BR Blog

January 31, 2015 American Sniper: Patriotism Is Personal Judith Levine

Image: Warner Bros. Entertainment

“‘American Sniper’ is a film of soaring patriotism and an ode to our courageous military,” declares the Orthodox rabbi and ultra-rightwing gadfly Shmuley Boteach, in the New York Observer.

“‘American Sniper’” is the most powerful anti-war film I have ever seen,” says SiriusXM radio host and self-identified Muslim Dean Obeidallah on

This ambiguity goes a long way toward explaining why “American Sniper”—Clint Eastwood’s paean to Chris Kyle, the Navy SEAL who was the deadliest sniper in U.S. military history—may become the highest-grossing American feature since the dawn of the talkies. As Tyler Coates writes in

“If you go into the film thinking that American soldiers deserve unequivocal support simply for the job they did overseas, then you’ll find the film to be an enthusiastic take on American heroism. If, like me, you are dubious of what our efforts in Iraq actually...

January 28, 2015 Finding Public Relief Claude S. Fischer

Women gossiping in a drugstore, Washington, D.C., 1943. Photo: Esther Bubley / Library of Congress

One of the major changes in American life about 100-120 years ago was the domestication of public spaces, particularly in our cities, making them places where “respectable” women went shopping and for entertainment. As described in an earlier post, the streets were historically dangerous places for women, even in daytime. Beginning after the Civil War and accelerating around the end of the century, authorities established dependable public order in many areas of the cities, especially in commercial districts, to the point that going downtown rather than avoiding it was what fashionable middle class women did. (Americans went through another cycle of shunning public spaces in the 1950s to ‘90s and then flocking back to them more recently; see here.)

Two just-published papers reveal yet more of how women claimed urban spaces in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. One describes how middle-...

January 22, 2015 Why We Tolerate Biased Policing Richard T. Ford

Image: Justin Norman

The recent police killings in Staten Island and Ferguson, Missouri are hardly unprecedented. Sadly, they are not even surprising: such abuses are a recurrent theme of American law enforcement, a toxic byproduct of a society saturated with subtle racism and military-style policing underwritten by a tacit mandate to quarantine potentially disruptive poor people. Demands to root out and punish biased officers are understandable, but real improvement will require comprehensive institutional reform.

Every racially charged incident may not involve bias, but the frequency with which police brutality involves black victims suggests that many of them do. And in some cases there is additional evidence of prejudice. For instance, Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson described his victim, Michael Brown, as a “demon” who seemed unfazed by mere bullets. This sort of dehumanization is a consistent theme: in 1991 Los Angeles police officer Powell described Rodney King as a monster with super strength who made animal noises after being struck repeatedly with police batons. Shortly before participating...

January 21, 2015 South Africa's 99 Percent Jessica Pothering

Photograph: South African Black Entrepeneurs Forum

From Lookout Hill in Khayelitsha, colorful, tightly packed rows of small, one-story homes are visible as far as the eye can see. The view from the observation deck is vast and flat until interrupted by a distant stretch of mountains, which bridges South Africa’s fastest growing township with the horizon.

On a Sunday afternoon, the shutters of a small sewing business below the deck were opened and several women arrived for work. Occupying a quarter of its fifteen or so sewing stations, they pulled pieces of canvas from tidy folded stacks and were assembling them into branded tote bags for business conferences and expos. Outside, the streets were crowded with pedestrians, shoppers, and share taxis, but with many local businesses closed for a day of rest, the neighborhood felt calmer than it would on a Saturday.

Thirty kilometers outside the center of Cape Town, Khayelitsha is home to more than a million people. It is dense and sprawling and contrasts starkly with the order and elegance of the city center and with the spacious, laid-back atmosphere of Cape Town’s posh beachside neighborhoods. There are no high-rise office buildings as there are in the central business district and no swanky cafés or chic restaurants...

January 20, 2015 Americans Love King Because They Don't Understand Him Simon Waxman


Each year, the Martin Luther King holiday brings with it a barrage of citations and encomia. Yesterday was no exception. His least controversial words were quoted and contorted to suit every political whim. His legacy was again burnished by all. We were reminded that by now he is not a man but a civic saint.

All this agreement should give us pause. King was a divisive figure. Though his dreams—what we mostly remember today, because we like to pretend we’ve achieved them—bent toward harmony, his actions evoked tension and won the ire even of many who considered themselves civil rights supporters.

If Americans knew what King stood for, there would be no day named in his honor. It would be impossible to capitalize on his legacy by, say, selling cosmetics, as the Mary Kay Foundation attempted. Indeed, the celebration of King’s official legacy as a cuddly figure of unity and...