Notes on: Students, Houston, and Sex Trafficking

Conversation today in my Introduction to Women’s Studies class ended up going to the topic of Houston being one of the number one places in the United States for sex trafficking, which I knew about.

What I did not know was the extent of the problem and how it touches their everyday life. I had the idea the problem was mainly connected to the port and all of the ships coming and going/or something like that.

Students in my class shared an every day fear of being kidnapped at the mall, at Walmart, walking to/from class, walking outside of their homes, interviewing for a job, etc. In past semesters, we have often talked about “what do you do on an everyday basis to avoid being raped or assaulted.” Typically, male-identifying students saying “nothing”/”it’s not something I think about.” Female-identifying students have long lists that include having pepper spray at the ready, having a gun, etc.

Today, as a result of these topics my students brought up, I asked, approximately, ‘What do you do to avoid being kidnapped into a sex trafficking ring?” And the students had all kinds of things at the ready, such as checking their car and making sure no one is in the backseat, being careful of social media, purposely looking un-feminine, never going anywhere alone, avoiding certain areas of stores, etc.

Several students reported receiving regular letters in the mail or email with modeling opportunities, which they took as possible traps/warning flags of sex trafficking.

What you learn sometimes!

Dr. Andrew Joseph Pegoda

How To Get Away With Murder as Propaganda

I have previously written about ABC’s How To Get Away With Murder here and here. With the current season, I am growing more and more frustrated because of the constant twists (within twists, within twists, within yet more twists), the very slow pace, and the barrage of “bad” people. All of the characters actively and deliberately engage in immoral, illegal activities and do so constantly. 

And this brings me to a hypothesis I have been grappling with for some time: Does How To Get Away With Murder effectively function as propaganda? Specifically, is How To Get Away With Murder “training” its audiences to accept and to be content with corruption en masse? Is the show “preparing” viewers for a Trumpian world? Does the show normalize such behavior?

How To Get Away With Murder creates a world where the secrets people bury involve bribery, corruption, deceit, espionage, murder, and theft and then framing others and lying. And this applies to every character in this modern-day drama. Characters who have little or no true remorse about their behaviors.

In its fifth season, having premiered in 2014, How To Get Away With Murder has obviously been successful and popular among viewers. The earlier seasons are, to my mind, more entertaining but still center around very bad people, the kind of people who would be dangerous to even know in real life.

And so I wonder about the parallels between the characters of How To Get Away With Murder and the characters of present-day Trumpian politics. Trump, as everybody knows or should know by now at least, is absolutely corrupt in his behavior and treatment toward people. Just as with these fictional characters, Trump and his Republican allies in D.C. think of no one but themselves and do not hesitate to go against once-accepted mores.

Unlike fiction, Trump’s behavior has stark consequences for people in the United States and across the globe, but this fiction effectively contributes to the normalization of such behavior and the powerlessness, victimized mentality of people watching at home.

Both scream that deep corruption is everywhere, deep corruption is inevitable, and deep corruption is beyond reproach. 

If you doubt my idea, maybe think about how some other crime/legal dramas (maybe, Law and Order: SVU?) hold people accountable and have morally defendable lead characters provide a different kind of message, maybe a kind of hope. An extremely popular show with utopian standards would give people more ideas and more expectations to carry forward from the reel to the real. I’m also reminded of the new show New Amsterdam that envisions a much more equitable medical system. New Amsterdam, unlike How To Get Away With Murder, effectively challenges Trumpism. 

Dr. Andrew Joseph Pegoda 

Black Men Driving: Race, Gender, and the Rhetoric of Announcing Presence

I have had regular hour-plus commutes for over a decade now. During this time I have consistently noticed an interesting correlation: Drivers who drive with the driver-side window down and with their arm/hand on the edge or slightly outside of the car are often (80-90 percent of the time) Black men. Said driver is also always going slower than the posted speed limit (and flow of traffic). I have also noticed while “people watching” that drivers with their windows up are typically not Black men. 

Such situations make me think more about the racialization of driving. What do such actions fully mean? What kinds of hopes and fears do they speak to? How else is driving a racialized event? What kind of de facto systems of segregation exist on some roads? 

Clearly, by having their left arm visible these drivers are announcing their presence to other drivers in a very deliberate way. That such announcement is necessary even in perfectly normal and casual driving conditions speaks volumes to their knowledge of history and sense of proactively trying to stay safe from people who might fear their existence in said time and place.

To be continued 

Dr. Andrew Joseph Pegoda 


Unemployment data is a distraction.

Despite rhetoric from businesses and governments, unemployment/employment statistics do not provide useful information. And worse, whether about the Great Depression or about today, they are a distraction. 

Unemployment data says nothing about:

  1. what work or employment mean
  2. what jobs pay
  3. available “benefits”
  4. how many jobs a person has
  5. how many hours a person works
  6. underemployment
  7. unofficial economies
  8. the kinds of labor people perform
  9. spending power
  10. economic inequality
  11. gender inequality
  12. race inequality
  13. planning for the future
  14. personal health and satisfaction
  15. forced dependency on welfare/aid from others 

Focusing on the percentage of people employed promotes a never-actually-historically-realized utopia idea that work–being employed–guarantees a certain level of economic security and advancement. Such data also says, without an acknowledgment of social constructions, that work is not just necessary but a positive good. 

