Anthony Appiah Lecture on Identity at Villa La Pietra

Anthony Appiah presented a calm, unassuming figure as he stood in front of those gathered at Villa La Pietra Monday to deliver his talk on identity. Appiah began by breaking down our idea of identity into three categories: Nationality, Race and Culture. Appiah examined  the idea of nationality as a form of identity, looking at the concept of the nation and what it represents. Soon, it became clear that even our idea of what a nation should be is primarily a social construct, so fluid and arbitrary that a concrete definition of identity based on nationality is essentially impossible. Appiah looked at some important interpretations of what a state is through history: it has often been founded on the idea of a group of people with a shared sense of ancestry who care about that ancestry, people who share a genetic heritage. However, if we look at the sort of nation that that definition connotes, it is one known as a Romantic State, something along the lines of Benito Mussolini’s ideal Italy. A Romantic State would be one where people share a single consciousness and have no disagreements. To refute this idea, Appiah looked at many nations in Africa, such as Ghana, where despite not having a shared ancestry, (Ghana is composed of many different tribes), a national consciousness is forming nonetheless, as a product of the people of Ghana living together and working together to govern their nation–for evidence of the emergence of this national consciousness, Appiah cites the example of how people from Ghana have adopted kente cloth as the national cloth despite the fact that it is only truly native to one or two of the tribes that make up Ghana. Appiah ended his discussion on nationality by highlighting the importance of the Liberal State: a state where the people may not share the same ideas and same will, but do have a willingness to compromise with one another, to find a middle ground in an effort to move forward. Appiah pointed out that, because there is no definite national essence, a nation represents a medley of cultures and identities, meaning that we need a state where different people are capable of coming together and finding common ground. Read more

Beppe Grillo Pounces on Corruption Allegations

Beppe Grillo, leader of the Movimento Cinque Stelle

Last week, a “jus soli”—meaning “right of the soil,” commonly referring to birthright citizenship—bill emerged on the agenda of the Italian Senate. Such a bill, should it pass, would allow all children born to foreign, non-EU parents who have have a valid residence permit for at least five years in Italy and can pass an Italian language test to become citizens. The law already passed in the Chamber of Deputies (the lower chamber) and has been sitting in the Senate for over a year. There are Senators pushing for a vote on citizenship reform by the end of March in the upcoming plenary session. MPs in the Senate were unable to reach any compromise while the legislative proposal was in the Constitutional Affairs Committee, and therefore want to bring it to a vote. Those in favor of the reform are the MPs from the PD, the Movimento Progressisti Democratici, the centrists and the Italian left. They believe they have the numbers to pass the bill regardless of the number of undecided voters and 5-Star voters who may abstain from voting (which, in the Senate, equates to a “no” vote). Read more

Days 40-46 of the Trump Administration

President Trump and former President Obama

The Trump administration continues to be mired in scandal. On Monday, President Trump signed his second sweeping immigration Executive Order, now barring entry to the United States to citizens from six predominantly Muslim countries. Meanwhile, Attorney General (AG) Jeff Sessions officially recused himself from the Russia inquiry and any further investigation into potential Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Trump has been busy trying to refute alleged ties to Russia by creating allegations against House Minority Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). He resurfaced old pictures of the two meeting with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and Russian President Vladimir Putin respectively, and is calling for an investigation into the Democrats for their ties to Russia. He then accused former President Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower in the months leading up to the election without offering any evidence. Read more

Women’s March: Recap with Photo Gallery

On March 8, Italy celebrated International Women’s Day alongside many other countries. I was shocked to see how much emphasis was placed on this day, from the exchange of the yellow mimosas (a flower that has become “an emblem of Women’s Day”), to the discounted aperitivos, to women’s free admission into museums. The most memorable for me was the Women’s March which took place in and around the center of Florence. Here I witnessed people from all backgrounds and walks of life come together for the collective motivation to celebrate women’s achievements, and continue the fight for equality. Within the sea of people, you could see highlights of pink (a color that signifies femininity but has now become a symbol of the Women’s Movement, especially with the pink “pussy hats”), and bright flags that represented people’s identities — nationally, sexually, or socially. Young girls stood at the forefront of the march, fearlessly chanting and holding up the sign “NOT ONE LESS,” and I couldn’t help but feel comforted that these girls are our future. The boys and men behind these girls understood what it meant to support them. Their subsequent positions did not mean subservience to the females, but solidarity with the females. In the middle of the march, a group of predominantly male performers put the march to a halt to perform with their unconventional drums. I looked around at the entertained spectators and noticed the expression of the participants’ faces. They were uplifted and liberated as they danced and marched together. This march reminded me of the power that comes from solidarity, unity, and love.

 

“NOT ONE LESS”
“The rapist is not sick. He is a healthy child of patriarchy” “My body my choice”
Demonstrators waving color smoke grenades.
“Patriarchy and capital, criminal alliance”
Woman blowing bubbles in a pink wig.
“SELF DETERMINATION”
A crew of drummers breaks out into a 5 minute performance in the middle of the march.
Woman dancing to the beat of the drums.
Lady prepares to release a hot air balloon.

