Tuesday, March 2, 2021

the last book I ever read A Rage in Harlem: A Harlem Detectives Novel by Chester Himes, excerpt two)

from A Rage in Harlem (Harlem Detectives Series Book 1) by Chester Himes:

Seventh Avenue and 125th Street is the center of Harlem, the crossroads of Black America. On one corner was the largest hotel. Diagonally across from it was a big credit jewelry store with its windows filled with diamonds and watches selling for so much down and so much weekly. Next door was a book store with a big red-and-yellow sign reading: Books of 6,000,000 Colored People. On the other corner was a mission church.

The people of Harlem take their religion seriously. If Goldy had taken off in a flaming chariot and galloped straight to heaven, they would have believed it – the godly and the sinners alike.



Monday, March 1, 2021

the last book I ever read A Rage in Harlem: A Harlem Detectives Novel by Chester Himes, excerpt one)

from A Rage in Harlem (Harlem Detectives Series Book 1) by Chester Himes:

“Now I make you a rich man, Jackson.”

“Thank the Lord. Amen,” Jackson said, crossing himself.

He wasn’t a Catholic. He was a Baptist, a member of the First Baptist Church of Harlem. But he was a very religious young man. Whenever he was troubled he crossed himself just to be on the safe side.



Sunday, February 28, 2021

the last book I ever read (Native Son by Richard Wright, excerpt fourteen)

from Native Son by Richard Wright:

“I’m glad I got to know you before I go!” he said with almost a shout; then was silent, for that was not what he had wanted to say.



Saturday, February 27, 2021

the last book I ever read (Native Son by Richard Wright, excerpt thirteen)

from Native Son by Richard Wright:

“Look, Your Honor. Even in this court room, even here today, Negro and white are separated. See those Negroes sitting together, behind that railing? No one told them to sit there. They sat there because they knew that we did not want them on the same bench with us.

“Multiply Bigger Thomas twelve million times, allowing for environmental and temperamental variations, and for those Negroes who are completely under the influence of the church, and you have the psychology of the Negro people. But once you see them as a whole, once your eyes leave the individual and encompass the mass, a new quality comes into the picture. Taken collectively, they are not simply twelve million people; in reality they constitute a separate nation, stunted, stripped, and held captive within this nation, devoid of political, social, economic, and property rights.



Friday, February 26, 2021

the last book I ever read (Native Son by Richard Wright, excerpt twelve)

from Native Son by Richard Wright:

Never again did he want to feel anything like hope. That was what was wrong; he had let that preacher talk to him until somewhere in him he had begun to feel that maybe something could happen. Well, something had happened: the cross the preacher had hung round his throat had been burned in front of his eyes.

When his hysteria had passed, he got up from the floor. Through blurred eyes he saw men peering at him from the bars of other cells. He heard a low murmur of voices and in the same instant his consciousness recorded without bitterness—like a man stepping out of his house to go to work and noticing that the sun is shining—the fact that even here in the Cook County Jail Negro and white segregated into different cell-blocks. He lay on the cot with closed eyes and the darkness soothed him some. Occasionally his muscles twitched from the hard storm of passion that had swept him. A small hard core in him resolved never again to trust anybody or anything. Not even Jan. Or Max. They were all right, maybe; but whatever he thought or did from now on would have to come from him and him alone, or not at all. He wanted no more crosses that might turn to fire while still on his chest.



Thursday, February 25, 2021

the last book I ever read (Native Son by Richard Wright, excerpt eleven)

from Native Son by Richard Wright:

He lay on the cold floor sobbing; but really he was standing up strongly with contrite heart, holding his life in his hands, staring at it with a wondering question. He lay on the cold floor sobbing; but really he was pushing forward with his puny strength against a world too big and too strong for him. He lay on the cold floor sobbing; but really he was groping forward with fierce zeal into a welter of circumstances which he felt contained a water of mercy for the thirst of his heart and brain.



Wednesday, February 24, 2021

the last book I ever read (Native Son by Richard Wright, excerpt ten)

from Native Son by Richard Wright:

“Forget me, Ma,” Bigger said.

“Don’t you want to see your old ma again, son?”

Slowly, he stood up and lifted his hands and tried to touch his mother’s face and tell her yes; and as he did so something screamed deep down in him that it was a life, that seeing her after they killed him would never be. But his mother believed; it was her last hope; it was what had kept her going through the long years. And she was now believing it all the harder because of the trouble he had brought upon her. His hands finally touched her face and he said with a sigh (knowing that it would never be, knowing that his heart did not believe, knowing that when he did, it would be over, forever):

“I’ll pray, Ma.”



Tuesday, February 23, 2021

the last book I ever read (Native Son by Richard Wright, excerpt nine)

from Native Son by Richard Wright:

The preacher’s words ceased droning. Bigger looked at him out of the corners of his eyes. The preacher’s face was black and sad and earnest and made him feel a sense of guilt deeper than that which even his murder of Mary had made him feel. He had killed within himself the preacher’s haunting picture of life even before he had killed Mary; that had been his first murder. And now the preacher made it walk before his eyes like a ghost in the night, creating within him a sense of exclusion that was as cold as a block of ice. Why should this thing rise now to plague him after he had pressed a pillow of fear and hate over its face to smother it to death? To those who wanted to kill him he was not human, not included in that picture of Creation; and that was why he had killed it. To live, he had created a new world for himself, and for that he was to die.



Monday, February 22, 2021

the last book I ever read (Native Son by Richard Wright, excerpt eight)

from Native Son by Richard Wright:

A glass touched his lips. Ought he to drink? But what difference did it make? He swallowed something warm; it was milk. When the glass was empty he lay upon his back and stared at the white ceiling; the memory of Bessie and the milk she had warmed for him came back strongly. Then the image of her death came and he closed his eyes, trying to forget. His stomach growled; he was feeling better. He heard a low drone of voices. He gripped the edge of the cot and sat up.

“Hey! How’re you feeling, boy?”

“Hunh?” he grunted. It was the first time he had spoken since they had caught him.