Rhetoric about low unemployment data gives the employed permission to flee responsibility or thoughts of further concern. (But why is it economists say a healthy economy must have some level of unemployment – permission to flee responsibility?!)

The popular cliché–“He who does not work, neither shall he eat”–gets in wrong on both accounts. Not feeding someone–regardless–is immoral, especially in a world with plenty and with food thrown away en masse. And working does not guarantee someone can eat. Thousands of students and their teachers and professors go hungry everyday because the powers at be have determined that their own increased wealth is more important. Thousands of government workers are going hungry because of the POTUS’s support of White Supremacy. In addition this wisdom operates under the false assumption that work is automatically good and that people will be allowed to do said work. And even if those in charge of the economy allowed it to work, “work=eat” is a very low standard. 

Dr. Andrew Joseph Pegoda

Notes on: The Hate U Give (2018)

It is impossible to be unarmed when our Blackness is the weapon that they fear.

19thehateugive-rating-articlelargeThe Hate U Give (2018) is a powerful movie. Its ultimate power stems not so much from its indictment of institutional and systemic racism but from its positive portrayal of Blackness. The film, and the outstanding book from which it grew, focus on Starr Carter and those close to her, especially her father. The Hate U Give shows Black people who preserver and who stick together and who look out for others and who are intelligent and who are imperfect.

In a historical moment marked by absolute hatred toward those who are racialized as something other than White due to the current POTUS and his evil behavior, the significance of such representations cannot be understated. Black children and their families will see this movie and/or read this book and hopefully have some additional notion of hope, especially in this era that seems all too hopeless. People need to see and hear stories about people who look like them. 

The statement voiced through Starr’s character and engraved in the epigraph above deserves dedicated attention.

“It is impossible to be unarmed when our Blackness is the weapon that they fear.”

Such a powerful metaphor. Blackness as the weapon. Blackness that single-handedly strikes people with the fear of death. In one of all too many perfect ironies of History, Black people are seen as the dangerous ones when its actually Whiteness that has been, and often continues to be, weaponized. 

Unlike The Help and such texts discussed in my dissertation, The Hate U Give does not rely on tropes. There’s no “White Savior Figure.” There’s no “Brutal Black Buck” either. There’s no broken family. 

The Hate U Give is something like a docudrama of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. When I first read the novel last January, my reaction was that it has the potential of becoming another “Coming of Age in Mississippi.” I maintain this position. 

Dr. Andrew Joseph Pegoda 


Notes on: What is Religion?

Often, people don’t recognize how multifaceted the answers are to “what is religion?,” “what are the sources of theologies,” “what are the components of theologies?” Talking about Christianity, the Bible is often seen as the theological source. By recognizing how the associated histories and theologies, as well as how the Bible is far from the only source, we begin to recognize how much the actual practice of any religion (or any interpretation of any religion) does and can (and should, as needed) change. 

Sources of and/or elements of theologies:

  • certainty
  • charity
  • community and group experiences
  • desire
  • doubt
  • education/proselytizing
  • fiction (e.g., novels, film)
  • group doctrines
  • history (e.g., past, present, future, end/eschatology)
  • iconography
  • memoir/advice books
  • mores
  • music
  • myth
  • personal experiences and feelings
  • philosophy
  • prayer
  • rituals
  • sacraments
  • sacred places
  • sacred texts
  • science
  • secular law
  • select individuals (e.g., ministers, prophets)
  • tradition
  • unexplained phenomena
  • world view

Did I leave out any componets/sources you can think of?

Dr. Andrew Joseph Pegoda

Recalling the Books I Read in 2018

During 2018, I read about 9,000 (!!) student writing assignments, at least a thousand or so articles, and 35 books, listed below. In addition, I “read” and studied lots and lots of popular cultural texts (songs, movies, tv shows).

American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War On America

The Argonauts

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

Bad Feminist: Essays

Bent: The Play

Beyond Trans: Does Gender Matter?

Bitter in the Mouth: A Novel

Brokeback Mountain

The Craft of Research

The End of White Christian America

Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism

Goodbye Christ?: Christianity, Masculinity, and the New Negro Renaissance

The Hate U Give

The Hours: A Novel

Introducing Feminist Theology

Introducing Womanist Theology

Learn Better: Mastering the Skills for Success in Life, Business, and School, or, How to Become an Expert in Just About Anything

The Little Prince

Living the Secular Life: New Answers to Old Questions

Mental Health First Aid

Mildred Pierce

Mostly Straight:Sexual Fluidity Among Men

The Pink Triangle: The Nazi War Against Homosexuals

The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever

Profit Over People: Neoliberalsm and Global Order

Radical Love: An Introduction to Queer Theology

Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power

Rescuing Jesus: How People of Color, Women, and Queer Christians are Reclaiming Evangelicalism

The Social Construction of What

Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace

Unapologetic: A Black, Queer, and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements

A War for the Soul of America: A History of the Culture Wars

We Should All Be Feminist

Why Gender Matters: What Parents and Teachers Need to Know About the Emerging Science of Sex Differences

Why They Can’t Write: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other Necessities


Happy 2019!

Dr. Andrew Joseph Pegoda