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Category Archives: society

“The man who is down, looking up, can catch a glimpse now and then of Heaven, but the man who can only look down is quite likely to see another and quite different place.”

– Booker T Washington

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“I had said to him earlier, violence solves nothing. But it was only a piety, like a grace before meat. I wasn’t attending to its meaning as I said it, and if I thought about it, I felt a hypocrite. It’s only what the strong preach to the weak; you never hear it the other way round; the strong don’t lay down their arms.”

– Hilary Mantel, “The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher”

“Embattled groups have to police membership for their own protection. But with policing comes power, and all power’s usual intoxicants.”

– Mat Johnson, Loving Day

“I am a racial optical illusion. I am as visually duplicitous as the illustration of the young beauty that’s also the illustration of the old hag… The people who see me as white always will, and will think it’s madness that anyone else would come to any other conclusion, holding to this falsehood regardless of learning my true identity. The peopel who see me as black cannot imagine how a sane intelligent person would be so bind not to understand this, despite my pale-skinned presence. The only influence I have over this perception is in the initial encounter. Here is my chance to be categorized as black, with an asterisk. The asterisk is my whole body.”

– Mat Johnson, Loving Day

“The topic of the conversation should be how us can come to include all of us. Accomplishing this degree of unity may mean giving up fierce defence of politics and strategies that exacerbate racial tensions and produce for racially defined gruops primarily psychological or cosmetic racial benefits…. So what is to be demanded in this moment in our nation’s racial history? If the answer is more power, more top jobs, more slots in the fancy schools for ‘us’ – a narrow, racially defined us that excludes many – we will continue the same power struggles and can expect to achieve many of the same results.”

– Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow

“The color of police chiefs across the country has changed, but the role of the police in our society has not…

“Conventional strategies for social change proceed as though a change in who administers power fundamentally affects the structure of power itlself… The reality, however, is that the existing hierarchy disciplines newcomers, requiring them to exercise power in the same old ways and play by the same old rules in order to survive. The newcomers are easily co-opted, as they have much to lose but little to gain by challenging the rules of the game.”

– Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow

“Seeing race is not teh problem. Refusing to care for the people we see is the problem. We should hope not for a colorblind society, but instead for a world in which we can see each other fully, learn from each other, and do what we can to respond to each other with love. That was King’s dream – a society that’s capable of seeing each of us, as we are, with love.”

– Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow

“The notion that racial caste systems are necessarily predicated on a desire to harm other racial groups, and that racial hostility is the essence of racism is fundamentally misguided… Most plantation owners supported the institution of black slavery not because of a sadistic desire to harm blacks but instead because they wanted to get rich… Preoccupation with the role of racial hostility in earlier caste systems can blind us to the ways in which every caste system, incdluing mass incarceration, has been supported by racial indifference.”

– Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow

“As a society, our collective understanding of racism has been powerfully influenced by the shocking images of the Jim Crow era and the struggle for civil rights… These images make it easy to forget that many wonderful, good-hearted white people who were generous to others, respectful of their neighbors and even kind to their black maids, gardeners, or shoe shiners – and wished them well – nevertheless went to the polls and voted for racial segregation. Many whites who supported Jim Crow justified it on paternalist grounds, actually believing they were doing blacks a favor or believing the time was not yet ‘right’ for equality. The disturbing images from the Jim Crow era also make it easy to forget that many African Americans were complicit in the Jim Crow system, profiting fomr it directly or indirectly or keeping their objections quiet out of fear of the repressions. Our understanding of racism is therefore shaped by the most extreme expressios of individual bigotry, not by the way in whic it functions naturally, almost invisibly (and sometimes with genuinely benign intent), when it is embedded in the structure of a social system.”

– Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow

“Faulkner hoped that American blacks would have the generosity to ‘go slow’ – would allow white people the time to save themselves, as though they had not had more than enough time already.

“…He wants the old order, which came into existence through unchecked greed and wanton murder, to redeem itself without further bloodshed – without, that is, any further menacing itself – and without coercion. This, old orders never do, less because they would not than because they cannot. They cannot because they have always existed in relation to a force which they have had to subdue. This subjugation is the key to their identity and the triumph and justification of their history, which is now indivisible from oneself, has been full of errors and excesses; but this is not the same thing as seeing that, for millions of people, this history – oneself – has been nothing but an intolerable yoke, a stinking prison, a shrieking grave. It is not so easy to see that, for millions of people, life itself depends on the speediest possible demolition of this history, even if this means the leveling, or the destruction of its heirs. And whatever this history may have given to the subjugated is of absolutely no value, since they have never been free to reject it; they will never even be able to assess it until they are free to take from it what they need, and to add to history the monumental fact of their presence.”

– James Baldwin, No Name in the Street

“…a civilization is not destroyed by wicked people; it is not necessary that people be wicked but only that they be spineless.”

– James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time

“The question of nationality no longer necessarily involves the question of allegiance. Allegiance, after all, has to work two ways; and one can grow weary of an allegiance which is not reciprocal.”

– James Baldwin, Nobody Knows My Name

“The great impulse of the courtroom seemed to be to put these people where they could not be seen – and not because they were offended at the crimes, unless, indeed, they were offended that the crimes were so petty, but because they did not wish to know that their society could be counted on to produce, probably in greater and greater numbers, a whole body of people for whom crim ewas the only possible career. Any society inevitably produces its criminals, but a society at once rigid and unstable can do nothing whatever to alleviate the poverty of its lowest members, cannot present to eh hypothetical young man at the crucial moment that so-well-advertised right path.

“…as had been predicted, the case against us was dismissed. The story… finally told, caused great merriment in the courtroom. …I was chilled by their merriment, even though it was meant to warm me. It could only remind me of the alughter I had often heard at home. This laughter is the laughter of those who consider themselves to be at a safe remove from all the wretched, for whom the pain of the living is not real. I had heard it so often in my native land that I had resolved to find a place where I would never it any more. In som edeep black, stony, and liberating way, my life, in my own eyes, began during that first year in Paris, when it was borne in on me that this laughter is universal and never can be stilled.”

– James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son

“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