By Frances Moore Lappé and Adam Eichen: In 1999, Dee Hock, founder of Visa, quipped, “It’s far too late and things are far too bad for pessimism.” But eighteen years later, pessimism can feel like the new realism. After all, just three Americans control more wealth than the bottom half of us. In last year’s election, less than one percent of Americans provided most of the $6.4 billion in campaign spending, worsening an imbalance in political influence that’s long been with us. Even in the 1980s and 90s average Americans, according to a data-deep study, exerted “near zero” influence in Washington.
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By David L. Hudson, Jr.: Student activists engaged over the battle for civil rights and war protests changed the course of American history. Today, this feeling of student activism seems to be returning—its latest iteration inspired by the horrors of mass school shootings. To have their voices heard, students exercise their First Amendment freedoms of expression to speak out against a failure to change gun laws, petition government officials to amend laws, and assemble together peaceably to amplify their voices and concerns.
Black History Month is the time that connections need to be made between the ancestors of Black heritage and the living inheritors. As educator Christopher Emdin wrote on our blog, the stories of past battles should never be told as if they are over or conquered. The stories are alive and playing out today. The connections are more powerful when they’re grounded in the context of history. In the spirit of Emdin’s observations, we’re offering a list of recommending reading to bridge the past with the present.
A Q&A with Deborah Jian Lee: My readers inspired me. So many people engaged with Rescuing Jesus not just on the page, but in real life. They told me about ways the book compelled action and change, and it blew me away. A divinity school student told me that his mom read the book and it played a part in her coming to accept his sexuality and his partner; she ended up helping plan their wedding. Pastors incorporated the book’s findings into their sermons and some said my writing inspired them to launch national initiatives to address the issues of inequality and injustice raised in the book. And I’ve lost track of how many conservative straight, cis-white men have told me that the book changed their perspective on race, gender, and LGBTQ equality.
By Ginny Gilder: Oh, ye Olympians, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways: I love thy exuberance, thy unalloyed passion, and unabashed desire to excel. I love thy seizing of the moment and the spotlight to showcase thy best. I love thy allowing, nay, inviting me to glimpse the size of your hearts, to cherish your boldness, and to embrace the offering of your humanity, its unique expression and exercise. I love that you somehow make my expression and pursuit of my own humanity, albeit far removed from the venue of sport, snow or ice, and likely with less superior skill and less relentless determination, seem possible and worthy of pursuit.
By Carole Joffe and David S. Cohen: Abortion is many things in America. Divisive. Politicized. A fact of life. It is also, in the world of health care, unique. Part of what makes abortion provision unique is that it happens amid relentless efforts to create as many obstacles to it as possible. The preternatural determination of abortion providers overcomes most of these obstacles, but for too many women, there’s something else that makes their abortion possible: volunteers.
By Caroline Light: First passed in 2005 in Florida, “Stand Your Ground” laws provide criminal and civil immunity to people who use lethal violence to defend themselves when they are reasonably afraid for their own or another’s safety. Since their passage in over half the states, the laws have been shown to exacerbate our nation’s already unjust practices of adjudicating self-defense. The laws amplify the impact of existing racial and gender biases, by making it easier, for example, for white (or white-appearing) people to kill non-whites without legal repercussions. In spite of proponents’ arguments that SYG laws protect women from “abusers,” they rarely provide immunity for women who defend themselves from their greatest statistical threat, their own intimate partners and exes.
By Lori L. Tharps: Last week the Internet went crazy because in a revealing interview with Ebony magazine, Beyoncé's daddy, Mathew Knowles, admitted he was attracted to his wife, Tina Knowles, because she was so light-skinned, he thought she was White. While this may turn the stomachs of many a Black woman, it should not be surprising. Why? Because racism. Because White supremacy. Because colorism, people. Did you think that all things related to Queen B were somehow protected from the same 400 years of oppressive brainwashing that made people of color believe they were inferior because of the abundant levels of protective melanin in their skin? Sorry, Beyoncé’s powers don’t work like that.
Last year on Inauguration Day, our authors voiced to Donald Trump what they wanted him to know, understand, and beware of as commander-in-chief. Since then, the myriad doubts, concerns, and fears about what he and his administration would do during his term have persisted and/or increased. Some of our authors have returned with follow-up responses for him in the wake of his State of the Union address. We share them with you below.
By Michelle Oberman: Americans have spent the past forty-five years fighting over whether abortion should be legal. I spent the past ten years trying to figure out how it matters. I traveled to Chile and El Salvador to see what happens when abortion is banned. I learned that, even when abortion is illegal, it remains commonplace and the law against it is rarely enforced. My journey also helped me understand how misguided our battle over abortion has become.
