Taking a break from writing, I found an interactive feature in the NYT today. A stunning series of portraits, the first sentence:
Few American cities have suffered as acutely as Rockford, Ill., where unemployment reached nearly 16 percent last summer.
This semester I’m teaching a course in Black Visual Politics–from what I surmise one of the first (if not THE first) times a course like this has been attempted. I’m combining a traditional black politics class with a photography class, and am co-teaching it with a documentary photographer. The neoliberal turn relies on concrete programs (welfare repeal, school vouchers, etc.) and on intellectual paradigms (rational choice theory), but it also relies on public sentiment and on frames. Images frame policies, and also spaces. Putting a (sympathetic) face on unemployment can engender support for progressive unemployment policies. But what jumps out at me even before I look at the powerful images is one simple fact. Detroit’s unemployment rate is at least 20 percent. And it’s been this high throughout the crisis. What might those portraits look like? Based on the images alone it is possible that what distinguishes Rockford isn’t its high unemployment rate but the fact that it isn’t a majority black city routinely condemned as being uncivilized and corrupt.