This week, we’re sharing stories from Ronan Farrow, Diana Nyad, Rachel Monroe, Ross Andersen, and Teresa Mathew.
Sikhism is the world’s fifth largest religion, but these peaceful people are greatly outnumbered and misunderstood in America. Uninformed people assume their turbans mean they’re Muslim, and racists continue to attack and harass them. The first hate crime after 9/11 was perpetrated against a Sikh man. Yet a group of Sikhs in New Jersey have embraced one of the most iconic pieces of Americana — the motorcycle — to pursue their own piece of the American dream on the country’s back roads.
At BuzzFeed, Teresa Mathew spends time with The Sikh Motorcycle Club Of The Northeast to report on these motorcyclists of faith. Club members fly the American flag and the Sikh flag on the back of their bikes. For them, riding is centering, creates brotherhood and reaffirms their commitment to Sikh values and ways of life. In the American imagination, bikers are associated with drinking, lawlessness, and rebellion. As Mathew points out, Sikhism was partly formed from rebellion against Hinduisms’ inequalities and India’s caste system, but members of The Sikh Motorcycle Club do not drink or smoke. And instead of defining themselves in opposition to authority, they submit to their ultimate authorities: family, faith, and god.
The members of the Sikh Motorcycle Club love to ride, to practice what KJ Singh, another founding member, calls “wind therapy.” One bright morning in early June, three members met in front of a gurudwara in Nazareth, Pennsylvania. In true Indian fashion, the other half of the group trickled in slowly. As the early arrivals waited, they prayed and ate the rotis and lentil curries provided as part of the gurudwara’s langar, a vegetarian meal cooked by volunteers. Once the whole crew was assembled, the riders helped one another program location details into iPhones and clambered aboard their bikes.
They rode for hours, past large swaths of rolling green fields and Shell gas stations and dappled, densely wooded back roads. As they drove their Harley Davidsons through small, sleepy suburban towns, the scene could have made for an edgy take on a Norman Rockwell painting. When they wear their helmets, clad head-to-toe in jeans and leather, the riders’ beards are the only thing that make them identifiably Sikh.
Harjot Singh Pannu doesn’t twist or tuck his beard away when he rides; it flies in the headwind like gray gauze. “I love it,” Harjot said. “People look at my beard and wish they have a beard like that.” When he rides, and the wind runs through his hair, he said, “to me, that’s like living with nature.”
At BuzzFeed, Anne Helen Petersen reports from Northern Idaho, where many conservatives have moved to enjoy a life among like minds in this white, right wing sanctuary. Once a Democratic region of loggers and miners, conservatives have successfully converted the area into a Republican stronghold. But to the ultra-right wing Kootenai County Republican Central Committee, the GOP isn’t Republican enough. This Committee’s loose confederation rallies around an outspoken, slightly mysterious man named Brent Regan, who works better as a behind-the-scenes strategist and source of funding than a public face. One critic calls Regan’s contingent “the whole constellation of wackadoodles,” but they seem too effective and extreme to dismiss.
Tyler and others say the only membership requirement to be in Regan’s camp is to be a true, liberty-loving conservative, but the truth is more complicated. You don’t necessarily need to be a Christian, but you should believe in Christian values — and the ability for Christians to practice their beliefs without restriction, which includes supporting “school choice,” aka using federal funds to support religious schools. You believe that the Johnson Amendment — which forbids nonprofit organizations, including churches, from making political contributions — is unconstitutional. You should be against any increase in “unnecessary” spending, any expensive public works — like the pricey renovation of a lakeside park in Coeur d’Alene, which prompted an attempted recall of the mayor and city council, or the recently proposed transit center, dubbed “a Taj Mahal for government employees” by Alex Barron. You should also oppose the growth of government, especially Obamacare and the “perverse incentives and waste,” as Regan put it to me, that have resulted from it. And you must disaffiliate yourself with those who don’t believe these things.
