This Sunday is the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. Celebrated annually on August 9, the United Nations selected this date to recognize the accolades and contributions of the world’s indigenous peoples as well as to promote and protect their rights. In time for the paperback release of Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s American Book Award-winning An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, we're sharing the following passage from her book to commemorate the occasion. In this passage, Dunbar-Ortiz gives the history of the day’s creation and the role our very own UUA played in repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery.
In 1982, the government of Spain and the Holy See (the Vatican, which is a nonvoting state member of the United Nations) proposed to the UN General Assembly that the year 1992 be celebrated in the United Nations as an “encounter” between Europe and the peoples of the Americas, with Europeans bearing the gifts of civilization and Christianity to the Indigenous peoples. To the shock of the North Atlantic states that supported Spain’s resolution (including the United States and Canada), the entire African delegation walked out of the meeting and returned with an impassioned statement condemning a proposal to celebrate colonialism in the United Nations, which was established for the purpose of ending colonialism.
The “Doctrine of Discovery” had reared its head in the wrong place. The resolution was dead, but it was not the end of efforts by Spain, the Vatican, and others in the West to make the Quincentennial a cause for celebration.
While July 26 marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, we need to recall that discrimination against people with disabilities is not over.
The ADA accomplished a lot. It banned employment discrimination, made public transportation accessible, opened places of public accommodation and added closed captioning so the Deaf could watch television, to name a few. But discrimination against people with disabilities remains.
There is economic discrimination. When we talk about the ninety-nine percent and the one percent, we may forget that within that ninety-nine percent there are some groups that suffer the most. There is no group in the US as badly off as people with disabilities who are the largest and poorest US minority.
As reproductive politics are once again consumed by an attack on Planned Parenthood, it is worth stepping back and asking why this organization is so particularly reviled by the anti-choice movement. This is a demonization that goes well beyond the shady outfit, the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), that organized the latest undercover filming, or its affiliated group, Live Action, infamous for releasing other debunked videos over the last decade. True, Planned Parenthood was reportedly not CMP’s only target, but the videos taken of its physicians have been the only ones to be released. Some Congressional Republicans, we now know, had prior knowledge of these videos, and predictably have issued calls for an investigation of the organization, joined by various Republican presidential aspirants. The videos have also given new ammunition to Republicans’ annual efforts to withhold all funds from Planned Parenthood for Title X services (primarily contraception and cancer screenings), which are subject to a yearly review. In short, the puzzle is why a national health-care organization—in which, as its spokespersons repeatedly point out, abortion only comprises 3 percent of all services delivered—is such a prime target of abortion opponents.
One answer, of course, is size: Even if only three percent of its services are abortion, Planned Parenthood still performs a healthy share of all the procedures occurring in the United States. But the answer goes well beyond that. It speaks to an interesting historical split among Republicans over matters of reproduction and sexuality—and the eventual triumph of the most socially conservative wing among the party base.
In the last three months The Family and I have twice piled into the car for eight-plus-hour (one way!) road trips to Washington, D.C. As family road trips, the journeys necessarily included junk food, some nausea, lots of laughter, sunburn, bickering, loud music, crowded hotel rooms, and unscheduled bathroom breaks. Unlike the usual family road trips, however, it’s been the season of Civic Road Trips.
On April 28, with thousands of others, we cheered for marriage equality before the steps of the Supreme Court building as the justices heard oral arguments. Road trip preparations had included learning more about the multiple state cases, interpretations of the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause, looking backwards to the 1968 case of Loving v. Virginiathat declared bans on interracial marriage unconstitutional, and arguing about the purpose of dissenting opinions. We fell out of the DC Metro carrying our homemade signs and looking like the out-of-towners that we are. We cried as the plaintiffs emerged from the Supreme Court at the end of the day, weary, optimistic, and surrounded by the love of family. Two elderly men from Nebraska, who had been in love for decades, asked if we would adopt them because their own extended family had rejected them. In the midst of the profound we mundanely argued over who had to stay awake in order to drive home.
To a new teacher, or a teacher with years of experience, the twenty-first-century classroom can seem overwhelming. Along with the traditional challenges that teachers face—disobedient kids, unfriendly administrators, demanding parents, shortages of supplies, or feeling isolated in the classroom—there are so many new aspects to consider, so many new issues to resolve, so many new demands to respond to, coming at us seemingly from all sides:
national Common Core curriculum standards to decipher,
state mandates to respond to,
standardized tests to prepare for by picking and choosing what to teach,
district priorities to pay attention to,
school-wide goals to implement,
grade-level or departmental objectives to work into your lesson plans,
seemingly endless paperwork requirements, and
a flood of new technology, with its potential benefits and drawbacks,
plus the need to respond to diverse children, their special needs, their parents’ expectations. All in all, enough to make your job as a teacher seem well-nigh impossible. The climate created by all of these mandates and pressures may well represent a new height of challenges for teachers, enough to make them feel besieged, overwhelmed, inadequate.
