Dear Black America

A gorgeous, stirring, evocative paean to Black America by Pulitzer winner Tracy K. Smith.

We are many things, aren’t we? We are hair. God yes, we are hair. And song. And memory. We are a language so deep it has no need for words. And we are words that feint, dart and wheel like birds. Like James Brown, we feel good. Like Fannie Lou Hamer, we are sick and tired. We are fearsome. We are fire. Like God, we are that we are.

I’ve always felt great freedom in the countless territories making up the realm of Blackness. So many routes to wholeness. So many versions of joy. In Blackness I am local. In Blackness I am also distant kin. Indigenous and immigrant at once. Host and welcome guest.

But in the country of America—the physical and psychic territory in which the physical and psychic domain of Black America is situated—we are made to huddle together. By force. By the feelings of rage, threat, exhaustion, disappointment and longsuffering that extend toward us from this nation that loathes, fears, regrets and cannot yet fully bear to accept the fact of us.

And I hear my uncles saying, “Tell me something I don’t know,” with laughter in their throats. And it is that laughter—our laughter—that I cleave to.

Smith, Tracy K. (2020, July 2).Dear Black America: A Letter From Tracy K. Smith. Lithub.

Advising White Evangelicals

Emma Green for The Atlantic on how Black pastors are advising their white evangelical brethren on how to deal with racism.

In the weeks since george floyd’s death, Philip Pinckney has been inundated with messages from white evangelical pastors who want to take a stand against racism: 40 to 60 phone calls a day, dozens of texts and email chains, endless drafts of sermons and articles. The 34-year-old Black pastor has spent his life in spaces where his race is a point of contradiction. He trained as a cadet at the Citadel, the South Carolina military college whose officers helped orchestrate the attack on Fort Sumter that started the Civil War. He planted a church with the Southern Baptist Convention, a denomination founded to defend slaveholding. Now, as the country reckons with more Black deaths at the hands of police, he has taken up a role he often gets drafted to: an unofficial racism consultant to the white evangelical world.

“I don’t know any Black person who raised their hand and said, ‘Yup, I want to do this,’” he told me by phone, driving from Charleston to Columbia to talk with a group of pastors about race and Christianity. “We came into this to plant churches and to disciple people and to raise families and to proclaim, ‘Thus saith the Lord.’ And yet, there is this blindness. There is this ignorance. There is hostility that we feel a unique compulsion to move towards.” As Pinckney recently scrolled through his text messages, he noticed that some white pastors reach out only when racial violence is in the news. “We may not have talked since the last Black murder,” he said.

Green, Emma. (2020, July 5). The Unofficial Racism Consultants to the White Evangelical World. The Atlantic.

The Growing White Supremacist Menace

Rebecca Ulam Weiner, writing for Foreign Affairs on the threat white supremacy poses to not just Black people, but to all people of color and other minorities.

Late in the evening on April 11, the Texarkana, Texas, Police Department started receiving 911 calls about an imminent attack on one of their own. A man in a black Chevy truck was crisscrossing the area looking for a lone police officer to “ambush and execute” and streaming his search to Facebook Live. Using the video, police were able to quickly locate the truck. After a high-speed chase, 36-year-old Aaron Swenson surrendered to police, a search of his truck turning up several loaded firearms.

The ensuing investigation revealed that Swenson had been deeply immersed in the online culture of the so-called boogaloo bois: heavily armed men, often clad in armored vests and incongruously festive Hawaiian shirts, who in recent months have appeared at protests around the country against both COVID-19 lockdowns and police brutality. Swenson isn’t the only member to have embraced violence: on May 30, in Las Vegas, three boogaloo bois on their way to a Black Lives Matter protest were arrested with numerous firearms and Molotov cocktail ingredients—the trio have military backgrounds, and according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, two had plotted to firebomb a power substation. Last week, two men associated with the movement were charged in the killing of a courthouse guard in Oakland, California.

Weiner, Rebecca Ulam. (2020, June 23). The Growing White Supremacist Menace. Foreign Affairs.

It’s also important to note that Rebecca Ulam Weiner is an Assistant Commissioner for Intelligence Analysis at the NYPD Intelligence Bureau.

A Me-Too Moment for Journalists of Color

Soledad O’Brien on talking about race as a journalist of color.

We are risking jobs and status and a metaphorical stoning by bigots on social media to call out an industry that reports on racism and segregation while shamefully allowing it to fester within.

To be clear, this is not just about how reporters of color are treated when they talk about race in the newsroom. The thin ranks of people of color in American newsrooms have often meant us-and-them reporting, where everyone from architecture critics to real estate writers, from entertainment reporters to sports anchors, talk about the world as if the people listening or reading their work are exclusively white.

There are simply not enough of us in the newsroom to object effectively — not in TV, print or online, certainly not in management. So our only option is to mimic the protester’s strategy: Talk directly to the public and just talk loud.

O’Brien, Soledad. (July 4, 2020). Soledad O’Brien: A Mee-Too Moment for Journalists of Color.