Sunday, February 21, 2021

the last book I ever read (Native Son by Richard Wright, excerpt seven)

from Native Son by Richard Wright:

And, under and above it all, there was the fear of death before which he was naked and without defense; he had to go forward and meet his end like any other living thing upon the earth. And regulating his attitude toward death was the fact that he was black, unequal, and despised. Passively, he hungered for another orbit between two poles that would let him live again; for a new mode of life that would catch him up with the tension of hate and love. There would have to hover above him, like the stars in a full sky, a vase configuration of images and symbols whose magic and power could lift him up and make him live so intensely that the dread of being black and unequal would be forgotten; that even death would not matter, that it would be a victory. This would have to happen before he could look them in the face again: a new pride and a new humility would have to be born in him, a humility springing from a new identification with some part of the world in which he lived, and this identification forming the basis for a new hope that would function in him as pride and dignity.

But maybe it would never come; maybe there was no such thing for him; maybe he would have to go to his end just as he was, dumb, driven, with the shadow of emptiness in his eyes. Maybe this was all. Maybe the confused promptings, the excitement, the tingling, the elation—maybe they were false lights that led nowhere. Maybe they were right when they said that a black skin was bad, the covering of an apelike animal. Maybe he was just unlucky, a man born for dark doom, an obscene joke happening amid a colossal din of siren screams and white faces and circling lances of light under a cold and silken sky. But he could not feel that for long; just as soon as his feelings reached such a conclusion, the conviction that there was some way out surged back into him, strong and powerful, and, in his present state, condemning and paralyzing.



Saturday, February 20, 2021

the last book I ever read (Native Son by Richard Wright, excerpt six)

from Native Son by Richard Wright:

He turned restlessly on his hard pallet and groaned. He had been caught up in a whirl of thought and feeling which had swept him onward and when he opened his eyes he saw that daylight stood outside of a dirty window just above his head. He jumped up and looked out. The snow had stopped falling and the city, white, still, was a vast stretch of roof-tops and sky. He had been thinking about it for hours here in the dark and now there it was, all white, still. But what he had thought about it had made it real with a reality it did not have now in the daylight. When lying in the dark thinking of it, it seemed to have something which left it when it was looked at. Why should not this cold white world rise up as a beautiful dream in which he could walk and be at home, in which it would be easy to tell what to do and what not to do? If only someone had gone before and lived or suffered or died—made it so that it could be understood! It was too stark, not redeemed, not made real with the reality that was the warm blood of life. He felt that there was something missing, some road which, if he had once found it, would have led him to a sure and quiet knowledge. But why think of that now? A chance for that was gone forever. He had committed murder twice and had created a new world for himself.



Friday, February 19, 2021

the last book I ever read (Native Son by Richard Wright, excerpt five)

from Native Son by Richard Wright:

The milk on the stove boiled over. Bessie rose, her lips still twisted with sobs, and turned off the electric switch. She poured out a glass of milk and brought it to him. He sipped it, slowly, then set the glass aside and leaned over again. They were silent. Bessie gave him the glass once more and he drank I down, then another glass. He stood up, his legs and entire body feeling heavy and sleepy.

“Get your clothes on. And get them blankets and quilts. We got to get out of here.”



Thursday, February 18, 2021

the last book I ever read (Native Son by Richard Wright, excerpt four)

from Native Son by Richard Wright:

As he rode, looking at the black people on the sidewalks, he felt that one way to end fear and shame was to make all those black people act together, rule them, tell them what to do, and make them do it. Dimly, he felt that there should be one direction in which he and all other black people could go wholeheartedly; that there should be a way in which gnawing hunger and restless aspiration could be fused; that there should be a manner of acting that caught the mind and body in certainty and faith. But he felt that such would never happen to him and his black people, and he hated them and wanted to wave his hand and blot them out. Yet, he still hoped, vaguely. Of late he had liked to hear tell of men who could rule others, for in actions such as these he felt that there was a way to escape from this tight morass of fear and shame that sapped at the base of his life. He like to hear of how Japan was conquering China; of how Hitler was running the Jews to the ground; of how Mussolini was invading Spain. He was not concerned with whether these acts were right or wrong; they simply appealed to him as possible avenues of escape. He felt that some day there would be a black man who would whip the black people into a tight band and together they would act and end fear and shame. He never thought of this in precise mental images; he felt it; he would feel it for a while and hen forget. But hope was always waiting somewhere deep down in him.



Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

the last book I ever read (Native Son by Richard Wright, excerpt two)

from Native Son by Richard Wright:

Though he had killed by accident, not once did he feel the need to tell himself that it had been an accident. He was black and he had been alone in a room where a white girl had been killed, therefore he had killed her. That was what everybody would say anyhow, no matter what he said. And in a certain sense he knew that the girl’s death had not been accidental. He had killed many times before, only on those other times there had been no handy victim or circumstance to make visible or dramatic his will to kill. His crime seemed natural; he felt that all of his life had been leading to something like that. It was no longer a matter of dumb wonder as to what would happen to him and his black skin; he knew now. The hidden meaning of his life—a meaning which others did not see and which he had always tried to hide—had spilled out. No; it was no accident, and he would never say that it was. There was in him a kind of terrified pride in feeling and thinking that some day he would be able to say publicly that he had done it. It was as though he had an obscure but deep debt to fulfil to himself in accepting the deed.



Monday, February 15, 2021

the last book I ever read (Native Son by Richard Wright, excerpt one)

from Native Son by Richard Wright:

Vera went behind the curtain and Bigger heard her trying to comfort his mother. He shut their voices out of his mind. He hated his family because he knew that they were suffering and that he was powerless to help them. He knew that the moment he allowed himself to feel to its fulness how they lived, the shame and misery of their lives, he would be swept out of himself with fear and despair. So he held toward them an attitude of iron reserve; he lived with them, but behind a wall, a curtain. And toward himself he was even more exacting. He knew that the moment he allowed what his life meant to enter fully into his consciousness, he would either kill himself or someone else. So he denied himself and acted tough.



