Category Archives: In the News

The End of Pride?

Pride Month

To celebrate Pride Month, we have developed a blog series with weekly posts, designed to allow UTP authors the opportunity to share with us what Pride means to them, and to discuss a whole manner of Pride-related topics.

Our first contribution to the series comes from author André P. Grace, who alongside Kristopher Wells wrote Growing Into Resilience, (University of Toronto Press, 2015). In this post entitled The End of Pride?, Grace summarizes what has happened since Growing Into Resilience was published, and discusses his own experiences of Pride, the role of police within Pride, his opinion on Pride as it stands today, and what the future of Pride might look like.


Growing into Resilience: Sexual and Gender Minority Youth in Canada focuses on the comprehensive health, educational, and cultural concerns of sexual and gender minority (SGM or LGBTTIQQ2SA) youth and young adults in our country. The book accentuates the importance of having a team of caring professionals to provide wraparound services to SGM youth and young adults, especially those experiencing persistent adversity and trauma. In 2014, to serve this population, I initiated the Chew – community ~ hope ~ empowerment ~ wellness – Project in Edmonton. When I think about holistic intervention and outreach to recognize and accommodate the young people we serve, I focus on how educators, social workers, cousellors, nurses, and police officers can work collaboratively to meet their needs, especially when they are homeless and street-involved.

From the beginning, the Chew Project has partnered with Edmonton Police Service in our work to solve social problems, address survival crimes, and support SGM young people as one of Edmonton’s most vulnerable and targeted populations. Units assisting the Chew Project include the Hate Crimes Unit, the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Unit, the Edmonton Drug and Gangs Unit, Beats, the SRO (School Resource Officer) Program, and Victim Services. When I think about what Pride means to me, and what my book says about the collective efforts of caring professionals including police officers to assist SGM youth and young adults presenting multiple needs, I cannot help but think about the exclusion of police officers from Pride parades at a time when I rely on this key caring professional constituency to help the Chew Project make life better now for the SGM young people we serve.

I attended my first gay Pride parade in Toronto in 1993. As a gay man who had grown up in a fishing village in Newfoundland where homophobia was a dark shadow that started following me in junior high school, the experience of being in a sea of queers was exhilarating. Clearly, I wasn’t the only queer in the village. Indeed, on that Pride parade day, Toronto’s gay village provided me with the community I had desired from the moment I self-affirmed my gayness as a young boy. That Pride experience happened five years before the 1998 Supreme Court of Canada decision in Vriend v. Alberta, which granted equality rights to lesbian and gay Canadians. In the spirit of the Charter as a living document, all sexual and gender minorities in Canada are now protected against discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression in Section 15, which guarantees equality rights.

Since 1993 I have attended many Pride parades in cities across Canada. For me, these parades have signified the importance of deliberately coming together to recognize and celebrate sexual and gender diversity. They have also marked a space and time to politicize the importance of accommodating sexual and gender minorities in law and legislation (as a matter of protection) and in social institutions and communities (as a matter of inclusion in everyday life). Indeed, such signification undergirds what has long been termed the gay agenda, which is about presence, place, and protection of all sexual and gender minorities in intersections with culture and geography as well as with relational differences including race, class, ethnicity, age, and ability.

In recent years, there has been erosion of the gay agenda and what Pride is all about. Sadly, much of that erosion has emanated from what used to be the gay or queer community itself. Indeed, such a community is now a fiction, and it appears the enemy lies within. Our former community is presently marked by dissention, segregation, fear, and exclusion. There are those with particular motives and intentions that often sideline core sexual and gender minority issues and concerns, which homo/bi/transphobes in culture and society still position in conservative moral and political terms in their efforts to defile and erase us. As we cannibalize our own, we place ourselves at risk of erosion from within. This gives ground to rightist erosion of all things queer, gay, or however one chooses to name sexual and gender differences.

