Saturday, February 16, 2019

A Conversation with Historian Louis Hyman About How Black Americans Used the Sears Catalog to Fight Back Against Jim and Jane Crow Racism

Professor Louis Hyman is a historian of work and business at the ILR School of Cornell University, where he also directs the Institute for Workplace Studies in New York City. He has published two books on the history of personal debt (Debtor Nation and Borrow) and a history of how American work became so insecure (Temp).

Several months ago Louis wrote a series of Twitter posts which were read by millions of people about the "hidden history" of how African-Americans used the Sears catalog as a way of fighting back against Jim and Jane Crow white racism and white supremacy.

Professor Hyman explains how the consumer's republic was and remains a key battleground for civil rights and the color line, the many ways that black Americans used the Sears catalog as a way of participating in day-to-day resistance against segregation and other types of discrimination across the United States, and how Sears and America's suburban mall culture were sites where whiteness was both reproduced and defended. Louis also debunks the very popular (and empowering) myth that Sears was co-founded by a black man.

On this week's show, Chauncey DeVega reflects on Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man" and  a recent experience with everyday racism. And in keeping with the theme of this week's show Chauncey also shares a wonderful story about the nationwide network of Sears retirees who gather on a regular basis to socialize, reconnect, and who are keeping the wonderful legacy of that American cultural and retail institution alive.

This week's podcast with Louis Hyman can be listened to or downloaded here.

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