A Black Poet, a White Politician, an SNL Parody - and How to Avoid the Danger of Being Too Sure
Lucille Clifton, Richard Nixon, Steve Martin. It’s not every day you’ll hear these three names mentioned in the same breath. But we live in a world of unusual juxtapositions. Look no further than postmodern art by Romare Beardon and Robert Rauschenberg. Or any city skyline with a Rennaissaince style church shadowed by a glass skyscraper.
Sometimes groupings like this are ironic. Others are accidental or focus on incongruity or commonality. But I’ve handpicked my threesome to make a point about the ‘perception trap’ — the perilous belief that your particular way of looking at things is the right one. There’s a lot of that going around these days. Almost no one seems immune. In American and UK politics, for example, it’s led to extreme polarization fueled by social media platforms that turn anyone with a smartphone into an instant bullhorn.
It’s only human to perceive the world around you and draw conclusions based on the information you’re processing. But it’s pure folly to pretend yourconcepts are the only correct interpretation.
So I’ve concocted a mental flu-shot comprised of life hacks gleaned from the lives of three iconic individuals from entirely different walks of life, chased by a little something extra to top it off — the pièce de résistance, if you will.
'You're a Woman, Ain't you? Well, this is a kitchen.' Why Tara Westover's 'Educated' Will Remain a Must-Read for a Very Long Time
Ellen DeGeneres read it because Michelle Obama told her to. Bill Gates said it’s even better than you’ve heard. Barack Obama put it on his best books list. So did Amazon. Time Magazine named its 32-year-old author to its Top 100 list. I read it for all these reasons and because a retired high school headmaster, one of my best friends, encouraged me to.
You might not think a book about going to school would read like a page-turning thriller. But Tara Westover’s Educated does just that. It is without question one of the most extraordinary books I’ve ever read.
Even if you have to wait twenty weeks to get it from your local public library (as I did)—here’s why you should read it. Westover’s story is not just about getting a highfalutin degree. It’s about her multi-leveled struggle to become herself against insufferable odds. This is what Jungians call individuation. It’s what Dr. Wayne Dyer referred to as “leaving the tribe.” You think that’s easy? Try it.
But Westover’s memoir is more than that. Raised by survivalist parents on an Idaho mountain, her obstacles include the people she loves—her family. They involve received ideas about God and religion—the Mormon fundamentalism she was brought up with. She must climb over a wall that includes unquestioned loyalty to male power figures. You’re a woman, ain’t you? Well, this is a kitchen.
Prop Goes the Weasel: Did the Racial Sideshow at the Cohen Hearings Demonstrate that America's Deepest Wound Will Never Heal?
The vehement exchange between two members of Congress during Michael Cohen’s testimony on February 27 was more than a failure to communicate. The argument itself was not only a distraction from the main event, it struck at the core of America's oldest wound.
In case you missed it, a white congressman (Mark Meadows) trotted out a black female employee of the Trump administration (Lynne Patton) as proof that the president is not racist. A freshman congresswoman (Rashida Tlaib), who is Muslim, responded by referring to Ms. Patton as a prop, claiming that Meadows' tactic was itself racist. This led to a spirited digression, which achieved what sideshows always do--divert attention from the main purpose of the hearings.
Although the president's former attorney and "fixer" called Donald Trump a racist during his opening statement, the main reason for the hearing was not to debate the president’s racism. It was to determine if he had broken the law.
The last time blackface rode into town, the showdown ended with Megyn Kelly losing her job at NBC Today and disappearing from television. But not without lawyering up and collecting a reported $30 million due on the remaining two years of her $69 million contract. That’s how much the network wanted to put an end to the controversy.
Now Blackface is back and ready for another showdown. Will Governor Northam of Virginia lose his job over blackface and Ku Klux Klan images in his medical school yearbook? Will Justin Fairfax, the African-American Lt. Governor, next in line for the top job, be impeached over sexual assault allegations? Can Virginia's attorney general come out of this mess unscathed after revealing that he too has worn blackface? What about Katy Perry's shoes and Gucci's blackface sweater? Or Cindy Sherman's controversial "Bus Rider" series, which became known in the art world as "Cindygate"?