In a watershed moment for sexual and gender minorities as a diverse population in Canada, Black Lives Matter constituents temporarily disrupted the 2016 Toronto Pride parade to contest issues including police presence in the parade. What happened at Pride in Toronto that year has had sustained repercussions for Pride parades across Canada. For example, 2017 was marked by restrictions or bans affecting many police services, with division characterizing deliberations regarding Pride. In that year, members of Toronto Police Service were absent from Toronto’s parade. In Edmonton, at a time when the police service was actively recruiting sexual and gender minorities to become police officers, members of Edmonton Police Service did march in uniform, despite controversy. Calgary Police Service decided to participate in Calgary’s parade, but respected the Calgary Pride committee’s request for police officers to march out of uniform. Prior to this, Calgary police officers had always made the personal decision to march in uniform, with the backing of the police service. This right to choose would have been particularly poignant for sexually and gender diverse police officers and other service staff who wanted to intersect the personal and the professional. Sadly, such professional erasure ignored long-term relationship building between law enforcement and Calgary’s sexual and gender minority constituencies, which was part of efforts to transgress a history of harm at the hands of police officers. It also ignored a police-service emphasis on training new recruits to provide policing inclusive of sexual and gender minorities and other minorities across racial, cultural, and other differences. At the time, Calgary Police Service had ongoing and open dialogue with two advisory boards. One board was composed of sexual and gender minority citizens while the other was made up of the police service’s sexual and gender minority employees.

I once interviewed a young gay male who was a beginning teacher working in a primary classroom. He had placed a picture of his partner on his desk, an act that courageously intersected the personal and the professional. This is something I could never have done as a teacher working in schools in the 1980s. As Dr. Blye Frank, Dean, Faculty of Education, University of British Columbia, reminds us, sexual minority teachers have had to work to hide and hide to work. Importantly, Vriend paved the way for greater sexual and gender minority inclusion in law, legislation, and institutional policymaking in our nation. Yet, while teachers like me used to hide the personal to be professional, in a twist in recent years, Pride committees have directed police officers across sexual and gender identities to hide the professional. This assaults the notion of Pride, which must be about being visible as whole human beings who can freely intersect the personal and the professional. In post-Charter Canada, sexual and gender minority police officers have every right to march openly as complete persons in parades.

Kathleen A. Lahey, Professor, Faculty of Law, Queen’s University, spoke about the historical exclusion of sexual and gender minorities from police services, the teaching profession, and other civil appointments in her influential book entitled Are We ‘Persons’ Yet? As Lahey recounts, sexual and gender minorities have been historically excluded from all kinds of public positions. Now, with Edmonton Police Service, among other police services, transgressing this history of exclusion, we have to ask what damage is being done to inclusivity by those wanting to ban sexual and gender minority police officers from marching in uniform.

In his groundbreaking book Pedagogy of the Oppressed, the great Brazilian educator Paulo Freire asks us to consider a key question: When do those who are oppressed become oppressors? This question demands reflection by Pride organizers in any Canadian city where sexual and gender minority and allied police officers are excluded from marching in uniform in Pride parades. To move the gay or queer civil rights movement to a more inclusive stage, Pride organizers might remember that marching in uniform is a visible reminder that these police officers are out and proud, transgressing a history of defilement and exclusion.

I truly hope Pride is not dead. And I hope it is not reduced to a historical moment, or to a stressor or trigger for sexual and gender minorities navigating the present moment. However, I am conflicted. Sexual and gender minorities have long lived with a history of fear. If that history now includes the emergence of new fears propagated by angry sexual and gender minority constituencies targeting others in a dissolving community, maybe Pride should die. But maybe some new form of Pride can arise like a phoenix from the ashes of Pride wildfires that started in 2016. I hope so for the sakes of older queers who took part in the struggle for gay liberation and younger queers still struggling for presence and place in their families, schools, and communities.


André P. Grace is Canada Research Chair in Sexual and Gender Minority Studies and a professor in the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Alberta.

Academic website with contact info: https://www.andrepgrace.com

Community website: https://chewprojectyeg.org/

 

The Right Side of History: The Political Urgency Needed in Addressing Climate Change

Global Ecopolitics: Crisis, Governance, and Justice, Second Edition, written by Peter Stoett with Shane Mulligan, is a comprehensive and accessibly written introduction to the policymakers and the structuring bodies involved in creating global environmental policies. The book provides a panoramic view of the issues, agents, and structures that make up the fabric of global environmental governance.

In this post, author Peter Stoett writes about his time spent at the Planetary Security Conference in the Netherlands at the beginning of the year and why these conferences reflect the political urgency currently attached to climate change.


