All posts by Robyn Cummings

Robyn is twenty two, and currently completing her fourth year at the University of East Anglia. She studies American History and Modern History, and has just returned to the U.K. after her year abroad in Oregon. Living in Oregon and travelling around North America has sparked her passion for travel, as well as writing, and she hopes to continue this in her career after she graduates. When she isn’t studying or writing, she is an avid reader, enthusiastic car-singer and doting cat-lover.

The Native American Regalia Bill and Native American National Erasure

On April 21st a bill was passed in Montana which allows Native American students to wear traditional regalia at their graduations. Signed by Governor Steve Bullock, the Native American regalia bill means that schools and government agencies are not able to interfere if students choose to wear items of cultural significance with their robes and mortar boards upon graduation.

Native American graduation rates have historically been notoriously low — the school drop-out rate for Native American students is a massive 70% — and the minority group is still one of the most marginalised in American society. Indeed, 97% of the Native American population reportedly live below the poverty line, the community suffer from a fluctuating unemployment rate of up to 85%, and indigenous groups are still campaigning to receive equal voter rights in the US, after reporting that officials have institutionalised practices which prevent some tribes from voting in American elections — for instance, refusing to translate ballots into native languages. Therefore, a bill which allows for the celebration of Native American heritage and achievements is a huge leap forward for the communities which have been suffering under increased Westernisation since colonisation.

Native Americans have suffered from a history of attempted erasure from ‘civilised’ Western culture. Upon British colonisation of the United States, efforts were made to physically remove indigenous tribes from the land, followed by more psychological erasure attempts. Richard Henry Pratt was known for his creation of the idea of Native American boarding schools — founding the most famous, the Carlisle Indian School. These institutions removed children from their tribes and took them to Western schools to learn how to ‘fit in’ with American society. Boys and girls were separated, had their regalia removed, and were placed in ‘appropriate’, gender-specific clothing — boys had their hair cut short, and girls were placed in classes teaching them cleaning, needlework and motherhood, enforcing traditional Western gender ideals upon a group which customarily placed little import on gender; in typical Native American communities women were given equal respect and duties, and it wasn’t until after these boarding schools had been in use that gender imbalances — and larger issues, such as rape — became commonplace among tribes.

Disney’s Pocahontas romanticises the struggles of Native American women, and ‘sexy Indian’ Halloween costumes sexualise and fetishize them, taking away their cultural worth and significance in the history of the American land and placing them in a position wherein their worth in their country depends on their bodies and their aesthetic, commercial value.

Despite the enormous injustices faced by the Native American community, there has been little by way of de facto progress even today. There was a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada which addressed the atrocities that indigenous people suffered after colonisation — essentially a nationwide public apology which directly announces, addresses and apologises for all injustices and is seen by many as a form of closure, allowing for the country to move forward and to finally allow a chance for social equality. However, in the US there has been no such commission. The closest America has come was the Maine Wabankaki-State Truth and Reconciliation Commission; whilst this does address issues faced by Native Americans, it is specific to the Wabankaki experiences with child welfare, and doesn’t address larger issues of violence (both physical and psychological), discrimination and marginalisation, or erasure. This commission concluded that there was still an institutionalised racism towards Native Americans, and acknowledged a ‘cultural genocide’, but still there has been no real action to address this glaring social issue.

Therefore, the recently-passed bill in Montana is seen by many as the first step towards at last achieving equity and harmony for the Native American tribes and peoples across the United States. Despite the huge physical assaults, it is the psychological damage which has been most scarring for the community, having lived with the fear of losing their heritage entirely and being forced into Westernised, Americanised ways of living. Thus, making it possible for graduating Native American students to celebrate their culture publically is a huge leap into de-marginalisation and prosperity — something which is so significant in an America which still suffers from such fluctuating synchronisation with minority groups.

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Feminism in Trump’s America

On February 6th 2017 Hillary Clinton urged people to “dare greatly and lead boldly” in a speech which has prompted a resurgence of feminist debate over the roles of women in Trump’s America.

In her speech she stated that “the future is female”, eliciting criticism because of her female-centric language — an argument which mirrors those of ‘All Lives Matter’ advocates who criticise the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, and moreover an argument which minimises the experiences of the minority groups in America that have had to fight so hard historically against oppression and discrimination.

Looking back at 2016, we can see a time of thriving feminism. This is evident in all facets of the mass media, from strong female figures such as Beyoncé and Adele making waves in the music industry, to unprecedented strong female representation in television, with shows such as Scandal, Orange Is The New Black and How To Get Away With Murder showing powerful women of colour and women of all sexualities living as equals. For the future of women, representation is arguably the most important thing. If young girls can see people like them leading, learning and succeeding, they will believe that they can do the same.

