Review: Between the World and Me

Between the World and Me
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is a couple hundred pounds of chains bearing down on the reader. A father who writes about the race in America in the time just before #BlackLivesMatter attempts to put into words what it means. This stands out as a better expression of the weight of it all than anything else I have seen.

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My Five Star-Rated Books Read in 2016

So, out of the many books I read this prior year, here are the ones I gave five stars.

  1. To Explain the World: The Discovery of Modern Science by Weinberg, Steven
  2. Thinking: The New Science of Decision-Making, Problem-Solving, and Prediction in Life and Markets by Brockman, John
  3. The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution by Isaacson, Walter
  4. Genome: the Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters by Ridley, Matt
  5. White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son by Wise, Tim
  6. Roots: The Saga of an American Family by Haley, Alex
  7. Originals: How Nonconformists Move the World by Grant, Adam M.
  8. Eaters of the Dead by Crichton, Michael

I hope to make this a regular feature of the blog.

Last year was a banner year with 14. It looks like 2013 was about equal with 8.

Review: White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son

White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son
White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son by Tim Wise
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Back in college, I was part of an anti-racism group. We worked with a local group and took their People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond. Tim mentioned them near the end of the book, which made me think part of why I liked this book so much is his perspective and approach to white privilege is very similar to how I have been taught to think of it.

I think given the current climate on race relations in this country, this is important for people to read and understand.

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Evoking the Mulatto

Ran across this video series on “Exploring black mixed identity in the 21st Century.” More than just discussing the offensiveness of mulatto, they discuss the doting on whiteness, family, and symbology.

One part I keep coming back to ties to where I’ve seen some stuff online on people who rail against calling yourself mixed. In their minds, if you have any black, then you are black period. In most of those comments, there is no explanation of how that person is coming into the conversation. She says:

I’m not pushing forward: I’m mixed. I’m mixed. I’m mixed.

I’m black.

I find myself tempted at times to rail back against it. I’m mixed. They are black. And that’s OK.

We all have a variety stories that shaped who we are and how we perceive ourselves and the world. Mine are not theirs. Theirs are not mine.

From my own personal experience I cannot really say I am either white or black. Mixed feels more appropriate. So, I guess I will continue to push forward: I’m mixed.

Review: Twelve Years a Slave

Twelve Years a Slave
Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An autobiography about a mixed race free man kidnapped into slavery hit a little too close to home. His experience being free made acclimating to the difficult masters more challenging. More amazing me is he did not break under the weight of the life and give up on ever finding a way home.

Some of the quotes I highlighted:

Suffice it to say, during the whole long day I came not to the conclusion, even once, that the southern slave, fed, clothed, whipped and protected by his master, is happier than the free colored citizen of the North.

There may be humane masters, as there certainly are inhuman ones—there may be slaves well-clothed, well-fed, and happy, as there are surely those half-clad, half-starved and miserable; nevertheless, the institution that tolerates such wrong and inhumanity as I have witnessed, is a cruel, unjust and barbarous one.

Ten years I toiled for that man without reward. Ten years of my incessant labor has contributed to increase the bulk of his possessions. Ten years I was compelled to address him with down-cast eyes and uncovered head—in the attitude and language of a slave. I am indebted to him for nothing, save undeserved abuse and stripes.

They are deceived who flatter themselves that the ignorant and debased slave has no conception of the magnitude of his wrongs. They are deceived who imagine that he arises from his knees, with back lacerated and bleeding, cherishing only a spirit of meekness and forgiveness. A day may come—it will come, if his prayer is heard—a terrible day of vengeance, when the master in his turn will cry in vain for mercy.

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For 9/11

This seemed appropropriate to re-post today, the tenth anniversary of the event which inspired its need. The problems we are to overcome seem more prevalent and prominent today.

This statement was issued by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States in December 2001 as a response to the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. It first appeared as a full-page statement in The New York Times on December 21, 2001 and was subsequently reprinted in dozens of other newspapers around the country.

At this time of world turmoil, the United States Baha’i community offers a perspective on the destiny of America as the promoter of world peace.

More than a hundred years ago, Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i Faith, addressing heads of state, proclaimed that the age of maturity for the entire human race had come. The unity of humankind was now to be established as the foundation of the great peace that would mark the highest stage in humanity’s spiritual and social evolution. Revolutionary and world-shaking changes were therefore inevitable.

The Baha’i writings state:

“The world is moving on. Its events are unfolding ominously and with bewildering rapidity. The whirlwind of its passions is swift and alarmingly violent. The New World is insensibly drawn into its vortex….Dangers, undreamt of and unpredictable, threaten it both from within and from without. Its governments and peoples are being gradually enmeshed in the coils of the world’s recurrent crises and fierce controversies….The world is contracting into a neighborhood. America, willingly or unwillingly, must face and grapple with this new situation. For purposes of national security, let alone any humanitarian motive, she must assume the obligations imposed by this newly created neighborhood. Paradoxical as it may seem, her only hope of extricating herself from the perils gathering around her is to become entangled in that very web of international association which the Hand of an inscrutable Providence is weaving.”

The American nation, Baha’is believe, will evolve through tests and trials to become a land of spiritual distinction and leadership, a champion of justice and unity among all peoples and nations, and a powerful servant of the cause of everlasting peace. This is the peace promised by God in the sacred texts of the world’s religions.

Establishing peace is not simply a matter of signing treaties and protocols; it is a complex task requiring a new level of commitment to resolving issues not customarily associated with the pursuit of peace.

Universal acceptance of the spiritual principle of the oneness of humankind is essential to any successful attempt to establish world peace.

