this strife, Tamerlan experienced that civil conflict as an adolescent, shaping his identity as participant in the conflict. Once in the U.S., Tamerlan could not find kinship with American youth who are naïve about civil armed struggles. As he posted on Facebook, he did not understand Americans and had no friends. Americans often assumed that they were Russian, forcing the brothers to clarify that they were actually Chechen. Being confused with the offender, Russia, may have caused young Dzhokhar’s curiosity about his Chechen heritage, but it likely enraged Tamerlan in a cumulative alienating manner.

Read the full post here.

Words do matter in the immigration debate

Ediberto Román and Bobby Joe Bracy

[This post originally appeared on the Latinovations blog. Read it here.]

After decades of inaction, this week’s unveiling of the Senate’s “Gang of Eight” immigration proposal suggests that Congress may finally be prepared to reform our immigration system. It is of no surprise that this renewed vigor comes on the heels of a presidential election where an overwhelming majority of Hispanic voters rejected the Republican solution was self-deportation. Yet, despite this crucial and potentially transformative moment, Republican leaders, such as Senator John McCain, one of the Group of Eight, has continued to use of ‘illegal immigrant’ when addressing the subjects of reform. He and many other Republicans who oppose immigration reform continue to use the more provocative yet inaccurate term–“illegal alien”(a term still used by the federal immigration agency, ICE). Conservative Senator Jeff Sessions for his part derided the Gang of Eight’s efforts as “making nearly impossible for ICE officials to distinguish between ‘illegal immigrants’ eligible for legal status and those simply asserting they are amnesty eligible.”

Notwithstanding the insistence to label human beings as “illegal” merely because they have committed what under federal law is a misdemeanor, other important avenues of communication and education are beginning to change the heretofore tone of the debate. Just over a week ago the Associated Press (AP) came to a decision that has gone virtually unnoticed in legal and political circles. Yet the decision was profound. The AP “no longer sanctions the term ‘illegal immigrant’ or the use of ‘illegal’ to describe a person. Instead, it tells users that “illegal” should describe only an action, such as living in or immigrating to a country illegally.”

A week later, USA Today made a similar decision to refrain from using the term, concluding that: “the term illegal immigration is acceptable, but do not label people as illegal immigrants, except in direct quotes. Undocumented immigrant, undocumented worker and unauthorized immigrant are acceptable terms — depending on accuracy, clarity and context… Do not use illegal or illegals as a noun. It is considered pejorative by most immigrants.”

While Fox News subsequently accused the AP of trying to influence immigration debate, the fact is the AP and the USA Today decisions were sound on several fronts, not the least of which is the accurate use of the English language as well as the legal and social impact of a discrediting imprecise term such as “illegal immigrant.”

Legal scholars have long recognized the inappropriateness of the use of the term. University of California, at Davis, Dean Kevin Johnson, for instance, observes: The most damning terminology for noncitizens is “illegal alien…‘Illegal aliens’ is a pejorative term that implies criminality, thereby suggesting that the persons who fall in this category deserve punishment, not legal protection.” Johnson further notes, “The illegal alien label…suffers from inaccuracies and inadequacies at several levels. [In fact,] many nuances of immigration law make it extremely difficult to distinguish between an ‘illegal’ and a ‘legal’ alien.”

Leading linguists agree, and last year a group of 24 scholars criticized the Associated Press’ previous assertion that the term “illegal immigrant” was accurate and neutral. These experts noted: “This misleading construction of illegality is tied to the circulation of troublesome stereotypes about the migration status of different ethnoracial groups. Specifically, assessments of illegality are often associated with unreliable signs of one’s migration status, such as language, religion, and physical appearance. These presumptions lead not only to law enforcers’ regular misidentification of people’s migration status based on wrongful assumptions about ethnolinguistic markers, but also to the broader public stigmatization of those markers.”

As the leading law dictionary, Black’s makes clear, no person, including an alien, is “illegal.” The word “illegal” is an adjective, or “a word … typically serving as a modifier of a noun to denote a quality of the thing named.” Thus, no person, including an alien, is illegal. Accordingly, an alien is “a person resident in one country, but owing allegiance to another.” In other words, our laws regulate the legality of the “conduct” of persons, but do not attempt to classify human beings in such a manner. We do not, for instance, classify a seven year old that steals something as an “illegal child.” Such a label would not only be deemed absurd, but also morally bankrupt. Our laws have never gone as far as to make the persons involved “illegal.” The idea that a person might be “illegal” is thus not only inhumane; it is also grammatically inaccurate, as well as legally incoherent. There are simply no laws adequately governing the issue of “illegal personhood.” As Johnson points out, although “alien” appears repeatedly in the Immigration and Nationality Act, the term “illegal alien” is not once defined.