By Anthony Graves: On August 17, 1992, I was twenty-six years old, a son to my mother, a father to three sons, a brother to four siblings, and a friend to many in my small Texas community. I was an athlete who loved playing sports. And if anyone back then had to describe me, they would probably say I always had a smile on my face. Like most people, I had never thought much about the death penalty. I thought bad things like that were for other people. I remember watching the news and sometimes hearing about cases where men were falsely accused and wrongfully convicted, but I never thought in a million years that could one day be me.
By Martin Luther King, Jr.: We all want to be important, to surpass others, to achieve distinction, to lead the parade. Alfred Adler, the great psychoanalyst, contends that this is the dominant impulse. Sigmund Freud used to contend that sex was the dominant impulse, and Adler came with a new argument saying that this quest for recognition, this desire for attention, this desire for distinction is the basic impulse, the basic drive of human life, this drum major instinct.
By Paul Ortiz: Racial capitalism is an economic system first theorized by Cedric Robinson building upon the work of the radical sociologist Oliver Cromwell Cox. As historian Robin D. G. Kelley noted, Robinson argued that capitalism in its earliest and subsequent iterations was dependent upon and entwined with “slavery, violence, imperialism, and genocide.” Through the twenty-first century, capital continues to generate “racial differences” between sectors of the working class in order to better exploit workers.
A Q&A with Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz: The Lannan Lifetime Achievement Prize for Cultural Freedom is a prestigious award that I never imagined being bestowed upon me. Only eight other individuals have received it since it was initiated in 1999 to honor the great Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano. Subsequently, Arundnati Roy and Cornel West were among the awardees. I personally know and know of dozens of cultural freedom warriors whom I feel are more deserving than I am, so I am humbled as well as overjoyed.
By Ben Mattlin: Back in 2012, I had the good fortune of publishing a book. That book. You know, the one able-bodied people are always telling crips to do because they’re sure it would be “so inspirational!”—in short, a memoir about growing up with a severe disability and somehow prospering. Indeed, being unable to walk or even scratch my nose hadn’t prevented me from going to Harvard. I was one of the first quadriplegics to matriculate, if not the first (bragging rights not yet fully established). It hadn’t prevented me from marrying (and staying married for twenty-six years now, and counting), having two delightful children, and forging a career as a freelance journalist. But of course, you already know all that, if you’ve read my first book.
By Philip Warburg: Donald Trump’s much-touted tariff on imported solar panels and cells couldn’t be a worse fit for America’s energy needs. Instead of accelerating our use of solar power, it will discourage the development of this clean energy resource and rein in the growth of solar jobs. For a president who—in his rhetoric at least—is hell-bent on creating US jobs and putting America First, does this move make any sense?
I’m sure my answer is true of 99.9% of us in this business: I am a life-long reader and lover of books! I can’t remember not reading. Every trip to the library or bookstore was magic and memorable for me. I looked forward to English class in school like none of my other subjects. I was an English and sociology major, and then did my graduate degree in library science. I knew I would be involved with books somehow. I worked in educational publishing for the first fifteen years of my career. I was always most drawn to the projects that felt they were directly serving the greater good, so when the position opened up at Beacon, I was thrilled at the opportunity to spend my days working with two of my greatest passions: books and social justice.
A Q&A with Mary Frances Berry: Black women going public about rape is not new. Harriet Jacobs, in her 1861 autobiography, denounced her rape by her master. Ida B. Wells, in 1892, denounced the rape of Black women and girls by white men in her newspaper along with the lynching of Black men for false accusations of raping white females. Other Black women, including Anna Julia Cooper and Fannie Barrier Williams, also sounded the alarm. The files of the Justice Department and the NAACP contain complaints of the rape of Black women throughout the Jim Crow Era. Recy Taylor, like Harriet Jacobs, went public and spoke out about her own rape by six white men.
A Q&A with Michelle Oberman: Americans have spent the past forty-five years fighting over whether abortion should be legal. I spent the past ten years trying to figure out how it matters. I had a couple of reasons for wanting to know why. First, because I’m a law professor and I study women’s health issues, the abortion war has been raging throughout my career. We fight over abortion’s legality like it matters, with both sides investing millions of dollars in lawyers and lawsuits every year. Many Americans now cast votes to elect our public officials based on their abortion stance. But what difference would it make if abortion was illegal? I wanted to know what was really at stake.
By Kay Whitlock: I called my father and asked him to meet in me in a hometown park in southern Colorado. He still lived in the small stucco house I’d grown up in, a space that I felt still defined me as a child. My mother was deceased. My only purpose in meeting with my father that day was to hear myself breaking the silence in which our own family fiction evolved. The fiction that we were in all respects, apart from a minor blip or two, a happy family. In reality, we were a complicated and unpredictable mix of good intentions and terrible hurts, at once inflicted, received, and kept hidden from the outside world, sometimes even from ourselves.