Already, since his election and subsequent inauguration, President Trump has awakened a backlash narrative. The supposedly ‘dangerous’ liberal agenda has seemingly alienated working-class whites, leading to huge numbers of voters and citizens feeling fed up with political correctness and identity politics — such as feminist and racial justice movements. However, bringing an end to identity politics — something which Trump represents — suggests that the only valid American identity is a straight white male. Trump offers a backward vision of America, restoring the country to a time when complex identities and experiences weren’t acknowledged or recognised. Trump’s election is a clear statement of what many voters in America value: white male supremacy over female ambition, intelligence and competence.

President Trump signed a bill on April 13th 2017 which allows states to individually remove family planning funding from Planned Parenthood, in a move which is directly overturning a rule from the Obama administration which protected funding towards health organisations which provide abortions. Whilst this law does not directly strip federal funding from the organisation, it is a clear demonstration of what Trump’s administration does and does not consider to be important; clearly, the fundamental rights of women to control and care for their own bodies are not essential

People today are rejecting the idea of feminism; but the solution is more, not less. Abandoning the term for the sake of easing in those who deny it is not the answer — it just minimises the efforts of the feminist movement, which has allowed women today to reach the point where they are privileged enough to say we don’t need feminism anymore. We must reach out to and support those who a Trump presidency is making most vulnerable — immigrant women, transgender women, women of colour, lesbian women, disabled women; women seeking abortions, protection from men, or asylum. This is the time to refuse to bow down to Trump’s male supremacist ideals.

It is not only women affected by Trump’s anti-female rhetoric — immigrant men, gay or transgender men, men of colour, any men who refuse to subscribe to President Trump’s traditionalist views on what an American man should be, are all under threat. The feminist movement, needed in American now more than ever to prevent a relapse to the days when women had to fight for suffrage, defends not only the rights of women but also those of men who refuse to conform to the traditional Republican model.

Clinton’s bid for presidency highlighted the gross sexist double standards which were evident throughout the election period, and since then there has been a huge rise in the number of women going into political training programmes to hopefully change the future political discourse. However, women such as these seem to be pushing against a brick wall, as women who have been able to gain top positions in Trump’s administration are rejecting feminism — such as Kellyanne Conway, who in an interview on January 26th called herself a “postfeminist”. This suggests living in a society which has moved on from needing the efforts of a feminist movement, and vilifies the movement by associating it with solely pro-abortion and anti-male rhetoric (a statement which I’m not even going to grace with an argument, because it’s so ignorant and fallacious).

We must not buoy up bigotry — it is not the fault of women that misogyny in America is still so prevalent, and it is not up to women to force men to treat us like valid human beings. The majority of white women voted for Trump, showing just how desperately feminism in America is needed; most of these women were older, religious or without college degrees, and consequently more used to living and operating in societies that are steeped in and dependent on male authority. Women must be allowed the opportunity to see themselves as powerful, capable and independent, something which Trump’s administration is a serious threat to.

When I mentioned to a friend from near Seattle that I was writing an article about this, she described being a female living in Trump’s America as “horrifying” — not something which inspires a lot of hope for the progression of gender equality under Trump’s administration. 50.8% of American citizens identify as female, yet only 19.1% of the House of Representatives are women.

How can America be postfeminist when one in five women are raped on college campuses? How can the feminist movement be outdated when American women earn just 78% of what a man earns for doing the same jobs? And how can women in America expect to feel represented, safe and valued in a nation which willingly votes a man who has been accused of sexually assaulting numerous women; who evaluates women based on their physical attributes rather than their intelligence or characters, and who stated that women who have abortions should be legally punished, into the role of President?

Yet despite this, President Trump has been successful in one area: he has created a new wave of women’s movements worldwide. The women’s marches which took place after his inauguration are representative of the fire that has been lit in the belly of the feminist movement. So whilst women may feel threatened, they fight on, and we can hope that we will see an American future which embraces the feminine.

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The Top Ten Independent Bookstores in the US

In today’s internet-centric world, the role of the bookshop is dwindling. E-Readers are ever-popular, and even when we do opt to purchase a hard copy — for required reading in class, or as a gift, perhaps — larger chains and supermarkets or online retailers are dominating the literary market. However, especially when we’re travelling, a bookstore can be more than just somewhere to buy books. Independent shops are often at the heart of a local community, offering an insight into the culture and landscape of an area in a way that a quick stop at Walmart or an Amazon order never could. So, read on for what I consider to be the best independent bookstores in the USA.