Sunday, February 14, 2021

the last book I ever read (Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own, excerpt fourteen)

from Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own by Eddie S. Glaude Jr.:

A group of young men stood along a certain section of the cemetery facing one of the mausoleums. The men were black, white, and Latino. I didn’t know if they worked there or were just hanging out. I asked Carole to stop, and I rolled down the window. The strong smell of marijuana wafted through the window. I asked if they knew where Jimmy’s grave was. A young black man turned to me, his eyes glazed over. He said he didn’t know where Baldwin’s grave was. “But maybe he’s buried near Malcolm X,” he offered. “I know where Michael is. He’s over in that section,” he said, pointing over the top of the car. Carole immediately shook her head and said that Jimmy was not buried near Malcolm.

We found the main office. The woman, apparently accustomed to guiding lost tourists, pulled ou a map and with a yellow highlighter traced the path to Jimmy. We drove back to the Hillcrest section. I took out the map, and it led us right back to where we were. Carole began to walk in a different direction, back toward the tree she remembered from the funeral. The young men were still there. The smell of weed was still strong. I walked right behind them, and there was Jimmy. I shouted to Carole. The young men turned around, and one of them said, with amazement, “He is right there?” I smiled and said, “Yes, he’s right here.” He was right here all along. Hidden in plain sight.



Saturday, February 13, 2021

the last book I ever read (Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own, excerpt thirteen)

from Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own by Eddie S. Glaude Jr.:

As I walked through the Birmingham airport, I couldn’t help but think of Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, the courageous minister and SCLC co-founder who led the Birmingham movement. Shuttlesworth’s courage and faith were the stuff of legend. He survived beatings and stabbings and multiple assassination attempts while working to bring equality and justice to Birmingham. Images of him being viciously attacked by white racists came to mind as I collected my bags. So did the dogs and fire hoses Commissioner Bull Connor unleashed on children in Kelly Ingram Park in May 1963. I thought about the monuments to heroes like Reverend Shuttlesworth and to those heroes of the civil rights movement like Dorothy Counts in Charlotte or the Little Rock Nine in Arkansas that fill the southern landscape and are now integral parts of civil rights movement tourism. The monuments memorialized the movement and the heroism of the people. But as I walked through the airport, I couldn’t square the meaning of their sacrifice with the reality of America today. I imagined Shuttlesworth confronting Donald Trump and chuckled to myself.

In I Heard It Through the Grapevine, Baldwin returned to Birmingham to witness the trial of J. B. Stoner, one of the men who bombed the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in 1963 and killed those four little girls. Another one of the bombers, Bobby Cherry, had years earlier been part of a mob that attacked Shuttlesworth and his wife when they tried to enroll their children in a newly integrated Birmingham school. Shuttleswortth told Baldwin that much more could have been done if the country had held the men to account at the time of the murders. The trial was a bit too later, and the symbolism, even if justice was served, wasn’t enough. “I think, first of all, it’s a miscarriage of justice. Not to have tried somebody at the time …. It would have slowed up the climate of violence,” Shuttlesworth told Baldwin as they walked down the steps of the courthouse. Leaving the airport, I thought of what Baldwin said in the film about the monument to Dr. King in Atlanta and wondered if it applied here: if these gestures, these memorials, aimed to make the past unusuable, and if there was “nothing you can do with that monument.” The airport was nice, though.



Friday, February 12, 2021

the last book I ever read (Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own, excerpt twelve)

from Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own by Eddie S. Glaude Jr.:

Reagan’s attack on affirmative action, his calls for constructive engagement with apartheid South Africa, his eventual evisceration of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, all in the name of color blindness, signaled a hard change in the tone and substance of racial politics in the country. Calls for law and order (and the war on drugs it would unleash), demands for smaller government, and pleas for personal responsibility as a replacement for government “welfare programs” became part of an arsenal of code words and dog whistles for white resentment and racist retrenchment.

If Black America knew exactly what Reagan and the Republican Party were doing, so did white America. Republicans passionately defended themselves against claims that they were racist, maintaining that one could make arguments for “states’ rights” without being a committed racist. When Jimmy Carter accused Reagan of injecting hatred and racism into the campaign after the Neshoba County Fair speech, Reagan, in a move all too familiar to many of us today, dismissed Carter’s “unfair” attack as “shameful.” Washington Post reporter Richard Harwood wrote that “there is nothing in Reagan’s record to support the charge that he was a racist.” The New Republic said Carter’s statements were “frightful distortions, and bordering on outright lies.”



Thursday, February 11, 2021

the last book I ever read (Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own, excerpt eleven)

from Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own by Eddie S. Glaude Jr.:

Baldwin did not come to this realization in America. He came to it, mostly, during an extended stay in Istanbul, Turkey, where he lived on and off for roughly a decade. Unlike in Paris, he was not yet famous in Istanbul. The city had long offered him solace, and the quiet space to get his work done. It was here that he either started or completed some of his more important work, including Another Country, The First Next Time, Blues for Mister Charlie, Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone, and No Name in the Street. But between 1968 and 1972, Istanbul helped Baldwin make sense of the collapse of the civil rights movement. From this ancient, complex landscape that balanced Islam and Christianity, he conceived of how he would more forward not only in his creative work but in his work as a witness. This place at the intersection of Europe and Asia, a city among the ruins of a long-lost empire, in a country that struggled to imagine itself as modern in a world overrun by U.S. power, offered Baldwin the distance necessary to look back and the love of his friends to staunch his wounds and tend to his scars.



Wednesday, February 10, 2021

the last book I ever read (Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own, excerpt ten)

from Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own by Eddie S. Glaude Jr.:

Cleaver was in prison for rape and assault and not yet a Panther when on June 1, 1966, Ramparts, a New Left, Catholic political magazine, published his essay “Notes on a Native Son,” later included in his book Soul on Ice. In that essay, he infamously wrote, “There is in James Baldwin the most grueling, agonizing, total hatred of the blacks, particularly of himself, and the most shameful, fanatical, fawning, sycophantic love of the whites that one can find in any black American writer of note in our time.”