July 8 marks the anniversary of the Israeli-Gazan conflict, one of the subjects that concerns Amy Caldwell, executive editor at Beacon Press. She has acquired The Drone Eats with Me: Diaries from a City Under Fire by Atef Abu Saif, a writer and teacher from Jabalia Refugee Camp in the Gaza Strip. Due out next year in time for the second anniversary of the conflict, Saif’s book offers a rare glimpse into the ongoing war for Western readers. Here, Amy talks about acquiring the book and what attracted her to Saif’s story. A preview from the book follows.
I was curious and interested immediately because I’d done a certain amount of publishing about issues I find troubling as someone of Jewish descent among Jews in America. Things that I find troubling are what seem to be growing racist attitudes and a right-wing hardening of politics in Israel and America. We’d recently published Alan Wolfe’s At Home in Exile, which argues that Jews are now at home in exile, that living in multicultural environments has been good for Jewish people. Of course, the ongoing tensions and war between Israel and Palestinians are on my list of topics that I’m concerned about and want to publish. But it’s hard to think about how to do it well and what needs to be done. So when editor Ra Page at Comma Press in the UK sent me an email about The Drone Eats with Me, I told him I’d love to take a look at it.
President Bush signs the Americans with Disabilities Act into law
This weekend, celebrations marking the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act will be in full swing. Members of our country’s largest minority will be at pride festivals honoring the history of fighting for the overdue rights that made the world more accessible to them. Published this month on the 14th, Enabling Acts by University of Illinois at Chicago professor Lennard J. Davis—whose mother and father are both deaf—traces the nearly twenty years of activism and legislation that gave rise to the ADA. They were, indeed, an intense twenty years. Here we present the opening of his book, and the forty-six words that changed history for those with disabilities.
Trying to find a moment when the ADA began is like trying to find the source of the Nile or the Amazon. So many tributaries flow into the making of the ADA that you cannot say if any single stream is the true source. But you can say that at some point, like a mighty river, the movement toward the ADA surged powerfully and in a sense became inevitable.
But as inevitable as the act now seems in retrospect, Congress might very well have failed to act sufficiently to create a meaningful bill rather than a document simply expressing general platitudes. Certainly, an ADA could not pass Congress today. In fact, ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was defeated in the Senate in 2012. Bob Dole, who was instrumental in getting the ADA through Congress, arrived on the Senate floor in 2013 to argue emotionally that the convention should be ratified. At eighty-nine, he’d been in and out of Walter Reed Army Medical Center for two years and appeared drawn and fragile. Despite his dramatic appearance, the convention ratification was defeated. Dole, Harkin, and Hoyer all have asserted that if the ADA came up for a vote in 2015, it would be defeated.
This piece was originally delivered as a sermon and appeared previously in Sojourners.
During my meditation on the messages being sent out from South Carolina this week, three scriptures came to me:
Jeremiah 31:15: This is what the LORD says: "A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more."
John 8:32: Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
Isaiah 58:1-3: Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet. Declare to my people their rebellion and to the descendants of Jacob their sins. For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them. “Why have we fasted,” they say, “and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?”
Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.”
When the Confederate flag was removed from the South Carolina statehouse Friday morning, Gov. Nikki Haley spoke solemnly of the nine Black churchgoers who were shot to death less than a month ago at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. “We have all been struck by what was a tragedy we didn't think we would ever encounter,” Haley said of the horrifying massacre. Before signing the bill with nine pens that will go to the families of the victims, she called those who were murdered during Bible Study at the historic church, “Nine amazing people that forever changed South Carolina's history.”
The Governor referenced the “grace” shown by the nine families, when they forgave the white gunman. She said their grace helped usher the state toward this long overdue decision.
Our 2015 reissue of Ruthanne Lum McCunn’s classic, Thousand Pieces of Gold, is on sale! First published in 1981, McCunn's novel was adapted to film a decade later with actors Chris Cooper and Rosalind Chao. It's been a star of the Beacon backlist for all these years, being adopted by book groups and used in classrooms (middle school, high school, and college). For this new edition, we've reissued it with new historical material. McCunn has written a new essay specifically for teenage readers, taking them through the challenges she encountered while researching Polly Bemis’s life. Teen readers will note how her discoveries and the documents she found outline the hardships Polly endured as a legendary pioneer fighting for independence and dignity in Gold-Rush America.
