Conceptual Frameworks

The following words, quotations, and thinkers–in no particular order–have been especially important to my thinking, teaching, and research/writing in some way or another. They are provided mostly as a reference tool.


  • intra-minority stress
  • muscular bonding
  • hearing fatigue
  • hxstory
  • unmarked category
  • migraine hangover
  • security theater
  • Manufacturing disability
  • Nacirema
  • neoliberalism
  • age consciousness 
  • physicalize
  • personages
  • destabilize
  • decenter
  • manufactured innocence
  • historical gravity 
  • social distancing
  • agency
  • actors
  • trajectory
  • correlation/causation
  • juxtapositions
  • chiaroscuro
  • metaphor
  • scapegoat
  • trope
  • true/accurate
  • fiction/nonfiction
  • dramaturgy
  • unschooling
  • code switching/meshing
  • mores
  • United Statesian
  • Shakespeare’s Sisters
  • person v. identity first
  • trauma informed pedagogy
  • pronouns
  • implications
  • symbolic immorality 
  • queering
  • cripping
  • intersectionality
  • positionality
  • social construction
  • phraseology 
  • hummingbird effect
  • metaphors 
  • unstable knowledge 
  • emotional real-estate 
  • autonomous 
  • negotiation
  • distantiation
  • postmodern
  • homosocial
  • Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis 
  • backdrop
  • edifice
  • poststructuralism
  • discourse
  • interdiscourse
  • meaning is plural
  • lens
  • notion
  • script
  • hopes/fears
  • expressions/reflections
  • representation
  • historical unconsciousness
  • camp
  • gaze
  • rhetoric
  • correctness
  • ontological categories
  • paratext
  • spectrum
  • thick description
  • androgynous 
  • verisimilitude
  • essentialism
  • new military urbanism
  • endless deferral of meaning
  • praxis vs theory 
  • magical thinking
  • horizontal solidarity / horizontal hostility 
  • online disinhibition effect
  • total institution
  • subvert the normative 
  • system justification theory 
  • identity protective cognition theory 
  • social dominance orientation theory
  • cultural currency
  • relative / subjective
  • historical stand-in
  • hermeneutics
  • Pandora’s Box
  • interpretative work
  • ritual  
  • text
  • utopian past
  • internalize
  • homogenization
  • historical memory
  • privilege
  • assumptions
  • mirror
  • doxastic anxiety
  • backfire effect
  • confirmation bias
  • proximity
  • near miss effect
  • shadow definition
  • -ism, -ian, -ize


At some point after you die, someone will think about you for the very last time, after which you will be forgotten forever.

Inevitably, every semester one of my students will ask me how I would physically describe Jesus. They really want me to comment on the color of his skin. Is it white? Black? Olive tone? I always respond in the same fashion: when I attempt to picture the incarnation, I envision Jesus as an old Black Latina woman with AIDS. Why? The most disdained by society is the form the Deity takes. Because of racism, sexism, ageism, and society’s fear of AIDS, such a person is normatively avoided, ignored, and shunned

l just want to point out that the term nonbinary didn’t exist when I was a baby queer. Like every identity term, nonbinary cannot be something we just “are”. Its importance lies in how it is used, and what divisions are made when it is used. I’d make the same argument about trans, about queer, about lesbian, gay, bisexual, as well as cisgender and heterosexual. This is the tradition in which Amin is thinking. It is useful because it allows us to see the historical transformation of identity. So nonbinary is not a scapegoat here. But there is no historical progress arc towards “truer” or “more accurate” gender identities. We’re all defining ourselves within socially constructed fields of knowledge about gender, sex, sexuality that change over time.

I adore its defiant external edge, its comfortable internal truth. Queer belongs to me. So does cripple for many of the same reasons. Queer and cripple are cousins: words to shock, words to infuse with pride and self-love, words to resist internalized hatred, words to help forge a politics.

Crip time is flex time not just expanded but exploded; it requires reimagining our notions of what can and should happen in time, or recognizing how expectations of “how long things take” are based on very particular minds and bodies.

There are things we all do or believe that other people consider “sinful.” There are things we all do or believe that other people consider “wrong.” There are things we all do or believe that would be disgust or anger others. “Yes, but I have the truth!” you may declare. Okay. Whether you do or not. I promise you it doesn’t matter what you believe, how strongly you live your beliefs, or how “true” your beliefs are. Somebody else, somewhere, thinks you are in the wrong. Somebody else, somewhere, thinks your beliefs are senseless or illogical. Somebody else, somewhere, thinks you have it all wrong. In fact, there are a lot of people in this world who do. We each understand that. We already know that. It’s the world we live in.

We pin [words] down to one meaning, their useful meaning, the meaning which makes us catch the train, the meaning which makes us pass the examination. And when words are pinned down they fold their wings and die.