Brutal, Biased Police Can Be Reformed

Rachel Kleinfeld, writing for Foreign Policy on how some countries have reformed their police forces and rebuilt trust with the community – and how it could be done here in the United States (warning: paywall):

Luckily, what works for fair and effective policing is well known. Decades of research confirm that trust between law enforcement and communities is essential, because controlling crime requires community help. In the United States and Britain, for instance, the vast majority of the crimes that people fear the most, such as homicide and rape, required public tips to solve.

Building trust, however, is based less on bringing down crime (the metric many police monitor) than on treating people with respect and fairness. Trust is enhanced by recruiting a force that resembles the community it serves (although sadly, diversity doesn’t necessarily reduce police violence). Finally, hiring more women in law enforcement—a strategy Peru used to break perceptions of widespread corruption—results in more trust and less use of force.

Once officers have gained a community’s trust, they can use public tips to implement policies proven to drastically reduce crime, such as targeting hot spots (the small number of places where most violence happens), and focusing deterrence on the tiny percentage of people responsible for the vast majority of violent crime to prevent them from resorting to violence. Executing both strategies with respect and fairness is, needless to say, essential to their effectiveness.

Kleinfeld, Rachel. (2020, July 2). These Countries Reformed Their Brutal, Biased Police. The U.S. can, too. Foreign Policy.

A Dose of Art: Rachel Cobb’s Video of a Dancer

We’re going to start featuring a few doses of art by and about Black artists during these insane and trying times. We begin with this moving performance of a dancer in Washington Square Park. This one was shot by Rachel Cobb, whose photos we’ve featured on this site before.

The Face of Elite Panic in America

Rebecca Solnit, writing for Literary Hub, has a sharp critique of the McCloskeys, the white couple who brandished weapons at a peaceful march in St. Louis, Missouri, out of what can perhaps best be described as racist fear.

But the white people who saw this as their country—and only theirs—to run are right in one key way: their time is running out. They are not literally threatened by violence, much, but they are threatened by something much more powerful, a revision of who matters and who will run things in the future, which is why BLACK LIVES MATTER is the central affirmation. Even to admit that this change is underway is dangerous, because then you might have to admit that it’s just and fair that others share power and opportunity and privilege. It’s safer for the status quo to imagine that the protests and protestors and uprisings are just violent and criminal, and that’s exactly what the McCloskeys seem to have done—imagined that a march for justice was coming for them directly in their fortress-palazzo. Which was in its own way an admission that they embody injustice.

Solnit, Rebecca. (2020, July 1). Chrome-Plated Pistols and Pink Polos: The Face of Elite Panic in the USA. Literary Hub.

Parenting Black Teenagers

Carvell Wallace for The New York Times on what it’s like to be a black parent to teenages.

Her generation has known nothing but chaos and impending doom. She was in third grade the first time our minivan was diverted from the road on the way home from school by a phalanx of officers in riot gear. She was 6 the first time she asked me about climate change. Her white, male sixth-grade science teacher said the N-word with a hard “R.” Her seventh-grade science teacher gave their class the New Yorker article about the West Coast’s inevitable city-destroying earthquake. She was 12 when an 18-year-old black woman was murdered in what many feared was a racially motivated attack, on the same BART platform where she catches the train to school. She has lived through school-shooting drills, neo-Nazi rallies in the park where she used to play, police murders, car break-ins, sexual predators lingering outside her schoolyard and weeks of wildfires that turn the sky orange and make it impossible to breathe outdoors. A global pandemic that shuts down the world was not news to her. It was the opposite of news. It was something as old as her life.

Wallace, Carvell. (2020, June 15). Trying to Parent My Black Teenagers Through Protest and Pandemic. The New York Times.

The New Normal for Journalists

Yasmeen Serhan, writing for The Atlantic on the assaults journalists have come under in modern America.

Being a Washington correspondent is among the most prestigious postings available to international journalists—a reward that is typically reserved for an outlet’s most senior or highest-profile journalist. To be a Washington correspondent means keeping up with the unpredictable and tumultuous pace of American politics and, more recently, making sense of President Donald Trump’s broadside attacks on both the countries they report from and, often, the media itself.

Still, the role has never been considered a particularly risky one. “The worst thing they would have to do is sit through interminable hours in the Senate waiting for [Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell to say something,” Robert Mahoney, the deputy executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, told me.

No longer. In recent weeks, journalists—both domestic and international—have been subject to unparalleled attacks on press freedom across the U.S. Several of these incidents have involved the detention and arrest of people who identified themselves as members of the press. Others have been considerably more violent, involving the targeting of journalists with rubber bullets and chemical irritants. A photojournalist was permanently blinded in one eye as a result. Like Floyd’s death, many of these incidents have been caught on camera.

For foreign media, who have been among those assaultedtargeted with rubber bulletsand tear gas, and arrested, the government’s response to the protests—upwards of 400media-freedoms violations have been reported since the demonstrations began—is shifting perceptions of what it means to be a journalist in America.

Serhan, Yasmeen. (2020, June 19). The ‘Absurd’ New Reality of Reporting From the U.S.. The Atlantic.

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