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Tuesday, February 28, 2023

February 28, 2023: Temperance Milestones: The Early Republic

[400 years ago this week, the first temperance law in American history was passed. So this week I’ll AmericanStudy that 1623 law and four other milestone moments in temperance history!]

On three milestone moments in the movement’s early 19th century evolutions.

1)      1813: While the issue and debate continued to simmer (to steep? Not sure of the best alcohol-based pun here) for the two centuries following the 1623 Virginia law, it was with the 1813 founding of the Massachusetts Society for the Suppression of Intemperance that a truly organized Temperance Movement began to develop in the Early Republic United States. To reiterate my last point in yesterday’s post, the Society did not initially advocate for total abstinence from alcohol, but rather opposed “the frequent use of ardent spirits and its kindred vices, profaneness and gaming.” But the more than 40 chapters founded in the Society’s first five years certainly reflects how broadly and passionately shared this perspective was in the first decades of the 19th century.

2)      1826: As its name suggests, the Massachusetts Society was still somewhat local in its efforts; but a few years later, another Boston-based organization, the American Temperance Society (ATS) or American Society for the Promotion of Temperance, explicitly took the movement national. The ATS was also far more overtly committed to abstinence as a principal collective goal, with members signing a pledge to abstain from drinking distilled beverages. Moreover, while that pledge was of course voluntary, the ATS soon shifted its efforts to arguments for mandatory legal prohibition, reflecting a significant and lasting shift in the movement’s goals. The more than 1.25 million members who joined the ATS in its first decade of existence (about 10% of the total US population in the 1830s) makes clear that this was a truly communal such shift.

3)      Philadelphia: This developing national temperance movement also led to countless new local organizations—in Philadelphia alone there were 26 distinct Societies operating in 1841, and an entire building (Temperance Hall) dedicated for the movement’s meetings and rallies. Two of those Societies reflect the breadth of the movement’s inspirations and motivations: the Pennsylvania Catholic Total Abstinence Society was founded in 1840 by an Augustinian priest and focused on issues of religious and morality; while the Philadelphia Temperance Society was led by doctors and focused much more on reform narratives of health and wellness. While the movement was certainly coalescing around abstinence and prohibition in this prominent Early Republic period, it remained a broad and varied representation of the landscape of American reform, activism, and society.

Next milestone tomorrow,


PS. What do you think?

Monday, February 27, 2023

February 27, 2023: Temperance Milestones: 1623

[400 years ago this week, the first temperance law in American history was passed. So this week I’ll AmericanStudy that 1623 law and four other milestone moments in temperance history!]

On a couple historical and movement lessons from that 400th anniversary.

As with many things early 1600s, it’s difficult to find too much specific information about the groundbreaking temperance law enacted in Virginia on March 5th, 1623. The colony’s first royal governor Francis Wyatt and the recently-established colonial legislature deemed that date Temperance Day in an attempt to prohibit, as the law put it, “public intoxication.” That was just the first public and political step in a century-long debate in the colony over alcohol and its effects, as traced at length in Kendra Bonnett’s 1976 PhD dissertation Attitudes toward Drinking and Drunkenness in Seventeenth-Century Virginia (I’ll admit to having only briefly skimmed the beginning of that thesis for this post, but it’s linked there for anyone who wants to read more!). While those specific Virginia and 17th century contexts are of course important to understanding this law, I want to use that 1623 moment to introduce a couple key lessons about temperance in America for this entire weeklong blog series.

For one thing, it’s crucial to understand how longstanding, widespread, and indeed foundational American temperance debates have been. Much of the narrative around this issue links it to early 19th century reform movements, which were certainly influential and about which I’ll have a lot more to say in tomorrow’s post. But it’s pretty striking and telling that one of the very first laws passed in collaboration by two of the first European American political entities—both Virginia’s royal governor and its colonial legislature were only four years old at the time—addressed the issues of alcohol, drunkenness, and temperance. Moreover, while we might expect that the other principal English colony at the time, Puritan Massachusetts, would enact such a law—and while the Puritans most definitely had strong opinions on strong drink, but similarly more in opposition to public drunkenness than alcohol itself—this took place in the far less overtly religious (or at least religiously governed) Virginia colony. Clearly the issue was consuming across the new colonies from their outset.

But it’s just as important to note what this groundbreaking law specifically did and didn’t do. The temperance movement is often closely associated in our collective memories with—if not directly defined by—the goal of prohibition, an understandable connection given that particular, prominent early 20th century Constitutional amendment and 13-year period (with which I’ll end the week’s series). Indeed, the association is so strong that one definition of “temperance” has come to be “abstinence from strong drink.” But I would argue that that definition emerged because of the association of the movement with prohibition, and that another definition—“the quality of moderation or self-restraint”—is more foundational to the word and movement alike. Virginia’ Temperance Day didn’t ban or even legally restrict alcohol, just “public intoxication”—a demonstrable lack of moderation or restraint in the consumption of such drinks. There’s at least a spectrum in play here, and one that would continue to shape the movement’s goals and laws throughout the subsequent 400 years.

