I’m an associate professor of English at Texas Christian University, where I teach twentieth- and twenty-first-century American literature, American cultural studies, and critical race and ethnic studies.
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 racial reunion. Conservatives could celebrate white vets as deracinated 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 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 completed a third book, The Strange Career of Racial Liberalism (forthcoming from Stanford University Press [Post45 Series] in March 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.
My next book, “The Naturals: How Sports Make Race in America,” argues that sports culture, more than a mere reflection of race in the United States, has furnished Americans with common-sense ideas about racial difference after civil rights. Sports media have often functioned to stabilize unstable racial categories, naturalizing ideas about Black athletic ability and white administrative skill, distancing Afro-Caribbean ballplayers from diasporic Blackness as “Latin,” and introducing whole new vocabularies for talking about race without talking about race (“football IQ”; “Linsanity”; “student-athlete”). In no other domain do Americans feel so free to compare, contrast, and sort bodies. Despite what some state legislatures might have us believe, few Americans will ever take a course in critical race theory. Many more learn about race from SportsCenter, their fantasy football league, and the neo–race science of David Epstein’s 2013 best seller The Sports Gene––an uncritical race theory deserving of a few critics.
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.
At TCU, I’m a core member and the Director of Graduate Studies of the Comparative Race and Ethnic Studies Department. I have received support for my research from a Mellon Sawyer Seminar Fellowship from the University of California, Irvine, a First Book Institute Fellowship from Pennsylvania State University, and an OpEd Project Fellowship from the University of California, Merced. I completed my PhD in 2015 at the University of Connecticut.