As a boy, I saw blacks being mistreated and made to use blacks-only facilities. It was common to be eating in a restaurant and see a black person come around back and receive the food and sit outside with it.
In 1967 I went to live in New York City. My boss was a black man, whose parents were from Jamaica. The parents had fled to New York, because she was marrying a man with much darker skin than hers, and her family was up in arms over it. She was also "black," even though her skin was whiter than mine.
The man, whose name was Vince, wanted me to experience a civil rights event. He bought me a place on the chartered buses reserved by Jesse Jackson. When we arrived that morning, only six other persons, including Jesse, showed up. One was Flo Kennedy, civil rights lawyer, and some were from a church I forgot the name of.
We rode off to Washington, DC. I sat in one seat alone, immersed in my thoughts when a voice spoke from the seat behind me.
"Why are you here?"
I saw Jesse looking me in the face, waiting for an answer. I marveled at how smooth and young he was, almost like a high school kid. I was not precocious in those days. In fact, I was an introvert, who in childhood exhibited symptoms of autism.
"I wanted to see how these things work," I replied.
"You're going to see how they work, all right," he said, beaming.
He hesitated to see if I had more to say, but I had exhausted my store of talk with the one sentence. He moved away.
The object of the trip was multiple. First on the agenda, we went to the White House, bearing a tent. We placed it on the grass with the avowed intent to erect it and then paint it black. "The Black House."
Police filled the area, outnumbering us by seven or eight, I would guess since memory fails here. The women passed out buttons proclaiming the cause. When they approached Vince, he backed away, suddenly frightened. I guess he expected the law to take us to jail if we went too far. His fear communicated itself to me, and I too backed away, feeling ashamed because I wouldn't wear a simple button.
Jesse announced that we had accomplished our goal after about fifteen minutes of negotiations with the police. We left and went to the Lincoln Memorial, where the 1968 Mothers March on Washington, protesting the Vietnam War, was about to get underway.
We fell in behind the people. A secretary to Senator Percy of Illinois fell in beside me.
"I'm here, because my son is over there, and I want him safely home."
She was very pleasant, and she kept trying to convince me I ought to apply at the Smithsonian to be a security guard. At John Kennedy's grave, they made speeches, and then we marched back to the Memorial.
From there, we eight were taken to a prominent black church, I don't know where. The minister was named Floyd McKissick. We waited for about a half-hour in an outer hall. I don't know where Vince was. I stood on the floor alone, feeling vulnerable. I heard a woman's voice.
"I would like to ask a question." I saw a beautiful young woman, with fire in her eyes. She waited until she had all our attention. She pointed at me. "What's he doing here?"
They all showed by their actions that they were also curious. I was morbidly shy in those times. Feeling as though I might sink into the floor, I forced myself to speak. Stammering, I told how I had come with Jesse and how I was opposed to the war. They mostly smiled with understanding, and the tension melted away.
We went in to listen to Floyd.
"Don't come to our neighborhoods to teach about civil rights," he said. I followed his gaze and saw a sprinkling of white liberals in the pews. "We know about civil rights. Stay in your own neighborhoods and teach. That's where they don't understand about civil rights."
One white man was outraged. "Where does that leave us, after all our years of hard work?"
"If you really are our friend, you will understand."
Jesse canceled the tour bus and bought train tickets for the journey home. As we boarded the coach, Ms. Kennedy handed us each a Sunday paper. Our White House Adventure had gotten us a small square at the bottom of page one.
That was my first experience in both civil rights and war protest actions. But not my last. One of the great lessons I learned that day was, as Floyd McKissick pointed out, "Teach civil rights in your own neighborhood, where they need it the most."
I remember Mark Twain's essay The United States of Lyncherdom examined the issue in some depth.
Wed 17 Jun, 2020 09:11 am
I should have been more specific. I have known about lynching from the past all the way into my lifetime. But it almost went away, due to the legality of shooting black people. This new edition seems to tie into the current public uprising triggered by the murder of G Floyd.