I have always wondered why the editors at Ramparts published Cleaver’s essay. Despite moments of insight, for the most part he moves about Baldwin’s writings like a rabid animal in closed quarters. Were the journal’s editors fascinated by the fact that Cleaver wrote quality prose from behind bars? Or was it a staging of sorts of the latest “battle royal,” that moment in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man where blindfolded black boys brutally fought over pennies on an electrified floor for the entertainment of rich southern white men—only, in this case, for radical white revolutionaries in a glossy magazine? Indeed, Baldwin had himself participated in 1949 in a similar battle with Richard Wright, the author of the novel Native Son. And just as Cleaver now called out Baldwin for “hatred of the blacks,” nearly two decades earlier Baldwin had accused Wright of the same thing, connecting Native Son with Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin and accusing Wright of failing to represent fully the complexity of black life. Ironically, Cleaver would hold Baldwin to account for his criticism of Wright.



Tuesday, February 9, 2021

the last book I ever read (Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own, excerpt nine)

from Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own by Eddie S. Glaude Jr.:

The writer Albert Murray hit Baldwin where he knew it would especially hurt. He claimed that Baldwin had turned his back on the lessons of Henry James, writing, “[James] did not oversimplify the virtues of heroes, the vice of his villains, the complexity of their situation or the ambiguity of their motives.” Baldwin’s literary gifts had become subordinate to politics. Another critic put the point this way: “Baldwin abdicat[es] … his responsibility as a serious writer … in the course of his decision, enthusiasm, and willinghess to assume the role of racial spokesman and representative.” Henry Louis Gates was even more direct. “By 1973 the times had changed; and they have stayed changed …. But Baldwin wanted to change with them. That was his problem. And so we lost his skepticism, his critical independence.”

I think that much of this criticism fails to take seriously the continuity of themes running through Baldwin’s body of work: that he continued to examine questions of American identity and history, railed against the traps of categories that narrowed our frames of reference, insisted that we reject the comfort and illusion of safety that the country’s myths offered, and struggled mightily with the delicate balance between his advocacy and his art. Critics preferred to think of the old man going bad in the teeth; that, somehow, he had failed to account for the changing times or became a caricature of himself. But I contend that Baldwin’s later work was a determined effort to account for the dramatic shift in the times, not a concession to them. He took seriously the politics and aesthetics of Black Power, and he gave expression to his disappointment and disillusionment with the forces that made the election of Ronald Reagan possible. Some critics simply disagree with his politics and disliked his shift in moral concern.



Monday, February 8, 2021

the last book I ever read (Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own, excerpt eight)

from Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own by Eddie S. Glaude Jr.:

Even as Baldwin framed his critique of Black Power, his willingness to take the movement seriously at all came with a cost. For some critics and at least one biographer, Baldwin’s turn to Black Power marked the beginning of the end of him as an artist. Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone, the novel he had been working on in Istanbul and finished at the house in London, was finally published in 1968 to some of the worst reviews of his career. “It is possible that Baldwin believes this is not tactically the time for art, that polemical fiction can help the Negro cause more, that art is too strong, too gamy a dish for a prophet to offer now,” wrote Mario Puzo in The New York Times Book Review. “And so he gives us propagandistic fiction, a readable book with a positive social value. If this is what he wants, he has been successful. But perhaps it is now time for Baldwin to forget the black revolution and start worrying about himself as an artist, who is the ultimate revolutionary.” Hilton Als, looking back from a vantage point of two decades, would go as far as to say that “by 1968, Baldwin found impersonating a black writer more seductive than being an artist.” The power of Baldwin’s pen had been corrupted, Als maintained, by the bitterness and venom of the young militants. Jimmy’s desperate desire to remain relevant and be accepted by them, some opined, led him to become a sycophant to what they saw as the wild and bombastic claims of the young.



Sunday, February 7, 2021

the last book I ever read (Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own, excerpt seven)

from Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own by Eddie S. Glaude Jr.:

The controversy over the Confederate statues reflects this complex relationship between history and memory, between what actually happened the kinds of stories we tell about what happened and for what purpose.

After Charlottesville, American historians weighed in on the debate. They showed that the statues were not erected as contemporaneous historical memorials of the Civil War. Most were built many years later, either between the 1890s and the first decades of the twentieth century (when most of the Confederate veterans began to die) or in the 1950s, with the demand for racial equality intensifying. They were monuments to an ideology—physical representations of the superiority of white people and a way of life that reflected that fact. This was the “Lost Cause” erected in public space: the claim that the Civil War wasn’t about slavery but was a heroic and admirable defense of the southern way of life.



Saturday, February 6, 2021

the last book I ever read (Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own, excerpt six)

from Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own by Eddie S. Glaude Jr.:

Ronald Reagan was inaugurated Governor of California in January 1967, and in May of that same year as armed delegation of Black Panthers entered the state capitol in Sacramento. They were there to protest the Mulford Act, which restricted the carrying of loaded firearms in public spaces. The legislation had been drafted in response to the Panthers’ armed community patrols of police in Oakland.

In black and brown communities, the Oakland Police Department had earned the reputation for “head-knocking brutality.” Many people feared hem. The police weren’t in black communities to protect the people, Huey P. Newton suggested in his memoir, Revolutionary Suicide: “Instead they act as the military arm of our oppressors and continually brutalize us.” Newton and Bobby Seale founded he Black Panther Party for Self-Defense in October 1966, in part as a response to that brutal repression. Listed among the party’s demands was “an immediate end to POLICE BRUTALITY and MURDER of Black people.” The Panthers’ community patrols were aimed at inspiring black and brown communities to fight back and served as a warning to law enforcement of the party’s willingness to defend its communities with violence, if necessary. The theater of armed black men monitoring police captured the imagination of Oakland and of the country. It certainly caught the attention of legislators in Sacramento. The Mulford Act was an attempt to shut it down.



