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Membership, Citizenship, and Democracy

President Trump’s pernicious attacks on nonwhite immigrants have thrust a particular theory of political membership—white nationalism—to the forefront ...

The post Membership, Citizenship, and Democracy appeared first on Public Books.

The Future of Migration

In 2008, in a town of about 2,000 people, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detained 389 workers and charged them with civil immigration violations and identity theft. The Bush administration had decided to experiment with mass workplace arrests and assembly-line judicial proceedings. The target was a kosher meatpacking plant in rural Postville, Iowa. What most observers miss when they...

The post The Future of Migration appeared first on Public Books.

“We Forgot Our Names”

“Most of the time, they changed your name into a number—they called you ABC1, ABC2,” explains Hani Abdile about the time she spent interned in one of Australia’s notorious immigration detention camps on the Pacific islands of Manus and Nauru. “By the time I finished eleven months, even if you call me Hani all the day, I would never say yes. If you call me my boat number, I would say yes. Or they...

The post “We Forgot Our Names” appeared first on Public Books.

Migration, Refugees, and Diaspora in Children’s Literature (ChLAQ)

By Philip Nel

Children's Literature Association Quarterly 43.4 (Winter 2018): coverSeparating children from their parents is a violation of basic human rights and does not deter asylum-seekers.  Hostile to facts and compassionate only towards himself, Mr. Trump has pursued this policy with reckless indifference to its consequences.  As of the end of last month (over four months after the court-imposed deadline to reunite these families), over 140 children had still not been reunited with their parents.  And that figure does not include the over 15,000 children locked up in Trump’s child detention centers.

Writing about Migration, Refugees, and Diaspora in Children’s Literature — the theme of this special issue of the Children’s Literature Association Quarterly — will not stop the US government’s (or any other government’s) crimes against humanity. And yet, I edited this special issue, which features smart essays by six sharp scholars: Debra Dudek, Carmen Nolte-Odhiambo, Leyla Savsar, Anastasia Ulanowicz, Maria Rosa Truglio, and Sara Van den Bossche.  Why?  Not because we expect our words to awaken the consciences of those in power — if, indeed, the people who support these policies possess consciences.  We write because we speak as we can, in the venues available to us.  Because all scholarship is, in some measure, a record of the time in which it was written.  Because children’s literature can cultivate empathy.  Because children’s literature can (to borrow Rudine Sims Bishop’s famous term) serve as a mirror to young people who have been displaced — geographically, culturally, emotionally.  Because words and images can change minds.

Or, at least, that is what I believe. As I write in my introduction,

When children’s literature cultivates an empathetic imagination, it can bring people of all ages closer to understanding the displacement felt by migrants, refugees, and those in diasporic communities. Such literature can affirm the experiences of children in those communities, letting them know that they are not alone….

As scholars of children’s literature, we are not, alas, in charge of shaping humane policies for our governments. But we can, to borrow the words of Russian-American journalist Masha Gessen, help people to envision “a world without borders as we have known them—a world in which nation-states are not prized or assumed.” We can guide readers to books that harness the imagination’s power to nourish empathy, and we can steer them away from those that reinforce bigotry. Thanks to our professional training, we understand that such work is necessary and complicated: A work’s propagation of prejudice can be both subtle and overt. Art is often ideologically ambivalent, humanizing in some ways and dehumanizing in others. Another thing we can do, then, is to teach people how to spot the difference. Careful, thoughtful readers can resist lies, misinformation, and scapegoating. By helping us develop the necessary critical literacies, the articles in this issue foster these vital skills.

The issue is available via ProjectMuse.  If you are affiliated with an institution that subscribes to Project Muse, please access the articles that way.  Doing so generates revenue for the Children’s Literature Association — an organization of which I am a member.  If you lack access to the issue, I am glad to send you a pdf of my introduction.  Just drop me a line.  (Email address is at right, under “A note on mp3s,” even though I have long since removed mp3s from this blog.)

