This lecture is hosted by the Effron Center for the Study of America.
This lecture delivers a cultural and historical examination of capitalism, democracy, and the Cold War, through the lens of race and the historical figure Daniel Fignolé. The presentation excavates the life and times of Fignolé, a spell-binding orator and one-time president of Haiti. A political and oratorical daredevil, he was one of the most charismatic, popular figures in that country’s history — and the father of its labor movement. But in June 1957, just weeks into his presidency, Fignolé was ousted in a CIA-backed coup, which brought to power one of the 20th century’s bloodiest dictators. Fignolé, in his paradoxical narrative cycle, grew up under U.S.-occupied Haiti, but was expelled to America as an adult Cold War refugee. And so, this lecture also examines critical, foundational questions about this country’s own modern body politic, ranging from “Eisenhower’s America” to democracy in the age of Trumpism.
Richard Benjamin is a cultural anthropologist who researches contemporary U.S. politics and culture, specializing in democracy, social relations, space and place, demographics and race. He is also a sought-after lecturer, and a public-facing scholar often interviewed in the national and international media. His essays appear regularly in public discourse, including in The New York Times, The New Yorker, and The New York Times Sunday Book Review.
Benjamin is completing a family memoir that doubles as a portrait of post-Cold War America. The book tackles, also, critical questions of migration, diaspora, racialization, and nation-making. Talk to Me will be published by Pantheon Books, Penguin Random House.
Benjamin’s current research agenda also focuses on the nexus of technology, money, and society—specifically fin-tech, wherein technology and digital finance increasingly dominate the economy, and high finance is increasingly digitized. Benjamin’s next research project investigates the socio-cultural dimensions of quants, flash-trading, crypto assets, hedge funds, extreme wealth, risk, and what he calls “heterosexual melancholy.”
Benjamin’s first book, Searching for Whitopia: An Improbable Journey to the Heart of White America, won an Editor’s Choice Award from the American Library Association. Now in its second printing, this groundbreaking anthropological study is one of few to have illuminated in advance the rise of white anxiety and “Trumpism” in contemporary U.S. life. Benjamin’s past and on-going research have received significant support from Civitella, the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers, the Russell Sage Foundation, Columbia University School of Law, the Bellagio Center, the Ford Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation.
Benjamin’s community citizenship is to serve on a few Boards of Trustees: Art Omi, the renowned arts center; New_Public, the pro-democracy technology venture; and the Authors Guild, the national union for writers that has been protecting free speech and authors’ rights since 1912.