Lalu Nathoy/Polly Bemis left no written records. Neither did the person closest to her: Charlie Bemis. So I looked for the two in pioneers’ recollections, newspapers, photographs, and documents. Sifting through my findings, examining, reexamining each fragment for value, I always feel like a miner panning for gold.
From the start, Polly’s Certificate of Residence and marriage certificate shone bright. These papers, having survived a devastating fire, must have been important to Polly and Charlie. Why?
The 1892 Geary Act required each Chinese laborer living in the United States to register and apply for a Certificate of Residence within the year. Those who did not would be presumed to be in the country unlawfully and, therefore, subject to arrest and deportation—unless a white witness swore that the failure to register had been due to illness or accident. Protests and legal challenges by Chinese failed to overturn this law but did extend the period for registration.
It’s been so long since we’ve caught up with Atticus Finch—a little more than half a century if you count the time between books. It is now the 1950s, twenty years later, and his daughter Jean Louise—Scout—twenty-six years old and living in New York City, returns home to Maycomb, Alabama for a visit.
And despite the passage of time he really hasn’t changed at all. Despite what some sensation-seeking book reviewers, shocked readers, and disoriented English teachers will tell you, he’s pretty much the same man he always was. We finally have his backstory in print.
He’s older, has rheumatoid arthritis, and is grooming a successor to his legal practice. Atticus Finch hasn’t morphed from a champion of racial justice to a racist. That he’d long made a comfortable peace with white supremacy was there from the moment Lee’s now classic To Kill a Mockingbird was first published. Despite defending Tom Robinson, a Black man, against a false accusation of rape made by a white woman, he was at home with structural Jim Crow. This was never stated but permeated the story without being critically noted by the author—or countless readers—in any obvious way.
This blog post is one of two about the publication of Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman. Stay tuned next week for Kay Whitlock's follow-up on the conversation.
American readers love stories of political uplift and inspiration rather than forthright, bluntly honest accounts of unpalatable truths and realities. They especially love them when they are spoken by innocent young girls.
After just over half a century, Harper Lee, author of the beloved To Kill a Mockingbird, has released Go Set a Watchman, her eagerly awaited second novel. But, with a novelist’s twist, Watchman is, in reality, her first novel, an earlier version of Mockingbird’s characters, but set later in their lives.
Lee submitted Watchman in 1957 to Tay Hohuff, an editor at J.B. Lippincott and Co., who felt the manuscript—in which Jean Louise Finch confronts the racism her of father Atticus, her potential lover Henry, and her beloved town—needed considerable work. Hohuff worked with the thirty-one-year-old first-time novelist to rewrite the story from the perspective of a younger version of the narrator, two decades earlier. That version, in which Atticus’s overt racism is erased or obscured, became To Kill a Mockingbird.
First announced in February 2014, the publication of Watchman has been a publicist’s dream. After its release in 1960, Mockingbird became an instant classic and a staple of high school reading lists. (The 1962 film starred Gregory Peck as Atticus.) But after Mockingbird, Lee became reclusive, never publishing another novel. Two years ago, Lee’s lawyer, Tonja Carte, claims to have discovered the manuscript of Watchman in a safe deposit box and it was quickly—allegedly with the eighty-nine-year-old Lee’s permission (some friends question her current state of mental competency)—snapped up by HarperCollins. Excitement for the new work was palpable and Watchman became the most pre-ordered book in history with over two million copies printed. (Mockingbird has sold forty million.)
Questions have swirled around Lee’s career and life for decades, and Watchman has only added to them. Why had she never published another novel? Why did she remain out of the limelight for half a century? If Watchman was an early version of Mockingbird, why was it only recently discovered? Did Lee actually consent to the publication of this early work? Some of these questions may have answers, some may not, and frankly, some of them are no one’s business. Certainly, since Watchman’s publication on July 14, the most urgent question for the media and a multitude of readers is: how has one of the most beloved characters in modern American fiction become, overnight—and in an earlier version of the story—not only a racist, but a member of the Ku Klux Klan and active in the leadership of the local version of the notorious White Citizens Council?
