By Jeanne TheoharisOn Friday, the news broke of MSNBC’s silencing of Melissa Harris-Perry’s show and the dismantling of her editorial control. In her courageous letter to staff, she wrote why she was not willing to read the news and “provide cover” for MSNBC this weekend: “Our show was taken—without comment or discussion or notice—in the midst of an election season…I am not a token, mammy, or little brown bobble head…I love our show. I want it back.” MSNBC executives later in the weekend called Harris-Perry “brilliant, intelligent, but challenging and unpredictable” and confirmed they were “parting ways.”
16 posts from February 2016
By Adele BarkerIt was time to go home. I left Pakistan on February 5 only hours before my visa had expired and winged my way to Paris to see friends for five days before heading back to the U.S. I had mixed feelings about leaving. The pull of family, friends, and the deeply familiar drew me home. But I was leaving a country that has, on an almost daily basis, never failed over the past year to astonish me.
By Rashod OllisonOut of the thirteen events on my eleven-city tour in support of Soul Serenade: Rhythm, Blues & Coming of Age Through Vinyl, I was most nervous about the one that would take me back to where it all started. On Feb. 9, I returned to Little Rock, Ark., where I grew up, and to Pyramid Art, Books & Custom Framing, among the first places where I performed spoken word poetry as a teenager. Back then, in the early ’90s, the old location was downtown on Main Street. The new one, a sleeker, brighter and more expansive place, is over on Wright Avenue, in the heart of a historically black section of the city.
By Christian ColemanRenowned author and MacArthur fellow Octavia E. Butler would have been sixty-nine this year, and maybe two or three books deep into writing a new series. Ten years have passed since her death, and in that time, the Huntington Library became the resting place for her archives. Her archives contain, among many things, drafts of an abandoned third entry in her Parables epic and the sketch of a sequel to Fledgling, the story of a genetically engineered vampire. Poring over the notes for novels that could have been and rereading her bio, in which she wrote that she remembers being “a ten-year-old writer who expects someday to be an eighty-year-old writer,” I feel the ten years she has been gone.
By Gayle F. WaldMore than forty years after her burial in an unmarked Philadelphia grave, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, gospel’s first superstar and its most celebrated crossover figure, is enjoying a burst of Internet celebrity. A video of her playing one of her signature tunes, “Didn’t It Rain,” from a 1964 TV special filmed for British television has been racking up more than ten million views on YouTube and Facebook. Old and new fans the world over, dazzled by Tharpe’s powerful singing and wildly charismatic guitar playing—all while wearing a proper church lady coat—are proclaiming Tharpe the “godmother” of rock and grumbling over her absence from rock canons like as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
By Carole JoffeThe Zika virus crisis, which is believed to have already caused the birth of thousands of newborns with microcephaly (which causes unusually small heads and underdeveloped brains), has created an acutely distressing situation for millions of women. Most of the affected countries, particularly in Latin America, have extremely strict policies about abortion and very inadequate provision of birth control. Most notably, in El Salvador, where the Minister of Health recently suggested that women delay pregnancy for two years because of the Zika virus, abortion is absolutely forbidden, even in cases where the pregnant women’s life is at risk. Women suspected of abortion, or even in some cases, miscarriages, now languish in El Salvador’s jails. (Other Zika-infected countries which have a similar absolute ban on abortion are Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic). But being pregnant while infected with the Zika virus is not life threatening—so even in Latin American countries which would permit abortion in such cases would not do so, under current law, because of the possibility of the serious birth defects of microcephaly.
By David R. DowBefore the rumors of Justice Antonin Scalia’s death were even confirmed, he was already being lauded as a transformational figure, eulogized as a jurist who made originalism a respectable mode of constitutional interpretation. This view cut across ideological and professional categories, with a broad diversity of journalists, academics, practicing lawyers, and politicians—including Jeff Toobin at the New Yorker, Dahlia Lithwick and Mark Stern at Slate, Geoffrey Stone at the Daily Beast, Bruce Miller on the New York Times Op-ed page, and, with perhaps a single exception, nineteen legal academicians polled by Politico—all quick to say that whether one agreed with Scalia’s view or not, he had accomplished something significant. Adam Liptak’s reflection for The New York Times, the day following Scalia’s death, quoted the estimable Richard Posner’s observation that Scalia has been the most consequential justice of the past quarter century.
