Adding the History of Race, Democracy, and Civic Engagement to U.S. Politics

A week after Election Day, it’s apparent that American democracy is as sick as ever, and any hoped-for vaccine remains a long way off. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I keep thinking about the importance of history–how we got to this point, why Trump continues to attract so many white voters, and why the details of the past matter if we ever hope to create a more perfect union.

I’ve been considering writing an essay on this subject all week, but then I remembered that I had already done so back in 2018. Covering much of the above terrain, it begins:

“Contrary to popular belief, the U.S. is not now and has never been a democracy. . . . The antidemocratic composition of the Senate and the Electoral College are just the clearest testaments to our unequal past. White Southern and rural men still cast votes that count more heavily than those of urban, coastal voters.

“With the nation’s demographics in flux and open white supremacy resurgent in the body politic, any hope for a new multi-ethnic democracy in America must grapple with the nation’s true history. . . . Only direct, open discussion of our racial past and present will allow us to create wide-ranging new measures to promote equity—the key ingredient that allows people of all backgrounds to engage in a functioning, multicultural democracy.

“Counter-intuitively, this sweeping work begins with building democratic relationships within and across ethnic lines, through countless individual conversations on doorsteps, in living rooms, and at local community centers. The current attacks on democratic institutions are but symptoms of a deeper disease: the lack of full civic participation by the nation’s ordinary residents.”

Click here to keep reading my post on the Take Care blog.

Open Letter on DACA

Dear Colleagues—

I write today with a heavy heart to express my outrage and despair at the federal government’s decision to end the program of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).  As you may know, dozens if not hundreds of our students at TCU are DACA recipients, and some others may be wholly undocumented.  Countless more TCU students hail from mixed-status families that include undocumented or “DACA-mented” members.  All of them now fear for their own or their loved ones’ lives.  It is therefore no exaggeration to state that the current administration’s latest action represents an unprecedented assault on members of our much-vaunted TCU community.  The repeal of DACA should be condemned as such by all university leaders, faculty, staff, and students.

I’m sure I’m not the only one among us who has had difficult, heartbreaking conversations in my office with TCU students who are on DACA or undocumented and/or who have relatives with precarious immigration statuses.  I have become particularly close with one student recipient of DACA who was brought to the U.S. when he was one year old, and, needless to say, he had little input in the matter.  He was raised as an American kid, excelled in school, and earned an academic scholarship to TCU.  When the previous administration offered an opportunity for him to normalize his immigration status, he jumped at it, despite justified fears that turning over his most personal information to the distant federal government could later be used against him and his family.  He became a leader among TCU students; his very presence and willingness to share his experience in the classroom helped students who were native-born U.S. citizens better understand the human side of immigration policy debates, fulfilling the promise that diversity in educational settings represents a compelling interest for all.  Now his worst nightmare has become a reality: a political system that once called him a “dreamer” and encouraged him to seek out an education and become a productive contributor to society (if not a citizen) now casts him beyond the pale, worthy only of expulsion.  And the government now knows where to find him and his family whenever the promised “deportation squads” kick into high gear.  This student isn’t alone—I’m sure many of you have heard and seen stories just like his and are similarly concerned about your students, friends, families, and neighbors.

As an historian, I’m particularly outraged by the arbitrary and capricious nature of this reversal and of U.S. immigration policy throughout the American past.  Those who chant “Build the Wall” forget that our nation had all but open borders for most of its history, despite the restriction that only whites could naturalize (and acknowledging the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882).  My own family fled the anti-Semitic pogroms of Russia and the collapsing Kingdom of Greece and were welcomed with open arms at Ellis Island at the turn of the century.  Maybe one of them could read.  None attended college or sought skilled employment, though some of the next generation were able to do so.  Then, a century and a few months ago in 1917, Congress imposed a literacy requirement on immigrants that would have kept my family out and extended the Asiatic Barred Zone across that whole continent.  In 1924, Congress passed the sweeping Johnson-Reed Act, which imposed a racist quota system that targeted my extended relatives and cut off immigration from anywhere except northern and western Europe—and in the process, created the category of “illegal immigrant.”

In a reversal of sorts nearly two decades later, in 1942, growers and other business leaders in the U.S. Southwest helped Franklin D. Roosevelt create the Bracero Program, a wartime emergency measure designed to bring Mexican guest workers to U.S. fields and industry while denying them basic human rights.  The program continued until 1964.  Finally, in the Hart-Celler Act a year later, Congress revamped the quota system to make it less racist but also imposed a cap, for the first time, on authorized immigration from the Western Hemisphere.