Next milestone tomorrow,


PS. What do you think?

Saturday, February 25, 2023

February 25-26, 2023: Crowd-sourced Non-favorites

[For this year’s annual post-Valentine’s non-favorites series, I wanted to highlight some current (and in most cases longstanding) trends that really gripe my cookies. Leading up to another great crowd-soured airing of grievances from fellow AmericanGripers!]

First, this thread from PEN America’s Jeremy Young on Florida’s horrifying new higher ed bill is must-read.

Christina Arrington responds to Monday’s post, adding, “As a country, we should uphold the education of our citizens. It not only enables our citizenry to be productive individuals and good providers for themselves and their families, but an educated populace is what sustains our democracy.”

Along those lines, make sure to sign and share this petition to have the state of New York fully fund the SUNY and CUNY systems (thanks to @CitizenSE for sharing it with me!).

Other non-favorite trends and topics:

Mary shares, “I’m so tired of everyone posing as science experts when they almost certainly failed HS biology and never had a single science class since.”

Dr. Mary Todd adds, “Beyond tired of the blatant dishonesty/endless lying, whether from politicians of a certain party or a faux-news network.”

The awesome Laura Ingalls Wilder in Context Twitter account writes, “My unfavorite: people dismissing my independent work as ‘for children,’ thus somehow not worthy of the term ‘scholarship,’ but when the rare person follows up to learn exactly what I do (contextualize and attempt to decolonize said work) they respond with something akin to a derisive snort.”

Jeff Renye highlights TikTok, and especially the very frustrating Kia Boyz challenge.

Michael Giannasca writes, "I had to read and work through The Lively Art of Writing back in high school and hated it!" 

And I’ll let my colleague (and Guest Poster) Irene Martyniuk have the vital last word: “Today, on the one year anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion into Ukraine, my non favorite trend is the rise of dictators, the silence of those they rule, and the feeling of some that counties should not help Ukraine and keep them out of the EU.”

Next series starts Monday,


PS. Other non-favorites of any kind you’d share?

Friday, February 24, 2023

February 24, 2023: Non-favorite Trends: Kids Today

[For this year’s annual post-Valentine’s non-favorites series, I wanted to highlight some current (and in most cases longstanding) trends that really gripe my cookies. Add your non-favorites to a crowd-sourced weekend airing of grievances that’s always one of my favorite posts of the year, ironically enough!]

On a universal and understandable complaint, and a couple reasons why it’s wrong.

My sister is only five years younger than me, but there have definitely been moments in our lives when it felt like we were from radically different generations. The one that stands out most was when I visited her during her first year in college (I was in graduate school at the time), and saw she and her three roommates sitting at their respective computers in their common room, backs to each other, silently messaging each other on AOL Instant Messenger rather than, y’know, talking. I’m not saying I used only cuneiform and short-wave radio during my time in college or anything, but email was just barely becoming a thing, and those various other forms of online communication and conversation even less so. So this moment felt like a viewpoint on a very different generation than my own when it came to themes like technology and community, and I understood then—in only my early 20s no less—how folks can grumpily complain about “kids today” and their devices (or whatnot).

The very fact that so, so many generations have made the same basic complaint should of course already be enough to give any of us who would do the same pause. But there are also some specific reasons why that complaint rings false here in 2022. To start with the source of my own generational disgruntlement in that college dorm room: it’s true that kids then were beginning to communicate in different ways and forms, and that’s only become exponentially more true in the couple decades since. But ultimately, that trend has simply meant more possibilities for communication, especially when we’re not able to be together—and as a single father who is away from his sons far more often than would be ideal, I can’t sufficiently express my gratitude for the existence of text messages, of memes and gifs, of social media (when my older son likes a post on my Instagram it’s a genuine high for his old man), of chat boards on app video games (for a while Clash of Clans messages were a guaranteed place I could find the boys and I loved doing so), of all these ways in which I’ve stayed connected to my dudes thanks to kids today and their devices.

That version of the complaint isn’t just about communication, though—it also often (if not always) suggests a generation that is disconnected, from each other but also from the world around them (“nobody plays outside any more,” that sort of thing). But while there are always downsides and dangers to any new technology or generational trend, the truth as I see it is that younger generations—those of my college students and of my high schooler sons alike—are more aware of and active in the world than I ever was at their age. And one main factor in that awareness and activity like is their ability to connect with the world through technology—recently for example my sons took part in a Zoom conversation with other vegetarian and vegan high schoolers who are part of a coalition (also featuring state legislators and other activists) working to bring more diverse and sustainable food options to the state’s schools and communities. Kids today are doing things on and with their devices that young AmericanStudier could never have dreamed of, and anybody who attacks them instead is participating in a decidedly non-favorite trend.

Crowd-sourced post this weekend,


PS. So one more time: thoughts on this non-favorite? Other non-favorites of any kind you’d share?

