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“In their homelands, they were West Africans and West Europeans whose identities were determined by culture, heritage, region, but in this mixed new country, skin itself has currency as meaning, and they become black and whites. the whites who were at the bottom of the social ladder in Europe now have someone lower than them, and a lot of them seem to like it that way; they live for centuries in highly structured suspicion and interconnection.

“The ballads and rhythms of their musics mix with least inhibition, and in the twentieth century new indigenous musics evolve, out of the red dirt, the strong African and maybe Native American beats and rhythms, the Celtic melancholy, into the hillbilly music cleaned up as country and western, and into blues and rhythm and blues. They all dovetail as rock and roll, a medium that spreads less like imperialism than like the potato and becomes a local crop all over the world, particularly the English-speaking world, a local crop that expresses the insurrection of the young against tradition and authority, of the margin against the center, and that sometimes becomes an institution itself, like U2 in Ireland. The melancholy and the exuberance of slaves and outsiders have come, or come back, to Ireland.”

- Rebecca Solnit, A Book of Migrations

“Home, the site of all childhood’s revelations and sufferings, changes irrevocably, so that we are all in some sense refugees from a lost world. But you can’t ever leave home either; it takes root inside you and the very idea of self as an entity bounded by the borders of the skin is a fiction disguising the vast geographies contained under the skin that will never let you go. It is, if nothing else, the first ruler by which everything else will be measured, the place by which other places will be found hot or cold, bustling or serene, lush or stark. When I think back to my formation, it seems that landscape shaped me, made a home in the truer sense than the centerless house in the subdivision and an identity surer than the vague hints of familial and ethnic history than came my way.”

- Rebecca Solnit, A Book of Migrations

“Most stories are travel stories, and in traveling our lives begin to assume the shape of a story. It may be because a journey is so often a metaphor for life itself that journeying is satisfying.”

- Rebecca Solnit, A Book of Migrations

“The last display in this inanimate animal kingdom brought me back to Swift and his speculations on the human animal and its place on earth, or lack thereof. In the very back of the Natural History Museum in Dublin, the last case you’d come to, were four skeletons: a chimpanzee, an ‘Orang Utan,’ a gorilla, and a man… The apes were propped up by black rods attached to their spines and bolted to the floor, but the man was suspended from the ceiling by a golden chain attached to his skull with a wing nut. The installation seemed to propose that human and ape anatomies are analogous, but their essences are utterly different, that animals rise from the earth, but humans dangle from the heavens like God’s puppets, touching the ground but disconnected from it, strangers on earth.

On a little glass shelf above the chimp, the lacy bones of a tiny white-handed gibbons’ upright and humanlike skeleton presided, like a fanged angel with arms that reached its ankles.

“The suspension of the human skeleton gave visible form to what perhaps changed when upright across the land in the tenuous balance of bipedalism, their eyes focus on the distances that hardly exist in forests… The skeleton dangled as though it belonged to the sky and needed to grow the wings most bipeds have, to lift further from the ground of its origins; or it dangled with its feet just scraping the floor of the case as though it needed to come back to earth, as though with its straight treelike body it needed to put down roots, to solidify. It seemed to me that human beings when they became upright aspired to two conditions: becoming birds or becoming trees, wanderers or settlers, oscillating between their roots and their wings, exiled whichever way they turned.”

- Rebecca Solnit, A Book of Migrations

“Our relationship with death and dying these days is not good at all. Fifty years ago one’s grandfather would die at home, and the grandchild would see the grandfather’s dead face. The fact of dying was inside the fact of living. Now we’ve become ashamed of dying, we want to forget that we’re going to die. Dying has become an accident. But I think it’s important to speak about it as it’s the only thing we can really be sure of. We are all going to die. We also have a problem with the fact of killing. I eat meat but I would never dream of killing an animal. But if we eat meat, we have to accept that being alive means that we kill things around us. But we forget these basic aspects of our humanity.”

- Christian Boltanski

“What is so beautiful and simultaneously dangerous about Christianity is that Christians want to convert everyone to their faith – so with the beauty of this ideal comes the fact that they’ve killed so many people. There is nothing more beautiful in Christianity than the fact that Christ was killed for everybody. Christ’s last words were incredible, they were: ‘I’m thirsty; Father, why have you forsaken me?’ and ‘I’m dying’ – which are all so human. It’s so amazing that a religion can be built on these words, the words of a man at the moment of such weakness and despair.”

- Christian Boltanski

“It seems to me that Western Christian culture is all about objects. For an African it is not so important to preserve a mask from the sixteenth century. What is important is to have someone now who still has the skill to make a mask. In many other traditions, it’s not important to keep the object, but what is of value is knowing the idea or story behind it.”

- Christian Boltanski

“If you answer mostly no, then congratulations, you have white privilege.

When you want to join a prestigious social club, do you wonder if your race will make it difficult for you to join?

When you go shopping alone at a nice store, do you worry that you will be followed or harassed?

When you turn on mainstream TV or open a mainstream newspaper, do you expect to find mostly people of another race?

Do you worry that your children will not have books and school materials that are about people of their own race?

When you apply for a bank loan, do you worry that, because of your race, you might be seen as financially unreliable?

If you swear, or dress shabbily, do you think that people might say this is because of the bad morals or the poverty or the illiteracy of your race?

If you do well in a situation, do you expect to be called a credit to your race? Or to be described as ‘different’ from the majority of your race?

If you criticize the government, do you worry that you might be seen as a cultural outsider? Or that you might be asked to ‘go back to X,’ X being somewhere not in America?