Back in February, I attended the 4th Hague Planetary Security Conference in the Netherlands, where over 350 international experts, practitioners, military and government representatives gathered to discuss the threats posed to the world by climate change and other threats to planetary ecology. Mixing all these people together would have been unthinkable a mere three decades ago; now it is commonly accepted that the only way we can promote resilience and adaptation to climate change is by inter-sectoral collaboration that includes some unlikely alliances.

Representatives from the Lake Chad region, the Horn of Africa, and the Middle East all say the same thing: climate change is not only real and happening, but is exacerbating the threat of violence in these regions where mass migration and displacement, and civil conflict are already in strong motion. Water, in particular, comes up again and again as the resource scarcity issue of our time.

In Global Ecopolitics: Crisis, Governance, and Justice, Second Edition, I discuss water scarcity as not only a source of conflict, but of collaborative opportunity – most transborder water disputes have been dealt with diplomatically and many in fact have led to institutional developments. But there are clear indications that climate change-induced water scarcity is heightening extant tensions and it is fairly widely accepted that the horrible civil war in Syria was to some extent prompted by a severe drought that led to political instability. One theme that has emerged is that, despite the Security Council having dealt specifically with climate security, the UN needs to step up further and establish an early-warning system for climate-related conflict, so that we can see it coming and strive to take preventive measures.

Effects of Hurricane Irma

I was in the Netherlands to speak at an event focused on the question of moving to a post-carbon based energy infrastructure in the Caribbean region. The threats posed by climate change in the Caribbean are existential: this is life or death stuff. Extreme weather events, rising sea levels, coral reef bleaching, fisheries affected by temperature changes, freshwater scarcity; the list goes on for the Small Island Developing States (SIDS). I cover SIDS at various points in the text, as well as the gradual (some would say painfully slow) transition toward renewable energy production and consumption. Clearly, it is the way forward.

But the transition will not be painless, and as always it may leave some people behind. While we often think of the Caribbean region as a tourist destination or a hurricane zone, the reality is that most of the population and predominant industries are located near its beautiful coasts. In many ways Caribbean citizens are on the front-line of climate change threats, much like the Inuit in northern Canada and other circumpolar communities. These communities can benefit enormously from the adoption of renewable power sources that lessen dependence on the global oil economy, providing the technological capacity and public policy is conducive.

The shift to renewable energy will certainly affect the geopolitical structure of global ecopolitics. China is emerging as a renewable energy superpower, and will have increasing influence in areas such as the Caribbean beyond its usual economic presence. Human security is again rising as a viable concept to deal with the ravages that natural disasters inflict on civilian populations. Responsible tourism has become a genuine national security issue in the region since long-term economic development is so dependent on this sector.

We cannot base a global security strategy on constant disaster relief. Back in water-soaked Holland, there are famous stories about the futility of trying to stop floods with stopgap measures. One of the overarching questions of our time is how relatively impoverished and highly vulnerable regions can be integrated into global strategies. Conferences like this reflect the political urgency currently attached to the climate change-security nexus, despite its denial by a few powerful actors who are, as the saying goes, on the wrong side of history.


If you want to find out more about Global Ecopolitics: Crisis, Governance, and Justice, Second Edition, click here to view the table of contents and read an exclusive excerpt from the book.


Peter J. Stoett is Dean of the Faculty of Social Science and Humanities at the University of Ontario Institute Of Technology.

#BalanceforBetter: Our Top Titles for International Women’s Day

This International Women’s Day, who will you celebrate? From radical housewives to the future of work, from violence to trafficking to politics and law, this week we’re highlighting top titles that celebrate women’s achievements, participate in a larger conversation, and reflect diverse and global voices.

On March 8, we’re joining groups worldwide in the call for a more gender-balanced world.

Let’s turn the page.


Disrupting Breast Cancer Narratives: Stories of Rage and Repair

Resisting the optimism of pink ribbon culture, these stories use anger as a starting place to reframe cancer as a collective rather than an individual problem. Emilia Nielsen looks at documentaries, television, and social media, arguing that personal narratives have the power to shift public discourse.

Female Doctors in Canada: Experience and Culture

The face of medicine is changing. Though women increasingly dominate the profession, they still must navigate a system that has been designed for and by men. Looking at education, health systems, and expectations, this important new collection from experienced physicians and researchers opens a much-needed conversation.