Thursday, February 23, 2023

February 23, 2023: Non-favorite Trends: Circular Firing Squads

[For this year’s annual post-Valentine’s non-favorites series, I wanted to highlight some current (and in most cases longstanding) trends that really gripe my cookies. Add your non-favorites to a crowd-sourced weekend airing of grievances that’s always one of my favorite posts of the year, ironically enough!]

On the difference between debate and division, and why it matters a great deal.

The comedian Will Rogers once famously remarked, when asked about his political affiliation, “I am not a member of any organized party—I am a Democrat.” That was in the 1930s, so it’s fair to say that for at least the majority of the 20th century—and most definitely into the first couple decades of the 21st—the big tent of the Democratic Party has also been a notoriously noisy one. While some of those party members who have made the most noise have ended up rightly unable to find a home in the party—I’m thinking of the 1948 Dixiecrats in particular here, without whose blatantly racist views and white supremacist ideologies the party was distinctly better off—the vast majority have remained, constituting a political community with nearly as many internal differences and debates as external contrasts with its official adversaries.

I’m entirely good with that—a political party isn’t a religion, much less a cult, and should never demand nor require rigid or unthinking allegiance to anything or anyone (and certainly not to, I dunno, orange conmen). Moreover, I genuinely love the big tent goal, as I think we can and should debate a wide range of policy priorities and principles while still pulling together toward the goal of forming a more perfect union. Whatever their flaws and failings—and they were more than a few—the American Framers most definitely achieved that multi-layered purpose, debating famously and ceaselessly (if not quite as musically as recent representations have portrayed the process) yet eventually and consistently helping push the new nation forward. Some of my favorite arguments have been political ones with fellow lifelong Democrats—my parents very much among them—and I like to think that my hometown frenemy Thomas Jefferson would have very much approved.

But here’s the thing: debate and division might be on the same spectrum, but they are in very different locations. That’s particularly true when it comes to the “pulling together” part of the formula I articulated above—if we see ourselves as divided from someone else, we’re almost certainly not seeing them as allies in a cause, as those with whom we want or need to pull together. It seems to me that here in 2022, far too many of my fellow folks on the political left see themselves as divided from many others on the left, and indeed would define those others as opponents rather than members of a raucous big tent. I call that phenomenon the “circular firing squad,” our tendency to shoot at each other rather than at those against whom we are genuinely battling in our quest to move the nation forward. And the thing with a circular firing squad is, all of its participants end up wounded at best, destroyed at worst, and certainly not having achieved any of their goals. All of which makes this trend one of my least favorites on our political landscape.

Last non-favorite trend tomorrow,


PS. Thoughts on this non-favorite? Other non-favorites of any kind you’d share?

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

February 22, 2023: Non-favorite Trends: Free Speech for Me

[For this year’s annual post-Valentine’s non-favorites series, I wanted to highlight some current (and in most cases longstanding) trends that really gripe my cookies. Add your non-favorites to a crowd-sourced weekend airing of grievances that’s always one of my favorite posts of the year, ironically enough!]

On how “free speech” so often seems to mean the exact opposite.

One potential response to both of my last two posts—on defunding as the real crisis facing public higher education and legislative, rhetorical, and actual attacks on teachers and librarians as the real threat facing our educators—would be to ask whether limits on (or even arguments for limiting) free speech in schools aren’t another crisis and threat in and to our educational institutions. I tried to engage thoughtfully with those free speech debates in the opening paragraphs of the Saturday Evening Post Considering History column to which I linked in Monday’s post, and which I’ll share here again for convenience. The too-long/didn’t read version is that I do think at times activists on campuses and at schools (or in related groups) can go too far in limiting voices and debates, and/or otherwise changing speech (the revised version of Huck Finn being a striking case in point). But I’d say those cases are the exceptions rather than the rules, and indeed can serve as canards to distract us from what’s really going on much of the time.

What’s really going on when it comes to free speech debates is to my mind concisely illustrated by what happened at Twitter in late 2022. When Elon Musk bought the social media giant (which as I’ve discussed many times in this space was my very favorite online community), one of his chief promises what that he would return “free speech” to the platform. He did indeed immediately set about allowing various folks who had been banned from Twitter for violations of the site’s policies to return, from former President Trump to alt-right and neo-Nazi voices. Yet at precisely the same time—and I do mean precisely the same time; the two articles hyperlinked in these two sentences are far from the same day, November 29—Musk used suspensions and deactivations to silence the accounts and voices of left-wing critics of not only those extremists, but also and especially of himself and his actions. He then took that one giant step further by suspending a wide range of journalists who had simply reported on Musk’s actions and words (among other important topics). I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a more overt example of the old (and apparently quite true) adage “free speech for me (and in this case my friends and fellow travelers), but not for thee.”