By Christopher EmdinOne of the most brazen statements related to Black History Month in recent years came from rapper Kanye West about ten years ago when he said “...I make Black History everyday, I don’t need a month.” Since then, this phrase has found it way across the lips, Twitter timelines, and Facebook statuses of a new generation of Black folks every February. Like many of Kanye West’s statements, the words seem to revolve around a need to affirm oneself. However, reflecting deeply on the essence of the quote, and considering its decade long permanence as a manta of sorts for the hip-hop generation, West’s declaration signals the tensions between Black History Month and the youth to whom it should mean the most.
By Lennard DavisIt is a very tight Republican primary and the front-runners are winning in some states and losing in others. In the general election, it will be even tighter with the fate of the nation hanging in the balance. The election might come down to a single demographic casting the deciding vote.
By Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II with Jonathan Wilson-HartgroveIn a surprise turn of events, the exit polls at the Iowa caucuses showed a victory of 2016 presidential candidate Ted Cruz over Donald Trump. Pundits credit the turnout to Cruz’s advantages over Trump and the other Republican candidates—superior fund-raising and a strong campaign operation—as well as his success with Iowa’s majority voters, self-described “very conservative” evangelicals.
By Aviva ChomskyIn our post-modern (or post-post-modern?) age, we are supposedly transcending the material certainties of the past. The virtual world of the Internet is replacing the “real,” material world, as theory asks us to question the very notion of reality. Yet that virtual world turns out to rely heavily on some distinctly old systems and realities, including the physical labor of those who produce, care for, and provide the goods and services for the post-industrial information economy.
By Christine BylEva Saulitis was a writer of uncommon insight. She was a field biologist, a soulful mentor and teacher, a passionate advocate for the natural world and its creatures, and a remarkable friend to me and to many others. Eva was also a Beacon author, which is why I write of her here. She died at age fifty-two on January 16, 2016, in Homer, Alaska, of the metastatic breast cancer that she journeyed with so mindfully for two and a half years. Surrounded by her treasured family and held up by a community that spans continents, Eva piloted the end of her life like one of the small boats on which she spent years doing field work—nimbly, with curiosity and stamina amidst difficult conditions, an ear cocked toward the engine, alert to the beauty and the losses that pepper the world. In her passing she leaves a wake of influence that belies a life ended much too early.
Black History Month is as much about rediscovery as it is about celebration and commemoration. At Beacon Press, the books we publish that cover black history reintroduce us to long-forgotten or hidden historical figures, unearth information previously unknown about prominent black leaders, bring us closer to the struggles and triumphs of African ancestors. In the current age of #BlackLivesMatter and other movements that compel us to evaluate our country’s progress in racial justice, it’s important to get reacquainted with the steps black forerunners have taken—and their history—so we can see how to step forward. For this year's Black History Month, we're recommending a list of new and older titles offering biographies, histories, memoir, and more.
By Rev. Dr. William J. Barber with Jonathan Wilson-HartgroveI learned a great deal in Martinsville about moral leadership—more than I realized at the time. But I did not know what was next for me when our family moved back to North Carolina in 1991. Preaching had helped me find a voice of moral dissent, but my father had shown me long before that you don’t have to pastor a church to preach. I was at the core of my being a preacher, but I knew that preaching did not have to be my job. In fact, I had begun to think I might be more effective if it weren’t. The pastoral work of managing a tight-knit community was not without its challenges and frustrations, which inevitably took time and energy away from public justice work. One of my aunts kept telling me I needed to stop trying to be a lawyer. I wasn’t sure what I was trying to become, but I knew I wasn’t in a hurry to find another church.
By Laurie EssigThe problem with presidential elections is that they stop us from seeing what’s really going on in our culture. Obsessed with the latest wins and losses, the latest political punditry, we stop keeping our eye on the ball and get distracted by the spectacle of corporate-funded rituals of “democracy.” So while most of us were glued to the Iowa caucuses, real change was happening in the world.
By Mary Frances BerrySince the Supreme Court in 2013 effectively lifted preclearance requirements for states and counties with a history of race discrimination, states have passed a raft of new voter ID laws and taken other steps which they claim will prevent voter fraud. The challenge to North Carolina’s voter Identification law underway in federal court may be ground zero for this issue.