The number that lawmakers arbitrarily chose in 1965 remained far short of the labor needs of U.S. industry, so migrants from Mexico and further south continued to trek northward, even if they had to do so in the shadows and without papers.  At the same time, U.S. foreign and trade policy and military expeditions abroad helped push people out of their homes, particularly in Central America and Mexico, adding them to the migrant stream.  Some of them carried one-year-old kids like my student, and like many of yours.  As the saying goes, “There but for the Grace of God, go I.”

I’m simply appalled that we as a people and nation continue to find new ways to give concrete, material meaning to the belief that one human life is worth more than another.  I find the repeal of DACA and other recent anti-immigrant measures unconscionable, immoral, and even—despite our country’s roots in slavery, genocide, and conquest—un-American.  I’ve never been more aware of my privilege as a U.S. citizen and more scared for my brothers and sisters (and students) who happened to have been born somewhere else.

And I’ve never been more willing to stand up and fight for the rights of people like my student, his many DACA-mented and undocumented colleagues at TCU, the 800,000+ students like them across the U.S., the half-million or more undocumented people in our DFW metro area, and the more than 11 million people nationwide who have come here to work only to face discrimination, abuse, and now deportation.  The bottom line is that we want and need immigrants in order to grow and thrive as a nation, a local community, and a world-class, values centered university with our mission: “to educate individuals to think and act as ethical leaders and responsible citizens in the global community.”

At the very least, here on campus we should stand up for “Frogs First” by publicly defending and protecting the most vulnerable members of our TCU community.  I understand that some students have organized a protest today starting at noon at the Founders’ Statue by the library.  From there a march will proceed toward Sadler Hall.  I’ll be there and hope to see some of you as well.  Our students need us.

In solidarity,


Protesters, the council and the many meanings of racism

Published in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, online on August 18, 2017 5:59 PM

At last Tuesday night’s meeting, City Councilman Brian Byrd and Mayor Betsy Price chafed at protesters who labeled them “racist.”

Indeed, both sides of the debate over whether Fort Worth should join other local governments in litigation against Senate Bill 4 — the so-called “show-me-your papers” or “sanctuary cities” law — hinged on its larger meaning.

Councilman Byrd noted, “tonight is not a vote on whether we are or are not racists.” The mayor added, “Calling people names and threatening people will only divide people.”

While the immediate issue centered on immigration, the real discussion was all about race, racism, and racial inequality. The problem that surfaced was that the citizen protesters and council members harbored different understandings of those very terms and concepts.

The defensive posture of Byrd, Price and their colleagues stemmed from a conception of “racism” that is attitudinal or behavioral. In other words, they don’t hold racist beliefs, they said, and they don’t hurl racial epithets or defend slavery, so therefore they can’t be racist. In the wake of last weekend’s events in Charlottesville, it’s clear that they are sincere — they aren’t intentional racists.

But for decades, scholars of American race relations have moved toward a more sophisticated understanding of racism that emphasizes its structural and institutional forms. Prejudice still matters, but it is its wedding to power that creates white supremacist outcomes. In some cases, attitudes or intent remain relatively unimportant.

What matters is the impact of a given policy or institutional norm. We ask, “Does a law or practice produce results that are measurably unequal for members of different racial groups?” If so, if it leads to disparate outcomes that reinforce racial inequality, we call the act or practice “racist.”

One could also call it “white supremacist,” not because it is wrapped in Confederate colors, but because it extends the racial wealth, opportunity or other gaps — and thereby reinforces a system that confers advantages on white people (as a group) and disadvantages people of color.

Senate Bill 4 fails this test. Whatever its intent, the bill appears likely to produce racially disparate outcomes. Police chiefs across the state have stated that the law will make it more difficult for them to do their jobs. Fort Worth Chief Joel Fitzgerald reassured the council and audience that he would create new safeguards against racial profiling, but the crowd remained skeptical.

Citizen-activists shared countless stories of confronting discrimination in law enforcement and of the ubiquitous fear of deportation in Latino communities. Over two meetings, some 150 community leaders, most of them Latino U.S. citizens, called on the city to join the lawsuit, exceeding those on the other side by a 10-to-1 ratio.