A Crash Course in Trans History through the Ages

Because of the work of many transgender activists and the visibility of important transgender figures in the media, increased by Caitlyn Jenner’s very publicized transition, transgender visibility in America is at an all-time high. However, trans people continue to be erased from history all over the world. To combat the historic erasure of trans people and trans identity, here are nine important transgender figures throughout history that you should know.

***Words that are italicized in the biographies are included in a glossary at the end of the post***

Elagabalus became emperor of Rome in 218 AD when they were just 14 years old. While there is no definite information about their gender identity or sexuality, there are many clues that suggest that Elagabalus was not cisgender and heterosexual. They were married five different times, to both men and women, although their marriages never lasted for long. They were known for having affairs with young boys and masquerading as a sex worker then purposely setting themselves up to be caught and beaten by a male guard. They often appeared in court wearing makeup and women’s clothing. Elagabalus also reportedly offered a large sum of money to any doctor who could surgically equip them with female genitalia. Read more

Day 39 of Trump’s Administration

Vladimir Putin
Vladimir Putin

Day 39 — President Trump took the first steps to radically shifting the allocation of the federal budget Monday, calling for a $54 billion increase in defense and security spending. Trump’s proposal will focus national security spending on boosts to the military, local law enforcement, and Border Patrol. To balance out these increases, he plans to cut spending on virtually every federal agency, as well as on foreign aid. His plan will not cut spending to Medicare or Social Security. The President announced that “this budget follows through on my promise of keeping America safe, keeping out terrorists, keeping out criminals and putting violent offenders behind bars or removing them from our country all together.” While the White House has yet to define the extent of cuts to various programs, it is expected to gut the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that currently has an $8.1 billion budget. Throughout Trump’s campaign, he promised to “get rid of it [meaning the EPA] in almost every form.” His proposed cuts to foreign spending are also justified by an Office of Budget and Management official, saying that “this budget expects the rest of the world to step up in some of the programs this country has been so generous in funding in the past.” One such program is NATO, and this sentiment follows up on Defense Secretary Mattis’ recent ultimatum to NATO. Trump has also pledged to increase infrastructure spending on roads, bridges and tunnels across the nation.

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Black Identity: A Hidden Beauty

“Beauty is personal and political; it can be read both aesthetically and within the context of cultural studies.” – Deborah Willis

Susan Taylor by Ken Ramsay, c. 1970s

Proud recipient of MacArthur Genius Award and Guggenheim Fellowship, curator and author of multiple books including Posing Beauty (2009) and Reflections In Black (2000), Deborah Willis is a contemporary African-American artist, photographer, and educator. She is currently Professor of Photography and Chair of the Department of Photography & Imaging at the Tisch School of the Arts of New York University. She has also taught a seminar entitled “Beauty Matters” at Harvard University. Willis has pursued a dual professional career as an art photographer and as one of the nation’s leading historians of African American photography. She has also curated multiple exhibitions promoting African-American culture and heritage. Read more

Day 37 and 38 of Trump’s Administration

Last weekend finds Trump’s administration facing fierce criticism as its first full month in office draws to a close. Trump’s policies on immigration come under fire while he continues to deny allegations of Russian involvement in the election.

On Saturday, The Washington Post reported events that transpired on Wednesday at Houston International Airport when Henry Rousso, “an Egyptian-born French citizen” and a leading Holocaust scholar was detained and almost deported. It was thanks to the quick actions of Texas A&M University that the situation was diffused. Richard Golsan, director of the Glasscock Center for Humanities Research at Texas A&M, explained that “Rousso was ‘mistakenly detained’ by U.S. immigration authorities” in an article in The Washington Post.” Rousso tweeted “the officer who arrested me was ‘inexperienced.’” Issues with Rousso’s treatment are further compounded by the fact that France is “a beneficiary of the U.S. visa waiver program, which permits French citizens to enter the United States without a visa,” as well as the fact that Egypt was never included in the seven countries in the travel ban. Rousso’s lecture was on the Vichy Regime in unoccupied France in WWII and its collaboration with Nazi Germany, where tens of thousands of Jews were deported to concentration camps. The irony was not lost on fellow historians, as Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a professor of Italian history with New York University, called out the irony in her tweet, calling his work on cost of forgetting past (Vichy) so relevant.” Ruth Ben-Ghiat also drew a parallel between Donald Trump and Mussolini’s authoritarian traits in this article from The New Yorker. Read more

Who is a hero? Here goes (nothing).

There’s an old interview with Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols—I don’t know where to find it, but I’m willing to believe it was Johnny Rotten—where he talks about his heroes, or rather, his lack of heroes. According to Rotten, all heroes are useless and, long story short, he doesn’t have any. It’s curious that this interview resonated in a markedly different way when Fabrizio Ruggiero, a Neapolitan contemporary artist, gave a talk here at NYU Florence three weeks ago. He discussed painting frescoes of activist icons for the United Nations in New York. A bystander said something that connected quite vividly to that old Johnny Rotten interview: “It’s easy to come up with a list of villains throughout history, but much harder to come up with a list of heroes.” Read more