Much of the power of Mockingbird comes from the narrative voice of six-year-old Scout Finch detailing her small Alabama town and her father’s defense of Tom Robinson, an African-American man falsely accused of rape. Intimate and heart-warming, the book became emblematic of the white liberal race politics of Kennedy’s Camelot, with rational, just, and courageous Atticus—his name means “citizen of Athens”—as the mythical great white savior. Mockingbird appeared after the Montgomery bus boycott and Brown v. Board of Education and before the Freedom Rides of 1961 and the 1963 March on Washington. Atticus, in book and film, became a touchstone for many white readers and viewers who identified with his integrity and vision of justice in a world wracked with racial turmoil and strife.
Tay Hohuff, by all accounts a brilliant editor, understood that a mid-late 1950s readership (the final draft of Mockingbird had to have been submitted at least a year before publication) would have responded strongly to a heartwarming bildungsroman of a young girl with an idealistic father. In many ways, Mockingbird is the sentimental version of Carson McCullers’ emotionally harsher girlhood coming-of-age stories such as The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (1940) and Member of the Wedding (1946). Watchman may have been too blatantly political coming from a young, white, Southern woman writer at the time.
Each book gives us a political vision of race relations in America written closely together, but published half a century apart, that is a reflection of the presumed reader’s emotional and political response. Mockingbird represents the perhaps naïve, white liberal hopes and desires for justice in 1959 America, and Watchman, with its harsher explorations of racism, painfully resonates and intersects perfectly with our own political culture in which #BlackLivesMatter and controversies over the Confederate Flag are paramount in the news.
But there is a larger question here: when is a society ready to understand the harsh political truths an author might bring them? Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl was first published in Dutch in 1947. In three years, it went through six editions, and in 1950s was translated into English and other languages. During the editing process, Otto Frank, Anne’s father, removed various diary entries that reflected on Anne’s emerging sexuality, her highly conflicted relationship to her mother, and thorny family matters; these deletions remained in all editions until 1989 when they were restored.
In the 1950s, American novelist Meyer Levin, forty-four, after having read the French Le Journal de Anne Frank, wrote a theatrical version he felt profoundly portrayed the horror of the Holocaust as well as the very specific Jewish qualities and character of the Frank family. After a series of protracted, painful negotiations with Otto Frank, who had been persuaded to give the rights over to a non-Jewish writing team in an attempt to make the play “more universal” and, for Levin, less Jewish, Levin was forced to give up the project. Even worse, the new writers took out many of Anne’s political observations and her anger. Levin, who was deeply committed to his truth of the story, eventually, in 1973, wrote The Obsession, his version of how the play betrayed the material. Frank’s Diary and the plays and film made from it are all modern classics, even as the last two—Levin was right—avoid the harsher truth of history to sentimentally engage without challenging the audience.
Even the published Diary has been subject to expurgation in the public imagination. The most quoted line from Frank’s book is “in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.” Yet in the context of the Diary, it is: “It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually turning into a wilderness, I hear the ever-approaching thunder, which will destroy us too.”
Novelist Cynthia Ozick, in her essay “Who Owns Anne Frank,” speculates a “salvational outcome: Anne Frank’s diary burned, vanished, lost—saved from a world that made it of all things, some of them true, while floating lightly over the heavier truth of named and inhabited evil.” There is a very real chance that if the Diary had been published unexpurgated or the play and film really reflected Frank’s original they would never have had the impact that they did.
Literature does not exist in a vacuum. To reach an audience it needs to be published, sold, bought and read. Mockingbird was the perfect book for the early 1960s. Watchman, despite its literary imperfections and adult Scout’s ultimate decision to accommodate herself to mainstream racism in her hometown, may well be a book more suited to our time, not the imagined, more sentimental world of Mockingbird. Time will tell if Watchman speaks to readers today, and if the adult Jean Louise has the power to be heard as much as her younger self Scout.
Organic ingredients can cost nearly twice as much as processed ones. The price of solar and wind energy has dropped but still remains far above coal, oil, and natural gas in most of the U.S. Small business owners are among the most vocal opponents of raising the minimum wage.
Maybe a $16.45 billion behemoth like Starbucks has the spare cash to spend on good deeds like health insurance for its baristas or water-purification in developing countries, but how can a small, struggling startup possibly afford solar energy, organic ingredients, paid family leave, donations to local museums or any of the similar steps that typically define a socially responsible (CSR) business?
Actually, being socially responsible is often easier for small businesses, said Susan Salgado, a co-founder and co-chair of the New York City chapter of Conscious Capitalism, which is a nonprofit that promotes a broad agenda of sustainability, social entrepreneurialism, social responsibility and stakeholder values.