As the council finally took up to the motion after midnight, I felt certain that one of the four white men on the dais, or the mayor, who is white, would heed the advice of the people who were most affected by the bill and who stood to lose the most from its implementation.

Instead, the five city leaders who voted against the lawsuit coldly ignored the experiences, perspectives and pleas of Fort Worth’s communities of color. They made it clear that they weren’t racist in the attitudinal sense, but that their feelings had been hurt, and that they wanted ongoing dialogue with the people whom they had just ignored. Above all, they reminded us that they, the white city mother and fathers, knew what was best for their most vulnerable constituents — not the people themselves.

Such a stance represents racial paternalism at its worst.

Before the civil rights movement, which I study, self-styled “moderate” local officials in the South delayed integration for years. They claimed that they supported justice but that the time for change, or the means of protest, or the process of reform just weren’t yet right. Instead they advocated gradualism and dialogue, and they truly believed that they alone knew what was best for their cities.

Yet the reality soon exploded in their faces because they flatly refused to listen to — to really hear — the people of color who stood before them and patiently explained their grievances, dreams and desires. How can dialogue take place in that context? What can the scared immigrants and their relatives and allies conclude except that city leaders are insincere in their desire to represent and support all Fort Worth residents?

Last week’s council majority does not carry torches or hold any racist views, but their vote against joining the lawsuit was still an act of racism. It reinforces white supremacy as a system and further divides the community they claim they wish to unite.

Max Krochmal is an award-winning author and associate professor of history and director of comparative race and ethnic studies at Texas Christian University.

TCU Justice Journey Featured in TCU Magazine


Justice Journey illuminates Chicano culture in Texas in conjunction with the Latino/a Civil Rights Struggles course.

Originally published by TCU Magazine at

The Justice Journey group stands outside La Unión del Pueblo Entero headquarters with TCU and United Farm Workers flags. Photo courtesy of Moisés Acuña-Gurrola

Approaching the border wall — the one that already exists between the U.S. and Mexico — was an unforgettable experience for Alyssa Clark ’17.

“When you think about the border wall, it’s very symbolic to immigration,” said Clark, who earned a degree in political science in May. “Then you see it and for [immigrants], it’s concrete.”

Clark and 18 classmates visited the helicopter-patrolled border area near McAllen, Texas, as part of the TCU Justice Journey in March.

The wall wasn’t what Clark was expecting. Parts of it are made of wood or metal posts. In other areas, there are vast stretches of land with no wall at all.

“The concept we were struggling with [on the trip] was that borders are man-made,” Clark said, “and there is no reason for this wall to exist because the land across is the same as the land here.”

Bus Trip’s Origins

The Justice Journey bus trip during spring break took place in conjunction with the Latino/a Civil Rights Struggles course. Emily Farris, assistant professor of political science, and Max Krochmal, assistant professor of history, taught the course, which was modeled on examinations of the African-American civil rights movement.

For the spring semester, Farris and Krochmal focused on the Chicano movement of the 1960s, which sought to empower and achieve institutional equality for Mexican-Americans.

In discussing immigration law and delving into what it means to be a Chicano, the professors and students traveled to important locations in Chicano history in Texas, including Austin, San Antonio and the Rio Grande Valley.

The bus trip, Krochmal said, was “a chance for students to see normal people at the very bottom of our economy who have been able to come together and improve their situation and advocate for themselves.”

“Our mission as an institution is about preparing students to be active citizens and ethical leaders in a global community,” he said. “To do that, we have to expose students to a range of experiences and we have to help them think about differences and how certain communities have access to resources that others don’t.”

Students and Allies

Clark said she was excited about exploring her Latina heritage. “I wanted to learn about the history my [high] school didn’t teach me.”

Samuel Ramirez ’17, took the civil rights bus tour in 2016. He said he wanted to take the Chicano course because it pertained to his ethnic background.

“Growing up in Texas, I didn’t really get that side of history,” Ramirez said. “I didn’t really get a lot of insight on how people like me were able to advance in the U.S.”

But not all of the students on the Justice Journey identify themselves as Chicano or Latino.

Mackenzie Holst ‘17, who went on the trip, said more white people should fight for racial equality alongside people of color.

“I’m always striving to be a better ally, and that means more than just writing ‘Black Lives Matter’ on Facebook statuses,” Holst said. “Going on this trip actually gave me historical and cultural context for what we’re fighting for.”