In sum, substances and other objects can be illegal, and conduct can be illegal—but a person cannot. As Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel aptly noted years ago, “No human being is illegal.”

The AP’s decision is couched in bedrock ethical and professional concerns about accuracy in reporting. As AP’s Kathleen Carroll explains…”Will the new guidance make it harder for writers? Perhaps just a bit at first. But while labels may be more facile, they are not accurate.”

Social justice and civil rights advocates have long fought similar battles over truth and accuracy, which is not an easy battle when facility makes ignorance so appealing. As the AP now calls for: Specify wherever possible how someone entered the country illegally and from where. Crossed the border? Overstayed a visa? What nationality?

In other words: do your homework, and describe the action or conduct that is illegal.

The decision is the only fit response to critics who dismiss this issue as “political correctness” or “censorship.” The aim evidently was not to “censor” ideas or speech, but to be critical of terms that bury a great deal of important information. In almost any context, these questions are not only significant for reporting, but legally significant. People’s rights are in the balance. As a federal court recently observed in U.S. v. Cruz-Padilla, where the court held that the defendant was entitled to a new trial because the prosecution relied on the term “illegal alien” in their closing arguments in front of a jury. Citing the Supreme Court’s earlier decisions (holding that the Constitution’s “due process” clause prohibits the use of “racially biased prosecutorial arguments”), the Cruz-Padilla Court characterized the “improper” use of the term “illegal alien” as a “foul.”

Law and psychology experts likewise have long recognized, markers or labels, especially politically loaded negative labels, have the ability to shape public policy and laws. Such labels help shape what is described as implicit bias, or mental shortcuts that allow us to make negative associations of groups that are undeserving of such negative categorizations. Stereotypes, for instance, allow society to use mental shortcuts, or schema, to associate individuals with a discrediting quality. These discrediting qualities in turn make it easier for policy makers to enact laws that seek to protect us from those with such qualities.

Sadly, history is replete with such efforts. For instance, one of the first and easiest ways for the Third Reich to enact its laws and policies was to stigmatize the Jewish community with similar discrediting qualities. These efforts paved the way to pass laws and enact horrific policies to allegedly protect society from these dangerous contagions. The use of the label illegal alien has a similar social effect. It has labeled a group of persons, who under our criminal and immigration laws have committed typically nothing more than a misdemeanor, as a group of hardened criminals that we should fear and exclude. As more and more Americans are realizing, and opinion polls reflect such realization, this label conflicts with reality.

With the recent announcements by the AP and the USA Today, we hopefully begin a path of engaging in narratives based on accurate depictions, and not stigmatizing labels. No longer is it ethical or responsible to use the discrediting marker “an illegal human being”—if indeed it ever was.

Ediberto Román is a nationally-acclaimed scholar and an award-winning educator with broad teaching interests and an extensive scholarship portfolio. He is the author of several books, including Citizenship and Its Exclusions: Classical, Constitutional, and Critical Race Perspectives (NYU Press, 2010) and Those Damn Immigrants: America’s Hysteria Over Immigration (NYU Press, 2013).

Bobby Joe Bracy is a law student at Florida International University and an immigrant rights advocate. He is currently a research assistant for Ediberto Román, and the President of the National Lawyers Guild at FIU Law.

NYU Press award-winning book designs!

We are so excited to announce that the NYU Press has won three design awards in the 2013 New York Book Show!

Sponsored by the Bookbinders’ Guild of New York, the New York Book Show celebrates excellence in book design and production. The event is a North American competition, with only five awards given per entry category. Thus, we have some prestigious company, including Alfred A. Knopf, McGraw Hill, Oxford University Press, Penguin, Princeton University Press, Random House, and the Smithsonian Institution.

Congratulations to our design team! Here are the winning book designs:

Winner in Scholarly/Professional Book Design
Designer: (our very own) Adam Bohannon

Winner in Scholarly/Professional Cover Design
Designer: Charles B. Hames (also from NYU Press)

Winner in Scholarly/Professional Book Set Design
Designer: Kathleen Szawiola

Soft soil, black grapes—and choice holiday wines

—Simone Cinotto

My book, Soft Soil, Black Grapes: The Birth of Italian Winemaking in California began while I was researching for another project on the foodways of Italian immigrants in New York, 1900-1940 (The Italian American Table: Food, Family, and Community in New York City, forthcoming next fall).

