Street Therapists: Race, Affect, and Neoliberal Personhood in Latino Newark

Street Therapists: Race, Affect, and Neoliberal Personhood in Latino Newark

by Ana Y. Ramos-Zayas

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Drawing from almost a decade of ethnographic research in largely Brazilian and Puerto Rican neighborhoods in Newark, New Jersey, Ana Y. Ramos-Zayas, in Street Therapists,examines how affect, emotion, and sentiment serve as waypoints for the navigation of interracial relationships among US-born Latinos, Latin American migrants, blacks, and white ethnics. Tackling a rarely studied dynamic approach to affect, Ramos-Zayas offers a thorough—and sometimes paradoxical—new articulation of race, space, and neoliberalism in US urban communities.

After looking at the historical, political, and economic contexts in which an intensified connection between affect and race has emerged in Newark, New Jersey, Street Therapists engages in detailed examinations of  various community sites—including high schools, workplaces, beauty salons, and funeral homes, among others—and secondary sites in Belo Horizonte, Brazil and San Juan to uncover the ways US-born Latinos and Latin American migrants interpret and analyze everyday racial encounters through a language of psychology and emotions. As Ramos-Zayas notes, this emotive approach to race resurrects Latin American and Caribbean ideologies of “racial democracy” in an urban US context—and often leads to new psychological stereotypes and forms of social exclusion. Extensively researched and thoughtfully argued, Street Therapists theorizes the conflictive connection between race, affect, and urban neoliberalism.  

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226703633
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 03/15/2012
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 464
File size: 876 KB

About the Author

Ana Y. Ramos-Zayas is the Valentín Lizana y Parragué Endowed Chair in Latin American Studies and professor at Baruch College, CUNY. She is the author of National Performances: Race, Class, and Space in Puerto Rican Chicago, also published by the University of Chicago Press, and coauthor of Latino Crossings: Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, and the Politics of Race and Citizenship.

Read an Excerpt

Street Therapists

Race, Affect, and Neoliberal Personhood in Latino Newark

The University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2012 The University of Chicagos
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-226-70362-6

Chapter One

The Feel that Sells Newark: From "Aggressive" City to Neoliberal-Friendly Emotional Regime

Anyone can become angry—that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way. That is not easy. ARISTOTLE

On a cold mid-January day in 2003, as I waited for a friend of mine to come down from his office, I stood by the security checkpoint of the federal building that houses Newark's Department of Homeland Security. While waiting, I witnessed an everyday occurrence that caught my ethnographer's eye. As an obviously overworked, heavyset African American female guard tended to a lanky, white delivery guy while simultaneously directing visitors through the scanning devices, a Latina woman and two teenage boys tried to enter the lobby through a nonfunctioning glass door. "Do not use that door! Do. Not. Use. That. Door!!!" the guard shouted. "Don't you see the sign?" she impatiently asked. The Latino woman nervously fumbled through some papers to show the guard what seemed to be an official letter. The guard directed her to pass through the metal detector and someone else informed the woman where to go. "This gotta be America!" proclaimed the white delivery guy in what sounded like a heavy Brooklyn Italian accent. Looking at the African American security guard expecting a degree of complicity, he added with obvious disapproval, "Only in America can't people understand English. Here, if you can't speak Spanish, you better get out!" The guard shook her head in agreement, then paused, seeming to refrain from verbalizing her agreement. With what I perceived as hesitation, she looked my way, as I had obviously been paying much more attention to the exchange than she may have thought natural or even appropriate. I looked slightly away and, shortly after, spotted my friend and headed out to lunch. This quotidian episode is not very remarkable, yet it provides a good point of entrance into Newark as a material, symbolic, and emotive space.

