Smart people saying smart things (1.19)

Smart people saying smart things (1.19) January 19, 2018

Jeanne Theoharis, “From Original Sin to Flattering Mirror: The Uses and Misuses of Civil Rights History”

A story that should have reflected the immense injustices at the nation’s core and the enormous lengths people had gone to attack them had become a flattering mirror. The popular history of the civil rights movement now served as testament to the power of American democracy. This framing was appealing — simultaneously sober about the history of racism, lionizing of Black courage, celebratory of American progress, and strategic in masking (and at times justifying) current inequities. This history as national progress naturalized the civil rights movement as an almost inevitable aspect of American democracy rather than as the outcome of Black organization and intrepid witness. It suggested racism derived from individual sin rather than from national structure — and that the strength of American values, rather than the staggering challenge of a portion of its citizens, led to its change. The movement had largely washed away the sins of the nation, and America’s race problem could be laid to rest with a statue in the Capitol.

Brian Hamilton, “The Monuments We Never Built”

In his lifetime, Hiram Revels became a symbol of a reborn nation. “Today we make the Declaration [of Independence] a reality,” Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts remarked when Revels took his seat in the chamber. The famous abolitionist Wendell Phillips described Senator Revels as “the 15th Amendment in flesh and blood.”

But his symbolic power had limited reach. Sumner and Phillips’s side won the war, but the meaning they saw in Revels and in the Union cause has not been commemorated in America’s parks, squares, cemeteries. For eight decades, Revels cut a swath across the nation, traversing the South and the North. Yet the places he lived barely whisper his name. One can find it only on a couple of roadside signs put up in the last 30 years and a boy’s dormitory at Alcorn State. He is a part of the public history of the Civil War that is in little danger of being erased, because it was scarcely written, or carved, in the first place.

Katherine Stewart, “The Museum of the Bible Is a Safe Space for Christian Nationalists” (NYT link)

If you walk in thinking that the Bible has a single meaning, that the evidence of archaeology and history has served to confirm its truth, that it is the greatest force for good humanity has ever known and that it is the founding text of the American republic — well, then, you will leave with a smile on your face and a song in your heart.

The museum is a safe space for Christian nationalists, and that is the key to understanding its political mission. The aim isn’t anything so crude as the immediate conversion of tourists to a particular variety of evangelical Christianity. Its subtler task is to embed a certain set of assumptions in the landscape of the capital.

Moira Donegan, “I Started the Media Men List”

A lot of us are angry in this moment, not just at what happened to us but at the realization of the depth and frequency of these behaviors and the ways that so many of us have been drafted, wittingly and unwittingly, into complicity. But we’re being challenged to imagine how we would prefer things to be. This feat of imagination is about not a prescriptive dictation of acceptable sexual behaviors but the desire for a kinder, more respectful, and more equitable world. There is something that’s changed: Suddenly, men have to think about women, our inner lives and experiences of their own behavior, quite a bit. That may be one step in the right direction.

Dave Neiwert, “The forces that revived the radical right and imperil our democracy”

The administration actively tries to divest people from reality because that’s how their authoritarianism works. Trump tweets these things out, these things that are clearly divergent from reality. That Obama wiretapped him and he had more votes than Hillary, and all these other things that contradict reality. They actually draw his followers farther into his authoritarian bubble. Part of the appeal is that these folks feel like they’re part of something special and that they have unique knowledge and that they have unique insight. So he’s constantly doing these kinds of things to serve as a wedge between his followers and the rest of us, and it’s very effective. I don’t see them stopping it any time soon, because it’s essential to their appeal. It’s essential to his approach to governance.

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