Skip navigation

Category Archives: society

“Americans, unhappily, have the most remarkable ability to alchemize all bitter truths into an innocuous but piquant confection and to transfrom their moral contradictions, or public disussion of such contradictions, into a proud decoration, such as are given for heroism on the field of battle.”

– James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son

“…the general desire seems to be to make it blank if one cannot make it white. when it has become blank, the past as throoughly washed from the black face as it has been from ours, our guilt will be finished – at least it will have ceased to be visible, which we imagine to be much the same thing.”

– James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son

“When it came to her son, Dr James’s country did what it does best – it forgot him. The forgetting is habit, is yet another necessary component of the Dream. They have forgotten the scale of the theft that enriched them in slavery; the terror that allowed them, for a century, to pilfer the vote; the segregationist policy that gave them their suburbs. They have forgotten, because to remmber would tumble them out of the beautiful Dream and force them to live down here with us, down here in the world. I am convinced that the Dreamers, at least the Dreamers of today, would rather live white than live free. In the Dream, they are Buck Rogers, Prince Aragorn, an entire race of Skywalkers. To awaken them is to reveal that they are an empire of humans, and ike all empires of humans, are built on the destruction of the body. It is to stain their nobility, to make them vulnerable, fallible, breakable humans.

…But you cannot arrange your life around your life around them and the small chance of the Dreamers coming into consciousness.

…I do not believe that we can stop them because they must ultimately stop themselves. And still I urge you to struggle. Struggle for the memory of your ancestors. Struggle for wisdom. Struggle for the warmth of the Mecca. Struggle for your grandmother and grandfather, for your name. But do not struggle for the Dreamers. Hope for them. Pray for them, if you are so moved. But do not pin your struggle on their conversion. The Dreamers will have to learn to struggle themselves, to understand that the field for their Dream, the stage where they have painted themselves white, is the deathbed of us all. The Dream is the same habit that endangers the planet.”

– Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

“They were utterly fearless. I did not understand it until I looked out on the street. That was where I saw white parents pushing double-wide strollers down gentrifying Harlem boulevards in T-shirts and jogging shorts. Or I saw them lost in conversation with each other, mother and father, while their sons commanded entire sidewalks with their tricylces. The galaxy belonged to them, and as terror was communicated to our children, I saw mastery communicated to theirs.”

– Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

“At this moment, the phrase ‘police reform’ has come into vogue, and the actions of our publicly appointed guardians have attracted attention presidential and pedestrian. You may have heard the talk of diversity, sensitivity traning and body cameras. These are all fine and applicable, but they understate the task and allow the citizens of this country to pretend that there is real distance between their own attitudes and those of the ones appointed to protect them. The truth is that the police reflect America in all of its will and fear and whatever we might make of this country’s criminal justice policy, it cannot be said that it was impressed by a repressive minority. The abuses that have followed from these policies are the product of democratic will. And so to challenge the police is to challenge the American people who send them into the ghettos armed with teh same self-generated fears that compelled the people who think they are white to flee teh cities and into the Dream. The problem with the police is not that they are fascist pigs but that our country is ruled by majoritarian pigs.”

– Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

“I am black, and have been plundered and have lost my body. But perhaps I too had the capacity for plunder, maybe I would take another human’s body to confirm myself in a community. Perhaps I already had. Hate gives identity. The nigger, the fag, the bitch illuinate the border, illuminate what we ostensibly are not, illuminate the Dream of being white, of being a Man. We name the hated strangers and are thus confirmed in the tribe.”

– Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

“I took a survey of Europe post-1800. I saw black people, rendered through ‘white’ eyes, unlike any I’d seen before – the black people looked regal and human. These images, cast in the sixteenth and seventeenth centries, were contrasted with those created after enslavement, the Sambo cariatures I had always known. What was the difference? In my survey course of America, I’d seen portratis of the Irish drawn in the same ravenous, lustful, and simian way…. Perhaps, the Irish too had once lost their bodies. Perhaps being named ‘black’ had nothing to do with any of this; perhaps being named ‘black’ was just someone’s name for being at the bottom, a human turned to object, object turned to pariah.