Friday, February 5, 2021

the last book I ever read (Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own, excerpt five)

from Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own by Eddie S. Glaude Jr.:

Baldwin, the poet, sought to account for the confusion, the mourning of loss, and the trauma it caused. He had to gather up the pieces—not only of himself, but of black folk—buried beneath the disaster that was the country. That work kept his despair at arm’s length. To be sure, King’s death, just like Medgar Evers’s, Malcolm X’s, and all the others, did not stop time. White people didn’t stop being white people. Two days after King’s murder, eighteen-year-old Bobby Hutton of the Black Panther Party was killed by Oakland police officers. Robert Kennedy was murdered two months later. Cities burned throughout the country. The Tet Offensive revealed the brutal carnage and senselessness of the war. Police rioted in Chicago at the Democratic Convention. The country lurched to the right with the election of Richard Nixon, who exploited white America’s fears and insisted “that minorities were undercutting America’s greatness.”

Baldwin and black America had to mourn and make sense of unimaginable loss with little time to grieve because the nastiness of the white world kept coming at them. With little time to mourn, we carried our dead forward in our resentments and unresolved questions. All of which gave black politics—and certainly gave Baldwin’s voice—an edge. King’s death had revealed the bitterness at the bottom of the cup.



Thursday, February 4, 2021

the last book I ever read (Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own, excerpt four)

from Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own by Eddie S. Glaude Jr.:

Baldwin’s general sense of the encounter was that King was a bit skeptical of him. Although Baldwin had known King since his first trip to the South in 1957 and had worked beside him and on behalf of the movement over the years, he felt that King and those around him were discomfited by his presence. “Martin and I had never got to know each other well, circumstances, if not temperament, made that impossible,” he wrote. On King’s side, at least, a certain suspicion never dissipated. In 1963, King had been caught on tape by the FBI expressing his concern about Baldwin: He didn’t want to appear on television with him because Baldwin “was generally uninformed regarding his movement” and might be mistaken as a civil rights leader. The press may have given Baldwin that label, but King did not see him that way. To King, Baldwin was just one celebrity among many willing to lend his star power to help the movement. I can’t help but think, although King never said it explicitly, that Baldwin’s queerness unsettled him.



Wednesday, February 3, 2021

the last book I ever read (Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own, excerpt three)

from Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own by Eddie S. Glaude Jr.:

We are told every day not to believe what we see happening all around us or what we feel in the marrow of our bones. We are told, for example, that Trumpism is exceptional, a unique threat to our democracy. This view that Trump, and Trump alone, stresses the fabric of the country lets us off the hook. It feeds into the lie that Baldwin spent the majority of his life trying to convince us to confront. It attempts to explain away as isolated events what today’s cellphone footage exposes as part of our everyday experience. Exceptionalizing Trump deforms our attention (it becomes difficult to see what is happening right in front of us) and secures our self-understanding from anything he might actually represent. If anything, Trump represents a reassertion of the belief that America is, and will always be, a white nation.

Today, our task remains the same, no matter its difficulty or the magnitude of the challenge. Some of us must become poets, but we all must bear witness. Make the suffering real and force the world to pay attention to it, and not place that suffering all at the feet of Donald Trump, but understand it as the inevitable outcome in a country that continues to lie to itself.



Tuesday, February 2, 2021

the last book I ever read (Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own, excerpt two)

from Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own by Eddie S. Glaude Jr.:

Another constituent part of the lie involves lies about American history and about the trauma that America has visited throughout that history on people of color both at home and abroad. According to these lies, America is fundamentally good and innocent, its bad deeds dismissed as mistakes corrected on the way to “a more perfect union.” The United States has always been shadowed by practices that contradict our most cherished principles. The genocide of native peoples, slavery, racial apartheid, Japanese internment camps, and the subordination of women reveal that our basic creed that “all men are created equal” was a lie, at least in practice. There weren’t minor events in the grand history of the “redeemer nation,” nor were they simply the outcomes of a time when such views were widely held. Each moment represented a profound revelation about who we were as a country—just as the moments of resistance against them said something about who we aspired to be.

But the lie’s most pernicious effect when it comes to our history is to malform events to fit the story whenever America’s innocence is threatened by reality. When measured against our actions, the story we have told ourselves about America being a divinely sanctioned nation called to be a beacon of light and a moral force in the world is a lie. The idea of the “Lost Cause” as just an honest assessment of what happened after the Civil War is a lie. The stories we often tell ourselves of the civil rights moment and racial progress in this country, with Rosa Parks’s courage, Dr. King’s moral vision, and the unreasonable venom of Black Power, culminating in the election of Barack Obama, are all too often lies.



Monday, February 1, 2021

the last book I ever read (Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own, excerpt one)

from Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own by Eddie S. Glaude Jr.:

Baldwin’s understanding of the American condition cohered around a set of practices that, taken together, constitute something I will refer to throughout this book as the lie. The idea of facing the lie was always at the heart of Jimmy’s witness, because he thought that it, as opposed to our claim to the shining city on a hill, was what made America truly exceptional. The lie is more properly several sets of lies with a single purpose. If what I have called the “value gap” is the idea that in America while lives have always mattered more than the lives of others, then the lie ia a broad and powerful architecture of false assumptions by which the value gap is maintained. These are the narrative assumptions that support the everyday order of American life, which means we breathe them like air. We count them as truths. We absorb them into our character.



Saturday, January 30, 2021

the last book I ever read (Lily King's Writers & Lovers: A Novel, excerpt fourteen)

from Writers & Lovers: A Novel by Lily King:

‘I’m going to turn it over now to the newest addition to our English department,’ he says and gives me an introduction, too. Somehow he has taken the information from my resume and made it sound good, my paltry publications and grad school prize.

There’s a bit of clapping, and I walk up to the podium. I see a few clusters of students I teach and many others I don’t know. Their faces are lifted up to me. I think of Holden Caulfield, wanting to catch children before they fall off the cliff, and I get it now. I take a long breath. A kid from eleventh grade gives a little whoop.



Friday, January 29, 2021

the last book I ever read (Lily King's Writers & Lovers: A Novel, excerpt thirteen)

from Writers & Lovers: A Novel by Lily King:

There’s a receptionist at a desk in a small waiting area. She gets up and shows me in. Up close Aisha isn’t as severe. She smiles easily and takes off her shoes as soon as she sits back down. She folds one leg under her. We’re in green wing chairs near the window.