Racism, one of the most baneful and persistent evils, is a major barrier to peace.
The emancipation of women, the achievement of full equality of the sexes, is one of the most important, though less acknowledged, prerequisites of peace.

The inordinate disparity between rich and poor keeps the world in a state of instability, preventing the achievement of peace.

Unbridled nationalism, as distinguished from a sane and legitimate patriotism, must give way to a wider loyalty, to the love of humanity as a whole.

Religious strife, the cause of innumerable wars and conflicts throughout history, is a major obstacle to progress. The challenge facing the world’s religious leaders is to contemplate, with hearts filled with compassion and the desire for truth, the plight of humanity, and to ask themselves whether they cannot, in humility before their God, submerge their theological differences in a great spirit of mutual forbearance that will enable them to work together for the advancement of human understanding and peace.

Baha’is pray, “May this American Democracy be the first nation to establish the foundation of international agreement. May it be the first nation to proclaim the unity of mankind. May it be the first to unfurl the standard of the Most Great Peace.”

During this hour of crisis, we affirm our abiding faith in the destiny of America. We know that the road to its destiny is long, thorny and tortuous, but we are confident that America will emerge from her trials undivided and undefeatable.

The source of the above text of The Destiny of America and the Promise of World Peace.

Martin Luther King, Jr. : Quotes to Make You Think

Various Martin Luther King, Jr. quotes my Facebook friends posted today. Strangely enough I did not already have any on the Quotes to Make You Think page.

The time is always right to do what is right.

Everybody can be great because everybody can serve.

Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.

In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.

A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom. (from Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, 1967.)

I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

Some others:

Man was born into barbarism when killing his fellow man was a normal condition of existence. He became endowed with a conscience. And he has now reached the day when violence toward another human being must become as abhorrent as eating another’s flesh. (from Why We Can’t Wait, 1963.)

All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.

Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man’s sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true.

Of course, the The Vision of Race Unity: America’s Most Challenging Issue seems very applicable here. Dr. King’s views and that of the Baha’i Faith seem very much in sync.

Bicentennial for the Abolition of Slave Trade to US Tomorrow

An Even Better Reason to Celebrate has a nice longer version of this quote from a NYT OpEd piece on tomorrow being the bicentennial for the ablution of slave trade to the United States.

WE Americans live in a society awash in historical celebrations. The last few years have witnessed commemorations of the bicentennial of the Louisiana Purchase (2003) and the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II (2005). Looming on the horizon are the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth (2009) and the sesquicentennial of the outbreak of the Civil War (2011). But one significant milestone has gone strangely unnoticed: the 200th anniversary of Jan. 1, 1808, when the importation of slaves into the United States was prohibited. Forgotten Step Toward Freedom – New York Times

Please read this article. It mentions the British celebrated their abolition of slave trade last year. Also, the lack of celebration may be due to the distinction here in the US between the end of importing of slaves vs the end of slavery. I found it a fascinating and well written article. Eric Foner has a several books on United States history between the American Revolution and the Civil War. I'll have to pick up some of them? I'm already 83 books behind reading everything I own.

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Pick One

The difference a decade makes! I actually knew a couple other kids in school who were mixed growing up. Jimmy was part Spanish and part Black. I’m not sure what Eddie was. Some people still wanted me to pick one.

J2, my aunt, was very Afro-Centric. She decided that my white mother could not raise me to be Black. Therefore, she would help out my mom. She gave me books, talked to me about stuff, etc. One day we had the conversation. I told her I wasn’t Black. A picture of her face would be awesome! Eventually, I did convince her that I am mixed, not Black or White but something else. Something I would have to create for myself.

Lives – David Matthews – New York Times

In the hallway, on the way to class, black and white kids alike herded around me. Then the question came: “What are you?”

I was stumped. No one had ever asked what I was before. It came buzzing at me again, like a hornet shaken from its hive. The kids surrounded me, pressing me into a wall of lockers. What are you? Hey, he won’t answer us. Look at me. What are you? He’s black. He looks white! No way, he’s too dark. Maybe he’s Chinese!

They were rigidly partisan. The only thing that unified them was their inquisitiveness. And I had a hunch, based on their avidity, that the question had a wrong answer. There was black or white. Pick one. Nowhere in their ringing questions was the elastic clause, mixed. The choice was both necessary and impossible: identify myself or have it done for me. I froze, and said nothing — for the time being.

Racism

Lacey’s story about her first brush with racism in Houston reminds me that they were well intentioned. I am not very hard on such people because my so very white grandmother has made similar comments. Hers was that the neighborhood was suffering from all the crime, the specific example was that my bike was stolen out of our yard. Actually it was stolen by a white kid on the street.

Despite that my father is black and my mother (her daughter) is white, to my grandmother I wasn’t black. I pointed out that to most people who make similar comments who don’t know me consider me black and part of the crime problem because I am black. She never made such a comment again (at least in my presence). I was 13 or 14 at the time.

A couple years later, a guy who was part of my “crew” told me he believed it was morally wrong for blacks and whites to interbreed. However, he didn’t consider me a bad person. I was highly offended at the time. It took a while for me to understand people have lines they consider good or bad, but the line can be easily moved at whim.

Being a mixed kid, race is something I have to deal with almost every day. For the most part, I have come to have blinders to many things that upset those who are still sensitive. There are plenty of opportunities to get upset:

  • Slow service at a restaurant.
  • Sales people following me in a store.
  • Police officers stopping the path changing directions to shadow me.
  • Evil glares from women of African descent when I am with a woman of European descent.
  • Assumptions about my intelligence.
  • Assumptions about my athletic ability.

Why get upset over other people’s ignorance when it doesn’t have an impact on me? The police officer who arrests me just because I am “black” would, of course, have a lawsuit coming.