“There was nothing holy or particular in my skin; I was black because of history and heritage. There was no nobiilty in falling, in bein gbound, in living oppressed, and there was no inherent meaning in black blood. Black blood wasn’t black; black skin wasn’t even black.”

– Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

“…how do I live free in this black body? It is a profound question because America understands itself as God’s handiwork, but the black body is the clearest evidence that America is the work of man.”

– Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

“Americans believe in the reality of the ‘race’ as a defined, indubitable feature of the natural world. Racism – the need to ascribe bone-deep features to people and then humiliate, reduce and destroy them – inevitably follows from this inalterable condition. In this way, racism is rendered as the innocent daughter of Mother Nature, and one is left todeplore the Middle Passage or the Trail of Tears the way one deplores an earthquake, a tornado, or any other phenomenon that can be cast as beyond the handiwork of men.

“But race is the child of racism, not the father. And the process of ‘naming the people’ has never been a matter of genealogy and physiognomy so much as one of hierarchy. Difference in hue and hair is old. But the belief in the preeminence of hue and hair, the notion that these factors can correctly organize a society and that they signify deeper attributes, which are indelible – this is the new idea at the heart of these new people who have been brought up hopelessly, tragically, deceitfully, to believe that they are white.

“These new people are, like us, a modern invention. But unlike us, their new name has no real meaning divorced from the machinery of criminal power. The new people were something else before they were white… the process of washing the disparate tribes white, the elevation of the belief in being white was not achieved through wine tastings and ice cream socials, but rather through the pillaging of life, liberty, labor and land…”

– Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

“It was the Klan’s job to rescue white women from the black devils who were trying to rape them and create a mongrel race. The reality is that mixed-race Americans were largely the result of the cream being poured into the coffee, as it were, and not the other way around. But this lie – the myth of the black sexual predator – was powerful…”

– Larry Wilmore

“Today, most politically correct people celebrate the fact of racial, ethnic, or religious differences, but we do not believe in them as our humanist ancestors did. We focus on toleration, particularly on the rights of people who differ from us, but toleration can be itself a form of mutual indifference, leaving one another alone, each in his or her own sphere, as a version of getting along together. Our humanist forebears, particularly those of a practical bent, thought of difference, as it were, making more of a difference. True, the differences they had in mind were different views of material things and what could be done with them. True, also, the early modern era imposed its own Christian culture on the peoples outside Europe it subjugated or enslaved. But the technological and scientific mentality of humanism formulated a simple precept about the experience of difference that, I think, remains powerful in thinking about alternatives to the mere toleration of cultural differences today.

“The precept was that informal, open-ended cooperation is how best to experience difference. Each of the terms in this precept mattters. ‘Informal’ means that contacts between people of differing skills or interests are rich when messy, weak when they become regulated, like boring meetings run strictly on formal rules of order. ‘Open-ended’ means you want to find out what another person is about without knowing where it will lead; put another way, you want to avoid the iron rule of utility that establishes a fixed goal – a product, a policy objective – in advance. ‘Cooperation’ is the simplest and most important term. You suppose that different parties all gain by exchanging rather than one part gaining at the exense of others.”

– Richard Sennett, “Humanism”

“Don’t you know that four fifths of all our troubles in this life would disappear if we would just sit down and keep still?”

– Calvin Coolidge

“Neither intellectuals nor philistines, they are the kind to ‘know what they like’ and have the ‘courage of their convictions,’ though their convictions are not entirely their own and their courage mostly fear. They are capable of cruelty born of laziness, but also of an unexpected spiritual greatness born of love.”

– Zadie Smith, “EM Forster, Middle Manager”

“Divorce, the writer said, had become too easy. Waltz in, waltz out.

“Waltz in, maybe. Make marriage harder if you want to. Outlaw those Vegas chapels with the neon wedding bells, require marriage applications modeled after tax forms, but leave divorce alone. To leave, you have to involve the courts. You have to sue the person you live with for your freedom. You have to disconnect your life from another life and face the sea alone.

“I do not believe that there were more happy marriages, before divorce became socially acceptable, that people tried harder, got through their rough times, and were better off. I believe that more people suffered.