If you receive poor service in a nice store and ask to see ‘the person in charge,’ do you expect that this person will be a person of another race?

If a traffic cop pulls you over, do you wonder if it is because of your race?

If you take a job with an Affirmative Action employer, do you worry that your co-workers will think you are unqualified and were hired only because of your race?

If you want to move to a nice neighborhood, do you worry that you might not be welcome because of your race?

If you need legal or medical help, do you worry that your race might work against you?

When you use the ‘nude’ color of underwear and Band-Aids, do you already know that it will not match your skin?”

- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah, referring to Peggy McIntosh’s Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack

“Why must we always talk about race anyway? Can’t we just be human beings? Professor Hunk replied – that is exactly what white privilege is, that you can say that. Race doesn’t really exist for you because it has never been a barrier. Black folks don’t have that choice. The black guy on the street in New York doesn’t want to think about race, until he tries to hail a cab, and he doesn’t want to think about race when he’s driving his Mercedes under the speed limit, until a cop pulls him over. So Appalachian hick guy doesn’t have class privilege, but he sure as hell has race privilege.”

- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah

“In America, racism exists but racists are all gone. Racists belong to the past. Racists are the thin-lipped mean white people in the movies about the civil rights era. Here’s the thing: the manifestation of racism has changed but the language has not. So if you haven’t lynched somebody then you can’t be called a racist. If you’re not a bloodsucking monster, then you can’t be called a racist. Somebody has to be able to say that racists are not monsters. They are people with loving families, regular folk who pay taxes.”

- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah

“The simplest solution to the problem of race in America? Romantic love. Not friendship. Not the kind of safe, shallow love where the objective is that both people remain comfortable. But real deep romantic love, the kind that twists you and wrings you out and makes you breathe through the nostrils of your beloved. And because that real deep romantic love is so rare, and because American society is set up to make it even rarer between American Black an American White, the problem of race in America will never be solved.”

- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah

“There was a certain luxury to charity that she could not identify with and did not have. To take ‘charity’ for granted, to revel in this charity towards people whom one did not know – perhaps it came from having had yesterday and having today and expecting to have tomorrow.”

- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah

“Humility had always seemed to him a specious thing, invented for the comfort of others; you were praised for humility by people because you did not make them feel any more lacking than they already did. It was honesty that he valued; he had always wished himself to be truly honest, and always feared that he was not.”

- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah

“Have faith. ‘Have faith’ was like saying be tall and shapely. She wanted to be tall and shapely but of course she was not; she was short and her behind was flat and that stubborn soft bit of her lower belly bulged, even when she wore her Spanx body-shaper. When she said this, Father Patrick laughed.

” ‘ “Have faith” is not really like saying be tall and shapely. It’s more like saying be okay with teh bulge and with having to wear Spanx,’ he said.”

- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “The Shivering,” The Thing Around Your Neck

“…they have torn the living rabbit into pieces and within seconds they have devoured the still-pulsing flesh, the spine of the rabbit has been shredded, and devoured, and the small knobby skull shattered like clay, the spongy rabbit-brains sucked and swallowed and each hair of the rabbit’s soft dark hide, each drop of the rabbit’s meek blood, of the creature piteous and desperate to live but a few seconds previously not trace remains – not a trace in the snow-stubbled field behind the darkened houses in which human inhabitants sleep in ignorance of the terror of torn-apart flesh as of the joy of the predators’ bodies and now truly they are ravenous.”

- Joyce Carol Oates, “Spotted Hyenas: A Romance,” Black Dahlia and White Rose

“He hadn’t yet grasped this simple fact of human relations – the more readily you give, the more readily it will be taken from you as what you owe.”

- Joyce Carol Oates, “Run Kiss Daddy,” Black Dahlia and White Rose

“Sentimentality is the enjoyment of emotion for its own sake, a kind of connoisseurship of feelings without the obligation to act on them, the narcissism of the heart.”

- Rebecca Solnit, A Book of Migrations

“Tourists have as peculiar an effect on a culture as invaders do, if not in so straightforward a manner. They are there, officially to see the exotic, the different, the ancient, but sooner or later a new economy springs up in their wake. Thus the culture they left behind appears again, or the place the come to see becomes its own impersonation.

“There are situations in which tourism can encourage the preservation of a place, but far more frequently, tourists inadvertently stimulate an industry at the cost of the local culture. Cultures, after all, evolve and change, but tourists most often wan an unchanged vision of the past. It ‘s hard to say to what extent a real past has been resurrected in these places, but the present has certainly been vanquished. Such tourist accommodation raises the question of whether a tradition still exists when it’s no longer carried on for traditional purposes. Thus an Aran Isles sweater knitted for an international market is not the same as an Aran Isles sweater knitted for the fisherman in the family. It looks the same, but it’s part of a market economy, not a subsistence economy. The vast and ever-expanding industry of tourism threatens to turn the whole world into a series of theaters whose companies perform palatable versions of their culture and history.”

- Rebecca Solnit, A Book of Migrations

“I wasn’t sure what I would find, but travel provides not confirmations, but surprises.”

- Rebecca Solnit, A Book of Migrations

“Bill spoke of how the Shoshone traditionally destroyed the property of those who died, so that there were almost no heirlooms, no objects passed down the generations, no accumulation of property. It was a circumstance that suited well the nomadism of the Shoshone in their arid homeland. Whatever its religious purposes, the custom kept people from piling up wealth over the generations, forestalling inheritance and the inequities that result. Nomads travel light on many levels.”

- Rebecca Solnit, A Book of Migrations


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