Emotions are an integral part of the historical unfolding of politically significant events, institutions, and practices in Newark, New Jersey. In this study I focus on moments of heightened emotional exchange and analyze how they sustain or challenge the interests of the marketplace under neoliberalism. In Newark, "anger" and "aggression" became dominant emotions, or "meta-sentiments," inscribed through the interpretation, narration, and policy outcome of salient historical events in Newark's urban landscape (Myers 1986). The neoliberal policies of the 1980s and 1990s implicitly required that a normative style of emotional management—in which characterizations of the city as aggressive or angry were concealed or redressed—be instituted if attractive real estate, well-attended artistic venues, and the promotion of tourism were to be successful urban-development strategies. Therefore, examining the emergence and control of aggression in Newark requires an analysis of historical moments that aimed to solidify particular social structures; in this sense, it also requires an examination of how old and new forms of capitalist development entered into synergistic interaction with a politics of individual agency.

Rather than presenting a traditional history of Newark, a task that others have already done masterfully (e.g., Price 2008), I examine Newark in relation to two major themes that characterize the modernist public sphere: the social production of the city and the regulation of emotions. Henri Lefebvre (1991) notes how references to the image of most cities are often ensconced in a language that depicts some inherently pathological social condition, a putative sickness of society, while obfuscating the fact that the modern city is a product of a capitalist or neocapitalist system (City of Newark 1959). This perspective is central to popular images of Newark, as well to the everyday lives of residents, workers, and visitors. I want to add to Lefebvre's discussion, however, by suggesting that Newark's perceived pathology is not based on just any form of illness but specifically on mental illness and an emotional inadequacy projected onto its racialized populations. An emotional regime was established in Newark according to which the welfare of certain populations, particularly the black "underclass," was attributed to their inappropriate emotional style—an embodied form of the city's aggressiveness.

"From Riot to Respectability": Historicizing Anger and the Emotional Style of the Newark Renaissance

Visions of racial violence and urban decay that crystallized in our collective memory around the time of the 1967 riots still dominate the popular imagination and function as a dividing line in Newark's collective historical consciousness. Carmen Morales, a Puerto Rican parent-volunteer at a public high school in North Broadway, was one of many Newark residents who lamented Newark's falling from grace:

Newark used to be a great metropolis. Like New York. Theatres everywhere. You could walk out on a Saturday night and there were thousands of people on the streets. But, they destroyed everything. You could hear the snipers at night. Some people had to show an ID to get into their own houses. After the rebellion, all the stores and theatres were destroyed ... and to this day, many buildings are still abandoned.... Every part of the city was affected. Every part of the country knew about Newark and Newark got a bad reputation. All they saw was angry blacks. The violence, aggression. Big companies, like Borden, eventually ended up closing because they couldn't lure employees. If they wanted to transfer someone from Chicago to the Newark branch, people would be like "Newark? No way I'm going there!" Many jobs were lost. Blacks were not qualified to take up those vacant jobs. They didn't have the skills needed.

Lefebvre's "logistics of visualization and of metaphorization" (1991) provide a good lens through which to understand how Carmen Morales' phenomenological experience of Newark, past and present, involves the codification of particular scenes and actions from her everyday life and an awareness of how they have changed over time. As suggested in Carmen's recollection, as well as in multiple conversations I had with other Newark residents, everyday social exchanges, memories, images, and daily uses of the built environment in Newark frequently evoke images of the "riots" or the "rebellion," as well as speculations about "those [former Newark residents] who left" or "angry blacks." Those who stayed came to witness an urban change that altered most, if not all, aspects of their lives and identities at a most intimate level. To them, the riots provided the precise date to affix to the death of Newark. Very few cities have experienced events that are as radically embodied—experienced not only at a cognitive, but also at a sensorial, and even moral, metaphysical level. As was also the case in other US cities, incidents of conflict and particularly the racially marked "rioters"—the angry blacks in Carmen's narrative—were retrospectively viewed as the cause of decay, even when the riots were, in fact, the culmination of long-brewing racial tensions, restricted employment opportunities, residential segregation, and the lack of a social infrastructure to provide adequate housing, public health, and education dating back to the post-World War II period.