I’ll conclude with the two autobiographical paragraphs from my introduction:

I proposed this special issue, in part, because I am from a family of immigrants and am the descendant of refugees. The Nels were among those 2 million seventeenth-century French Protestants (Huguenots) whose flight from persecution introduced the word refugee into the English language. Today, my extended family (nuclear family plus cousins, uncles, and aunts) lives in five countries on four continents. We are a migratory group. In migrants, refugees, and the diasporic, I see my own family.

But I also see my family in the people who caused such displacement—from the active Islamophobe who supports a “Muslim ban” to the passive inheritors of White supremacy. I am aware that my being born in the US has everything to do with my parents being White South Africans and not Black South Africans. Their Whiteness granted them access not just to the education that made finding an American job possible, but also to the basic human rights that significantly increased the chances that they would survive and flourish. Indeed, my own flourishing is built upon a range of intersecting structures of oppression.

I’ve written more on this subject elsewhere on this blog — perhaps most directly in “Charleston, Family History, and White Responsibility” (June 2015).  For the past few years, that post has only been available via its archival presence on the Wayback Machine, for reasons explained in the footnote below.*  But there are plenty of other autobiographical posts hosted here, some of which address White Privilege and White Responsibility.

But,… returning to the special issue.  Remember: human rights do not depend upon citizenshipHumanity has no borders.


Thanks to the editorial consultants for this issue: Evelyn Arizpe, Clare Bradford, Ann Gonzalez, Gabrielle Halko, Gillian Lathey, Kerry Mallan, Robyn McCallum, Mavis Reimer, Lara Saguisag, Lee Talley, Jan Van Coillie, Lies Wesseling


Other writing (by me) on this subject:


* My father was furious at me for speaking the truth. In an effort to keep the peace, I deleted the post (though, while writing this post now, have added a link from that post to the Wayback Machine’s archival record). This effort failed; dad stopped speaking to me shortly thereafter. Incidentally, ideas expressed in it emerge in Was the Cat in the Hat Black?: The Hidden Racism of Children’s Literature and the Need for Diverse Books (notably, the end of Chapter 3), but (unlike the original post) do so without identifying specific individuals.

Why Trump Jails Crying Children. How We Resist. (A Twitter Essay)

By Philip Nel

1. The Trump regime feels threatened by crying children because they — and all refugees — refute the Trumpist/fascist lie that humanity depends upon citizenship.

— Philip Nel (@philnel) June 21, 2018

2. As Hannah Arendt wrote of refugees, they “have lost all distinctive political qualities,” “lost all other qualities and relationships—except that they [are] still human.”

— Philip Nel (@philnel) June 21, 2018

3. Refugees and asylum-seekers embody our shared humanity. They prove that humanity does not depend upon nationality. They prove that Trump is a liar and a bigot.

— Philip Nel (@philnel) June 21, 2018

4. We already have ample proof that he is both liar and bigot, but my point is that Trumpists fear refugees because (to paraphrase Agamben) they expose the fiction of nationhood.

— Philip Nel (@philnel) June 21, 2018

5. Refugees and asylum-seekers expose the immorality of basing human rights on nationhood, and challenge not only nationalism but the nation-state itself.

— Philip Nel (@philnel) June 21, 2018

6. (I’m lifting this idea from Giorgio Agamben’s “Beyond Human Rights” [1993], which appears in Means Without End: Notes on Politics [2000].)

— Philip Nel (@philnel) June 21, 2018

7. We should not be fooled by yesterday’s photo-op. Trump will continue his cruelty. He will keep separating families. He has NOT changed his policy. Don’t take my word for it. Read the text of his executive order. https://t.co/PNdpWlwVfT

— Philip Nel (@philnel) June 21, 2018

8. It affirms the policy of “detaining alien families together where appropriate and consistent with law and available resources” — notice that “together” is qualified by “where appropriate” and “available resources,” thus allowing more separation.