“Small companies are more nimble, so it’s easy to stay more closely attached to your purpose and values,” Salgado said.
Even from a strict dollars-and-cents viewpoint, she added, “there are a lot of small businesses that are actually doing it—even in the restaurant industry where I come from, where margins are incredibly small.”
For starters, there’s a lot of truth to the cliché about “doing well by doing good.” Being socially responsible can also be profitable.
Today Beacon Press takes part in the international conversation highlighting stories of people with disabilities. In honor of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the ADA, we present two disability stories: one from Terry Galloway, the other from Suzanne Kamata.
When I was deaf as a doornail, I suffered severe cell phone envy, which is far worse than penis envy because everyone’s got a cell phone.
Now I have a Bluetooth-enabled cochlear device that makes it seem as if the caller is speaking right inside my head.
It’s a little spooky because, growing up, I actually did hear voices speaking inside my head.
When I was nine, thank god, I was finally diagnosed as having—and I quote—“a chemical imbalance caused by the introduction of drugs to the fetal nervous system.” It was the aftereffects of those drugs that had set the nonexistent voices chattering and left my ears kaput.
On the steps of Gombe, 2008. Merrick is seated next to Goodall in the company of family and others.
Fifty-five years ago today, young Jane Goodall arrived on the shores of Lake Tanganyika to begin the study of our closest relative, the chimpanzee. Accompanied by her mother, she arrived at a time when it was unthinkable for a young woman to “risk” the African jungle alone. It was also an era when humans were viewed as the sole makers of tools and the only beings capable of intelligent thought and complex emotion. How wrong we were.
Dr. Jane arrived, little suspecting the significance of that day—or of how she was about to rock a number of the world’s fundamental concepts. A former secretary without college education, could she have imagined she would earn a doctorate from Cambridge University, become one of today’s most influential people, and reorder the world’s thinking?
I was seven years old at the time, and unaware that a young British woman was beginning a mission that would one day so enrich my life. Twelve years later, I would arrive on those same Lake Tanganyika beaches to become Dr. Jane’s research assistant—and life-long friend. It has been a privileged journey, witnessing firsthand so many seasons of the remarkable Dr. Jane Goodall.
The tragic shooting in South Carolina offers another painful reminder of American Christianity's troubled relationship with race and segregation. While it is true that most of the great abolitionists were inspired by their Christian faith, it is also true that their opponents were inspired by their Christian faith. As a result, much contemporary racism is rooted in Christianity.
Unfortunately, the Bible is not very helpful when it comes to race issues. Many have found within its pages justifications for slavery, abuse of African-Americans and segregation. Unfortunately, the divisions between the races are exacerbated, not diminished, by Christianity.
In 1964, Fannie Lou Hamer “testified” before the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The highlight of her remarks was when she exclaimed “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired!” In so doing, the impoverished Mississippi Delta sharecropper secured her place as a leading light in the Civil Rights movement. Describing her home state as the antithesis of “the land of the free and the home of the brave,” she rebelled against that definition by calling it out as “the land of the tree and the home of the grave.”
So, here we are in 2015. As yet another round of racial animus erupts and national political conventions loom, I am compelled to echo Mrs. Hamer’s lament. I cannot even begin to tell you how sick and tired I am. It’s the same shit, albeit a different century.
On June 17, a white man named Dylan Roof invaded Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina and massacred nine people engaged in studying the bible. Roof’s online manifesto “criticized blacks as being inferior while lamenting the cowardice of white flight.” It was illustrated with photographs, many of them showcasing him with a Confederate flag. I don’t know what chapter and verse the bible study group was concentrating on when Roof opened fire, but he obviously did not heed the sixth commandment that exhorts the moral imperative of “thou shall not kill.”
The EPA recently released a review draft of its long awaited study of hydraulic fracturing in the United States entitled “Assessment of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas on Drinking Water Resources.” This report, which totaled almost one thousand pages, was undoubtedly read by very few people, but the news coverage was astounding. Oklahoma’s senator Jim Inhofe stated in a press release: “EPA’s report on hydraulic fracturing confirms what we have known for over sixty years when the process began in Duncan, Oklahoma—hydraulic fracturing is safe…” Erik Milito of the American Petroleum Institutesaid, “After more than five years and millions of dollars, the evidence gathered by EPA confirms what the agency has already acknowledged and what the oil and gas industry has known: hydraulic fracturing is being done safely under the strong environmental stewardship of state regulators and industry-best practices…” But is that the message from the document itself? Tom Burke, the deputy assistant administrator of the EPA’s office of research, explained the impact of the document: “It’s not a question of safe or unsafe” but rather “how do we best reduce vulnerabilities so we can best protect our water and water resources?”
