In her essay exploring race, class, and identity, Norimine describes how she fell for a man from this very place she is from — a place that is “not glamorous or exotic,” and where “many immigrant kids somehow thrived.”
I had known what I was getting myself into, falling for someone who had very strong ties to the Palouse. I was only 23 when we married, and I had never wanted to be content with the first comfortable option I got. I had wanted to move back abroad, even at the risk of losing a green card. But over time my love for Owen translated to a love for the land that made him, helped him grow. I became comfortable with the idea of living there, while Owen—thinking he had made a commitment to someone who’s going anywhere but there—became comfortable with leaving.
Those dusty, yellow-brown rolling Palouse hills that never looked more beautiful? They were decrepit to Owen, a constant reminder of the land that wasted away under chemical farming to which he helped contribute. We’d drive by and he’d point to the gashes in the hills formed by water runoff, a sign of the damage endured after decades of abuse.
We were looking at the same site but saw very different things. I had romanticized returning to the land that Owen’s family held such ownership to. Owen now saw something else—confinement.
Photo by famartin via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Since the 2016 election, my non-scientific review estimates that the media has published seven zillion articles on Trump voters living in rural America, roughly seven zillion more than were necessary. Mother Jones’Becca Andrews traveled back to the area where she grew up, Crockett County in West Tennessee, to talk instead to people of color living and working in rural, red states. The stories she hears aren’t as bad as a white person who hasn’t been paying much attention would think. They’re worse — a lot worse.
The day after the November presidential election, Turner went with her mother to the store, and they both kept their heads down. “We just feel like we don’t belong here anymore,” she says.
Turner’s mom, who cleans houses in town for a living, went to work a couple of days after that, and her employer, an older white woman, brought up the results of the recent election. The two had talked politics before—Turner’s mom is a Democrat, and her employer is a Republican. “Well, you might as well come and live with me now,” the employer said. “You gonna be mine eventually.”
Rachel Lindsay and her new fiancé out and about in New York City (Photo by Tanya Kesey / AP Images)
The Bachelorette came to an end on Monday when Rachel Lindsay, the first black Bachelorette, broke up with Peter and chose Bryan. Seven million viewers collectively released the most exasperated sigh they could muster in an already-exhausting year. Lost love is as horrible to experience on a television screen as it is in real life.
As a first-time viewer, Rachel Lindsay drew me in with her easy smile, fiery confidence, and honest vulnerability. It felt powerful; a woman of color commanding both the camera and a palette of men eager to woo her. Watching the show was like vicariously living what I thought my twenties would be like: fun, flirty, and carefree. Her dark skin was a desired luxury in Bachelorette paradise. Rachel played the rejecter, not the rejected, and she didn’t have to gloss over her race with her suitors or the viewers.
Before I could slip fully into this idealized universe, the rosé-tinted veil parted. Instead of the other, better world I’d hoped for, the past nine weeks brought unnamed racial tensions masked as entertainment, a hazy divide between reality and reality television, and millions of regular viewers questioning the morality of the network.
Do Americans have a unified identity and if so, how is it defined? I remember a summer party in Seattle where, under a twilight sky, a friend insisted it was television that provided our common vernacular. I’d been without TV for a while. Mine had burst into flames (really!) and this was pre-internet everywhere — was my American cred at risk? Travel in the flyover states has shown me how different I am — a textbook “creative class” lefty — from the restrained Midwesterners I encountered. Such disparate characters, yet the same American passports.
At The Guardian,Suzy Hansen considers American identity, partly through the lens of race, partly from the perspective she gained living abroad.
For all their patriotism, Americans rarely think about how their national identities relate to their personal ones. This indifference is particular to the psychology of white Americans and has a history unique to the US. In recent years, however, this national identity has become more difficult to ignore. Americans can no longer travel in foreign countries without noticing the strange weight we carry with us. In these years after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the many wars that followed, it has become more difficult to gallivant across the world absorbing its wisdom and resources for one’s own personal use. Americans abroad now do not have the same swagger, the easy, enormous smiles. You no longer want to speak so loud. There is always the vague risk of breaking something.
Some years after I moved to Istanbul, I bought a notebook, and unlike that confident child, I wrote down not plans but a question: who do we become if we don’t become Americans? If we discover that our identity as we understood it had been a myth? I asked it because my years as an American abroad in the 21st century were not a joyous romp of self-discovery and romance. Mine were more of a shattering and a shame, and even now, I still don’t know myself.
Photo by Blueag9 via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Philosophy professor Tommy Curry’s work (and part of the reason Texas A&M hired him) asks, in part, whether violence is politically necessary for dismantling white supremacy — an exploration of “violent resistance in the context of American racism ‘not as a call to arms, but as an open-ended political question.'” A frequent guest on a friend’s radio show, it was only a matter of time before the right-wing internet outrage machine found him. The repercussions are still reverberating through his professional and family lives, and shaking the foundations of academic freedom at A&M. Steve Kolowich walks through the story for the Chronicle of Higher Education.
“You and your entire family of low-IQ, affirmative-action herpes-infected african monkeys might need to be put to death.”
