The following are among the most thought-provoking papers from last week’s Southern American Studies Association conference at Georgia State University in Atlanta.
Stanley Thangaraj, “Competing Masculinities: Sport and Ethnic Minorities in Atlanta,” Department of Sociology, Vanderbilt University
In this intriguing paper, Stanley Thangaraj adds to the growing literature on the importance of leisure space in providing a means for urban and national membership. Focusing on the role of Asian only basketball leagues in and around Atlanta, Georgia, Thangaraj explores the importance of sport in creating alternative masculinities, forging community formation, and providing a means to citizenship for South Asian American men. Pushing back against tropes of perpetual foreignness ascribed to South Asian American born citizens since the Banned Zone immigration Act of 1917, the Thind ruling in 1923 and the resurgence of anti-South Asian racism in the post 9/11 period, basketball leagues provide a site for community formation. Linking Sihks, Pakistanis, and Indians of numerous regions, the Asian Ballers League enabled these groups to express a form of “American” masculinity that negates traditional asexuality and passiveness conflated with South Asian Americans, while participating in a uniquely American activity. Thangaraj accounts for class differences arising from those born after the 1965 Immigration Act and those arriving in the wake of the 1980 Family Reunification Act, with newer South Asian Americans suffering a notable lack of social and economic capital in comparison with their 1965 antecedents. Though such leagues craft a sort of pan-ethnic identity, Thangaraj notes that such developments were not without their pitfalls as Blacks remain outside the traditional purview of such leagues and often racialized when present within them. Thangaraj’s research offers an intricate and fascinating investigation into how South Asian Americans see themselves, their relationship to each other, and their ties to other ethnic groups, notably Latinos and Blacks. A post doctoral fellow at Vanderbilt University, Dr. Thangaraj can be contacted at Stanley.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Matt Miller, “Millennium Sissy: The Gay Male Rappers of New Orleans,” Institute of Liberal Arts, Emory University
Though segments of the rap community have long been accused of homophobia and misogyny, new developments in the New Orleans rap scene suggest a means to transcend such problematic constructs. Focusing on the “sissy” rappers’ appropriation of New Orleans “Bounce,” Matt Miller cleverly illustrates the openly gay and transgressive nature of new regional rap icons like Katey Red and Big Freedia. Adopting a “Butch Queen” rather than “Drag Queen” persona, Katey Red and others exude pride in their sexuality, dismissing men who engage in similar homosexual acts but deny them publicly. Blunt, joyous, and sexual, sissy rappers embrace the supra localism of New Orleans bounce, celebrating local housing projects, block parties, and other Big Easy idiosyncrasies. Careful not to overplay the freedom such individuals enjoy, Miller points out that in many cases the deeply based place-based identities of these rappers and bounce itself, has enabled them in many ways to transcend homophobia so ingrained in American culture. Moreover, as Miller suggests, they remain perfectly situated to appeal to wider audiences of white middle class audiences, notably “hipsters” and bohemians looking to challenge traditional domesticities and gender roles. Finally, consisting of primarily working class black men, sissy rappers illustrate the powerful influence of grassroots cultural movements that build support through block parties, local clubs, and community events to change broader perceptions. Miller’s work reminds us that agency can start from the most unlikely places and from the most discriminated against groups to create something new, viable, and potentially revolutionary.
See a clip from Miller’s documentary about the bounce music scene, Ya Heard Me, here.
Eve Errickson, “The Mobile Home Park: A One Time Design Revolution Reconsidered as Vernacular Architecture and Artifact of Legal Inconvenience,” National Trust for Historic Preservation, Washington DC
Eve Errickson traces the mobile home’s origins as a form of luxury travel to its designation as a low-income shelter for marginalized populations in this insightful presentation. Though adopted from upper class ideas of transportation, the post-war housing crisis led to predictions that the mobile home served as a partial solution to future housing problems. Affordable, mobile, and simple, many believed pre-fabricated mobile homes served as a model for planners and municipalities. Yet, plagued by lack of regulation and often flimsy design models, mobile homes spiked in popularity several times from the 1950s to the 1970s to the 1990s even as their value and social capital continued to decline. Still, they remain a consistent presence among southern communities. Errickson noted that future investigations into why these forms of shelter have been labeled the purview of white trash need to be excavated, as mobile home dwellers remain one of the few social groups that people find acceptable to denigrate publicly.