During my research, I began to notice that almost all of the wine and wine grapes Italian New Yorkers consumed during the early 1900s were produced and shipped through the North American continent by other Italian immigrants in California. I thus set out to discover the dynamics of this vast ethnic market. The first step was to deconstruct the popular myth—as widespread in my native Piemonte (Italy) as it was in existing scholarship—that California functioned as the ideal environment to where Northern Italian immigrants could easily transplant their traditional winemaking skills. Actually, none of these pioneers had any prior training in the business, and, lacking any significant capital, had to work their way up by transforming cheap patches of land into vineyard (this made possible by the intensive labor of their fellow contadino immigrants).

It wasn’t the “soft soil” that provided Northern Italian immigrant winemakers with a decisive edge over competitors—but instead their ability to navigate the complex racial scenario of turn-of-the-twentieth-century California. The presence of disenfranchised Chinese, Japanese, and Mexican grape workers, coupled with the discrimination Italian laborers faced at the hands of Anglo winemakers, helped these immigrant wine entrepreneurs secure a skilled and loyal labor force with low social conflict. Northern Italian immigrant winemakers were then able to present themselves in the eyes of the white elites of San Francisco and Los Angeles as the last offspring of a classic culture of wine, reliable ethnic leaders, and enthusiastic believers in the gospel of American capitalism.

Perhaps because of my difficulty in reconciling with my own past, it was only at the end of my work that I realized how autobiographical my story was. My father grew up in a small village in the Alps, not far from the French border—a place where almost all working-age men, and some women, had left in search of jobs in the coal mines of Southern Illinois, Colorado, Nevada, and California. Many had later sent for their spouses or families; some had managed to raise their own farm, cultivate grapes, and make their beloved wine in their new land.

My father was born later, in 1938. In the 1950s, he immigrated to Turin, which at the time was experiencing a population boom—mostly the influx of “dark” Southern Italians—because of the expanding auto industry. As he was educated and well read despite his social extraction, he soon landed a white-collar job with the Italian National Railroads. Yet he remained a wine drinker of the working-class kind. He bought his wine in bulk from a producer in the Monferrato region who shipped to Turin. Since he wanted to have hands-on knowledge of what he drank (decades before this became fashionable) he asked his purveyor to work for him in the picking, and the first phases of winemaking, every vintage for a few years. This meant, beginning one September when I was eight or nine, he would drag me to his friend’s place in Calosso d’Asti to  accompany him as he worked in the vineyards and cellar. Against my will, for weekends after that, I kept him company in the dark, small basement of our apartment house in Turin as he transferred the wine from the demijohns into bottles—just as thousands of the immigrant consumers I describe in my book did. I dreaded the experience, which I recall also because it was down there that I got sickly drunk for the first (and perhaps the last) time, furtively tasting the bubbling purple liquid that ran through that funny plastic hose.

As you see, I am not that nostalgic for those times. Yet to this day, the wines that my father bottled during those weekends in the early 1970s (Barbera and Dolcetto) are among my favorites, and I cannot think of wines that are more representative of the story of the people who travelled half the world to recreate their wine culture in California. The wines made from Barbera and Dolcetto grapes are the most rooted in the traditional everyday cooking of the Piemonte region (much more so than the famed, complex, and sophisticated wines of the Nebbiolo family: Barolo, Barbaresco, and Gattinara). Both Barbera and Dolcetto are wines of important character, whose flavors span from chestnuts to berries, and unique tastes reflect the different terroirs of Southern Piemonte. In fact, these grapes are truly manifestoes of the cultural and biodiversity of the region. There are important differences between the two: Dolcetto tends to be more fruity and acidic; Barbera is more tannic, ranging from sparkling light to seasoned and strong. Yet again, both wines are great with homemade egg pasta or risotto and meats—from stewed and roasted beef to pork, from frog to rabbit or snails.

I hope you might consider spending some time this holiday season reading my book and tasting some nice Barbera and Dolcetto; the two will make for an interesting and pleasurable combination. I truly wish you all fantastic holidays and much happiness.

Simone Cinotto teaches History at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, Italy. He also taught at NYU as “Tiro a Segno” Visiting Professor in Italian American Studies.