“…if we fail at marriage, we are lucky we don’t have to fail with the force of our whole life… Forgiveness is important not so much because we’ve done wrong as because we feel we need to be forgiven. Family, friends, God, whoever loves us forgives us, takes us in again. They are thrilled by our life, our possibilities, our second chances. They weep with gladness that we did not have to die.”

– Ann Patchett, “The Sacrament of Divorce”

“I wondered if the American penchant for self-invention was somehow related to the seminal immigrant experience, in which one had to renounce the past, give up the old culture, language, history, religion, even one’s birth name, and replace the old self with American ideals, language, a new name and new ways.

“A major aim in writing Accordion Crimes was to show the powerful government and social pressures on foreigners that forced them into the so-called melting pot. The social pressures were enormous, and the cost of assimilation was staggering for the immigrants—their lives were often untimely truncated. They did not belong, they were ridiculed outsiders, they worked at the most miserable and dangerous jobs. They gave up personal identification and respect. The successes went to their children, the first generation of American-born. These American children commonly rejected the values, clothing, language, religion, food, music of their parents in their zeal to be 100 percent American.”

– Annie Proulx

“Generally, the grievously injured bodies shown in published photographs are from Asia or Africa. This journalistic custom inherits the centuries-old practice of exhibiting exotic – that is, colonized – human beings: Africans and denizens of remote Asian countries were displayed like zoo animals in ethnological exhbitions mounted in London, Paris, and other European capitals from the sixteenth until the early twentieth century. The exhibition in photographs of cruelties inflicted on those with darker complexions in exotic countries continues… oblivious to the considerations that deter such displays of our own victims of violence; for the other, even when not an enemy, is regarded only as somone to be seen, not someone (like us) who also sees.”

– Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others

“A theory: Megalopolitan East-Coasters’ summer vacationsare literally getaways, flights-from – from crowds, noise, heat, dirt, the neural wear of too many stimuli. Thus ecstatic escapes to mountains, glassy lakes, cabins, hikes in silent woods. Getting Away From it All. Most East-Coasters see more than enough stimulating people and sights M-F, thank you; they stand in enough lines, buy enough stuff, elbow enough crowds, see enough spectacles. The East-Coast existential treat is thus some escape from confines an stimuli – silence, rustic vistas that hold still, a turning inward: Away. not so in the rural Midwest. Here you’re pretty much Away all the time. The land here is big. Pool-table flat. Horizons in every direction. Thus the vacation-impulse in rural IL is manifested as a flight-toward. Thus the urge physically to commune, melt, become part of a crowd. To see something besides land and corn and satellite TV and your wife’s face. Crowds out here a a kind of adult nightlight. Hence the sacredness out here of Spectacle, Public Event.”

– David Foster Wallace, “Getting Away from Already Pretty Much Being Away from it All”

“The surface of Stand-Out ads still presents a relatively unalloyed Buy This Thing, but the deep message of television w/r/t these ads looks to be that Joe Briefcase’s ontological status as just one in a reactive watching mass is at some basic level shaky, contingent, and that true actualization of self would ultimately consist in Joe’s becoming one of the images that are the objects of this great herd-like watching. That is, television’s real pitch in these commercials is that it’s better to be inside the TV than to be outside, watching.”

David Foster Wallace, “E Unibus Pluram”

“To feel as if you belong is one of the great triumphs of human existence… But… our sense of slight woundedness around not belonging is actually one of our core competencies; that though the crow is just itself and the stone is just itself and the mountain is just itself, and the cloud, and the sky is just itself — we are the one part of creation that knows what it’s like to live in exile, and that the ability to turn your face towards home is one of the great human endeavors and the great human stories.”

David Whyte

“Most scientists agree that a person’s race is self-identified, and the US census now categorizes people only as they self identify. But our racial categories are so closely policed by the culture at large that it would be much more accurate to say that we are collectively identified. Whenever we range outside the racial identity that has been collectively assigned to us, we are very quickly reminded where we belong.”

– Eula Biss, Notes From No Man’s Land, “Relations”