Twitter isn’t itself an educational space, although I think there are important parallels. But I would say that the same adage applies to many of those who are pushing for “free speech” when it comes to including voices and debates in such educational spaces. After all, if they’re advocating for inviting, hearing, debating a voice that blatantly and systematically argues for eliminating other people and communities, they’re fighting for free speech for such voices at the direct expense of the speech (and existence) of others. A great case in point was the invitation of Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes to speak at Penn State in the Fall—McInnes and the Proud Boys advocate for hate and violence that targets numerous American communities and seeks to eliminate them from not just our public sphere but I would argue our society entirely. Allowing McInnes the “free speech” to express those views and goals at an educational institution would be inviting a direct threat to many other members of that educational community, which can’t help but make their ability to speak freely fraught and endangered at best. That version of “free speech” is a serious non-favorite trend of mine.

Next non-favorite trend tomorrow,


PS. Thoughts on this non-favorite? Other non-favorites of any kind you’d share?

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

February 21, 2023: Non-favorite Trends: Attacking Teachers & Librarians

[For this year’s annual post-Valentine’s non-favorites series, I wanted to highlight some current (and in most cases longstanding) trends that really gripe my cookies. Add your non-favorites to a crowd-sourced weekend airing of grievances that’s always one of my favorite posts of the year, ironically enough!]

On one horrifying and one really horrifying evolution of a longstanding trend.

My colleague and friend Heather Urbanski likes to point out just how far back (and I do mean really far back) complaints about “students these days” not being able to write can be found. These things aren’t synonymous by any means, but I’d nonetheless say that there’s a pretty direct parallel between those longstanding complaints and the similarly deeply-rooted history of complaints about teachers and educators of all types. Often those complaints take the form of relatively good-natured if deeply misguided microaggressions (“Must be nice to get summers off!), and sometimes they’re part of understandable parent frustration with things like homework. But far too often, complaints about educators have turned into full-blown attacks on educators, and despite its consistent presence that trend has quite strikingly exploded over the last few years.

As I traced in this Saturday Evening Post Considering History column (very much a corollary to the column on defunding public higher education that I highlighted in yesterday’s post), most of those recent attacks have been focalized around bills and laws that seek to limit, preclude, and outlaw entirely a variety of educational subjects and strategies (and even basic conversation points) that are deemed “woke” (to use one of the pejorative buzzwords these anti-education voices employ ad nauseam). These aren’t just symbolic statements, although they can feel that way at times—real teachers and librarians have lost their jobs as a result of these laws, and it’s hard to imagine that many others won’t be similarly affected (and countless more limited in performing their already incredibly tough jobs) if we don’t change these laws and policies ASAP. If that doesn’t seem to you all as well like a truly horrifying trend, we’re definitely on very different wavelengths.

But (inside baseball warning) as I draft this post in late 2022, such attacks are far from the most horrifying layer to this evolving and deepening trend. For that extremely dubious honor I’d have to go with the white supremacist domestic terrorist organizations that have created online resources and communities through which folks can identity libraries or schools that are hosting drag queen reading events, allowing these armed, dangerous, and dangerously dumbass roving gangs of aggrieved white men (I’m generalizing, but I’d stand by it) to descend upon these institutions of learning and education and their overworked and underpaid and truly inspiring employees (to say nothing of the terrorized young people about whom these idiots proclaim to care so much). To lean into that last parenthetical point, I’d hasten to guess that each and every child and family at these events is infinitely more traumatized by the appearance of armed angry assholes than they could ever be by someone living their truth and reading them a book. Anti-education trends are now morphing directly into domestic terrorism, and that’s one of my least favorite things in the world.

Next non-favorite trend tomorrow,


PS. Thoughts on this non-favorite? Other non-favorites of any kind you’d share?

Monday, February 20, 2023

February 20, 2023: Non-favorite Trends: Defunding Public Higher Ed

[For this year’s annual post-Valentine’s non-favorites series, I wanted to highlight some current (and in most cases longstanding) trends that really gripe my cookies. Add your non-favorites to a crowd-sourced weekend airing of grievances that’s always one of my favorite posts of the year, ironically enough!]

For this first non-favorites post, I’m gonna ask you to read instead one of my Saturday Evening Post Considering History columns. In that column I discussed that long and inspiring history of public higher education in America, and why the ubiquitous defunding of public higher ed around the country is one of the worst 21st century trends. As a PhD product of and long, longtime professor in public higher education, nothing, and I mean nothing, gripes my cookies more than this systemic defunding, and I’d love for you to check out that column and join me in the fight to reverse this longstanding and in many ways deepening trend.

Next non-favorite trend tomorrow,


PS. Thoughts on this non-favorite? Other non-favorites of any kind you’d share?

Saturday, February 18, 2023

February 18-19, 2023: Hettie Williams’ Guest Post on Black Writers & AIDS

[This is Dr. Hettie Williams’ third excellent Guest Post, tying her with Dr. Emily Lauer for the lead in the clubhouse. All you other Guest Posters, past and potential, take inspiration!]