Sat 20 Jun, 2020 10:00 am
It seems the system is learning how to reject many of Trump's attempted actions. A noteworthy example is the military saying "NO" when he wished to have them attack the people. There are other examples that news junkies ought to be aware of without me belaboring a point. The continuing protests for BLM and such, plus the full weight of the depression we have entered being just on the horizon, makes me rethink my decision to vote for Biden. Biden will be ineffective dealing with all we are facing, plus will be held to blame for the echoing damage visited by the Trump administration. And his ideas on government in relation to the people are purely in line with the Republicans and big business. No, don't vote Biden in. The chaos we have slipped into should fall on the shoulders of the ones that created it. Maybe in 2024 we will have progressed enough to elect a leader of the people for once.
Wed 24 Jun, 2020 09:44 pm
U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders
1 hr ·
Today, Republicans pushed empty gestures on police reform. No. Enough lip service.
Any serious effort must ban chokeholds, abolish legal immunity, create unarmed civilian first responders, and strip federal funds for police that violate civil rights.
Thu 25 Jun, 2020 08:40 am
“WHITE SOLIDARITY White solidarity is the unspoken agreement among whites to protect white advantage and not cause another white person to feel racial discomfort by confronting them when they say or do something racially problematic. Educational researcher Christine Sleeter describes this solidarity as white “racial bonding.” She observes that when whites interact, they affirm “a common stance on race-related issues, legitimating particular interpretations of groups of color, and drawing conspiratorial we-they boundaries.”10 White solidarity requires both silence about anything that exposes the advantages of the white position and tacit agreement to remain racially united in the protection of white supremacy. To break white solidarity is to break rank. We see white solidarity at the dinner table, at parties, and in work settings. Many of us can relate to the big family dinner at which Uncle Bob says something racially offensive. Everyone cringes but no one challenges him because nobody wants to ruin the dinner. Or the party where someone tells a racist joke but we keep silent because we don’t want to be accused of being too politically correct and be told to lighten up. In the workplace, we avoid naming racism for the same reasons, in addition to wanting to be seen as a team player and to avoid anything that may jeopardize our career advancement. All these familiar scenarios are examples of white solidarity. (Why speaking up about racism would ruin the ambiance or threaten our career advancement is something we might want to talk about.) The very real consequences of breaking white solidarity play a fundamental role in maintaining white supremacy. We do indeed risk censure and other penalties from our fellow whites. We might be accused of being politically correct or might be perceived as angry, humorless, combative, and not suited to go far in an organization. In my own life, these penalties have worked as a form of social coercion. Seeking to avoid conflict and wanting to be liked, I have chosen silence all too often. Conversely, when I kept quiet about racism, I was rewarded with social capital such as being seen as fun, cooperative, and a team player. Notice that within a white supremacist society, I am rewarded for not interrupting racism and punished in a range of ways—big and small—when I do. I can justify my silence by telling myself that at least I am not the one who made the joke and that therefore I am not at fault. But my silence is not benign because it protects and maintains the racial hierarchy and my place within it. Each uninterrupted joke furthers the circulation of racism through the culture, and the ability for the joke to circulate depends on my complicity. People of color certainly experience white solidarity as a form of racism, wherein we fail to hold each other accountable, to challenge racism when we see it, or to support people of color in the struggle for racial justice.”
― Robin DiAngelo, White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism
Sun 28 Jun, 2020 12:31 pm
Stranger in a Strange Land: When politics seeking to put The New Deal back on track makes one a wild eyed radical.
The only active presidential candidate who pushes for the solutions I care about is Mark Charles.
Fri 10 Jul, 2020 01:29 pm
From our editor-in-chief. Geez, doesn't he have enough enemies!?
July 8 at 2:40 PM
I'm not going to link to it because that's pretty much the only reason it was written, but I do want to take a moment to call out the preposterous letter about cancel culture in Harper's that's making the rounds. As Holly Hughes says on her page (which is private): the timing on this thing is suspect. Not that I don't believe in nuance in ethical matters, but people are fighting and dying in the streets for basic human rights, and calls for restraint strike me as little more than a defense of the status quo. And when Brooks and Frum and Fukuyama are among the signatories, you gotta ask yourself why this, and why now?