  1. Full Circle Bookstore: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Packed with books from floor to ceiling — that’s thirteen feet of books, so even if you aren’t a die-hard bibliophile you have to be impressed — Full Circle Bookstore is the largest independent bookshop in Oklahoma, carrying over sixty thousand new titles. They also stock a large selection of books by Oklahoman authors as well as Native American books, allowing for a real taste of the history and culture of the state. Plus, with wood-burning fires and rolling ladders, you can live out your Beauty and the Beast library dreams.

  1. The Elliot Bay Book Company: Seattle, Washington

With high ceilings and wooden floors, Elliot Bay is the perfect bookstore for a rain-soaked city like Seattle. The family-owned store was opened in 1973 and became instantly popular with the city folk, growing in size and stock since then. What’s more, true to Pacific Northwest culture, it’s home to a popular café, where you can hide from the rain and read a book, all while enjoying a delicious vegan treat.

  1. Grolier Poetry Book Shop: Cambridge, Massachusetts

I get it — poetry isn’t everybody’s cup of tea. However, a list of the best bookstores in the US would be remiss without a mention of the oldest continuously-run poetry store in America. Home to over fifteen thousand volumes, the Grolier aims to advance the cause of poetry, working to popularise poetry (and prose), while also acting as a hub for students and locals in Cambridge drawn to the numerous readings and events, coupled with the cosy, family-friendly atmosphere it exudes.

  1. Books & Books: Coral Gables, Florida

Set in one of the most Instagram-worthy locations, Books & Books was founded in 1982 and has become a local landmark. Located in a beautiful building from 1927, the Mediterranean-style building still has most of its original features, making it not only a perfect reading spot, but also a hub of local history.

  1. City Lights: San Francisco, California

City Lights was the USA’s first all-paperback bookstore, and has become a literary landmark of alternative culture — in true San Francisco style, it supports its legacy of anti-authoritarianism. It was famously put on trial for obscenity after publishing Allen Ginsberg, historically acting as a means to publicise the work of Beat poets and writers. From its founding in 1953 the selection of titles still reflects this liberal politics and insurgent thinking.

The shop is even built on a slope, in true San Franciscan style! Wikimedia Commons © By Caroline Culler

5. Faulkner House Books: New Orleans, Louisiana

Any book lover will agree, a bookstore which occupies the space where William Faulkner used to live can’t come any lower than the top five. Faulkner House is known for its charm, featuring not only works by and about Faulkner, but also describing itself as “a sanctuary for fine literature and rare editions.” Moreover, it sits in the heart of the New Orleans French Quarter, next to the St. Louis Cathedral, making it the perfect place to discover the history and culture of Louisiana.

  1. Prairie Lights Bookstore: Iowa City, Iowa

Prairie Lights is next door to the infamous Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and is located in a 1930s building which was once home to a local literary society frequented by hugely famous names in the literary world, such as EE Cummings, Robert Frost and Sherwood Anderson. It is also the location of ‘Live from Prairie Lights’, a literary reading series which has become extremely well-known over the internet and represents the merge of the newly internet-centric world and the classic independent stores.

  1. Housing Works Bookstore: New York City, New York

Whilst the Housing Works Bookstore has a wonderful selection of books that would make any bibliophile happy, it earns this place because of the institution it has become in downtown New York. Its café serves delicious food (try the mac’ and cheese, you won’t regret it), as well as coffee and beer, and all for an excellent cause: all of the staff are volunteers, and the profit from the shop goes entirely to Housing Works, a charity that works to end homelessness and AIDS. This is why we love New York.

Housing Works Bookstore: all for a great cause! Wikimedia Commons © Marginalmonkeys

 

  1. The Last Bookstore: Los Angeles, California

Just walking into this bookstore will elicit an enthusiastic response from any book-lover. Set in a beautiful space in downtown LA, not only does it stock a huge selection of both new and classic titles, but it’s also home to a vinyl LP shop, graphic novel shop, and the Spring Arts Collective, hosting the exhibitions of local contemporary artists. However, it is the second floor of the Last Bookstore which really sets it apart — leave your bags at the cloakroom and step upstairs into ‘the labyrinth above the Last Bookstore’: over one hundred thousand remastered books, for only one dollar a piece, fill the space, making up a fantastic maze. The highlight? An enormous book tunnel, which you can walk through and use to make your Instagram look both pretty and cultured — win-win.

  1. Powell’s City of Books: Portland, Oregon

I’m a little biased, because I am such a fan of Oregon and the Pacific Northwest, but for me there is no bookstore quite like Powell’s. It’s word-renowned for a reason; housing over one million books, it is one of the most famous bookshops in America and one of the largest in the world. Founded in 1971 it has become firmly entrenched in the city’s culture, and taking up an entire city block it oozes the character which is so distinct to Portland.