Out of Our Silence 

Black Writers Confronting the Stigma of Homosexuality and AIDS in the 1980s

“He has to be remembered for helping to lead us out of our silence...”[1]

—Essex Hemphill on Joseph Beam

                                                                Photo by y y on Unsplash

              “When Essex came over to finish the book, he stayed at my house and got himself a job and an apartment….Essex wanted to finish the book because he loved Joe…one of the things Joe wanted was for gay people to be gay people,” stated Dorothy Beam, mother of African American writer Joseph F. Beam, in a 2007 interview.[2] Joseph Beam, journalist, writer, literary critic, and civil rights activist advanced a multidimensional praxis of politics that encompassed Black gay identity making, community building, wellness, and social justice. In doing so, he built upon a tradition of activism first shaped by the work of civil rights activists such as Bayard Rustin and writers such as James Baldwin and Audre Lorde.

In the early 1980s, a core group of Black intellectuals waged a serious assault on the stigma of homosexuality in African American society while, eventually, also confronting the AIDS epidemic. These intellectuals did this by relying upon Black feminism as their primary epistemological framework. Focusing on writers James Baldwin, Audre Lorde, and Joseph F. Beam, this essay provides a historical analysis of how African American intellectuals confronted the stigma of homosexuality and the AIDS crisis through their writings and public intellectualism from the Civil Rights era through the 1980s. Here public intellectual is defined as one who speaks to a broad public, typically through the written word, beyond the confines of academia, ideally, with the public good in mind. During the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, this public intellectualism among members of the LGBTQ community often involved an activist dimension and ethics of care that meant writers helping writers find work, outlets for one another’s work, with LGBTQ themes, and, at times, providing one another with food and shelter.

                                                    James Baldwin; Attribution: R. L. Oliver, Los Angeles                                                                                                     Times, CC BY-SA 4.0 

James Baldwin ultimately espoused a gender-queer politics within an intersectional framework that was largely pragmatic in essence when compared to other writers at the height of the AIDS crisis. Baldwin’s concerns about LGBTQ rights were in many instances secondary to his concerns about Black equality as expressed in his civil rights activism and public intellectualism. Here I am primarily making a delineation between Baldwin’s literary Black queerness, as juxtaposed with his public intellectualism, and his activism as a civil rights advocate. His social justice activities never completely encompassed his queer politics. He did not audaciously immerse himself in LGBTQ+ activism and community in the ways that other queer writers and activists did though these subjects were clearly central in his writings. This was not the case for writers such as Audre Lorde and Joseph Beam who actively operationalized their queer blackness beyond the utility of literary convention to advance a praxis of politics that encompassed community building and social justice work through the height of the AIDS crisis. Baldwin and Lorde were interlocutors who often discussed with one another the major issues confronting Black Americans.

Audre Lorde, poet, essayist, writer, and activist, advanced a queer praxis in her writings and social justice work. Subjects such as racism, sexism, illness, self-care, motherhood, and feminism feature prominently in her work through the 1980s as she became a more prominently recognized literary voice. In the 1980s, Audre Lorde was a central figure among a group of writers who shaped the rise of Black lesbian literature. These writings include essays, poems, and novels by women such as Ann Allan Shockley, Cheryl Clark, and Barbara Smith. This genre of literature emphasized an intersectional approach to understanding Black women’s experiences by focusing on racism, sexism, and homophobia as overlapping social systems of power and privilege. Lorde’s work paralleled the intersectional framework that defined Baldwin’s writings as they both emerged from the same tradition of Black women’s intellectualism. Lorde, at this time, became a well-known essayist and outspoken supporter of LGBTQ rights amid the rising AIDS crisis. 

                                        Audre Lorde; 
Attribution: Photo by Elsa Dorfman, CC BY-SA 3.0 

In her work, for reasons more obvious than not, Lorde aligns more succinctly with the tradition of Black feminism later embraced by Beam with whom she maintained a regular correspondence. Lorde was more attuned to the functioning of patriarchal white supremacy and the erasure of Black lesbian voices in the queer Black literary imagination. By relying assiduously on the tradition of intersectionality developed by Black women intellectuals, Lorde wrote about race, gender, and sexuality including about the violence and exploitation experienced by Black women in patriarchal societies. An interrogation of patriarchy is at the center of much of her writings. For Lorde, Black men were a part of the patriarchy and this afforded them a certain level of male privilege as compared to the position of Black women in western society.

In her conversations with Baldwin, Lorde astutely points out the masculinist nature of his protest epistemology. She reminded him in an interview published in Essence magazine in 1984 that, “there are power differences that come down” between Black men and women despite the common foe of racism.[3] In this same interview, Lorde also points to the struggle between Black men and women over these power differences including the violence sometimes leveled against Black women from cross-gender conflict within the Black community.

              Lorde was a committed grassroots organizer. Her activities as an activist intellectual were intersectional and transnational. She was a part of the ground-breaking Combahee River Collective of Black women feminists organized to criticize the shortcomings of white feminism and amplify the concerns and needs of Black women from the mid-1970s through the 1980s. Lorde also helped to establish the Women’s Coalition of St. Croix in 1981 that was dedicated to assisting women who suffered sexual abuse and SISTA (Sisterhood in Support of Sisters in South Africa), a group organized to help Black women who were impacted by Apartheid. Beam, like Lorde, understood that solidarity across sex/gender boundaries within Black society meant Black survival. In Black feminism, he found a praxis of politics that included ideas about collective work, self-care, and systems of shared support and co-nurturing.

