June 5, 2020

The limits to your ambition were thus expected to be settled.”

A few words from the pen of James Baldwin:

Letter from a Region in My Mind, 1962:

There is nothing new in this merciless formulation except the explicitness of its symbols and the candor of its hatred. Its emotional tone is as familiar to me as my own skin; it is but another way of saying that sinners shall be bound in Hell a thousand years. That sinners have always, for American Negroes, been white is a truth we needn’t labor, and every American Negro, therefore, risks having the gates of paranoia close on him. In a society that is entirely hostile, and, by its nature, seems determined to cut you down—that has cut down so many in the past and cuts down so many every day—it begins to be almost impossible to distinguish a real from a fancied injury. One can very quickly cease to attempt this distinction, and, what is worse, one usually ceases to attempt it without realizing that one has done so. All doormen, for example, and all policemen have by now, for me, become exactly the same, and my style with them is designed simply to intimidate them before they can intimidate me. No doubt I am guilty of some injustice here, but it is irreducible, since I cannot risk assuming that the humanity of these people is more real to them than their uniforms. Most Negroes cannot risk assuming that the humanity of white people is more real to them than their color. And this leads, imperceptibly but inevitably, to a state of mind in which, having long ago learned to expect the worst, one finds it very easy to believe the worst. The brutality with which Negroes are treated in this country simply cannot be overstated, however unwilling white men may be to hear it. In the beginning—and neither can this be overstated—a Negro just cannot believe that white people are treating him as they do; he does not know what he has done to merit it. And when he realizes that the treatment accorded him has nothing to do with anything he has done, that the attempt of white people to destroy him—for that is what it is—is utterly gratuitous, it is not hard for him to think of white people as devils. For the horrors of the American Negro’s life there has been almost no language. The privacy of his experience, which is only beginning to be recognized in language, and which is denied or ignored in official and popular speech—hence the Negro idiom—lends credibility to any system that pretends to clarify it. And, in fact, the truth about the black man, as a historical entity and as a human being, has been hidden from him, deliberately and cruelly; the power of the white world is threatened whenever a black man refuses to accept the white world’s definitions. So every attempt is made to cut that black man down—not only was made yesterday but is made today. Who, then, is to say with authority where the root of so much anguish and evil lies? Why, then, is it not possible that an things began with the black man and that he was perfect—especially since this is precisely the claim that white people have put forward for themselves all these years? Furthermore, it is now absolutely clear that white people are a minority in the world—so severe a minority that they now look rather more like an invention—and that they cannot possibly hope to rule it any longer. If this is so, why is it not also possible that they achieved their original dominance by stealth and cunning and bloodshed and in opposition to the will of Heaven, and not, as they claim, by Heaven’s will? And if this is so, then the sword they have used so long against others can now, without mercy, be used against them. Heavenly witnesses are a tricky lot, to be used by whoever is closest to Heaven at the time. And legend and theology, which are designed to sanctify our fears, crimes, and aspirations, also reveal them for what they are.

A Letter to My Nephew, 1962:

This innocent country set you down in a ghetto in which, in fact, it intended that you should perish. Let me spell out precisely what I mean by that for the heart of the matter is here and the crux of my dispute with my country. You were born where you were born and faced the future that you faced because you were black and for no other reason. The limits to your ambition were thus expected to be settled. You were born into a society which spelled out with brutal clarity and in as many ways as possible that you were a worthless human being. You were not expected to aspire to excellence. You were expected to make peace with mediocrity. Wherever you have turned, James, in your short time on this earth, you have been told where you could go and what you could do and how you could do it, where you could live and whom you could marry.

I know your countrymen do not agree with me here and I hear them. saying, You exaggerate.” They do not know Harlem and I do. So do you. Take no one’s word for anything, including mine, but trust your experience. Know whence you came. If you know whence you came, there is really no limit to where you can go. The details and symbols of your life have been deliberately constructed to make you believe what white people say about you. Please try to remember that what they believe, as well as what they do and cause you to endure, does not testify to your inferiority, but to their inhumanity and fear.


Two poems

My Poems
Danez Smith

my poems are fed up & getting violent.

i whisper to them tender tender bridge bridge but they say bitch ain’t no time, make me a weapon!

i hold a poem to a judge’s neck until he’s not a judge anymore.

i tuck a poem next to my dick, sneak it on the plane.

a poem goes off in the capitol, i raise a glass in unison.

i mail a poem to 3/4ths of the senate, they choke off the scent.

my mentor said once a poem can be whatever you want it to be.

so i bury the poem in the river & the body in the fire.

i poem a nazi i went to college with in the jaw until his face hangs a bone tambourine.

i poem ten police a day.

i poem the mayor with my bare hands.

i poem the hands off the men who did what they know they did.

i poem a racist woman into a whistle & feel only a little bad.

i poem the president on live TV, his head raised above my head, i say Baldwin said.

i call my loves & ask for their lists.

i poem them all. i poem them all with a grin, bitch.

poemed in the chair, handless, volts ready to run me, when they ask me what i regret

i poem multitudes multitudes multitudes.