Not “queer” like “gay.” “Queer” like escaping definition. “Queer” like some sort of fluidity and limitlessness at once. “Queer” like a freedom too strange to be conquered. “Queer” like the fearlessness to imagine what love can look like…and pursue it.

Heteronormativity — the Histories and institutions and processes and performativities that normalize, privilege, “naturalize,” perpetuate, and legitimize said normativity.

There is a part of speech where two extremes of a thing are used to describe everything it encompasses. Such as “he searched high and low” It doesn’t mean he searched only high and low but that he searched high, low, and everything in between. “To and fro,” “beginning and end,” etc. are similar examples. Thus, the phrase doesn’t describe a binary but a spectrum. So, when Genesis says, “God created night and day,” it means God created night, day, afternoon, evening, etc. In the same way, when God creates male and female, it means God created male, female, cis, nonbinary, femmes, trans, etc. The entire human experience—all gender identities, all sexual orientations—are summed up in the shortcut “male and female.” A binary descriptor is used to subvert the binary. All of us are included in the life-affirming breath of God.

It may be understandable that a Nazi . . . will not be shaken in his conviction by crimes against people who do not belong to the movement or are even hostile to it; but the amazing fact is that neither is he likely to waver when the monster begins to devour its own children and not even if he becomes a victim of persecution himself, if he is framed and condemned, if he is purged from the party and sent to a forced-labor or a concentration camp. On the contrary, to the wonder of the whole civilized world, he may even be willing to help in his own prosecution and frame his own death sentence if only his status as a member of the movement is not touched

In every historical example, missionaries pave the way for other colonizers and capitalists, and often, are themselves the colonizers and capitalists, with intention to dispossess and accumulate whatever they can, including but not limited to souls, land, labor: there are no missionaries with good intentions.

She brushes her teeth, brushes her hair, and starts downstairs. She pauses several treads from the bottom, listening, waiting; she is again possessed (it seems to be getting worse) by a dreamlike feeling, as if she is standing in the wings, about to go onstage and perform in a play for which is not appropriately dressed, and for which she has not adequately rehearsed. What, she wonders, is wrong with her.

There is no scarcity of people who are oppressed. There is only a scarcity of men and women with eyes clear enough to see and hearts big enough to act.

In the hermeneutical circle, by contrast, our preconceptions as historians are not to be overcome, even if this were possible, for they constitute a fundamental element in that relation by which understanding becomes possible at all.

This body is not only a thing in the world, subject to physical gravity, but a thing that carries its own historical gravity, and this collect weight bears down on the ‘sexednesss’ of the body and the possibilities of experience.

Witnessing violence and connecting it to the idea of power over bodies challenges the limiting, essentialist, and undeveloped binary of female subordination to male power. In other words, bodies are constructed and reconstructed to serve different functions, chief among which is the exertion of power.

A lie to create a more comprehensible truth

When someone hasn’t read a classic book, I always try to say “Oh! What a treat you have ahead of you!” rather than “I can’t believe you haven’t read this!” because no one wants to be shamed into reading. We should lead with our delight in literature, not our pretentiousness.

On the one hand, man is a body, in the same way that this may be said of every other animal organism. On the other hand, man has a body. That is, man experiences himself as an entity that is not identical with his body, but that, on the contrary, has that body at its disposal.

Gender is all about maintaining the idea that men and women are different.

By positionality we mean…that gender, race, class and other aspects of our identities are markers of relational positions rather than essential qualities. Knowledge is valid when it includes an acknowledgment of the knower’s specific position in any context, because changing contextual and relational factors are crucial for defining identities and our knowledge in any given situation.

The industrial revolution has thus made universal the colonial principle that has proved to be ruinous beyond measure: the assumption that it is permissible to ruin one place or culture for the sake of another.

One cannot correctly understand the black religious experience without an affirmation of deep faith informed by profound doubt. Suffering naturally gives rise to doubt. How can one believe in God in the face of such horrendous suffering as slavery, segregation, and the lynching tree? Under these circumstances, doubt is not a denial but an integral part of faith.

The dead do not like to be forgotten, especially those whose lives had come to a violent end.

Neoliberalism means many things to many people but the one trait by which it is always distinguished is its approval of the opt-out and a willingness to turn a blind eye to the hidden costs of such a choice. Everything is optional for the neoliberal; this is how neoliberalism defines freedom. Neoliberals opt out of any collective thing they can afford to opt out of.

But my point is, multiracialism is about “hope and change” in a way that blackness is not and can never be, because blackness is a constant reminder of the violent formation of the nation and of whiteness. Every desired national-multicultural future is one without Black people in it.