Wrapping Authority: Women Islamic Leaders in a Sufi Movement in Dakar, Senegal

Since around 2000, a growing number of women in Dakar have come to act openly as spiritual leaders for both men and women. Learn how, rather than contesting conventional roles, these women are making them integral parts of their leadership. These female leaders present spiritual guidance as a form of nurturing motherhood, yet like Sufi mystical discourse, their self-presentations are profoundly ambiguous.

Women and Gendered Violence in Canada: An Intersectional Approach

A significant expansion on the conversation on gendered violence, this new book from Chris Bruckert and Tuulia Law draws on a range of theoretical traditions emerging from feminism, criminology, and sociology. Find compelling first-person narratives, suggested activities, and discussions on everything from campus violence to online violence to victim blaming.

The Talent Revolution: Longevity and the Future of Work

This book is a first. Two women from different generations debunk commonly held myths about older workers, showing how the future of work requires engaging employees across all life stages. Work-life longevity is the most influential driver transforming today’s workplace – learn how to make it a competitive advantage.

Indigenous Women’s Writing and the Cultural Study of Law

How do Indigenous women recuperate their relationships to themselves, the land, the community, and the settler-nation? Through a close analysis of major texts written in the post-civil rights period, Cheryl Suzack sheds light on how these writers use storytelling to engage in activism.

Responding to Human Trafficking: Dispossession, Colonial Violence, and Resistance among Indigenous and Racialized Women

In the first book to critically examine responses to the growing issue of human trafficking in Canada, Julie Kay reveals how some anti-trafficking measures create additional harms for the very individuals they’re trying to protect – particularly migrant and Indigenous women. An important new framework for the critical analysis of rights-based and anti-violence interventions.

Becoming Strong: Impoverished Women and the Struggle to Overcome Violence

What role can trauma play in shaping homeless women’s lives? Drawing on more than 150 in-depth interviews, Laura Huey and Ryan Broll explore the diverse effects of trauma in the lives of homeless female victims of violence. This essential read offers not only a comprehensive examination of trauma, but also explores how women may recover and develop strategies for coping with traumatic experiences.

Lissa: A Story about Medical Promise, Friendship, and Revolution

Two young girls in Cairo strike up an unlikely friendship that crosses class, cultural, and religious divides. The first in a new series, Lissa brings anthropological research comes to life in comic form, combining scholarly insights and rich storytelling to foster greater understanding of global politics, inequalities, and solidarity.

Ms. Prime Minister: Gender, Media, and Leadership

News about female leaders gives undue attention to their gender identities, bodies, and family lives – but some media accounts also expose sexism and authenticate women’s performances of leadership. Offering both solace and words of caution for women politicians, Linda Trimble provides important insight into the news frameworks that work to deny or confer political legitimacy.

A New History of Iberian Feminisms

Both a chronological history and an analytical discussion of feminist thought from the eighteenth century onward, this history of the Iberian Peninsula addresses lost texts of feminist thought, and reveals the struggles of women to achieve full citizenship. Learn what helped launch a new feminist wave in the second half of the century.

Radical Housewives: Price Wars and Food Politics in Mid-Twentieth-Century Canada

This history of Canada’s Housewives Consumers Association recovers a history of women’s social justice activism in an era often considered dormant – and reinterprets the view of postwar Canada as economically prosperous. Discover how these radical activists fought to protect consumers’ interests in the postwar years.


Want to keep learning? Visit International Women’s Day for more details about this year’s #BalanceforBetter Campaign.

Human Teaching in Hard Times: An Interview with Dr. Alan Sears by Dr. Tonya Davidson

In this guest post, Tonya Davidson (Carleton University), sociology professor and co-editor (with Ondine Park) of the forthcoming book Seasonal Sociology, talks with Alan Sears (Ryerson University) about teaching in higher education during these dark times. From the cost of tuition to the challenge of making liberal arts relevant, and the search for a pedagogy that forges not just practical but human relationships, this wide-ranging discussion tackles the contradictions of teaching and learning in a neoliberal age.


In October 2018, Dr. Alan Sears visited Carleton University to be featured in the Department of Sociology-Anthropology’s Colloquium Series. He gave an excellent talk titled, “Resistance in Right Populist Times.”