‘What is amusing you?’

‘Oh.’ I can’t think of anything to say but the truth. ‘I was just thinking about this book that has a wing chair in it.’ I touch the hard green wing by my head.

‘Which book?’

Woodcutters. By Thomas Bernhard.’



Thursday, January 28, 2021

the last book I ever read (Lily King's Writers & Lovers: A Novel, excerpt twelve)

from Writers & Lovers: A Novel by Lily King:

At Iris, a woman takes a bite of her BLT and sends it back. She says she doesn’t like the spicy mayonnaise. The kitchen makes another, with a milder aioli. I bring it out to her, and a few minutes later she asks me to bring some of the spicy mayonnaise back.

‘I thought I didn’t like it, but I did,’ she says.



Wednesday, January 27, 2021

the last book I ever read (Lily King's Writers & Lovers: A Novel, excerpt eleven)

from Writers & Lovers: A Novel by Lily King:

I drift over to the wall of fiction. Annie does have a good collection. Many of my favorites are there: The Evening of the Holiday, Beloved, Independent People, Trouble, Housekeeping, Woodcutters. In college, my litmus test for a bookstore was Hamsun’s Hunger. It’s there, too. They calm me, all these names on spines. I feel such tenderness toward them. I brush my fingers across the row of Woolf novels. I don’t own many books anymore. I shipped my books to Spain but I couldn’t afford to send them back. They’re still at Paco’s. I doubt I’ll see them again.



Tuesday, January 26, 2021

the last book I ever read (Lily King's Writers & Lovers: A Novel, excerpt ten)

from Writers & Lovers: A Novel by Lily King:

Nearly every guy I’ve dated believed they should already be famous, believed that greatness was their destiny and they were already behind schedule. An early moment of intimacy often involved a confession of this sort: a childhood vision, teacher’s prophesy, a genius IQ. At first, with my boyfriend in college, I believed it, too. Later, I thought I was just choosing delusional men. Now I understand it’s how boys are raised to think, how they are lured into adulthood. I’ve met ambitious women, driven women, but no woman has ever told me that greatness was her destiny.

My father had this kind of drama in him, sudden surges of despair about his life and wasted chances and breaks he never got. It took me a while to understand that my wins on the golf course, no matter how hard he strived for them, only made him feel worse. I figured that an actually successful man like Oscar would have outgrown all that crap.



Monday, January 25, 2021

the last book I ever read (Lily King's Writers & Lovers: A Novel, excerpt nine)

from Writers & Lovers: A Novel by Lily King:

The technician is rough. She shoves and tugs my right boob into place on the glass plate and brings the other plate down with the touch of a button and just when it is as tight and squished as I can bear, she lowers it more. Sometimes she has to lift it back up a bit and cram my flesh in deeper. She should be a potter or a chef. Her hands are strong and certain. She reminds me of the line cooks stuffing potatoes.



Sunday, January 24, 2021

the last book I ever read (Lily King's Writers & Lovers: A Novel, excerpt eight)

from Writers & Lovers: A Novel by Lily King:

‘Robbie.’

‘Five-time Rolex Junior All-American, AJGA Player of the Year, winner of eleven national—’

‘I was never going to—’

‘Yes, you were,’ he says, beginning to stand up before he realizes where he is. ‘You don’t know anything because you gave up.’ That narrow face, those yellow-green eyes. He looks just the same now, all the extra years shaved off.

‘Robbie,’ Ann says more sharply.



Saturday, January 23, 2021

the last book I ever read (Lily King's Writers & Lovers: A Novel, excerpt seven)

from Writers & Lovers: A Novel by Lily King:

I put my key in the lock. I’m in the mood to call my mother, that happy, shift in the wind mood. I calculate the time in Phoenix. Nearly noon. Perfect. The bolt retracts, and I remember she died.



Friday, January 22, 2021

the last book I ever read (Lily King's Writers & Lovers: A Novel, excerpt six)

from Writers & Lovers: A Novel by Lily King:

‘It’s weird, isn’t it? My sister and I drove cross country once. She got all these books on tape, big books like War and Peace and stuff. But we started talking and never listened to them. It was kind of a joke we had, that when we ran out of things to say we’d listen. We just kept talking, though. And now I can’t remember what we said.’

The air between us crackles, as it does when you speak of your beloved dead. But it’s hard to know what to say next.

We wander through Art of the Ancient World, past a Babylonian lion, Etruscan urns, an enameled Nubian bracelet, body parts from Greek statues: a sandaled foot, a muscular male bum with one thigh. It’s good to see art, to remember what a natural human impulse it has always been. We move into Art of Europe, the haloes and angels, the sacred birth and bloody murder of one man over and over, a whole continent possessed by one story for centuries.



Thursday, January 21, 2021

the last book I ever read (Lily King's Writers & Lovers: A Novel, excerpt five)

from Writers & Lovers: A Novel by Lily King:

Out on the street, daylight surprises me. Somehow between the top floor and the bottom I forgot brunch, not dinner. The Square is quiet. I head to the river on foot. My dinner shift starts in less than an hour. I’m still in my uniform. The sun has come out and burned off most of the rain. I feel the sun on my back, the warmed air on my arms. I walk up the Larz Anderson Bridge, thinking of Faulkner and Quentin Compson, remembering Quentin as I would an old love, with a swollen heart, Quentin who buckled under the weight of Southern sins, who cracked the crystal on the corner of the dresser and twisted the hands off his grandfather’s watch his last morning and, later in the afternoon, cleaned his hat with a brush before he left his Harvard dorm room to kill himself.



Wednesday, January 20, 2021

the last book I ever read (Lily King's Writers & Lovers: A Novel, excerpt four)

from Writers & Lovers: A Novel by Lily King:

Waiting on writers is my undoing. Jayne Anne Phillips came in a few weeks ago, and my face flamed up every time I went to the table. Her collection Black Tickets is like a prayer book to me. When she and her two friends ordered tea, the cups rattled on their saucers as I set them down. I’ll have to get Mary Hand to take over Oscar Kolton’s table.