— Philip Nel (@philnel) June 21, 2018

9. Note also that “Alien family” means a “person’s alien child or alien children” and “alien child” means people under the age of 18 who are “not a citizen or national of the United States.”

— Philip Nel (@philnel) June 21, 2018

10. So, media like the @KCStar are being played. This headline is not true. I repeat: read the text of Trump’s executive order. https://t.co/PNdpWlwVfT pic.twitter.com/G6fDoHCUw2

— Philip Nel (@philnel) June 21, 2018

11. And there are NO provisions for reuniting children with their families. The U.S. government is not even tracking them. (How is an infant supposed to find its mother or father?) #FamiliesBelongTogetherhttps://t.co/ABFR4QBaBX

— Philip Nel (@philnel) June 21, 2018

12. It is up to us to keep the pressure on. #FamiliesBelongTogether https://t.co/YABf5QUyf7

— Philip Nel (@philnel) June 21, 2018

13. Join the #FamiliesBelongTogether protests (or organize one) on Saturday June 30. https://t.co/TA6PPX0WnR

— Philip Nel (@philnel) June 21, 2018

14. Call your senators and congresspeople. This is the Capitol Switchboard number: (202) 224-3121. Or, better, call the local office: https://t.co/zKOYKukIg8

— Philip Nel (@philnel) June 21, 2018

15. Find where children are being detained (imprisoned) in your area, and #SurroundICE #OccupyICEhttps://t.co/Saiqg75EkK

— Philip Nel (@philnel) June 21, 2018

16. Tell the truth about immigrants. #ImmigrantsMakeAmericaGreat https://t.co/l2aqWSWhjr

— Philip Nel (@philnel) June 21, 2018

17. Learn the truth about U.S. history. (Tearing children from their parents is not new.) #KeepFamiliesTogether https://t.co/pqOMaHU0HP

— Philip Nel (@philnel) June 21, 2018

18. @Slate has assembled a more comprehensive list of resources. https://t.co/s93avaytKu #KeepFamiliesTogether

— Philip Nel (@philnel) June 21, 2018

19. Do not let America stand for this. Silence is complicity. The time to act is now. #KeepFamiliesTogether https://t.co/nI0Vs843Ff

— Philip Nel (@philnel) June 21, 2018

20. And stay vigilant. Unless we stop them, they are coming for naturalized citizens next.https://t.co/Fh10MzkRRG

— Philip Nel (@philnel) June 21, 2018

21. As @sarahkendzior says, “Do not accept brutality and cruelty as normal even if it is sanctioned. Protect the vulnerable and encourage the afraid.”https://t.co/o4AJ04O3pz

— Philip Nel (@philnel) June 21, 2018

22. Long-term advice. Remember to VOTE in November, and know that the recent #SCOTUS ruling will make it harder for you to vote. So check the laws in your state, and be prepared to fight for your right.https://t.co/bx1LzCIFlZ

— Philip Nel (@philnel) June 21, 2018

23. We need to #AbolishICE. They are Trump’s Gestapo. They delight in terrorizing people.https://t.co/8cJKbPtemh

— Philip Nel (@philnel) June 21, 2018

24. Ultimately, the Trump regime needs to be prosecuted for crimes against humanity. #HoldTrumpAccountablehttps://t.co/yuf17d643P

— Philip Nel (@philnel) June 21, 2018

25. Why not send a formal complaint now?
Attention: Office Information and Evidence Unit, Office of the Prosecutor
The International Criminal Court
Post Office Box 19519
2500 CM The Hague
The Netherlands
or EMAIL: otp.informationdesk@icc-cpi.int
or FAX: +31 70 515 8555.

— Philip Nel (@philnel) June 21, 2018

26. In case it may be of use, I have also posted the full Twitter essay here: https://t.co/gW4Lmuw9eD #KeepFamiliesTogether

— Philip Nel (@philnel) June 21, 2018


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