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The best way to discover a city’s culture is to experience it first hand, and discovering the unique quirks and institutions which make up a place is the best way to do this. Is it easier to download a book from Amazon onto your e-reader? Maybe. But if you want to interact with the people, familiarise yourself with the culture and walk in the history of a city, there’s no better way than to pay a visit to the local bookstore.

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How Not to Road Trip California: Part Two

This entry is part 1 of 1 in the series How Not to Road Trip California

Exhausted from spending so many hours in the car the day before, we slept heavily, and the 7am alarm we had planned was a distant memory. We eventually woke up at about 9am, and packed our things in a hurry before heading into town to grab a quick breakfast before we hit the road again. We had considered skipping breakfast for the sake of getting going sooner, and it was a good thing we decided against this plan of action Continue reading

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How Not to Road Trip California

When spending my year living in America, Spring Break was one of the things I had most looked forward to. It’s something you see on TV and in films all the time — sun, crazy parties, and Instagram-worthy destinations. I was lucky enough to be invited, along with another English girl, Amy, who I was out there with, to stay with a friend in Los Angeles for the week of Spring Break. Her final exams finished ahead of ours, so she flew home on the Tuesday while Amy and I rented a car on Friday and spent the weekend driving down the coast to LA in time to kick off our week on the Monday. I couldn’t drive, since I only have a provisional driving licence in England and there was no way a rental company would let me behind the wheel, so the responsibility was down to Amy — we felt confident that nothing could go wrong. We’d spent a long time looking at Google Maps, planning our route, our stops and our breaks, and we were sure that we had everything planned.

The whole of California in one weekend? Perhaps a little naïve. But we were confident we were up to the challenge, and headed into the weekend idealistic and enthusiastic.

Our first problem came when we were booking our car. We noticed that the extra night added a huge amount to the cost of the rental car, and rather than just sucking it up and paying the extra, we reconfigured our route and decided that we would still have plenty of time if we rented the car first thing Saturday morning, as long as we were on the road by 7am. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite happen like we had hoped. Whilst we made it to the car rental office as planned, we had apparently picked the worst possible day to rent a car. There were only two other customers ahead of us when we arrived, so we thought that we would be on our way in no time, but it soon became clear that there were problems in the office. We were called up to the desk and started filling out our forms, but the people ahead of us were still lingering at the front, and once we’d finished giving them our details they told us that we would have to wait a little while because the printer was broken, and apparently they couldn’t let us have a car without taking our receipt.

More and more people arrived, and they were all being told to wait, just as we had. After two hours sat in the office watching the clock, they were finally able to call their manager in, who gave us a handwritten receipt, the keys to our car and finally let us go. By this point it was gone 9.30am, we were behind schedule, and my friend was having much more difficulty driving on the other side of the road than we had anticipated. However we were still optimistic, and we were out of Oregon and driving through California before midday.

Unfortunately the weather was not on our side, and before long the skies were grey and the wind was roaring. We had planned to make our first stop in Crescent City, on the Northern California coast, to see the Redwoods. However, when we tried to drive into the trees we were stopped by Park Rangers who told us that the wind level was too high, a few trees had already fallen, and we weren’t allowed to drive in at risk of more being blown down. We were disappointed to have our plans derailed, but we were more frustrated that we had taken the longer, coastal route to make this stop rather than the much quicker I5 road which would have taken us much further on our journey. So, we turned into the wind and starting racing towards the highway, discarding our notions of scenic stops and beginning the 320 miles we still had to make before we reached the city of Petaluma, just outside San Francisco, where we would be stopping for the night.

The drive got a little hairy as we got closer to San Francisco, and driving in the dark in heavy traffic was not ideal for Amy driving in America for the first time, but we made it to Petaluma in one piece. We had found a hotel deal online, and found ourselves checking in to a very swanky, old-school hotel, in a really lovely city — full of quaint little shops and independent restaurants and bars; we were disappointed that we were arriving so late and wouldn’t be able to look around properly. Because of this late arrival, there weren’t many restaurants still open, but we tracked down an Italian place just off the main high-street called Cucina Paradiso, and I have to say that if anyone finds themselves in Petaluma, it’s a must-visit. It was a little fancier than we had intended for our budget, but I can honestly say that their pappardelle was the best I have eaten.

And so our first day drew to a close. Amy had been driving us for around nine hours, and our only major stop had been a complete disaster. But we knew that the next day we had a shorter drive — only six hours or so — and we had so many stops planned that we were sure it wouldn’t feel like we were in the car much at all.

If only we knew…

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