Christa Hazel’s conservative credentials have been challenged, for example, because she posted pictures to Facebook that included “known” liberals. A far-right blog accused Duane Rasmussen, one of the founders of the North Idaho Pachyderm Club, of “bringing Socialism to Kootenai County” for making friends with Spokesman-Review columnist Dave Oliveria, who often published photos Rasmussen had taken of GOP events. When lieutenant gubernatorial candidate Steve Yates spoke at a recent Central Committee meeting, he was challenged for attending Johns Hopkins, a liberal school.
For many, it’s an exacting, and exhausting, sort of tribalism. As Deborah Rose, a political observer who’s been warring with Regan and his followers in the comments of newspaper articles for months, put it to me, “Here’s what bothers me so much: I agree with them on 95% of this stuff! But then the 5% that I don’t — that’s what makes them call me a liberal.”
For BuzzFeed, Molly Hensley-Clancy spends time in Redding, California, home to the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry, where you might end up with a crowd of faith healers rather than an ambulance after your car accident. Town-gown relations there are tense — the school donated half a million to save the jobs of four police officers, but students have also been banned from prophesying around one of the town’s largest tourist attractions. Hensley-Clancy’s piece is fascinating and well-balanced, and includes her personal foray into faith healing for her torn knee ligaments.
I can tell I’m a tough case, because a third healer comes over to us, and then a fourth. Soon I’m surrounded by people praying for me, one woman’s hand on my shoulder, another on her knees in front of me, and the force of their expectation — desperation, almost — is palpable. Unrelentingly, every few minutes, they ask me how I’m feeling, whether I’m better.
I try to deflect some of their questions, but it never works. When one healer asks me what I feel, I tell her I feel “your energy and prayers.” She jumps back, “But what about your knee?”
“Well, it’s a really serious injury,” I try. “So I think it might take some time.”
The woman seems almost offended. “Time?” she says. “Jesus doesn’t need time! Jesus can heal you right away.”
We start praying again, and I start feeling a little desperate, like I’ll never get out of here. The next time they ask me how my knee feels, almost automatically, without thinking, I lie.
Owning land provides families with a legacy and, hopefully, some stability, but how do farmers keep their family farming their land? At BuzzFeed, Bim Adewunmi talks with blueberry farmers around tiny Covert, Michigan, to see what life is like for farmers of color. Only 1.46% of America’s farmers are black. Many Covert growers inherited their profession and have enjoyed a rewarding rural life, steady income and something to give to their children, and land, as one farmer tells Adewunmi, is power. But they still struggle to interest their kids and grandchildren in the job.
Farming is physically demanding, financially risky, costly and tenuous, and the market, like the weather, is constantly shifting. When parents raise their kids to go to college, save money and have more opportunities at their disposal, it isn’t surprising that younger generations leave home to work instead of stay on the family farm. As one farmer said, “We worked hard to show our kids what we considered a better life, and they’re taking advantage of those opportunities. They’re doing exactly what we told them to do.”
“He worked on the Hawkins farm for a time,” she says of her husband. “He always loved blueberries, so when we bought this place, he put his own blueberries out there. They’ve been here since 2001, I believe.” Harold died of cancer a few years back, and Carol assumed responsibility for the business. It is safe to say, however, that she never wanted to be a farmer. “If this wasn’t right here at the house,” she says, gesturing out of her kitchen windows, “I would’ve sold it a long time ago, is all I can say. It was my husband’s thing. I was just… I didn’t wanna be a farmer.” She giggles, but it’s a laugh filled with resignation. When I press her about the potential significance of holding on to her late husband’s legacy, she holds firm. “Uh-uh. I keep it because it’s here at the house. You see, it’s a ‘U,’ right here. And I just don’t want anybody else out there. So that’s why I keep it. And it does pay for my son’s college, the berries. So…” This time when she trails off, her laugh is knowing.