Ramirez said people of all ethnic backgrounds should learn about cultures different from their own and the Justice Journey is important for more than the 12.1 percent of TCU students who identify as Hispanic or Latino. “It’s good for other people to take [the course] and become allies. It creates that unity between cultures.”

A Week to Remember

During the weeklong trip, students were immersed in Chicano culture through discussion panels with activists such as Rosie Castro, one of the first Chicanas to seek elected office in Texas. The students’ itinerary included tours of historical sites such as Mission Concepción in San Antonio, where Franciscan friars converted Native Americans to Catholicism.

At the border wall, students listened to undocumented immigrants tell stories about living in the United States. Some, whose parents brought them to the U.S. at a young age, “don’t know what life is like in Mexico,” Clark said. “They only know America. They told us how they are every bit as American as you and me except for they don’t have that paper. I learned that they are people, not a number.”

The students also visited two public murals in McAllen painted by local artists to depict the Chicano community and culture. Holst said she was moved by the contrast between the artwork and the imposing border wall.

“There are walls that divide us and walls that bring us together. It just depends how we use them,” she said. “You look at the [border] wall and it’s hateful, and then you drive just down the road and you see signs of love and community.”


Political Climate

In the wake of crackdowns in the U.S., Farris said, immigration and Chicano history were timely topics for class discussion. “Thinking about the issue of immigration, immigration rights and how Latinos have approached the question of immigration over time has helped inform students in thinking about how to approach this moment in time.”

In studying Latino voting power, students in the course registered Latino youth in Fort Worth to vote. Holst said the students registered more than 250 people overall.

Clark’s group registered about 50 people during visits to two high schools and a community center. “I really want to see that I can make an impact on Latino youth,” she said. “I really want to be that change. I hope that I can see that I’m doing something for the community.”

Ramirez said the national debate over immigration helped bring Latino issues to the forefront for him.

“This whole political climate is giving us a chance to speak up,” he said. “We grew up being proud of our culture and knowing that we are important, and it’s time to put that into action. This is the time. There is no other time to do it.”


Students experienced a mural tour representing Chicano culture in McAllen, Texas. Photo courtesy of Moisés Acuña-Gurrola

Professors Emily Farris and Max Krochmal at La Unión Del Pueblo Entero headquarters in San Juan, Texas. Photo courtesy of Moisés Acuña-Gurrola

Students listen to a talk given by a member of La Unión Del Pueblo Entero. Photo courtesy of Moisés Acuña-Gurrola

Students Eric Garza and Kayla Fitzgerald take notes during a panel. Photo courtesy of Moisés Acuña-Gurrola

On their final day with La Unión Del Pueblo Entero, the students took a conga line dance break to “Mucha Muchacha.” Photo courtesy of Moisés Acuña-Gurrola

In Crystal City, the group met the first Latino mayor and member of Los Cinco, Juan Cornejo. Photo courtesy of Moisés Acuña-Gurrola

Student Johnathan Villalabos reflected on his experienced at La Unión Del Pueblo Entero in a group activity, shared what he learned, took to heart and will share after the trip. Photo courtesy of Moisés Acuña-Gurrola

Samuel Ramirez posed with a sign in Crystal City, Texas. Photo courtesy of Moisés Acuña-Gurrola

TCU student Mayra Guardiola stands in front of the U.S.-Mexico border wall during the Justice Journey. Photo courtesy of Moisés Acuña-Gurrola

While at the border, the group went to the Rio Grande River, where they found clothes left by those who had crossed. Photo courtesy of Moisés Acuña-Gurrola

Photos courtesy of Moisés Acuña-Gurrola

TXCOHP Student Websites Go Live

20151209_171130Students in the Texas Communities Oral History Project class presented their semester-long research and launched their websites last night at a community dinner at TCU.  Their small-group projects focused on the International Association of Machinists (IAM) District Lodge 776 at the Fort Worth “bomber plant” and surrounding communities; mass incarceration in Fort Worth and its effects on individuals and neighborhoods including Stop Six; and the personal and collective struggles of Fort Worth’s LGBT residents.

The websites are now live and available to the public (click the titles to visit):

The Plant and the Playground: Labor and Community in the Fort Worth Aerospace Industry

Fort Worth Mass Incarceration: An Oral History

The History of LGBT Rights in Fort Worth

Many of the people who were interviewed for the project attended the community dinner and offered their own comments and suggestions after the student presentations.  It was thrilling just to see such a diverse mix of people in the same room: union activists, community advocates for incarcerated people, and many of the city’s LGBT leaders.  Thanks to everyone who contributed to these projects!