If we accept Tom Burke’s explanation, how did so many news outlets get the story so wrong? The document itself states: “We did not find evidence that these mechanisms have led to widespread, systematic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States.” This was the quote that was taken out of context and drove the breathless news coverage. A very different picture emerges if one actually takes the time to read the document.
Ben. Jerry. Tom. Burt. They are icons of the ethical-shopping world, the patriarchs (there are no famous matriarchs) of the small crop of natural products that made the leap from the health food niche to supermarkets and chain drugstores in the last couple of decades: Ben & Jerry’s Homemade ice cream; Tom’s of Maine toothpaste; Burt’s Bees lip balm and other personal-care products.
Burt Shavitz, the reclusive Maine beekeeper who co-founded his eponymous business thirty-one years ago, died on July 5 at age eighty, apparently living until the end in his famous turkey coop (albeit a 400-foot coop with a radio and a refrigerator).
Consumers who try to avoid unpronounceable artificial ingredients rightly love these little companies and their products. The original Burt’s lip balm, for instance, contains beeswax, vitamin E, and a smidgeon of peppermint oil. The night cream—conflict-of-interest alert: I use it!—is made of bee pollen, shea butter, and royal jelly, a honey-bee secretion.
Yet the reason we know about Ben, Jerry, Tom, and Burt is less because their names are on their companies’ logos, than because they sold those companies to huge multinationals in recent years. Unilever, maker of the chemical-laden Knorr soup mixes, acquired Ben & Jerry’s in 2000. Colgate-Palmolive bought Tom’s in 2006. And in 2007, the Clorox Company, whose chlorine bleach is despised by environmental activists for damaging sewers and aquatic life, took over Burt’s beehives.
For years Richard Blanco and I had talked about traveling to Cuba together. Finally the time seemed right. On June 13th, we met up at the airport in Miami. We were told to arrive five hours before our departure time. That turned out to be good advice. Several flights were leaving for Havana at the same time, and after we checked in, the lines got so long they snaked all the way down to the front door of the airport. In May, we would have seen Art Biennial types flocking to make the journey to Havana. But mid-June is the start of the low tourist season in Cuba. It starts to get much too hot on the island for foreigners. Our flight was filled only with Cubans bringing gifts for their families, plus the two of us, eager to share each other’s Cuba.
Richard had traveled to Cuba in the past with his mother, while I had mostly traveled on my own, going a couple of times with my husband and son, but never with my parents, who still haven’t wanted to return. We knew it was going to be emotional going together. If you’ve been to Cuba, you know that one day in Cuba is equivalent to about ten days anywhere else in the world. Life is lived with a unique intensity on the island that is indescribable.
In Havana, we stayed in a rental apartment in the building where I lived as a child, which is half a block away from the Patronato Synagogue. The apartment is managed by our former neighbors, who proudly pointed out that our shower had automatic hot and cold running water and so we wouldn’t have to warm up water on the stove and take bucket showers, as most people do in Cuba. As soon as we got settled in, we took a long walk around Vedado, ablaze with bright orange flamboyanes at this time of year. I showed Richard the park where I played as a child, which has a gazebo that has remained unchanged over the years.
This weekend will see the flourish of red, white, and blue return as Independence Day festivities fill the streets. No other symbol has been more emblematic of our country’s independence than the American flag. Unfurled and waving in the breeze, the primary colors usually invoke national pride and liberation. The American flag had an altogether different meaning for Samuel Battle, the New York Police Department’s first black cop, during the beginning of his career as in 1911. In a working environment where his fellow white officers wanted him gone, it meant isolation, as Arthur Browne shows in his biography,One Righteous Man: Samuel Battle and the Shattering of the Color Line in New York:
Battle’s work chart scheduled his first reserve duty for midnight to 8 a.m. on the Thursday after he started patrol. Finishing a four-to-twelve night shift, he was to sleep in the stationhouse with a platoon on call in the event of an emergency. A dormitory was outfitted with a couple dozen bunks and was draped in the odors of overworked men, discarded shoes, soiled linens, and tobacco smoke.
Fetid air and all, the officers of the Sixty-Eighth Street stationhouse resolved that this was a whites-only domain. Cops carried a cot upstairs to a room on the second floor, where the precinct stored the American flag, and left the mattress and springs under Old Glory as the black man’s accommodations.