In the early 1980s, Joseph Beam’s work began to appear in the leading newspapers and magazines consumed by the LGBTQ community at the time, including Changing Men, Blackheart, Gay Community News, Philadelphia Gay News, and the Advocate. He won an award from the Lesbian and Gay Press Association in 1984 for his work as a writer. While addressing the concerns facing the gay community in his writings through the mid-1980s, Beam also became noticeably involved in several LGBTQ associations concerned with social equality (such as the Gay and Lesbian Task Force of the American Friends Service Committee and the National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays) while he worked to compile an anthology of writings by Black gay men. He became the editor of the journal Black/Out published by the National Coalition in 1985, and this put him in contact with a broad community of Black gay writers with whom he sought to build alliances to improve social equality and representations of African Americans in the larger LGBTQ society. In his writings, he expressed a concern for the alienation of Black members of the LGBTQ community and issues of social justice from an intersectional point of view that included a discussion of race, gender, class, and sexuality more broadly. Beam stated in the “Introduction” section of In the Life (Red Bone Press, 1986) that he had “grown weary of reading literature of white gay men” because none of their work “spoke” to him as a “Black gay man.”[4]

Audre Lorde was a friend, mentor, supporter, and patron to Joseph Beam. Lorde and Beam maintained regular correspondence, and Beam interviewed Lorde for several literary outlets. In one of their interviews, both expressed concerns about the lack of visibility of writers from the LGBTQ community.  “It’s not only the literary establishment that renders us invisible” Beam noted.  “The gay and lesbian community contributes to this invisibility.”[5] Both agreed in this interview that the LGBTQ community needed to build their “own institutions.” This was demonstrated with Lorde’s creation of Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press that was developed in association with the National Black Feminist Organization in 1980. Lorde was active in the Combahee River Collective from 1974 through 1980 and formed the Women of Color Press with Black feminists such as Barbara Smith in response to what they saw as the failures of liberal white feminism. In the writings and actions of Lorde and Beam, we see a commitment to active grassroots level community building and shared support between members of the LGBTQ community.

[Annual non-favorites series starts Monday,


PS. What do you think?]

[1] Stephen A. Maglott, “Joseph Beam,” Ubuntu Biography Project,, December 30, 2017 Found at: Accessed January 1, 2019.

[2] Maglott, “Joseph Beam,” Ubuntu Biography Project,, December 30, 2017.

[3] Audre Lorde, and James Baldwin, “Revolutionary Hope: A Conversation Between James Baldwin and Audre Lorde,” Essence, 1984.

[4] Joseph Beam, “Introduction,” in In the Life: A Black Gay Anthology: A Black Gay Anthology edited by Joseph Beam (RedBone Press, 1986), xix.

[5] Joseph Beam, “Audre Lorde: The Lost Interview,” Lesbian News February, 1997, 22, no. 7 p. 39-41.

Friday, February 17, 2023

February 17, 2023: Songs I Love: “Pink Venom”

[For this year’s Valentine’s series, I wanted to share a handful of recent songs I’ve loved. Share recent songs, albums, artists you love for a crowd-sourced weekend post with heart eyes!]

Look: sometimes I want to get soulful, sometimes I want to get political, sometimes I want to get personal, sometimes I want to get romantic, and sometimes I just want to dance and sing along with a badass quartet of South Korean girl group members. The quartet of which I speak is Blackpink, and I can’t front even a little bit, their kickass 2021 anthem “Pink Venom” was one of my very favorite songs of the year (yes, even though more than half of the lyrics are in Korean—I can use context clues with the best of ‘em!). To anybody who might make fun of me for that taste, I say simply “get ‘em, get ‘em, get ‘em”! (Nah, I say “de gustibus, non est disputandum”—and I look forward to sharing your tastes this weekend!)

Crowd-sourced post this weekend,


PS. So once more with feeling: What songs or artists have you been lovin’ on recently?

Thursday, February 16, 2023

February 16, 2023: Songs I Love: “The Barka-Darling River”

[For this year’s Valentine’s series, I wanted to share a handful of recent songs I’ve loved. Share recent songs, albums, artists you love for a crowd-sourced weekend post with heart eyes!]