And thanks to our sponsors: the Department of History, Center for Urban Studies, John V. Roach Honors CollegeInclusiveness and Intercultural Services, and Women and Gender Studies.


Civil Rights in Black and Brown Oral History Project

Great write-up on the CRBB Oral History Project! Thanks to IDCL TX!

Institute for Diversity and Civic Life

Part II of a series investigating projects that document religious and cultural diversity across the country.

By Lauren Horn Griffin


As we prepare to launch our own research project mapping and documenting the cultural diversity of Texas, we want to give our readers an idea of the types of initiatives from across the country that examine religion and culture in the public sphere. Each of these projects, like the IDCL, are working to provide resources that will further conversations about the challenges and possibilities of diversity in the U.S. We will be posting a series of blogs profiling a variety of projects that are dedicated to improving understandings of religious diversity.

Based at Texas Christian University, the Civil Rights in Black and Brown Oral History Project conducts interviews communicating the experiences of black and brown people in Texas from the onset of the civil rights era. Detailing the role of…

View original post 562 more words

History of Multicultural America – New Course, Fall 2015

Learn from the past…

…change the future.

flyer FINAL

A History of Multicultural America

HIST 10713 – Fall 2015 – Enroll Now!

This class surveys the making of the United States from a multicultural perspective. Spanning the precolonial era to the present, the course includes units on Native Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans, European immigrants, and Latinos/as–analyzing the different groups comparatively and in relationship to one another. In addition to history, the course includes elements of Critical Race and Ethnic Studies and explores the intersections between race/ethnicity, class, gender, and sexuality.

Students will learn this history by reading and discussing the perspectives of diverse authors and watching a series of documentary and feature films about each group.  In addition to our textbook–Ron Takaki’s classic, A Different Mirror–we will read the following books:

  • N. Scott Momaday, House Made of Dawn
  • Pauli Murray, Proud Shoes
  • Thomas Bell, Out of This Furnace
  • Oscar Zeta Acosta, The Revolt of the Cockroach People
  • Maxine Hong Kingston, Woman Warrior

Assignments include reading response papers and a family oral history interview project.  Questions Please email me at

Oral History Employment Opportunity – Civil Rights in Black and Brown – Texas, Summer 2015

banner from civilrights-site3

The Civil Rights in Black and Brown oral history project is now hiring for summer 2015!  We seek several graduate student research assistants to work full-time for two months on a large collaborative effort to collect oral history interviews among African American, Mexican American, and white civil rights activists across Texas.  Housed at Texas Christian University (TCU) in Fort Worth in partnership with nearby universities, CRBB is directed by Max Krochmal, Marvin Dulaney, Jose Angel Gutierrez, and Todd Moye.  Field research sites for 2015 include East Texas, the Brazos Valley, the Rio Grande Valley, Laredo, and El Paso.  For more details on the project, visit

Research Assistants (RAs) will undergo an intensive eight-day training at TCU that includes a workshop on the subject areas and hands-on oral history practice in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. The RAs will then be assigned to selected remote filed sites in Texas for six weeks of full-time oral history fieldwork. RAs will contact gatekeepers and consultants and interview a wide range of activists who contributed to the black and brown freedom struggles in their respective cities. Finally, RAs will return to TCU for a week of data processing and other wrap-up activities. Work begins June 5, 2015 and concludes July 31, 2015.

Research Assistants will receive a $5,000 stipend for eight weeks of full-time work as well as free lodging, most meals, and all travel expenses during the project.  Ground or air travel to and from DFW before and after the project is not provided.

Applicants must be pursuing a graduate degree in History, American Studies, African American Studies, Chicano/a-Latino/a Studies, Journalism, Political Science or a related field of study.  CRBB interviews and other data may be included in the RAs’ own research projects.  Interest or expertise in the black freedom struggle and/or long Chicano Movement is preferred, as is prior experience with oral history.  Spanish/English bilingual is also preferred but not required of all RAs.  TCU is an Affirmative Action / EEO employer, and the project seeks a diverse staff that reflects our target research subjects.

To apply, complete the online form at, AND after applying, upload a cover letter explaining your interest in the project and a full academic CV.  Applications are due on March 15, 2015, with Skype interviews to commence soon after.  Questions may be directed to or 817-257-3676.