Rarely was "slum clearance," rather than the 1967 riots, the entry point into everyday narratives of Newark's "decay" (Hayden 1967). Nevertheless, Newark has been rightly called "a living laboratory for nearly every bad planning idea of the twentieth century." Accounts of the lived experiences of space must consider how place is produced and conceived in light of citywide policies, urban planning, and, in the case of Newark, the "slum clearance" in the 1950s and 1960s. Urban renewal attempts within the city destroyed whole neighborhoods, replacing low-rise, vernacular residences with mismanaged public housing projects. The new interstate highways linking Newark to adjacent suburbs cut the city into pieces, dividing and isolating neighborhoods, and increasing levels of segregation.

Led by the Newark Housing Authority (NHA), Newark was the first city in New Jersey and among the earliest in the United States to begin an urban renewal program under the 1949 Title I Act of the Federal Housing Authority. As Newark historian Clement Price (2008) has documented, following World War II, veterans who lived in Newark took advantage of the GI Bill to attain a college education and, eventually, their upward mobility led them to the nearby New Jersey suburbs. The NHA monopolized the sources of federal funding, as the Newark Economic Development Committee, a rival group composed of downtown business owners, advocated increased investment in Newark's downtown at the expense of residential neighborhoods (Kaplan 1963, 94).

Corporations like Prudential Insurance tried to help restructure the city after the 1967 riots by building fortress-like towers, connected to Penn Station-Newark and to other corporate buildings, bypassing the streets below. The city developed a policy of granting generous tax breaks to major institutions—colleges, universities, museums, libraries, hospitals, churches, and government properties—resulting in the majority of Newark's most valuable properties being tax exempt. Throughout the heyday of "slum clearance," a major characteristic of Newark's urban-renewal program was that those groups that urged central planning were the same groups that demanded fiscal control, tax reductions, a city-manager government, and an end to public housing. The mayor effectively controlled the local communities, so that, for example, entire neighborhoods could be designated as "blighted" and targets of clearance whenever necessary, and oftentimes without much evidence or consensus about what constituted "decay" (Kaplan 1963).

The somewhat arbitrary designation of a community as "blighted" suggests that this targeted clearance was about rendering invisible a particular kind of undesirable (poor and black). The NHA's plan was to concentrate public housing construction in "Negro areas," with private redevelopment in the less-dilapidated areas to the west. Blacks would be relocated from the areas set for redevelopment to massive public housing projects that became spaces of racial containment. The most important substantive norm guiding slum clearance was that "anything bringing new capital into Newark was good, and the most important procedural norm [was] the requirement that 'conflicts be settled through informal bargaining, not through overt attacks or public agitation" (Kaplan 1963, 167). Agitation was the background against which social policy was drafted and implemented.

Along with most major industrial centers in the United States, Newark had fallen from grace by the 1960s. Images of "angry blacks" dominated Newark's representation in the national media, obliterating historical evidence of urban decay that predated the riots. The centrality of these images that permanently attached anger to black bodies led to multiple levels of discourse—from national narratives to everyday conversations among people like Carmen and her neighbors—and contributed to a particular kind of emotive inscription or feel associated with Newark.

Since the 1980s, and once again inspired by the interest of corporations and private developers, the Newark city government made the development of a downtown—under the banner of the "Newark Renaissance"—a priority. Unlike other midsize cities stumbling from the loss of their manufacturing bedrock, Newark's location ten miles from Manhattan, its surrounding wealthy suburbs, expanding seaport, international airport, and commuter rail lines were commonly cited as blessings that could allow the city to become an urban renewal success. Newark began to be marketed as an important gateway in the heart of the most economically powerful metropolitan region in the United States.