I’ll confess that a year ago at this time I believed my childhood favorite rock band Midnight Oil had released their last new music, so the entirety of their awesome 2021 album Resist took me by very pleasant surprise. I love every one of that album’s 12 excellent songs, but would single out especially the second song, “The Barka-Darling River,” which links lead singer Peter Garrett’s frustrating time serving in the Australian Parliament to the climate crisis and the need for real systemic change. Here are three lines that capture this song’s scope and power:

The angry and impassioned opening verse: “Standing in the house of the founding fathers/It’s a house that’s not been well looked after/Now there’s a fatal flaw in the mighty rafters/There’s a rule of law written by the cotton masters”

The transition to the quietly mournful second half: “Who left the bag of idiots open?/Who drank the bottle of bad ideas?/Who drew the last drop from the bottom?/Good people, good people are forgotten”

And the yearning for something else with which that mourning concludes: “Let’s shake some truth out of the jar/Let’s kick the crooks out of the kitchen/We’ll tell some stories at the bar/Good people, good people are forgotten”

Last song I love tomorrow,


PS. What songs or artists have you been lovin’ on recently?

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

February 15, 2023: Songs I Love: “Quiet Town”

[For this year’s Valentine’s series, I wanted to share a handful of recent songs I’ve loved. Share recent songs, albums, artists you love for a crowd-sourced weekend post with heart eyes!]

I’ve written about my favorite 21st century rock band The Killers on multiple prior occasions in this space, and so it’ll come as no surprise that a new album of theirs like 2021’s Pressure Machine is always gonna inspire the love in this AmericanStudier. I especially love the album’s deeply personal nature, its connection to lead singer Brandon Flowers’ childhood and hometown community, threads that carry through the entire album and build to the beautiful final song “The Getting By” (inspired by something his mom said about his dad). But among all that goodness, it is the album’s second song, “Quiet Town,” that stands out most for me, as perhaps the greatest song this great band have ever released: I love so much about “Quiet Town,” but love most the way in which just when you think it’s done it’s builds to one more level that also comes full circle from its opening. And if I thought I couldn’t love “Quiet Town” any more, then my sons went ahead and put it on their homework bangers playlist—and that love built to one more level as well!

Next song I love tomorrow,


PS. What songs or artists have you been lovin’ on recently?

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

February 14, 2023: Songs I Love: “Before You”

[For this year’s Valentine’s series, I wanted to share a handful of recent songs I’ve loved. Share recent songs, albums, artists you love for a crowd-sourced weekend post with heart eyes!]

I wanted to share young singer-songwriter Benson Boone’s newest single “Before You” on Valentine’s Day itself for two reasons. The more obvious one is that this is a long song, and a particularly sweet and moving one at that. But the more important one is that I know of this song and of Boone at all because of my two greatest loves, my sons. Boone is one of the first artists they’ve really fallen in love with, and when his new song dropped late last year we spent quite a bit of time playing and replaying it. I don’t think I could love any song, or anything, more than that!

Next song I love tomorrow,


PS. What songs or artists have you been lovin’ on recently?

Monday, February 13, 2023

February 13, 2023: Songs I Love: “Soul Days”

[For this year’s Valentine’s series, I wanted to share a handful of recent songs I’ve loved. Share recent songs, albums, artists you love for a crowd-sourced weekend post with heart eyes!]

As part of last year’s Thanksgiving series, I highlighted Bruce Springsteen’s new album of soul covers, Only the Strong Survive. My favorite song from the album remains the one I mentioned in that post, “Night Shift” (and I think I love that hyperlinked video about as much as I do the song). But a very close second, and an even better thesis statement for the album as a whole, is Bruce’s cover (featuring Sam Moore) of the great Dobie Gray track “Soul Days.” You can’t go wrong with Gray’s version either, but you know I’m especially lovin’ on Bruce’s (and can’t wait for some summertime soul days in a few shorts months)!

Next song I love tomorrow,


PS. What songs or artists have you been lovin’ on recently?

Saturday, February 11, 2023

February 11-12, 2023: Football (and Sports) Studiers

[For this year’s annual Super Bowl series, I wanted to focus on some football figures & communities. Leading up to this special weekend tribute to some of our best current public scholarly SportsStudiers!]

In no particular order, here are a bunch of amazing public scholarly SportsStudiers you should all be reading and following:

Lou Moore

Tracie Canada

Kate Aguilar

Zach Bigalke

Derrick White

Dave Zirin

Everybody at Sport in American History

& everybody at the End of Sports podcast

Also, I put out the word on Twitter for other nominations:

Kate Aguilar writes, "I love this piece by Carl Suddler (among other works he has done on sport)," and adds, "Also, Sam White, Johanna Mellis (who is included among the great minds doing End of Sport), and Letisha Brown. I am following all of their insight on sport and play daily."

Valentine’s series starts Monday,


PS. What do you think? Scholars, or other Football figures or communities, you’d highlight?

Friday, February 10, 2023

February 10, 2023: Football Figures: Michael Sam and Carl Nassib

[For this year’s annual Super Bowl series, I wanted to focus on some football figures & communities. Leading up to a special weekend tribute to some of our best current public scholarly SportsStudiers!]

On a striking and significant change, and why there still needs to be more.