Against the Police
Miguel James
trans. Guillermo Parra

My entire Oeuvre is against the police
If I write a Love poem it’s against the police
And if I sing the nakedness of bodies I sing against the police
And if I make this Earth a metaphor I make a metaphor against the police
If I speak wildly in my poems I speak against the police
And if I manage to create a poem it’s against the police
I haven’t written a single word, a verse, a stanza that isn’t against the police
All my prose is against the police
My entire Oeuvre
Including this poem
My whole Oeuvre
Is against the police.

Remember, no one is coming to save us:

Eventually, doctors will find a coronavirus vaccine, but black people will continue to wait, despite the futility of hope, for a cure for racism. We will live with the knowledge that a hashtag is not a vaccine for white supremacy. We live with the knowledge that, still, no one is coming to save us. The rest of the world yearns to get back to normal. For black people, normal is the very thing from which we yearn to be free.

Of course there are protests. The state is failing Black people:

Instead of using this monumental crisis to change the conditions feeding the rapid rate of black deaths, the armed agents of the state continue their petty, insouciant policing. Even seemingly innocuous instructions for social distancing become new excuses for the police to harass African-Americans. In New York, blacks made up a staggering 93 percent of coronavirus-related arrests. There are similar racial disparities in Chicago. At a time when police departments have pledged to arrest fewer people to stem the spread of the virus in local jails and in the name of preserving public health, African-Americans remain in their cross hairs. After all, why were the police arresting George Floyd for forgery, a crime” of poverty committed by desperate low-wage workers, in the first place?

When white protesters, armed to the teeth in Michigan and elsewhere, make threats against elected officials, the president praises them as very good people” and they are largely left alone. They are certainly not suffocated to death on the street. Those who protest police brutality in Minneapolis are met with tear gas and projectiles launched by police officers, even as public officials claim to sympathize with the protesters’ anger. These double standards are part of what roils Minneapolis and also why the potential for this kind of eruption exists in every city.

Yes, Black America fears the police. Here’s why:

Black communities want a good relationship with law enforcement because they want their families and property to be safe. After all, it is true that black communities often face higher rates of crime; in 2013, more than 50 percent of murder victims across the country were black, though only 13 percent of the total population is. But it’s also true that crime reduction efforts by black people in black communities have contributed to the recent, historic drop in crime across the country.

So why are black Americans still so often denied the same kind of smart policing that typically occurs in white communities, where police seem fully capable of discerning between law-abiding citizens and those committing crimes, and between crimes like turnstile-jumping and those that need serious intervention?

Don’t understand the protests? What you’re seeing is people pushed to the edge:

Yes, protests often are used as an excuse for some to take advantage, just as when fans celebrating a hometown sports team championship burn cars and destroy storefronts. I don’t want to see stores looted or even buildings burn. But African Americans have been living in a burning building for many years, choking on the smoke as the flames burn closer and closer. Racism in America is like dust in the air. It seems invisible — even if you’re choking on it — until you let the sun in. Then you see it’s everywhere. As long as we keep shining that light, we have a chance of cleaning it wherever it lands. But we have to stay vigilant, because it’s always still in the air.

The white anti-racist is an oxymoron:

White activism, especially white anti-racism, is predicated on an economy of gratitude. We are supposed to be grateful that a white person is willing to work with non-white people. We are supposed to be grateful that you actually want to work with us and that you give us your resources. I would like to know why you have those resources and others do not? And don’t assume that just because I have to ask you for resources that it does not hurt me, pain me even. Don’t assume that when you come into the space, that doesn’t bother me. Don’t assume that when you talk first, talk the most, and talk the most often, that this doesn’t hurt me. Don’t assume that when I see you get the attention and accolades and the book deals and the speaking engagements that this does not hurt me (because you profit off of pain). And don’t assume that when I see how grateful non-white people are to you for being there, for being a good white” person that this doesn’t hurt me. And don’t assume that when I get chastised by non-white people because I think your presence is unnecessary that it does not hurt me. Because all of these things remind me of how powerless non-white people are (albeit differently) in relation to white people. All of these gestures that you do reminds me of how grateful I am supposed to be towards you because you actually (or supposedly) care about what is happening to me. I am a bit resentful of economies of gratitude.

