I’m an associate professor of English and the Director of Graduate Studies for Comparative Race and Ethnic Studies at Texas Christian University, where I teach twentieth- and twenty-first-century American literature, American cultural studies, critical race and ethnic studies, and critical sports studies. For the 2022–23 academic year, I will be a visiting residential fellow at the University of Connecticut Humanities Institute.
I’m the author of Empire of Defense: Race and the Cultural Politics of Permanent War (University of Chicago Press, 2019), which tells the story of how the United States turned war into defense. When the Truman administration dissolved the Department of War in 1947 and formed the Department of Defense, it marked not the end of conventional war but, I argue, the introduction of new racial criteria for who could wage it––for which countries and communities could claim self-defense.
From the formation of the DOD to the long wars of the twenty-first century, the United States rebranded war as the defense of Western liberalism from first communism, then crime, authoritarianism, and terrorism. Officials learned to frame state violence against Asians, Black and brown people, Arabs, and Muslims as the safeguarding of human rights from illiberal beliefs and behaviors. Through government documents, news media, and the writing and art of Joseph Heller, June Jordan, Trinh T. Minh-ha, I. F. Stone, and others, I show how defense sustained and remade a weakened color line with new racial categories (the communist, the criminal, the authoritarian, the terrorist) that cast the state’s ideological enemies outside the human of human rights. Amid the rise of anticolonial and antiracist movements the world over, defense secured the future of war and white dominance.
My second book, How White Men Won the Culture Wars: A History of Veteran America (University of California Press, 2021), shows how a broad contingent of white men––conservative and liberal, hawk and dove, vet and nonvet––transformed the Vietnam War into a staging ground for a post–civil rights white reunion. Conservatives could celebrate white veterans as raceless embodiments of the nation. Liberals could treat them as minoritized heroes whose voices must be heard. Erasing Americans of color, Southeast Asians, and women from the war, white men with stories of vets on their minds could agree, after civil rights and feminism, that they had suffered and deserved more. From the POW/MIA and veterans’ mental health movements to Rambo and “Born in the U.S.A.,” they remade their racial identities for an age of color blindness and multiculturalism in the image of the Vietnam vet. No one wins in a culture war—except, I argue, white men dressed in army green.
I recently published my third book, The Strange Career of Racial Liberalism (Stanford University Press [Post45 Series], 2022), which traces the rise of liberal antiracism, showing how reformers’ faith in time, in the moral arc of the universe, has undercut future movements with the insistence that racism constitutes a time-limited crisis to be solved with time-limited remedies. Most historians attribute the shortcomings of the civil rights era to a conservative backlash or to the fracturing of the liberal establishment in the late 1960s, but the civil rights movement also faced resistance from a liberal “frontlash,” from antiredistributive allies who, before it ever took off, constrained what the movement could demand and how it could demand it. Telling the stories of Ruth Benedict, Kenneth Clark, W. E. B. Du Bois, John Howard Griffin, Pauli Murray, Lillian Smith, Richard Wright, and others, I reveal how Americans learned to wait on time for racial change and the enduring harm of that trust in the clock.
With Amira Rose Davis, I’m currently editing a forthcoming special issue of American Quarterly titled “The Body Issue: Sports and the Politics of Embodiment.” I’m also writing a new book, “The Naturals: How Sports Make Race in America,” a cultural history of sports and racial ideology since civil rights. While most historians of race identify imperialism, law, and science as the chief technologies of racialization, I consider how athletes, broadcasters, fans, and writers have articulated ideas about race and gender that do not “trickle down” from the knowledge classes but, for better or worse, and more often for worse, emerge from the gym, the pub, the stadium, and the sports-news studio. From the advent of the all-Black title fight and the invention of a Black/brown color line in baseball to the rise of white sports intellectualism, fantasy football, and genetic neo–race science, “The Naturals” tells the story of an uncritical race theory––of how sports make race in America.
I have published articles in American Literary History, American Literature, American Quarterly, Contemporary Literature, Critical Inquiry, Modern Fiction Studies, and Representations, among other journals, and contributed essays to the Los Angeles Review of Books.
I have received support for my research from a Humanities Institute Fellowship at the University of Connecticut, a Mellon Sawyer Seminar Fellowship at the University of California, Irvine, and a First Book Institute Fellowship at Pennsylvania State University. I completed my PhD in 2015 at the University of Connecticut.