Alan is an accomplished scholar of sexualities, left politics, social movements, and education. His writing includes Retooling the Mind Factory: Education in a Lean StateThe Next New Left: A History of the Future (Fernwood) and (with James Cairns) The Democratic Imagination: Envisioning Popular Power in the Twenty-First Century, as well as the now-classic A Good Book in Theory. While celebrated for his scholarship, Alan is also a very dedicated and thoughtful teacher. When I was his colleague at Ryerson University for four years, he was one of my key teaching mentors so I jumped at the chance to ask Alan to also be our guest for the first “Teaching Talk” of the semester in the Sociology-Anthropology Department. Predicting that his thoughts on teaching could easily find a wider audience than the group of colleagues gathered in our departmental lounge, I transcribed that interview and present it for you here.

TD: You proposed the title for this talk, “Human Teaching in Hard Times.” Can you tell us what hard times you’re referring to?

AS: I guess the hard times I am thinking of probably have geo-political origins. The long impact of neoliberalism and cutbacks and austerity have had a huge effect on what it is like to be teaching at a post-secondary level. One of the aspects of this is the stress that students are under because of tuition fees, because of the employment they are doing to get by, because of what housing is like now, and because of their deep anxieties about the future. The questions that are always in their minds are: what are they going to do with their degrees and what’s next in their lives?

And then the character of instruction is increasingly supposed to be efficient in content delivery with a real emphasis on information transfer. I think that the shift in the idea of what learning and teaching is supposed to be is increasingly to think of students as materials we are mass producing and the final consumer of what we are producing is the employer. So that has an impact on us in terms of metrics, which in post-secondary education means measurable outcomes in terms of what students could do before and after. Look, I think we can learn a lot by focusing on the learning that is accomplished rather than the teaching that we do, but I also think there is a whole human growth element in education that is flattened by a lot of outcomes discussions.

The scale, at least at Ryerson where I teach, is that most classes are 70 students or more. I teach our capstone course and it’s 100 plus students. The nature of that makes human relations very difficult. I think the most transformative part of any educational relationship, which are always mutual relationships if they work properly, is a human relationship.

TD: Students have always had anxiety to a degree. Have you noticed a change in your thirty years of teaching?

AS: Absolutely.

TD: How do you deal with that within your own institutional constraints? How do you deal with student anxiety?

AS: I find it a real challenge. I saw a chart recently that someone had developed showing the history of tuition fee increases in Ontario and the pay rates for summer employment. I was an undergraduate student at Carleton University in 1973 which happened to be the year that tuition in Ontario was at its lowest in real dollars. That corresponded with, because of government funding, relative ease at getting summer jobs that paid quite well, so I could earn enough money in the summer to pretty much cover my year, including tuition. Now tuition fees are higher and there are fewer summer jobs with decent pay. Students are working more hours for less pay, building up higher debts, and they are worried about their future given the difficulty of obtaining secure employment.

I think that is a formula for generating anxiety, and it’s really noticeable in all kinds of ways. We’ve never been particularly good at raising a discussion about what comes after a degree, but I notice it particularly now in a very sharp anxiety about what the relationship is between an undergraduate education in sociology and what follows.

It’s not like Harvard or Oxford are getting the question, “why aren’t you teaching more forestry?”

I think that the model we have is an elite model that presumes that when people graduate, their class-based networks that are gendered and racialized and have a lot to do with migration status, will surf them between graduation and wherever they’re going next. So if they’re interested in a job in so and so, their mother will call their uncle who works in that area. And that works for some. In the film The Graduate, the summer after graduation was spent by the pool with parents’ friends advising you to get into plastics or whatever was hot at the time. Very few students have the luxury of a summer by the pool or parents’ friends who can give them advice about various sectors, or who can afford a free internship, or who have a way of knowing about occupations that are different from what they’ve been exposed to so far in their lives.

So I think the anxiety is real, and I think it’s incredibly sharp, and it sometimes plays itself out as hostility towards us. I’ve noticed a certain tension around grades, a kind of a more hostile bargaining because that seems to be something that you can deal with more directly. And textbooks, that’s another pain point: “why is this book so expensive?” Sadly, for a lot of other things, like tuition fees or class sizes, there’s little active opposition because there is a feeling that you can’t do anything about it. I think the anxiety plays out in many ways.