I thought I had written in this space at some point about Michael Sam, the defensive lineman who in 2014 became the first openly gay player drafted by an NFL team when the (then) St. Louis Rams selected him in the 7th round of the draft. I’m not finding such a prior post, but I can certainly say that I thought a lot at that time about Sam and his journey and challenges, all of which continued across a fraught and ultimately unsuccessful first year in the NFL, an even more challenging time with the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League, and a long hiatus from professional football for mental health reasons. (Apparently he’s now back in the game with the Barcelona Dragons of the European League of Football, serving as both a player and a coach for the team, which was nice to learn while researching this post.) While Sam’s struggles to make it in professional football are certainly due in part to football-related issues, there’s no doubt that those mental health reasons were largely due to this groundbreaking personal journey—and I can’t help but believe that that journey, and more exactly the backlash and prejudice he faced during it, made it more difficult for him to do the necessary football things to make and stay on the Rams or any NFL team.

All of which makes the current and ongoing story of NFL defensive lineman Carl Nassib that much more striking and inspiring. The two players’ personal and football journeys have at least one significant difference: selected by the Cleveland Browns in the 3rd round of the 2016 draft, Nassib had thus already been in the league for five full (and quite successful) seasons when, as part of the June 2021 Pride Month celebrations, he came out as gay on his Instagram account. Yet nonetheless, I believe that both the far more positive (or at least much less overtly negative and hateful, but I would stress the genuinely supportive notes so many players have struck) responses to Nassib’s coming out and the ways in which he has been able to continue his NFL career (and even move to a new team) with seemingly no issues reflect a striking change over this last decade. That’s a change in part in football culture, one no doubt influenced by Sam. And of course it’s also a change in American culture and society more broadly, one illustrated not only by the kinds of pop culture shifts I wrote about in this post, but also by these drastically different receptions to two openly gay NFL players within a period of just a few years.

That’s a very good thing—but as with any social progress, it’s far from the end of the story. Recent polling and studies indicate that something like 7% of Americans identify as LGBTQ; there are 1696 active players in the NFL at any given team (53 active players on each of the 32 teams), which if the percentage holds would mean that somewhere around 118 of those players would be gay or bisexual. I’m willing to grant that the culture of football (at every level it’s played) might dissuade many LGBTQ young men from becoming or staying part of it; but even so, it seems quite difficult to believe that there is only one gay player among the league’s current 1700. And the same is certainly the case with all the other major sports leagues, which as of this writing—and with the very definite exception of the WNBA, which features many LGBTQ players—have precisely one openly gay player each. As that last hyperlinked article notes, one is more than zero, so the change reflected by Nassib has been wider and is worth celebrating—but there’s plenty further to go, and I look forward to the time when a professional athlete coming out is entirely un-newsworthy.

Special tribute post this weekend,


PS. What do you think? Football figures or communities you’d highlight?

Thursday, February 9, 2023

February 9, 2023: Football Figures: Andrew Luck

[For this year’s annual Super Bowl series, I wanted to focus on some football figures & communities. Leading up to a special weekend tribute to some of our best current public scholarly SportsStudiers!]

On a specific and a broader way to contextualize a shocking retirement.

Early last December, ESPN’s website ran a phenomenal deep-dive story from writer Seth Wickersham on Andrew Luck’s stunningly abrupt August 2019 retirement from professional football. The story’s at the first hyperlink above and is well worth checking out in full; so in lieu of a first full paragraph for this post, do that if you would and then come on back here for a couple takeaways.

Welcome back! In specific football terms, I’d say that the through-line of Luck’s repeated pattern of injuries, recoveries and rehabs, and the psychological and emotional costs of that process is a telling window into what professional football does to those who play it, beyond even the somewhat more familiar now stories of concussions and their effects. Watching, discussing, and sharing football with my sons has been one of my very favorite things, not just over the last decade or so but really of my whole life, and so the thought of giving it up is hugely painful. But they’re thoughtful and responsible enough young men that we can and do talk about the sport’s harsher realities as part of those conversations, and Luck’s story (literally and figuratively) reminds us that those realities touch every football player, even those who seem particularly blessed in their experiences of the sport (which, as that story and Luck acknowledge, seemed to be the case for him).

More broadly, I’d say the Luck story is one of the best illustrations I’ve ever encountered of the great quote often linked to (and of course tragically embodied by) comedian and actor Robin Williams (although who actually said it first is a very open and perhaps unanswerable question it seems): “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.” The emphasis is often and understandably placed on “you know nothing about”—that even when someone seems to be doing great by every possible measure, they can and likely are still facing demons of one kind or another (something I’ve thought a lot about since reading Bruce Springsteen’s memoir). But in an era when all of us (and I’m fully including myself in this critique) are so quick to attack folks for any number of reasons, from the most significant and serious to the seemingly small or momentary, it would be worth trying to remember the “everyone” part of the quote as well. I’m not saying that struggles excuse any and all actions or behaviors—see Ye for a case in point of when and how they most definitely do not—but would nonetheless note that Andrew Luck reminds us that struggles of one kind or another are, indeed, a ubiquitous part of the human condition, now as ever.

Last football figure tomorrow,


PS. What do you think? Football figures or communities you’d highlight?