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MCLA professor and Berkshire native holding book launch party in North Adams today

O06415 Hannah Noel
Jeff Sabo
Miami University
Dr. Hannah Noel Haynes.

This afternoon, a professor at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts is holding a launch event for her new book on racial politics and discourse in North Adams.

Dr. Hannah Noel Haynes is Associate Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies at MCLA. At Gallery 51 in downtown North Adams at 4, she’ll hold a talk about the publication of her first book.

“My book is a study in white rhetoric- So, rhetoric being the art of persuasion," she told WAMC. "White deflection is a two-step dialectic. It involves calls of white victimhood, accompanied by the appropriation of racial justice rhetoric.”

The book is titled “Deflective Whiteness: Co-opting Black and Latinx Identity Politics.”

“One of the sites I look at has to do with country music and the controversy around Lil Nas X," said Haynes. "So, his song ‘Old Town Road’ was taken from the Billboard’s top country charts for not sounding country enough. And I talked about the ways in which contemporary country music often willfully forgets the origins in Black culture and traditions that are so important to country music in imagining and in scripting this idea of country.”

Haynes, who got her undergraduate degree at Williams College, is a Berkshire County native. Hailing from Florida, a community of under 1,000 on the Vermont border, she says there are plenty of examples of white rhetoric to be found locally.

“I grew up off of Route 2," said Haynes. "I don't know if you if you're familiar with the image of Route 2 that is used on different signs, but it's a ‘hail to the sunrise’ statue. And the ‘hail to the sunrise’ statue is a statue of a purportedly Mohawk Indian, right? But it's actually created by a white fraternal organization, and it was erected by a white fraternal organization. And this isn’t actually Mohawk Territory.”

Another example Haynes draws upon is the ubiquitous emblem of the commonwealth.

“I will show my students Massachusetts state flag right next to the Mississippi state flag," she told WAMC. "And I say these are probably two of the most racist state flags that still exist. And my students are like, well, I can obviously see the Mississippi state flag has a Confederate flag. But what's wrong with having an Indigenous person on the Massachusetts state flag? And then we read and research a little bit more. So, there's a disembodied arm with a sword above this Indigenous person. Some of the iconography of the wardrobe was inspired by King Philip or Metacom, who was murdered by white settler colonialists and whose head was put on display. We kind of look and research, and we translate the words ‘by the sword, we seek peace.’ And it becomes, you know, oh, that's wrong. Like, there's some things about that seem- Students seem uncomfortable by it, oftentimes, and then they think about the Massachusetts State Flag in a different way.”

While on paper Berkshire County and Massachusetts at large present as deeply liberal parts of the United States, Haynes says that perception is overly simplistic and masks more complex dynamics.

“Yes, if you look at the overall demographics, there are many places in Berkshire County that are very blue," she explained. "But I would also say that there are many places in Massachusetts that aren't. Many small towns, the small town that I grew up in, that my family has been living in for – you know, I think I'm the eighth generation – is solidly Republican when you look at our voting demographics. So, I think that there is this misnomer that Massachusetts and New England in general is a pretty liberal space. But I think that that's not true. I think that both liberal and conservativism exists within these spaces. And one of the things I actually talk about within my book a little bit is the ways in which- I actually begin my book with talking about Nazi slogans, Nazi slogans that romanticize rural environmentalism and rural spaces in general, and then I connect that to the Charlottesville protests, and I think about the ways in which these rural spaces are sometimes the focus on political discussions today, but they have been in the past as well. And what is the rhetoric that link these different discussions? What is it about rural places? I'm not saying that every rural place is ideologically conservative, by no means, but what I'm saying is that I think it's important not to view spaces as a monolith.”

Haynes says her book is an argument about shifting ideologies away from thinking of racism as a personal failing and more of a systemic process — one that appears just as readily in liberal spaces as conservative ones.

“I was really interested in the coverage of a major immigration rate in U.S. history, and the Postville immigration rates," she said. "So, I have a chapter on the Postville immigration rate. And I did I study NPR, I looked at the demographics and you know, NPR's listening audiences are relatively well educated and affluent. And I look at the way that there are certain strategic erasures within that coverage that was from 2008, and I just, you know, through leaving out certain information, or kind of always ending a story with thinking about the culpability of an individual, that can create a framing mechanism. And my argument is that, this is not deliberate, that this is not something that we're all aware of, but that racism today is more covert and that it kind of materializes in ways that we're not always aware of. But its influence is most impactful when it's impacted through institutions, right, because institutions can kind of shape the ways ideologies work.”

She says the experiences of the immigrants at the core of the story were lost in NPR’s coverage back in 2008.

“The lead was buried, so to speak," Haynes told WAMC. "Because that's a bigger story. It's a messier story. It involves the private prison industry, which is one of the biggest lobbies in this country. It involves the neoliberalization of our immigration system. What I mean by that is kind of the privatization of our prison industry, the increasing incarceration of immigrants that's happened over the past 20 plus years, and kind of thinking about, you know, what happens to these people who are then put in jail for two years? What happens when they go back home?”

Haynes hopes her readers’ takeaway from the book is to be more perceptive about the pervasive impact of race and racism in the world around them.

“One of the biggest things is the importance of listening and hearing," she said. "It's important sometimes to sit with things that are uncomfortable. I think that we grow a lot as people from that. I also think that it's important to truly- Like if you can hear people's argument, but to truly listen, to truly take the time to read the work, to go to like community events, to really understand.”

MCLA Associate Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies Dr. Hannah Noel Haynes holds her launch party for her first published book, “Deflective Whiteness: Co-opting Black and Latinx Identity Politics,” at Gallery 51 at 4.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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