TD: Professors have different attitudes about whether there is a place in a sociology program for teaching school-to-work transition skills, or other career-focused projects. How do you approach that, especially in your capstone course?

AS: This is one of the contradictions I continually negotiate. Because I am a committed political critic of the system, I understand when people talk about concern that the neoliberalization of the post-secondary system means, for working class people, a much more occupational focus, and there’s no doubt this happens. And yet if you look at what’s happening in Britain and the US for example, there is a desire to preserve liberal arts education, but only for the elite. It’s not like Harvard or Oxford are getting the question, “why aren’t you teaching more forestry?” That message is something that is very specifically aimed at institutions with a working-class clientele. And I think the concern is that a liberal arts education creates inflated expectations for everyone without differentiating between students with varying life trajectories. Policy-makers are interested in changing that system, particularly in Canada where the university system tends to be more social democratic, to create a more hierarchical system where liberal arts play a smaller role. This is especially the case in institutions that have historically included a higher proportion of working class and first-generation students, like Ryerson or Windsor where I have taught. There’s a part of me that thinks, well let’s resist that push and let’s fight and honour a liberal arts education. I really do believe that that’s necessary and I think the greatest bulk of a student’s education in sociology or anthropology or whatever they are taking should absolutely be in a proud liberal arts tradition that’s challenging students to think critically and so on.

I also think there’s a serious equity issue around being honest about the fact that the transition to work is difficult and we have really failed on our end. We feel like we’ve done our job by pushing them off a cliff at graduation and waving goodbye and giving them a certificate. I think we owe them more. I don’t think career integration needs to consume a lot of the curriculum. I think little bits of it, strategically inserted, can go a long way. We shouldn’t distort the curriculum.

We’re doing a pilot course this year called “career integration” for fourth-year students where they’ll get to do a job shadow experience in a workplace that’s of interest. We’re also building in self-advocacy around worker rights and the like, but also stuff like resume preparation, sample interviews, and how to claim a sociology education in a job interview so you don’t just say “well it’s because I hated English.” At the very least, it gives students a way of describing what they got out of their degree, or, in some cases, just creating space for them to figure out if they got anything out of it. I believe seriously that there’s a class, racial, equity, and migration justice built into this experiment. If we want to simply claim that we do liberal arts in a pure way, we are ignoring the socio-economic relations that surround the institution and the histories that inform our ideas about what a liberal arts education is.

TD: Have you noticed in shifting hard times, different types of student engagement with questions of free speech, bias, and felt that through hostility?

AS: I think I’m fairly fortunate that Ryerson is a downtown Toronto campus with a very high first-generation student body; roughly 60% of the students in our program identify as racialized. The nature of who the student body is means that a lot of the pro-equity ideas are taken for granted, and few students will stand up and challenge fundamental notions of social justice. And I think there’s some self-selection there too because our program is quite equity-focused. I think the students who are most likely going to be upset about that transfer out of our program. I personally haven’t faced it that much.

One of the things that’s happened is that we’ve made our “Indigenous Perspectives on Canadian Society” course required, and it is taught with a very Indigenous-centric perspective that presumes settler colonialism, presumes Indigenous sovereignty, and presumes that universities are colonial institutions. I would guess that course will be one of the litmus tests in our department. I would guess that will be one of the places where even people who know that they’re not supposed to say something racist might express discomfort. That’s the way that settler colonialism operates, it creates a kind of entitlement that may lead to a different order of challenges from students. Certainly, I know people who teach in the US, and other places in Ontario who talk about how much their students have been emboldened to challenge even the most basic equity stuff in classes, but so far, I feel like I’m in a little bit of a bubble around that.

TD: Those two initiatives at Ryerson – the “Indigenous Perspectives on Canadian Society” course as a mandatory course and the “Career Integration” course both sound like great responses, or pedagogical forms of resistance to these hard times. One of the things that has always struck me about you, Alan, is how you are simultaneously very critical of post-secondary education, and broader political and social structures, but somehow seem stubbornly optimistic. So my final question is: what do you find hopeful about teaching sociology in “hard times”?