Unsolicited family legacy aside, Carol Baber’s most pressing headache is labor. All her berries are handpicked. Blueberries are graded — the handpicked ones generally get the best price at market, but they are also the most labor-intensive to produce, and picking conditions must be dry (“Nobody wants a wet berry,” Steven tells me, sagely, when I ask), which means picking during the hottest, most arid hours of the day. And that’s before the other maintenance issues that concern a blueberry farmer: weeding, pruning, fertilizing, spraying, and so on. “It’s hard for me because I don’t have any equipment,” Carol says. The Hawkinses help out with spraying (she buys the materials), but “it’s really hard to keep the grass down. So I’m working on trying to get a tractor.”
Honestly, I thought I was handling the Trump presidency okay. At least I wasn’t crying every day. I realize that not crying every day isn’t much of a litmus test. But when Trump codified his transgender military ban, I could no longer deny that I was struggling in other subtle and sinister ways: “I have to sleep more than nine hours a day or I cannot function physically,” or “My finances are shot because I don’t have the will to work and provide for a future that may or may not come to fruition.”
Of course, this is what fascists want for someone like me. They want me fatigued, struggling mentally, and hopeless. They don’t want me alive. Logically then, I should fight really, really, hard to thrive. I am trying, when I sit here to write for the first time in almost two months. I am trying, whenever I bring myself to get out of bed before noon, when I cook for myself. I am trying to imagine a fascism-free future. I am trying to imagine a future where evangelical Christians don’t take time out of serving the poor to disparage and damn the marginalized and their allies. I document the moments I laugh the loudest. I try to be honest with myself and with the people I care for.
This week, we’re sharing stories from Rana Dasgupta, Whitney Joiner, Jesse Barron, Kiese Laymon, and David Roth.
It’s 10:45 p.m., and I’m about to indulge in one of my strangest habits: watching a horror movie, alone, late at night. My cat is nearby, but he sleeps through this particular ritual. There are rules; the lights stay on. I don’t watch movies about home invasions or slasher flicks. Minimal gore, please. I love demon possessions, haunted houses, and paranormal investigations. Tonight, for instance, I’m watching the American version of The Ring for the first time. I perch my laptop on the edge, reach for the soft pretzel I picked up on the way home and press play. The scenes so far are tinged green; it is always raining. There’s an ill-fated Amber Tamblyn, gone in five minutes. There’s Adam Brody, harbinger of death and teen angst. My cat stretches, body bisecting the coffee table. The ceiling fan burns bright, blades in orbit.
What are your movie habits? What films do you return to, over and over? Here are five stories about A League of Their Own, High Fidelity, the films of John Hughes, Ghost in the Shell and, the criticism of Roger Ebert.
1. “‘A League of Their Own’ Stands the Test of Time.” (ESPNW Staff, ESPN, June 2017)
An oral history celebrating the 25th anniversary of the greatest baseball movie ever made, A League of Their Own, a film based on the real-life adventures of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.
2. “I Grew Up in a John Hughes Movie.” (Jason Diamond, BuzzFeed, August 2014)
Jason Diamond wrote this beautiful essay two years before his memoir Searching for John Hughes debuted, and it made me want to watch and re-watch all of his films. Diamond’s childhood in the Chicago suburb of Skokie mirrored the neighborhood in Hughes’ iconic teen-centric films, Shermer, Illinois.
3. “Roger Ebert’s Zero-Star Movies.” (Will Sloan, Hazlitt, February 2017)
I finally accepted the fact I wanted to (maybe, possibly) be a Serious Writer the same summer I read Chris Jones’ iconic profile of Roger Ebert in Esquire. Ebert has held a small but significant piece of my heart ever since. At Hazlitt, Will Sloan explores the movies Ebert hated most, where he wonders, “What does it mean when the most famous and widely read American film critic regards a movie as ‘artistically inept and morally repugnant’?”
4. “All Shell, No Ghost.” (Eric Chang, Vogue, April 2017)
On hacking as “a method of seeing,” the parallel histories of Eastern and Western cyberpunk storytelling, and the laziness inherent in whitewashed films.