But the content of the letter is itself a whole lot of nothing. It talks about cancel culture as though it were a monolithic phenomenon, which it's not, but also as though cancel culture is constantly being deployed as an argument ender, which it also isn't. God knows the anonymity and physical remove of internet conversations empower a certain kind of trollish behavior, but the contemporary dialogues around race, gender, sex, and the other kinds of issues with which cancel culture is associated are incredibly broad, diverse, and insightful. If they're also often contentious, they should be: these are things that matter, things that touch the core of what it means to be human and to be a member of a society. People *should* care about them, emotionally as well as intellectually. And if they sometimes fight about them, well, that's what words were invented for: so we wouldn't have to stab someone in the gut to tell them we disagree with them.
And really, was there no distinction to be drawn between the garden-variety social media user expressing their outrage as an individual, and the professional critic who puports to act in defense of or on behalf of a group of people, and the agitprop con artist who's being paid to stir **** up? All these players have different motivations and different stakes in cancel culture, and it's meaningless to address them as though they were acting and thinking identically. I say this as someone who's been cancelled a couple of times in his career (and who's also defended people and institutions who were the targets of cancel culture, including Charlie Hebdo, Woody Allen, and Azealia Banks): there isn't a standing army of liberals that spends all day trolling the internet just looking for lives and careers to crush. And also: the cancellers aren't always wrong. Cancelling Roseanne, whose TV show is one of the great feminist statements of our time, and Paula Dean, whom I've always found kind of gross, were both great decisions. Systemic racism, homophobia, misogyny, etc., all count on good-intentioned liberals to patiently point out why maybe one might want to avoid comparing black people to monkeys or yearning for plantation days, as if the only reasonable response to that kind of rhetoric wasn't simply, "**** you, you ******* racist, **** off." JK Rowling was banking on exactly this sense of liberal fair play when she wrote her recent letter attacking transmen. She used the same rhetoric of compassion and reason on display in the Harper's letter, as if to say that hers was an intellectual point of view, when the fact is it was nothing more than a hate-filled screed defaming transmen as confused, damaged sexual predators who hate women so much they want to make them not exist. There's no need to say anything nice to that. She knows full well that her arguments rely on lies and innuendo and more lies. All you need to do is flip her the bird and turn your back on her.
For this letter to mean anything at all, it needed to cite instances in which cancel culture stifled necessary debate rather than simply (and usually temporarily) silencing a person who was doing active harm with their words. Are we really supposed to wait till R. Kelly is convicted of raping god knows how many girls before we stop buying his records? Is there anything to say to Louis CK except buh bye, turns out you really were the hypocritical sack of **** you were always telling us you were? And on the flip side: is it actually necessary to argue that you shouldn't wish death on someone, let alone threaten to kill them, because they defended a bigot's right to free speech or characterized Pete Buttigieg as a wolf in pink wool? I mean, the best answer these letter writers could give is that these weren't the kinds of cases they were referring to. To which I would have to respond: well, what *are* the cases you were referring to? Instead of drooling out a lot of liberal pablum about "inclusion" and "free exchange of ideas," which are so bland as to be both incontestible and completely irrelevant, perhaps you could show us a few instances in which cancel culture was in the wrong. (God knows there are lots of them. Hint: me! I'm one of them!) But that might put them in the uncomfortable position of having to defend someone whose position might in fact be indefensible, which one senses they don't have the stomach for. Or perhaps they're simply afraid of becoming targets themselves. In which case I would say: you picked the wrong job.
Believe me, I'm not saying cancel culture is perfect. (Have I mentioned that I've been the target of cancel culture? It's terrifying and soul-crushing and financially ruinous.) All I'm saying is that despite its many failings, cancel culture isn't something that can be understood as a singular phenomenon that means the same thing to all people in all instances. If being members of a "liberal society" requires us to do anything, it's to judge individual actions rather than hide behind blanket condemnations. We all know there are times when cancel culture is guilty of the latter, and by all means let's call it out. But as far as I can tell the whole point of this letter is to condemn cancel culture because it stifles thought by shaming people, and yet that's pretty much the only thing it's doing. Which is, you know, rich. Not as rich as JK Rowling maybe, but pretty damn rich.