In the 1980s and 1990s Newark became a prime example of an aspiring neoliberal city. Selective state retrenchment and deregulation, along with the privatization of public spaces and privileging of free market approaches to development, provided the basis on which arguments for efficient technologies of government were fostered under neoliberal economic and urban policies. Despite the dismantling of a social welfare state that is suggested as evidence of state shrinkage, it would be a fallacy to indiscriminately equate neoliberalism with a lack of government intervention or laissez faire market policies (Chomsky 1999; cf. Caldeira 2000b). Instead, it is important to trace the qualitatively different kinds of intervention that neoliberal policies enable, particularly in light of cultural industries, private corporations, and business interests that in fact thrive on government subsidies. Gentrification, a cultural and tourist industry of museums, stadiums, and other entertainment venues, and a selectively commercialized cultural and retail market become central aspects of the process of resignifying the "inner city" under neoliberalism (cf. di Leonardo 1998).

The opening of the first Starbucks in Newark in 2000 became evidence of governmental success, as documented in an article that describes how the mayor at the time, Sharpe James, "christened an espresso machine during the opening of a Starbucks on Broad Street, [while] 40 travel agents toured the city's sites [sic] and sounds. The two separate events merged when agents stopped to have samples of mango tiazzis, mochas and lemon and chocolate sweets at the trendy coffeehouse." Like downtown revival projects in other US cities, the Newark Renaissance has largely relied on the promotion of the arts to ameliorate the deeply seeded consequences of deindustrialization and recession by creating a profitable commercial machine focused on leisure, tourism, and conspicuous consumption as an antidote to urban decline. In January of 2002, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development designated Newark a "Renewal Community," making it eligible to share in an estimated $17 million in tax incentives to stimulate job growth, promote economic development, and create affordable housing (Dumenigo 2002, 15). The celebratory tone of the Newark Renaissance is evidenced in multiple print media. Like other urban centers, Newark compensated for its rapid deindustrialization through growth in the service sector, promoting high-end financial and business services, pursuing the arts, entertainment, and tourism, and a reformulation of the real estate industry, either through subsidies or deregulation.

Neoliberal urban policies were instituted in the context of a decentralized and partially dismantled welfare state that left governments with a lack of redistributive resources, provided legitimacy to redevelopment of any kind, including the kind that aimed to deconcentrate poverty and attract middle-class residents without caring much about eradicating poverty (Crump 2003). In Newark, these urban development goals worked in tandem with an increasing reliance on technological devices aimed to promote "safety" through surveillance. Everyday efforts to render "the poor" invisible (through physical surveillance of youth who don't act, dress, or behave appropriately, and through the codification of such actions as part of an emotional handicap) are intended to convince prospective wealthier, whiter buyers that they can come in and not feel threatened.


Excerpted from Street Therapists by ANA Y. RAMOS-ZAYAS Copyright © 2012 by The University of Chicagos. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


Introduction: Street Therapists: Race, Affect, and Neoliberal Personhood in Latino Newark

One The Feel That Sells Newark: From “Aggressive” City to Neoliberal-Friendly Emotional Regime

Two Delinquent Citizenship: Self-Help Organizations, Military Recruitment, and the Politics of Worth in Puerto Rican Newark

Three Cartography of Racial Democracy: Cultural Excess, Racial Play, and Universal Sentimentality in Luso-Brazilian Newark

Four Real-Life Telenovelas, Self-Care, and Stereotypes of the Tropics: Sexing Race and Emotion in the City

Five Of “Black Lesbians,” Hate Crimes, and Crime-Talk: The Sexuality of “Aggression” in the City

Six Learning Affect, Embodying Race: Cosmopolitan Competency and Urban Emotional Epistemologies

Final Remarks and Reflections


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Street Therapists: Race, Affect, and Neoliberal Personhood in Latino Newark 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
She observed the forest around her as they went by.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Home of the fairies, nymphs, and other forest creatures.
LaVoz More than 1 year ago
Ramos-Zayas brings together emotion (as cultural feature), race and neoliberalism together in a skillful way. As I was reading it I felt that I was in Newark talking to the people and feeling their experience as well. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to understand Latinos behavior and also to those who want to take a look at how powerful 'emotions' can be.