5. “‘High Fidelity’ Captured the Snob’s–and the Soundtrack’s–Waning Powers.” (Sean O’Neal, The A.V. Club, March 2017)
My first movie soundtrack was Phenomenon. I’ve still never seen the movie, but I know every word to Eric Clapton’s lead single, “Change the World.” I can still hear Clapton crooning “and our love would ruuuuuuuule…” I thought Bryan Ferry’s “Dance With Life (The Brilliant Life)” was unspeakably beautiful (still do, honestly). My family listened to the CD on repeat. According to MovieTunes, this soundtrack was “the cutting edge of a collaborative art-form whose time has come.” The exuberance of 1996 stands in stark contrast to 2000—what a difference four years makes!—as you can see in Sean O’Neal’s take on the jaded and vaguely anachronistic High Fidelity and its accompanying soundtrack.
A mouthful of healthy teeth has become a luxury in America, and the divide between rich teeth and poor teeth has become a stark symbol of inequality. Poor dental care can be both humiliating and life-threatening, and those who wait in lines for hours at free clinics in tents or local stadiums are often given the chance to fix one thing, and little else.
Los Algodones, Mexico — tucked into the sharp corner where California and Arizona meet at the border near Yuma — has 600 dentists among its 6,000 residents, giving it the nickname “Molar City.” As Republican senators cobble together a plan to repeal Obamacare behind closed doors, little has been done to address the dental crisis currently unfolding in the United States, where 114 million Americans don’t have dental insurance.
Dental insurance has only been commonplace for about thirty years in America. As a 34 year old, I remember trips to the dentist in the mid-1980s as intense and frequent. Fluoride was a cure-all at the time; I was given extra-fluoridated chewables on top of our already-fluoridated town water supply, which left my teeth strong but streaked with white stains. When I lost my four adult front teeth in a playground accident at ten, I didn’t get porcelain veneers until I was 18. They cost $1000 each, so we had to save.
In Los Algodones, porcelain metal crowns that can cost $1500 in the states are just $180 each — one patient got fourteen in a single go. “We’re helping the United States take care of the people they are not able to,” the mayor of Los Algodones told Buzzfeed in their recent profile of the city. And many of those people the US is unable to take care of just put the new president in office.
Jennifer Ure smiles sheepishly through the numbing agent as we stand on the sidewalk outside her dentist’s office. She’s just had her first round of surgery to replace three crowns on the right side of her mouth and is speaking with a lisp. The crown would have cost $600 back home in Ashland, Oregon; here, it’s $190. Her sister, Dana Gross, is here, too. Both are retired, both lack dental insurance, and both have been coming to Molar City for years.
“I’m on Medicare, and I can’t afford dental insurance,” Ure says as she starts to choke up. “I just can’t afford to pay.”
Both sisters warn that to get quality care in Molar City, you have to get recommendations from people you know and trust.
“You really need to do your research,” Ure, 61, tells me. “You can get some who don’t know what they’re doing, which happened to me.” Her first procedure here seven years ago didn’t go well — the implants a dentist put in fell apart soon after Ure returned to the US.
Ure, like most of the Americans I spoke with in Molar City, voted for Trump. The president’s dark warnings of Mexican rapists and gangsters coming into the US haven’t deterred his supporters from coming to Mexico for dental care.
Of course, that’s not to say the Mexicans providing care don’t see the irony.
David Gil, the manager of TLC Dental, says he’s become Facebook friends with many of the patients, and “everything is Trump, Trump, Trump.” But so far, he hasn’t seen a drop-off in customers who support the president — and he hasn’t had any problems with visiting Americans. “I think when it comes to racism, people hide it … [but] why else would you vote for him?”
“I think it’s a little bit odd, but we can’t judge them on how they voted, so we just try to respect them,” says Margo Carilla, who works as a translator for a dentist in town.
This week, we’re sharing stories from Lizzie Presser, Linda Villarosa, Maurice Chammah, Mike Giglio, and Will Storr.