Tuesday, January 19, 2021

the last book I ever read (Lily King's Writers & Lovers: A Novel, excerpt three)

from Writers & Lovers: A Novel by Lily King:

Muriel calls me over and makes me squeeze on the couch between her and her grad school friend George, who turned up unexpectedly that afternoon, which apparently he does from time to time. She’s told me about him. He’s unhappy and lives in North Carolina. We’re pressed together on the couch and have to lean away from each other to be in focus. He has a smooth plump face and gold-rimmed glasses. Big round eyes hrough the lenses.

Harry is on the other side of Muriel, and they have enhanced the intensity of their conversation to force George and me to talk to each other. I already know part of his story. He and his wife arrived in Ann Arbor together for grad school. He was in the fiction program with Muriel, and his wife was in nonfiction. During their second year there she started getting migraines and was sent to a specialist. At her third appointment, the doctor locked the door and they had sex. On the examining table with the crinkly paper. The doctor remained standing the whole time. I shouldn’t know these details, but I do. They’re all writers in the chain—his wife, George, and Muriel—so the particulars didn’t get lost. Now the wife is migraine-free and living with the doctor, and George is heartbroken and teaching freshman comp at UNC-Greensboro.



Sunday, January 17, 2021

the last book I ever read (Lily King's Writers & Lovers: A Novel, excerpt two)

from Writers & Lovers: A Novel by Lily King:

It’s just one small room with an army cot to the right covered with a gray wool blanket and a sloped desk to the left, painted green. On the far wall is a brick hearth and a potbellied stove in front of it. All I can feel is the effort of reproduction. Nothing of Thoreau is here.

Luke takes my hand and tugs me to sit on the bed with him. There’s a dead spider on the blanket whose legs look woven into the wool. He would like that. It would probably end up in a poem. I take pleasure in not showing it to him.



Saturday, January 16, 2021

the last book I ever read (Lily King's Writers & Lovers: A Novel, excerpt one)

from Writers & Lovers: A Novel by Lily King:

I didn’t mean to move back to Massachusetts. I just had no other plan. I don’t like being reminded of those days on Chauncy, wriing stories in my dormer window on the third floor, drinking Turkish coffee at Algiers, dancing at the Plough and Stars. Life was light and cheap, and if it wasn’t cheap I used a credit card. My loans got sold and sold again, and I paid the minimums and didn’t think about the ballooning balance. My mother had moved back to Phoenix by then, and she paid for my flighs to see her twice a year. The rest of the time we talked on the phone, talked for hours sometimes. We’d pee and paint our nails and make food and brush our teeth. I always knew where she was in her little house by the noises in the background, the scrape of a hanger or the chime of a glass being put in the dishwasher. I’d tell her about people at the bookstore, and she’d tell me about people at her office in the state house in Phoenix-she was working for the governor then. I’d get her to retell some of her stories from Santiago de Cuba, where she grew up with her American-born, expat parents. Her father was a doctor, and her mother sang show tunes at a nightclub. Every now and then she’d ask if I had done my laundry or changed my sheets and I’d tell her to stop being maternal, it wasn’t in her nature, and we’d laugh because it was true and I had forgiven her for that. I look back on those days and it feels gluttonous, all that time and love and life ahead, no bees in my body and my mother on the other end of the line.



Friday, January 15, 2021

the last book I ever read (Anne Applebaum's Twilight of Democracy, excerpt fourteen)

from Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism by Anne Applebaum:

Throughout history, pandemics have led to an expansion of the power of the state: at times when people fear death, they go along with measures that they believe, rightly or wrongly, will save them—even if that means a loss of freedom. In Britain, Italy, Germany, France, the United States, and many other places, there was a consensus that people needed to stay home, that quarantines needed to be enforced, that police needed to play an exceptional role. But in a few places, fear of disease became, alongside the other unsettling aspects of modernity, inspiration for a whole new generation of authoritarian nationalists. Nigel Farage, Laura Ingraham, Mária Schmidt, and Jacek Kurski, along with the trolls who work for Vox in Spain or the alt-right in America, had already prepared the intellectual ground for that kind of change—and so it came to pass. At the end of March, Viktor Orbán in Hungary enacted a law allowing himself to rule by decree and allowing his government to arrest journalists and jail them for five years for criticizing official efforts to fight the virus. There was no need for these measures, and they did not help the Hungarian hospitals that were also overburdened, as in Poland, by lack of investment and emigration. The point was to use the measure to shut down debate. Opposition politicians who objected were jeered by the state media as “pro-virus.”



Thursday, January 14, 2021

the last book I ever read (Anne Applebaum's Twilight of Democracy, excerpt thirteen)

from Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism by Anne Applebaum:

The inaugural speech did not directly express a longing for a cleansing episode of violence. But the speech on “Western civilization” that Trump delivered in Warsaw a year later, in July 2017—the one Bardaji and his friends helped write—most certainly did. Trump, who seemed surprised by some of what he was reading from the teleprompter (“Think of that!” he marveled at a mention of the Polish origins of Copernicus), was clearly not the author. But the real authors, including Bannon and Stephen Miller, used some of the same language as hey had in the inaugural: “the people, not the powerful … have always formed the foundation of freedom and the cornerstone of our defense,” they wrote, as if Trump himself were not a wealthy, powerful elite businessman who had dodged the draft and let others fight in his place. In a passage describing the Warsaw Uprising—a horrific and destructive battle in which, despite showing great courage, the Polish resistance was crushed by the Nazis—they had Trump declare that “those heroes remind us that the West was saved with the blood of patriots; that each generation must rise up and play their part in its defense.” The ominous overtone was hard to miss: “each generation” means that patriots in our generation will have to spill their blood in the coming battle to rescue America from its own decadence and corruption too.



