Decoding Scandal, the Tuam Mother and Baby Home

On 3 March 2017, the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes— set up by the Irish government to examine the history of these institutions for ‘unmarried mothers’, run by the Catholic Church as late as the 1990s— issued a preliminary report on their excavations at a former home in Tuam, Co. Galway. It found that there was evidence of a ‘significant’ number of human remains buried in a disused septic tank under the grounds of the home which had been operated by the Bon Secours order of nuns for several decades, and that initial tests indicated most of the remains were of children under the age of 3. This report confirmed the broad conclusions reached by Catherine Corless, a local historian whose claims that there was a mass grave underneath what is now a small garden area surrounded by suburban houses were made public in 2014, and had resulted in the establishment of the Commission of Investigation.

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State Visits 1, Ireland in the US

On the 16th of March, Enda Kenny, the Irish Taoiseach, made a State visit to US President Donald Trump at the White House, and presented him with a bowl of shamrock to mark St Patrick’s Day, as has been customary for Irish Taoisigh to do since 1992.* The tradition has historically been viewed with a certain degree of cynicism in Ireland, decried as pandering or paddywhackery, and, particularly in recessionary times, seen as shameless junketing on the public purse for little more than a cheesy photo-op. This year, however, an official trip attracted significantly more controversy, provoking strong reactions in Ireland and in the sizeable Irish-American diaspora in the US, questioning whether a State visit from Ireland was appropriate in the wake of Trump’s recent anti-immigrant executive orders. Continue reading State Visits 1, Ireland in the US

White Supremacy Part 2, Structural Racism

White supremacy is most often represented in pop culture and the news as something either in the past or exiled to the fringes of society (see Part 1). But the same term is also sometimes applied to US society as a whole, and even progressive groups like the women and men gathered for the Women’s March on Washington in the picture above. How can the same term that describes prison gangs, criminals, Nazis, the KKK, and overtly hateful white nationalists also be used to describe a completely peaceful, multi-racial protest rallying for women’s rights? The difference is between direct racism and structural racism (also called institutional or systemic racism). Pop culture usually focuses on stories of direct racism. That’s because it’s pretty easy for cops or superheroes to kill or lock up one violently racist person or group, and that makes for a good story with a clear hero and a clean ending. But because so many stories about white supremacy create the idea that it is something outside the bounds of normal society, or even a historical phenomenon that’s been completely conquered, as viewers or consumers, we often get the idea that we don’t have to be concerned about it. It might even make us dismiss the idea of structural white supremacy as an exaggeration or even just plain wrong. But if pop culture can convince us to believe structural white supremacy doesn’t exist, really it’s just convinced us not to do anything about it.

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Hegemony at the Oscars

Moonlight Best PicHegemony is the power or influence that people or groups who are already in control (of cultural, political, or economic institutions) use to stay in charge. Hegemony works so well because we usually can’t even see it; it just seems like how things are. But a funny thing happened at the end of the Oscars on February 26th. For the first time in 89 years, the Academy Award for Best Picture went to the wrong film, and in the process, made the racial hegemony of the Oscars visible. Warren Beatty was handed the wrong envelope, and, for about two-and-a-half minutes, La La Land, the tale of two white people living their Hollywood dream, was victorious over Moonlight, the coming of age story of a gay, black teenager in Miami. One of La La Land’s producers, Marc Platt, made a now-beautifully ironic plea just as chaos began to break out amongst the stage managers behind him: “And to Hollywood and the hearts and minds of people everywhere, repression is the enemy of civilization. So keep dreaming, because the dreams we dream today will provide the love, the compassion and the humanity that will narrate the stories of our lives tomorrow.”

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In a January 2017 interview with The Washington Post, Donald Trump advisor and presidential campaign manager Kellyanne Conway labeled herself a ‘postfeminist.’ “I don’t consider myself a feminist,” she said, “I consider myself one of those women who is a product of her choices, not a victim of her circumstances.” As the first woman to lead a successful presidential campaign, Conway is lumped in with other women who have broken gender barriers to gain unprecedented power, access, or success in previously male-dominated fields. By extension, she has been associated with feminists who, according to Gloria Steinem, “recognize the equality and full humanity of women and men.” But rather than embrace her association with the long history of women fighting for their equal right to participate in politics and other aspects of public life, she rejects feminism and instead embraces the concept of postfeminism. But, what does that actually mean? This post will define postfeminism and explain the significance of Conway’s use of the term, especially how it relates to the tensions between her personal success as a woman in politics and her support of an openly misogynistic president and administration trying to undo many feminist political gains and policies.

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White Supremacy Part 1, Direct Racism

White supremacy is a powerful, frightening term that conjures racist, violent images like the one above from D.W. Griffith’s 1915 film Birth of a Nation (image grabbed from the Internet Archive). Even though the words might make us think of Nazis, or lynchings, or other problems that seem like they’ve been solved, white supremacy isn’t just a history lesson. White supremacists have been making headlines recently, especially during the 2016 US elections and the UK vote to leave the European Union. These white supremacists or white nationalists are sometimes hidden with code words like the “alt-right” in the US, or “anti-Europe” on the other side of the ocean. Whatever they’re called, groups in this category are openly racist, anti-immigrant, and pro-white.

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Fake News

“Fake news” is not a new phenomenon. Since his election in November 2016, however, Donald Trump has used the term almost daily (see the image below for just one day’s examples) to discredit legitimate, highly respected news organizations like The New York Times, the BBC, the US broadcast networks, and almost any journalist who reports negatively on his administration or his personal conduct. When one of the most powerful politicians in the world starts using a specific phrase as a rhetorical weapon, it’s important to understand where it comes from.

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