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“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 man does not remmeber the hand that struck him, the darkness that frigthened him, as a child; nevertheless, the hand and the darkness remains with him, indivisible from himself forever, part of the passion that drives him wherever he thinks to take flight.”

– 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

“Any writer, I suppose, feels that the world into which he was born is nothing less than a conspiracy against the cultivation of his talent – which attitude certainly has a great deal to support it. On the other hand, it is only because the world looks on his talent with such a frightnening indifference that the artist is compelled to make his talent important. So that any writer, looking back over even so short a I am here forced to assess, finds that the things which hurt him and the things which helped him cannot be divorced from each other; he could be helped in a certain way only because he was hurt in a certain way; and his help is simply to be enabled to move from one conundrum to the next…”

– James Baldwin, Collected Essays

“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

“I came to see the streets and the schools as arms of the same beast. One enjoyed the official power of the State while the other enjoyed its implicit sanction. But fear and violence were the weaponry of both. Fail in the streets and the crews would catch you slipping and take your body. Fail in the schools and you would be suspended and sent back to those same streets, where they would take your body…. Those who failed in the schools justified their destruction in the streets. The society could say, ‘He should have stayed in school,’ and then wash its hands of him.

“It does not matter that the ‘intentions’ of individual educators were noble…. No one directly proclaimed that schools were designed to sanctify failure and destruction. But a great number of educators spoke of ‘personal responsibility’ in a country authored and sustained by a criminal irresponsibility. The pint of this language of ‘intention’ and ‘personal responsibility’ is broad exoneration. Mistakes were made. Bodies were broken. People were enslaved. We meant well. We tried our best. ‘Good intention’ is a hall pass through history, a sleeping pill that ensures the Dream.”

– Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

“My parents rejected all dogmas… We would not kneel before their God. And so I had no sense that any just God was on my side. ‘The meek shall inherit the earth’ meant nothing to me. The meek were battered in West Baltimore, stomped out at Wallbrook Junction, bashed up on Park Heights, and raped in the showers of the city jail. My understanding of the universe was physical and its moral arc bent twoard chaos then canluded in a box.”

– 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

“A bullet could fell one enemy, a grenade a few more, but the mimeograph would kill the hearts and minds of thousands and resurrect many more of your own.”

– Ta-Nahisi Coates, The Beautiful Struggle

“Nor the police, hyenas on hearing five confessions, four false and
one too irresistible. Nor the mental-health elephant, tusked by the state.
Nor the common-sense stork twisting at the prosecutor’s feet. Nor the one
the one juror, uneasy facing eleven pale sheep that bay all day
all night for conviction. Nor the Governor, sir! Nor the common-sense
stork, now in a knot. Nor the shots. Nor the clause, unbending. Nor
the clause, bending. Nor, seeing his fitful approach, did one turn back
to flip the window latch for the lifeform nearly breaking himself on glass.
Nor the next Governor. Nor the state—carriage horses trotting ever
steady blinders acute to the eye. Nor the widower how could he, puma
in pull-focus. Nor the defense counsel, not for lack of it. Nor the stork,
is she breathing? Is there such a thing as breathing here and does it mean—?
The polyester the royal blue the blanket on the bed of the mother of two.”

– Zoe Hitzig

“Far from being a child of nature, the West was actually given birth by modern technology and bears all the scars of that fierce gestation, like a baby born of an addict.”

– Donald Worster

“The seashore is an edge, perhaps the only true edge in the world whose borders are otherwise mostly political fictions, and it defies the usual idea of borders by being unfixed, fluctuant, and infinitely permeable. The seashore is the place that is no place, sometimes solid land or, rather, sand, sometimes the shallow fringe of that huge body of water governed by the remote body of the moon in a mystery something like love or desire…

“The sea lapping like a cat at a saucer of milk, or rather, since it is the liquid which acts, the sea like a vast saucer of milk lapping at a recumbent cat. The sea laps at the land, or the sea is in the lap of the land…

“The sea that always seems like a metaphor, but one that is always moving, cannot be fixed, like a heart that is like a tongue that is like a mystery that is like a story that is like a border that is like something altogether different and like everything at once. One thing leads to another, and this is the treasure that always runs through your fingers and never runs out.”

– Rebecca Solnit, “Seashell to Ear”

“When the Spanish laid out cities in the Americas, they began with the plaza. Every place had a center, and when a place has a center, you know where you are. What terrifies me about sprawl is the sense that there are no centers and no edges, just a random quilt of strip malls and subdivisions all the way to the horizon. Such places make me feel adrift, without a sense of meaning or direction. I’ve always thought that San Francisco’s livelier public life wasn’t about our virtue, just our geography, symbolic and practical. We’re full of centers and boulevards, starting points, destinations, and alluring routes between them. The place just seems to encourage marching and gathering and walking. This might be what people mean when they call San Francisco the country’s most European city…

“Cities are where people are citizens, where they coexist in public, generating that public life so vital to a democracy, which depends on our sense of connection and trust in strangers, who become less strange when we move among them every day. Too many American cities are just vast suburbs, with people segregated by race, income, and avocation, and by their dependence on private automobiles to get around. Even in true cities, democracy, citizenship, public life can be just words. But in UN Plaza, you can stand and look east at TRUTH or west past Bolivar to image the curve of the earth over the blue horizon toward Asia; or you can just look your fellow human beings in the eye and know that you’re a citizen, of a city, of a state, of the world.”

– Rebecca Solnit, “The Heart of the City”

“We have to keep fighting, because otherwise there will be no future – all will be consumed. Those of us whose ancestors were owned and bred like animals know that future all too well, because it is, in part, our past. And we know that by fighting, against all odds, we who had nothing, not even our real names, transformed the universe. Our ancestors did this with very little, and we who have more must do the same. This is the joyous destiny of our people – to bury the arc of the moral universe so deep in justice that it will never be undone.”

– Junot Diaz

“The rain intensified as we marched from Union Square to Trump Tower… A sign floated above the crowd, flashing red, white and blue in the reflection of police lights: ‘Why Don’t Sexual Assault Victims Come Forward? Because Sometimes We Make Their Attackers the Leader of the Free World.’

“…my freedom was always conditional, and perhaps never very important to anyone but me. I’m afraid that the empathy and respect that I have always had to display to survive as a woman of color will never be required from men or from whites. I understand, now, that I mistook a decrease in active interference for progress toward a world in which my personhood was seen as inextricable from everyone else’s.”

– Jia Tolentino