Wednesday, January 13, 2021

the last book I ever read (Anne Applebaum's Twilight of Democracy, excerpt twelve)

from Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism by Anne Applebaum:

Buchanan’s pessimism derives partially from his sense of white decline but also, like some of those diametrically opposed to him on the left, from his dislike of American foreign policy. Over the years he has evolved away from ordinary isolationism and toward what seems to be a belief that America’s role in the world is pernicious, if not evil. In 2002, he told a television audience, using language that could have equally come from Noam Chomsky or a similar left-wing critic of America, that “9/11 was a direct consequence of the United States meddling in an area of the world where we do not belong and where we are not wanted.”

Stranger still, a man who resisted false Soviet narratives for many decades fell hard for a false Russian narrative, created by Putin’s political technologists, that Russia is a godly, Christian nation seeking to protect its ethnic identity. Never mind that only a tiny percentage of Russians actually go to church, or that fewer than 5 percent say they have ever read the Bible; never mind that Russia is very much a multiethnic, multilingual state, with a far larger Muslim population than most European countries; never mind that Chechnya, a Russian province, is actually governed by sharia law, or that its government forces women to wear veils and tortures gay men; never mind that many forms of evangelical Christianity are actually banned. The propaganda—the photographs of Putin paying homage to an icon of Our Lady of Kazan, for example, or the incorporation of religious services into his inaugurations—worked on Buchanan, who became convinced that Russia was an ethnic nationalist state of a sort superior to America, which he describes with disgust as a “multicultural, multiethnic, multiracial, multilingual ‘universal nation’ whose avatar is Barack Obama.”



Tuesday, January 12, 2021

the last book I ever read (Anne Applebaum's Twilight of Democracy, excerpt eleven)

from Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism by Anne Applebaum:

A similar international network went into high gear after the 2019 fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. ISD tracked thousands of posts from people claiming to have seen Muslims “celebrating” the fire, as well as from people posting rumors and pictures that purported to prove there had been deliberate arson. A site called CasoAislado had one up almost immediately, claiming that “hundreds of Muslims” were celebrating in Paris and using an image that looked as through people with Arabic surnames were posting smiley-face emoticons under scenes of the fire on Facebook. A few hours later, Abascal tweeted his disgust at these “hundreds of Muslims,” using the same image. He linked to it via a post by the American alt-right conspiracy theorist Paul Watson—who, in turn, sourced the same image to a French far-right activist named Damien Rieu. “Islamists want to destroy Europe and Western civilization by celebrating the fire of #NotreDame,” wrote Abascal: “Let’s take note before it’s too late.”

These same kinds of memes and images then rippled through Vox’s WhatsApp and Telegram fan groups. Members of these groups shared an English-language meme showing Paris “before Macron” with Notre Dame, and “after Macron” with a mosque in its place. They also shared a news video, made about another incident, that seemed to be alluding to arrests and gas bombs found in a nearby car. It was a perfect example of the American alt-right, the European far right, and Vox all messaging the same thing, at the same time, in multiple languages, attempting to create the same emotions across Europe, North America, and beyond.



Monday, January 11, 2021

the last book I ever read (Anne Applebaum's Twilight of Democracy, excerpt ten)

from Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism by Anne Applebaum:

Some of the Spaniards I met were also suffering from déjà vu, though of a different kind: they thought they heard the echoes of the past in Vox’s rhetoric. Older Spaniards can still remember the ostentatious nationalism that characterized the dictatorship of Francisco Franco, the chants of “Arriba Espańa!” or “Go Spain!” at rallies, the solemn atmosphere of forced patriotism. During most of the four decades that followed the dictator’s death in 1975, it seemed as if nobody wanted any of that back. Instead, Spain in the late 1970s went through a transition parallel to the one that Poland and Hungary experienced in the 1990s, joining European institutions, rewriting the constitution, and establishing a national truce. In its way, the democratization of Spain was the postwar world’s true proof of concept. The democratization and integration of France, Germany, Italy, and the rest had proved so successful by the time of Franco’s death that Spaniards, who had set out on a quite different course after the way, finally clamored to join them.

After the transition was completed, Spain’s new democracy was almost ostentatiously consensual. Two main political parties emerged from the old one-party state, and together they agreed to agree. Many former Francoists and their children found their way to the new center-right Popular Party; many former Franco opponents and their children found their way to the new center-left Socialist Party. But both sides arranged tacitly, and sometimes openly, not to talk about the things that had once divided them. Franco was allowed to remain in his elaborate tomb, part of a memorial known as the Valley of the Fallen. His left-wing opponents were allowed to celebrate their own veterans. The civil war that had divided them went undiscussed. The past, seemingly in defiance of Faulkner’s famous remark, remained past.



Sunday, January 10, 2021

the last book I ever read (Anne Applebaum's Twilight of Democracy, excerpt nine)

from Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism by Anne Applebaum:

What factors, in the modern world, might provoke people to react against complexity? Some are obvious. Major demographic change—the arrival of immigrants or outsiders—is a form of complexity that has traditionally inflamed that authoritarian impulse, and it still does. It was not a surprise that the migration of hundreds of thousands of people from the Middle East to Europe during the Syrian war of 2016—some arriving at the invitation of the German chancellor, Angela Merkel—inspired a rise in support for political parties in Europe that use authoritarian language and symbols. In some countries, especially those with Mediterranean coastlines, these large numbers really did create a set of genuine problems: how to house and care for people arriving by boat, how to feed them, what to do with them next. Elsewhere in Europe, especially Germany, there were also real issues of housing, training, and assimilation of new immigrants. In some parts of the United States and the United Kingdom, there is evidence that new immigrants create unwelcome competition for some jobs. In many countries there have been serious outbreaks of crime or terrorism directly associated with the newcomers.

But the relationship between real immigrants and anti-immigrant political movements is not always so straightforward. For one, immigration, even from places with a different religion or culture, does not always cause a counterreaction. In the 1990s, Muslim refugees from the wars in former Yugoslavia arrived in Hungary without causing undue distress. Muslim refugees from Chechnya caused no major backlash in Poland either. In recent years, the United States absorbed refugees from Russia, Vietnam, Haiti, and Cuba, among other places, without much debate.