America returns to its violent normal:

America now finds itself in another moment of reckoning, right as the country opts to reopen,” a catchall term for some kind of return to normalcy that also whitewashes the risks for those who can’t work from home and must now return to the workplace. States like Ohio are setting up databases to report employees who don’t come to their place of work. Make no mistake: This is an act of violence. In a country where unemployment has skyrocketed and 40% of people can’t afford a $400 emergency expense, the wealth of billionaires continues to accumulate at the expense of exploited workers. This, too, is violence. People who are unhoused sleep outdoors in cities where hotels sit largely empty. Covid-19 has run through multiple prisons and detention centers, leaving many incarcerated individuals sick, and some dying without proper care. All of this, violence. […]

We live in a place that was founded on and profits from violence, even if the state won’t define it as such. There are those who obsess over the burning of a Minneapolis police precinct but not a man’s broken neck. Who prefer demonstrations of peace because such tactics are less likely to disrupt bubbles of comfort. But also because when people fighting for freedom use tactics some would deem violent, it is holding up a mirror to a violent country. Whether or not that result is intentional or understood by those in power. So much of what is labeled as violence was learned through American machinery or American neglect.

Caught on camera, police explode in rage and violence across the US:

Over the past 72 hours, people across the US have captured what may be the most comprehensive live picture of police brutality ever. Any one of the videos we’ve seen could have sparked a national discussion, with people picking apart their elements, searching for context to argue about, and digging through the pasts of everyone involved. But it’s not just one act of violence. It’s everywhere.

Are they police departments or armies?:

American police officers generally believe that carrying military equipment and wearing military gear makes them feel like they can do more, and that it makes them scarier, Rizer’s research has found. Officers even acknowledge that acting and dressing like soldiers could change how the public feels about them. But they don’t care,” he said. Most of the time, heavily armed police units such as SWAT teams are used not for the hostage and active-shooter scenarios for which they are ostensibly designed, but instead for work like executing search warrants, a 2014 study found. And agencies that use military equipment kill civilians at much higher rates than agencies that don’t, according to a 2017 study.

Step by step, Americans are sacrificing the right to walk:

We came to scorn walking, to fear it. Real Americans fold themselves into cars, where they feel safe and in control. For exercise, the better-off mimic walkers, bicyclists, hikers, and farmers on stationary machines in health clubs. They and the middle class drive to parks and wilderness preserves for the privilege of walking outside among trees and birds and clean air, and the poor are left with vast wastelands of road and concrete; the advice to walk three times a week for your health’ easier given than followed when there’s nowhere safe to place your foot.

Alison Roman, Bon Appétit, and the global pantry’ problem:

Only whiteness can deracinate and subsume the world of culinary influences into itself and yet remain unnamed. It’s a complicated little dance of power and desire: The mainstream is white, so what is presented in the mainstream becomes defined as white, and — ta-da — what you see in viral YouTube videos somehow ends up reinforcing a white norm, even though the historical roots of a dish or an ingredient might be the Levant or East Asia. You might say whiteness works by positing itself as a default. You might also say that this sucks.

It’s only going to get weirder:

One of the things that’s interesting in watching certain supply chains break down in this moment is looking at where there is actually flexibility and where there isn’t, where things are adaptable and where they aren’t. One of the things that is really central from a western, American perspective on the supply chain is that the inability to really, truly trace where things come from is a necessity by design. The premise of supply chain transparency is an idea that means well and is fundamentally in contradiction with everything a supply chain is optimized to do. They’re not designed to be transparent, they’re designed to be efficient.

What kind of country do we want?:

The minimum wage has become the amount an employer can get away with paying. It is neither the amount a worker needs to sustain a reasonable life nor, crucially, to be important enough as a consumer for his or her interests to align with other interests. Because workers are underpaid, they are often treated as dependents, as a burden on the safety net,” which is actually a public subsidy of the practice of underpayment. Workers often do not fall into the category of taxpayer,” a word now laden with implication and consequence. It implies respectability, a more robust participation in citizenship, and, fairly or not, an extreme sensitivity to demands made on his or her assets for the public benefit. Equitable policies are often precluded in the name of the taxpayer so forcibly that the taxpayer—that is, a fair percentage of the public—is never really consulted. In this time of polarization, such language reflects an ugly, alienating division in our society, with bad faith at the root of it. Proud people are insulted, those same people we now call essential” because they work steadily at jobs that are suddenly recognized as absolutely necessary.

The keeper of the bees:

Beekeeping needs patience. It’s not a practice of instant gratification. The best time to inspect a hive does not often align with one’s own schedule. Weather conditions should be ideal so that many of the workers are out foraging and the bees remaining inside are disturbed as little as possible; it’s easier to see brood, find the queen, and statistically avoid stings. So, sunny. Not windy. Not about to rain. Warm.

Maintaining professionalism in the age of Black death is….a lot:

I don’t know who decided that being professional was loosely defined as being divorced of total humanity, but whoever did they’ve aided, unintentionally maybe, in a unique form of suffocation.

How white women use themselves as instruments of terror:

In a disturbing number of the recent cases of the police being called on black people for doing everyday, mundane things, the calls have been initiated by white women.