There were dozens like that. The professor forwarded them to the campus police department. Mr. Curry says a detective told him some of the messages appeared to have been sent from within the county.
Police officers made a point to drive past his apartment building often for several weeks. But Mr. Curry worried about whether his 6-year-old was safe at her elementary school. Driving her home at the end of the day, he would circle the block a few times to make sure they had not been followed.
Nobody came to his door, knocked him down, disarmed him, fired a bullet between his legs, or made him beg for his life. The mob that came for Mr. Curry reflected his own time. It was digital and diffuse, everywhere and nowhere.
The goal, however, was the same as ever: fear. And it worked.
Six or seven years ago, I met a teenage mother in the Bronx who was mired in the city’s bureaucratic and legal systems. It wasn’t just through no fault of her own; the blame for the circumstances in which she and her young son found themselves rested squarely with the same bureaucracy and courts that were condemning them. The city’s family shelter system refuses aid to anyone who has family who says they will house them, and the city goes to lengths to track down family members. This girl’s grandmother had told city officials she would house the girl, but when she gave birth, she kicked them both out, saying she didn’t want to live with a baby. The girl went to live with her brother and his girlfriend, but became a pawn in their fights, and was ultimately kicked out of their place too. It was winter, so she tracked down her father, who was squatting in a decrepit, vermin-infested building in the Bronx. She did her best to keep her boy safe, including taking him to doctor appointments required by the city in exchange for care for some of his medical issues. One day, she had to choose between making it to an appointment with the family shelter system or going to one of those doctor appointments. Desperate to get her son out of that vermin-infested building, she skipped the doctor, just that once. The doctor reported the missed appointment, and investigators went to her grandmother’s place, and then her brother’s, where her brother’s girlfriend suggested they find the father at his squat. When they arrived and found the baby amid all that vermin, they took him away. His mother, who was not a drinker or drug user, diligently went to parenting classes, Narcotics Anonymous and jumped through every other hoop the city placed before her — whatever she needed to do to get her son back. She was a better, more attentive and more devoted parent than most others I’ve known, and after letting her down over and over, the city punished her, treating her like a stereotype she didn’t fit and taking away the one thing she had ever cared about.
I thought of her this weekend when I read the New York Times‘ exposé on New York City’s use of foster care as punishment for “predominantly poor black and Hispanic women,” a practice that the Times reported some have nicknamed “Jane Crow,” in reference to the laws that codified the American practice of racial segregation.
In the Times story, one of the lawyers who represents these women in court explains how Jane Crow works:
“It takes a lot as a public defender to be shocked, but these are the kinds of cases you hear attorneys screaming about in the hall,” said Scott Hechinger, a lawyer at Brooklyn Defender Services. “There’s this judgment that these mothers don’t have the ability to make decisions about their kids, and in that, society both infantilizes them and holds them to superhuman standards. In another community, your kid’s found outside looking for you because you’re in the bathtub, it’s ‘Oh, my God’” — a story to tell later, he said. “In a poor community, it’s called endangering the welfare of your child.”
In the same way that elite institutions have congratulated themselves as sites where merit flourished, American society held up Barack Obama as conclusive evidence that power is indeed colorblind. Yet Obama’s election proves very little about the triumph of colorblindness either as a tactic for gaining power or as a frame for how it is exercised. In fact, upon closer inspection, the election of Obama supports the opposite inference. Despite the common refrain that Obama made history as the nation’s first post-racial Black candidate, the Obama campaign reflected the ongoing salience of race-consciousness among the electorate, the pundits, and the candidates. Obama’s steadied posture of racial avoidance was actually one of highly selective racial engagement, showcasing the candidate’s talent for deftly navigating the complex terrain of race and emerging with a reassuring tale of individual uplift—a moral, as it happens, best illustrated by the candidate’s own life story. The public image of Obama’s so-called race neutrality masked an intensely race-conscious campaign to counter Obama’s racial deficit on the electoral map. In key swing states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio, whites were mobilized to talk about race with other whites to neutralize Obama’s racial disadvantage. Even the celebration of Obama as “race-neutral” was obviously not colorblind, but rather a reflection of the opposite impulse. Voters and pundits of all races engaged in a complex assessment of Obama’s racial performance to determine what kind of Black Obama was going to be.
In a personal essay for Vox, Amanda Machado considers what it means to be a Latinx who loves to hike. When she shows up at an aunt’s house in Quito, Ecuador after a three-day hike in the mountains, her aunt seems taken aback by Machado’s rugged appearance and dirty hiking clothes. To her family, her passion for something their ancestors did out of a need — to get from place to place before modern modes of transportation — seems like a step back down the class ladder. But in the United States, the class implications around hiking are the opposite. Here, hiking has largely been the domain of upper-class whites.
A 2011 report by the University of Wyoming found that only one in five National Park visitors in the US was nonwhite. For Latinxs, the number is 1 in 10.
