Smart people saying smart things (8.2.18)

Smart people saying smart things (8.2.18) August 2, 2018

James Baldwin, in “Fifth Avenue, Uptown

Now I am perfectly aware that there are other slums in which white men are fighting for their lives, and mainly losing. I know that blood is also flowing through those streets and that the human damage there is incalculable. People are continually pointing out to me the wretchedness of white people in order to console me for the wretchedness of blacks. But an itemized account of the American failure does not console me and it should not console anyone else. That hundreds of thousands of white people are living, in effect, no better than the “n—-s” is not a fact to be regarded with complacency. The social and moral bankruptcy suggested by this fact is of the bitterest, most terrifying kind.

Rebecca Solnit, “Not Caring Is a Political Art Form”

A fourth strategy for not caring is to pretend that the victims are in fact the victimizers. Thus refugees become gang members, Jews become part of a sinister conspiracy, all black people are imagined as criminals and menaces, trans kids who want to go to the bathroom are imagined as sinister men menacing women, rape victims just make stuff up to get men into trouble, homeless people are not merely threatening your sense of humanity and security but are menacing you literally, and so forth. Arkansas senator Tom Cotton tweeted: “Dems’ Keep Families Together Act is better called the Child Trafficking Encouragement Act. Show up at border with a minor & call him your child, then you get released into the US! Children will be abducted & sold to drug cartels & slave-traders as a free ticket into US.”  That makes the kidnapping of children and their imprisonment in our infant gulags a liberation, which is as Orwellian as it gets.

James Baldwin was born 94 years ago today. (Photo by Allan Warren via Wikimedia)

Stephen Kantrowitz, “White Supremacy Has Always Been Mainstream”

If the hierarchy of races were real, it would easily have survived slave emancipation. Instead, that hierarchy must be constantly asserted and enforced, lest the white race be overwhelmed, overcome, and extinguished. White supremacy is organized around a dread of its own demise, and with it the white race.

This inherent instability has produced a welter of fears, fantasies, and imperatives, from racial purity to race war. It has also made “white supremacy” a call to action. Indeed, the effort to transform the phrase from a slogan into a fact has been a massive social and political project, involving the witting and unwitting labor of many millions of people. White supremacy has always been hard work.

Elizabeth Holtzman, Letter of resignation from DHS Advisory Council, July 16, 2018

Under your administration and that of Donald Trump, DHS has been transformed into an agency that is making war on immigrants and refugees. The ethnically and religiously motivated travel ban, the refusal to provide relief to the Dreamers and the new mass deportation program that does not prioritize the removal of undocumented aliens with serious criminal records (thereby harming American citizen children and spouses by removing a parent and breadwinner from the family and hurting the country by removing productive people who have been living here for decades) are malign and ultimately self-destructive policies.

The final straw has been the separation of children from their parents at the Southwest border. This is child kidnapping, plain and simple. Seizing children from their parents in violation of the constitutional rights of both is bad enough (mentally harmful to the children and infinitely painful to both the parents and children), but doing so without creating proper records to enable family reunification shows utter depravity on the part of the government officials involved.

Terese Marie Mailhot, “Marginalized People Don’t Need Lessons in Civility”

White people tend to use the word “civilized” in its adjectival form. To them, it describes being polite and respecting other people’s opinions and beliefs. For me, as for many other natives, “civilized” is a historical verb, recalling a bloody ultimatum imposed on us by an invading army. White people were never more “civilized” than us; they perpetuated the dichotomy of civilized versus savage to dehumanize us.

Those who posit themselves as most civil are often the people with the most power and privilege, and they’re also often the most forgetful of the history of this continent, which was founded in blood. I do not believe in civility, just as I do not believe in savagery.

James Baldwin, “A Report from Occupied Territory”

What to do in the face of this deep and dangerous estrangement? It seemed to me— I would say, sipping coffee and trying to be calm — that the principle of what had to be done was extremely simple; but before anything could be done, the principle had to be grasped. The principle on which one had to operate was that the government which can force me to pay my taxes and force me to fight in its defense anywhere in the world does not have the authority to say that it cannot protect my right to vote or my right to earn a living or my right to live anywhere I choose. Furthermore, no nation, wishing to call itself free, can possibly survive so massive a defection. What to do?


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