And understand this: Black people view calling the police on them as an act of terror, one that could threaten their lives, and this fear is not without merit.

There are too many noosed necks, charred bodies and drowned souls for these white women not to know precisely what they are doing: They are using their white femininity as an instrument of terror against black men.

My oversubscribed life:

The dream of the subscription is that without having to use our brains for something as mundane as remembering to buy razor cartridges, we might do something better with our time. We might even become more optimized human beings—an economic fever dream that dates back to, I don’t know, the invention of the cotton gin. Probably earlier. In a memorable essay for The Guardian, Jia Tolentino summarized the economist William Stanley Jevons’s definition of optimization: We all want to get the most out of what we have.” Saving not just time but effort is key to forward momentum in the industrial phantasmagoria that is, at this moment, blasting circus music into my ears. It’s a flattering proposition that implies I’m capable of something grand. Once we’ve saved all that money, all that time, all that hassle, out pops a gameshow host—his smile wider than a Smile-DirectClub member’s—to ask us, What will you do with all this time?

All this time:

I’m utterly done with statistics, though, in general. How many more charts do we need? It’s like the entire world has suddenly instrumented itself with Google Analytics. Granted you need something to put next to the sad headline. But people can’t understand charts. One of my rules in life is that every person added to a group subtracts two percent from the collective intelligence of that group. A group of ten is operating at 80 percent capability; a group of twenty is only 60 percent smart. A U.S. general election is negative 320 million percent smart. But the pandemic is an actual negative 14 billion percent situation. This is as dumb as if the Superbowl and Eurovision and the World Cup were in a polycule and had 5,000 babies during the Olympics.

Passive income for the soul:

Now think about your mental wellbeing, or overall satisfaction, as a vault like in a bank. Some things put stuff into the vault, and some things take stuff out of it. Keeping your soul satisfied can’t be your full-time job. It can’t be something you have to work at all the time. Because then you’d be emptying out the vault as fast as you fill it up.

This is where passive income comes in.

If I could bring one thing back to the internet it would be blogs:

There’s no way to find blogs, and no one is writing them because there’s no platform for them.

But they would be the one thing I’d bring back to the internet if I could bring one thing back. They’re the thing I miss the most and the most often. They were the most valuable thing on here, besides freer availability of news, free although low quality video content on YouTube, and I guess some kinds of social media. But blogs are something you can sit down and read and get really into to the point you forget where you even are, and think about how you want to try those things maybe in your life, or just enjoy their writing, and you can read deeper into them into past blog posts, and tune back in later and see what they’ve posted since the last things you read about them.

Uncertainty, as mantra:

These days bring the opportunity to reconsider our relationship with uncertainty — to recalibrate our minds to the objective state of our situation on Earth. Instead of denying the persistent uncertainty of life, a practice of uncertainty might mean becoming curious about the surprises instead of terrified by them.

From this perspective, uncertainty is beautiful. To live in uncertainty requires us to become perpetually humble learners.

When savoring a pleasant moment is a radical act:

For Persians, one of our most precious ways to summon joy is with poetry. I remember one night, in particular, in my home city of Shiraz, Iran, during the war. While sirens blared and the electricity was shut off, warning of an imminent attack, my family and I (feeling especially brave) snuck to our rooftop to watch the anti-aircraft missiles shoot into the air. To my 7-year-old eyes, the brilliant red patterns in the pitch-black sky rivaled the most magnificent fireworks display. But underneath the awe there was a simmering terror brewing in my belly of not knowing who was going to die next. Was it going to be me? My best friend? My sister in Tehran? My teacher?

And then someone from another rooftop shouted a verse of Rumi’s poetry into the clear night air.

Blow up the restaurant industry and start over:

Which brings the question of how we eat into conversation with other matters of how we live. At the scale that we are talking about, the system is so complex and so complicated that tenants don’t have power,” Wey said, returning again to the centrality of rent when it comes to the life or death of a restaurant. The building is owned by a bank, the bank has sold your mortgage to a hundred different investors: Where is the relief?” You could say the same about the challenge of securing reliable benefits for workers in a for-profit health care system that places the burden of support on independent operators with already-high overheads. When the system is broken, efforts at working around its flaws can feel equal parts reassuringly radical and sisyphean.

And because the problem is structural, the solutions need to be bigger than just individual price adjustments, union drives, or co-op models. The government needs to invest in regenerative agriculture, a regenerative economy, and should be prioritizing areas that have been most economically hit by this pandemic,” said Assil. In other words, we need a redistributive model. There’s no way to change what’s wrong in the industry by fussing with the margins.

And a few more:

Socializing in a pandemic, protected by plastic:

Restaurant with plastic dividers separating all the patrons

Everything by Jeffrey Czum:

Heritage building with sign saying everything is canceled

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