And what about Jimmy Kimmel, Sarah Silverman, and Jimmy Fallon, who have also resorted to blackface in order to keep the masses entertained? Or the dozens of other American entertainers listed on this Wikipedia entry?
Is there no one who can rid us of this egregious insult once and for all?
Why 'The Green Book' with Its Echoes of Greek Myth, Huckleberry Finn & Cyrano de Bergerac Is a Must See Movie of 2018
One critic calls it Driving Miss Daisy in reverse. But for my money The Green Book goes a lot deeper as it takes a long, hard look at what ails us—and hints at what’s required to heal our national divide. Even though it’s set during the early 1960s before passage of the Civil Rights Act, the movie’s themes could not be more relevant to today.
If you’ve never heard of the actual Green Book, which gives the film its name, you’ll learn during this two-hour excursion that even high-profile African-Americans were not allowed to eat or sleep in “whites only” establishments when they performed in the American Deep South. The film won’t tell you this, but it was a Harlem post-office employee, Victor Green, who published the book. Between 1936 and 1966, the Green Book was the essential guide for black travelers, providing a city-by-city list of restaurants, hotels, and gas stations where you would not be humiliated or harmed.
Voting with Your Middle Finger: How Working-Class Whites Became a Negative Stereotype & What That Means for You
Last weekend I came across a Hidden Brain podcast called “Voting with Your Middle Finger,” which reveals some unpleasant insights about the adverse effects of stereotyping others. Since I'm black, I know how it feels to be seen as a stereotype. You get pigeonholed as a concept before anyone even bothers to ask your name. Definitely not fun. But in this case, the stereotyping is about what happened to white blue-collar workers over the past several decades We already know that Donald Trump got into the White House by tapping into their pain. But there's a lot more to the story than that. Why, for instance, do his followers remain loyal to him no matter what?
This Hidden Brain podcast is a discussion with two authors who break down the significance of race and class in determining voter behavior. Whether you realize it or not, your class identification--the way you move through the world and relate to others--tips the scale almost as much as race. Sure, sure. But there's an aspect to this we tend to overlook.
Four Must-Read Reveals on the Shocking Rise of Voter Suppression - And a Six-Point Checklist for Dealing with It
When Jimmy Carter called on Georgia’s GOP Gubernatorial candidate (Brian Kemp) to resign his position as Secretary of State in light of numerous voter-suppression complaints, you didn’t really think that would happen, did you? (Read the full text of Carter's letter.)
But at least President Carter focused much-needed attention on Georgia’s voter-suppression issue. When I saw him trending on Twitter one week before the election, I also noticed that the Megyn Kelly blackface story had waned considerably (down to just 30 tweets per hour).
I’m glad Carter managed to push Kelly to the back pages where she belongs. As Toni Morrison has pointed out, racism is a distraction. Voter suppression, on the other hand, though racially driven, is a form of oppression. It’s a blatant attempt to keep minorities from casting ballots. What follows is fact-based information on the shocking extent of the issue and how to deal with it if you encounter it on Election Day.
1) Voter Suppression Tactics in the Age of Trump
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, ninety-nine bills designed to diminish voter access were introduced last year in thirty-one state legislatures. Many of the recent Republican-led efforts stem from the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby v. Holder. In an opinion that eviscerated the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that discrimination still exists, but not sufficiently to warrant the “extraordinary” remediation measures that the act imposed on the states of the former Confederacy. (More via The New Yorker)
Only two days have passed since the tragic Tree of Life Synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Like everyone else, my heart aches for the victims and their families. Like most other folks, I am also trying to come to terms with yet another mass shooting of innocents. This latest so similar to the massacre of African-Americans in Charleston, South Carolina, in June of 2015. Back then, nine people were murdered while they prayed. In Pittsburgh, eleven people were killed. In a synagogue. A house of prayer.
It is impossible to make sense of heinous crimes like this. We have categories, of course. But they fail. Words like “hate crime” come up. Also racism, anti-Semitism. You know the ones.
I like big books, and I cannot lie. My background includes talk radio, newspapers and TV news. I've hosted a morning-drive classical music program on the California coast and published nationally in Reader's Digest, the Christian Science Monitor, and Playboy. I've won awards for my journalism and my fiction. One of my essays even made it into an anthology for college English courses. For real? Yes, for real.
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