When the blood in your veins returns to the sea, and the earth in your bones returns to the ground, perhaps then you will remember that this land does not belong to you, it is you who belongs to this land. #NoBorders

Racism is a matter not simply of individual psychology or pathology, but of patterns of cultural representation deeply ingrained within practices, discourses, and subjectivities of Western societies.

If you’re an Americanist historian, you better also consider yourself a historian of race. There’s nothing in this country’s history that doesn’t lead back to racism. To paraphrase a now-famous metaphor, racism is the sugar in the American cake. Sure, the cake has other ingredients, but once the thing is mixed and baked, you’re never going to be able to take a bite that is sugar-free. Nods to racism (or any sort of oppression) don’t count. We need a profession-wide, systemic understanding of what racism is, where it comes from, and how it morphs and changes to stay alive. That’s the only way we’re going to learn to win the fight against it.

TO BE HOPEFUL in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.
What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.
And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.

But this is History. Distance yourselves. Our perspective on the past alters. Looking back, immediately in front of us is dead ground. We don’t see it, and because we don’t see it this means that there is no period so remote as the recent past. And one of the historian’s jobs is to anticipate what our perspective of that period will be.

He [Thomas Jefferson] owns his own children at various points, but he didn’t write a document that says “we think that maybe possibly all White Men with money are equal in a few kind of ways and maybe they can get a government.” That’s what the Constitution says. But the Declaration of Independence has a moral imagination beyond the imperial reality of the 1776.

In other words, aging, as we know it, scarcely existed [before the modern era].

The question “why do all of the Black kids sit together at lunch” is framed in ideologies of Whiteness, with built in assumptions about what is normal and right.

Dear Non-Disabled Politicians: One day you will also be disabled. Not a curse. Just fact. Disability, simple is, part of life.

If a wheelchair user can’t play Beyonce, Beyonce can’t play a wheelchair user.

History prefers legends to men. It prefers nobility to brutality, soaring speeches to quiet deeds. History remembers the battle, but forgets the blood. Whatever history remembers me, if it remembers anything at all, it shall only remember a fraction of the truth. For what ever else I am, a husband, a lawyer, a President, I shall always think of myself as a man who struggled against the darkness.

Work has also been the American way of producing “racial capitalism,” as historians now call it, by means of slave labor, convict labor, sharecropping, then segregated labor markets—in other words, a free enterprise system built on the ruins of black bodies, an economic edifice animated, saturated, and determined by racism. There never was a free market in labor in these United States. Like every other market, it was always hedged by lawful, systematic discrimination against black folk. You might even say that this hedged market produced the still deployed stereotypes of African American laziness by excluding black workers from remunerative employment, confining them to the ghettos of the eight-hour day.

It makes me so sad when students think I’m their enemy for holding them to a standard, and professors who don’t bother (because they’d rather not hear complaints, not because the student learned anything) are their allies. 

Patriarchy is when you can break the law in front of a room full of protesting women, and they’re the ones who get arrested.

Why do we love rapists so much? Thomas Jefferson, Bill Cosby, Woody Allen, R. Kelly, Roman Polanski, Mike Tyson, Donald Trump, Chris Stokes, Cee-Lo, and on and on. No matter who or what, this country will rally behind a rapist like nobody’s business and will drag a rape victim through hot coals. What is the malfunction in the American psyche that has us believing that rape is a virtue?

Colonialism is the assumption that it is permissible to ruin one place or culture for the sake of another.

Saying that the #Orlando dead & injured were “first and foremost human beings” is ironically the first step in de-gaying & de-browning them.

Saying “trans people have existed forever” is colonial and ahistorical. ‘Transgender’ as a concept on realized and only makes sense within a society that assigns binary gender identities at birth though the erasure and destructions of non-western genders. A lot of us struggle with understanding our gender within these white supremacist frameworks because a lot of the time it’s less about being “trapped in the wrong body” and more about being trapped in colonial gender frameworks.

The whole born this way fallacy got me shook up a little. I had an epiphany of self-acceptance because of it and started putting less pressure on myself and my sexuality. That unit made me realize that there is no right way to be gay and every identity is valid (but like on a deeper level).

When someone works for less pay than she can live on — when, for example, she goes hungry so that you can eat more cheaply and conveniently — then she has made a great sacrifice for you, she has made you a gift of some part of her abilities, her health, and her life. The ‘working poor,’ as they are approvingly termed, are in fact the major philanthropists of our society. They neglect their own children so that the children of others will be cared for; they live in substandard housing so that other homes will be shiny and perfect; they endure privation so that inflation will be low and stock prices high. To be a member of the working poor is to be an anonymous donor, a nameless benefactor, to everyone else.

Thinkers and Writers

  • Barbara Hales
  • bell hooks
  • Susan Sontag
  • Michael Wesch
  • Virginia Woolf

See also, “Top Recommendations