For other forms of outdoor recreation, the numbers are bleaker: A rock-climbing survey found 3.8 percent of climbers were Latinx, and 0.2 percent were black or Asian. A survey by the Outdoor Foundation reported that just 8 percent of Hispanics participated in outdoor sports in 2014.
African-American outdoorsman James Mills called this “the Adventure Gap,” and many others have explored the reasons behind what a Sierra Club blog post called “the unbearable whiteness of hiking.” Ryan Kearney at the New Republic argued that part of the problem was class dynamics. He cited data from the Outdoor Foundation that found 40 percent of people who participate in outdoor recreation have household incomes of $75,000 or more, an income level that only a quarter of Latinx households have. (There’s a significant wage gap between white and Latinx families: College-educated Latinxs still only earn around 69 percent of what white men earn.)
Later in the piece, Machado writes about constantly feeling self-conscious about her identity and concerned for her safety out on the trail, echoing some other women of color who have been writing about finding their place in the great outdoors. In March, Longreads published Minda Honey’s essay, “Woman of Color in Wide Open Spaces,” in which Honey’s expresses her discomfort in National Parks after the oppressive whiteness of the MFA program she’d just completed.
I’d decided to spend four weeks as a woman of color in wide-open spaces detoxing from whiteness. But when I pitched my tent, I hadn’t known that about 80% of National Parks visitors and employees are white. Essentially, I’d leapt from the Ivory Tower into a snowbank. I should have known that Black folks weren’t the target audience for all those memes about the cleansing, revitalizing effects of the Great Outdoors. I should have known from the people in the images. Always white people in zip-up North Face fleeces, stretchy yoga pants, and hiking boots. But I didn’t know, and I gassed up my car and went.
And Rahawa Haile has been writing for various publications about her experiences as a black queer woman hiking the Appalachian Trail. In April she penned an essay for Outside about the trail that took her through counties dotted with confederate flags, locales where the vast majority voted for Donald Trump in the presidential election.
Heading north from Springer Mountain in Georgia, the Appalachian Trail class of 2017 would have to walk 670 miles before reaching the first county that did not vote for Donald Trump. The average percentage of voters who did vote for Trump — a xenophobic candidate who was supported by David Duke — in those miles? Seventy-six. Approximately 30 miles farther away, they’d come to a hiker hostel that proudly flies a Confederate flag. Later they would reach the Lewis Mountain campground in Shenandoah National Park—created in Virginia in 1935, during the Jim Crow era — and read plaques acknowledging its former history as the segregated Lewis Mountain Negro Area. The campground was swarming with RVs flying Confederate flags when I hiked through. This flag would haunt the hikers all the way to Mount Katahdin, the trail’s end point, in northern Maine. They would see it in every state, feeling the tendrils of hatred that rooted it to the land they walked upon.
In Harper’s,Rebecca Solnit explores space and boundaries: Who has access to what spaces, with what limitations? What does this mean for those who are excluded, and what does this exclusion mean for society as a whole? How do we claim the space to which we have a right without falling victim to the self-importance of entitlement?
Almost twenty years ago, while taking care of a friend’s dog, I took the animal out for a stroll. Along the way, three tall young men came walking directly toward us, a situation in which I always give way, step aside. But I had a pit bull on a short leash. I walked right through those men like Moses parting the Red Sea. I never tried that again, but I never forgot what I learned in that moment: So deeply had I known who owned the sidewalk that I’d always yielded, without even noticing. Since then, I’ve read accounts of trans women who found, after their transition, that they were constantly bumping into people or being bumped into—as women they no longer owned the right of way.
… It’s easy to see how readily this feeling of urgency could become a sense that everyone else is in your way, that your rights and needs matter more—could become, ultimately, the sort of self-absorption that renders others invisible. To believe that my important business is more important than others’ is the path of entitlement, the antithesis of any ideal of equality.
In an essay in Harper’s, Zadie Smith examines Jordan Peele’s film Get Out, and Dana Schutz’s painting Emmett Till — recently exhibited at the Whitney, despite claims that a white artist should not be allowed to profit from black suffering — and the impossibility of ever drawing a hard and fast line between “black” and “white.”
Now I want to inch a step further. I turn from the painting to my children. Their beloved father is white, I am biracial, so, by the old racial classifications of America, they are “quadroons.” Could they take black suffering as a subject of their art, should they ever make any? Their grandmother is as black as the ace of spades, as the British used to say; their mother is what the French still call café au lait. They themselves are sort of yellowy. When exactly does black suffering cease to be their concern? Their grandmother—raised on a postcolonial island, in extreme poverty, descended from slaves—knew black suffering intimately. But her grandchildren look white. Are they? If they are, shouldn’t white people like my children concern themselves with the suffering of Emmett Till? Is making art a form of concern? Does it matter which form the concern takes? Could they be painters of occasional black subjects? (Dana Schutz paints many subjects.) Or must their concern take a different form: civil rights law, public-school teaching? If they ignore the warnings of the letter and take black suffering as their subject in a work of art, what should be the consequence? If their painting turns out to be a not especially distinguished expression of or engagement with their supposed concern, must it be removed from wherever it hangs? Destroyed? To what purpose?