AS: I think that most students are very perceptive and critical about the injustice in the world today. They do not have illusions that this is the “best of all worlds” or a meritocracy. They know someone is making a killing off of the precariousness and suffering so many face.

The challenge is that they might think that this is the “best of all possible worlds” – and that they do not see a better world as possible, particularly through their own actions. So there is a real base among our students for a new radicalization, if they can begin to realize the power they have to change the world. But that radicalization will not happen through the classroom, which even at its best is a site of alienated labour. For me, human teaching is about trying to reduce the damage done in post-secondary education while working outside the institution to build the movements and counter-power that can challenge these injustices.


For more on millennials, education, and social movements we suggest: The Democratic Imagination and The Myth of the Age of Entitlement.

 

How to be a Man: If Beale Street Could Talk brings a new generation to James Baldwin

“We were all men, all fragile and broken in some way, in need of love and grace and the salve of a mother or father or estranged lover. We were all Baldwin’s children. The fact of this lineage and the generosity of our father confirmed that we, his readers, were worthy of love.”

—Barry Jenkins, Esquire, December 2018

Barry Jenkins, director of 2016’s Academy Award-winning Moonlight, admits a feeling of kinship with James Baldwin’s readers, but also his characters: the exuberant Giovanni, the tortured David. Baldwin, the father, offers an emotional tutelage, guides boys into manhood, so that they too can offer a path forward for a new generation. And so: Jenkins’ new film, based on Baldwin’s novel, If Beale Street Could Talk.

Fittingly, Jenkins’ talk of fragile men and Baldwin-the-Father is written for Esquire, a magazine with a long relationship to Baldwin. It was in Esquire that Baldwin published some of his most famous essays, such as “The Black Boy Looks at the White Boy” and “Fifth Avenue, Uptown.” While tackling what was then called “the Negro Problem,” the always shrewd Baldwin tied his writing on race to issues of masculinity, seeking a common understanding with the presumably white, middle- or upper-class readers of a magazine subtitle “The Magazine for Men.” So it is that in “Black Boy,” Baldwin writes:

I think that I know something about American masculinity which most men of my generation do not know because they have not been menaced by it in the way that I have been. It is still true, alas, that to be an American Negro male is also to be a kind of walking phallic symbol: which means that one pays, in one’s own personality, for the sexual insecurity of others. The relationship, therefore, of a black boy to a white boy is a very complex thing.

The lengthiest and most compelling of Baldwin’s Esquire pieces is a 1968 interview, published shortly after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr., in which Baldwin addresses social unrest, Stokely Carmichael, and the ideas of whiteness and Blackness. Central to the interview is Baldwin’s appeal that white men acknowledge and confront their history.

Esquire may give Baldwin space to make his appeal, but the magazine does much to undermine it. For example, the cover of the magazine reads “James Baldwin tells us how to cool it this summer.” The image is of seven stylishly dressed, cool Black men lounging on ice blocks. “Cool it” is immediately associated with its demotic or vernacular use—perhaps Baldwin is going to tell readers about his favourite nightclubs or albums. Within the magazine, however, the interviewer uses some version of the phrase “cool it” six times. In the context of the interview, “cooling it” refers to relaxing racial tensions; the cover, and the rest of the magazine, diminishes the seriousness of this situation. One need only flip a few pages to discover a feature offering “Advice for Summer Drinkers: Cool It!” Here, the idea of “cooling it” is not about riots, but a suggestion for how to prepare drinks. Altogether, this single issue offers Baldwin’s compelling critique of masculinity and whiteness to the exact audience who needs to hear it … and then seemingly takes steps to dismantle that critique. The magazine offers contemporary readers a glimpse into the push-and-pull of the cultural politics of race, class, and manhood.

And now, 50 years later, Esquire offers up space to Jenkins to promote his own film, based on Baldwin’s work, and to discuss the author’s influence on his own life and career. In so doing, Jenkins is able to reach out to a similar audience (not identical, but similar enough) to the one Baldwin addressed decades ago, and offer them his own take on the intersection of race and masculinity, his own take on how to be a man.

 

 

Brad Congdon received his PhD from Dalhousie University, where he is an Instructor in Gender & Women’s Studies and English. He is the author of Leading with the Chin: Writing American Masculinities in Esquire, 1960-1989.