It was the breather from 2020 we were waiting for. The election is over, and the Biden/Harris ticket won, no matter how many petty lawsuits the defeated opponent files. But wreckage and repair work await us. As Vice President-elect Kamala Harris said in her acceptance speech, democracy “is only as strong as our willingness to fight for it. To guard it and never take it for granted. And protecting our democracy takes struggle. It takes sacrifice. But there is joy in it. And there is progress. Because we, the people, have the power to build a better future.” Yes, we do.
It’s a kneejerk reaction to imagine what James Baldwin would say about the state of things in the US when the anniversary of his death comes every December 1. Especially now. Much like how the issues that folk legend Odetta sang about are still, sadly, relevant today, so it goes for the issues Baldwin wrote about in “Notes of a Native Son.” Which is why our director, Helene Atwan, says it remains so potent a text to go back to.
Two things come to mind this Native American Heritage Month. Compared to whites, Native Americans have been hit hard with a higher percentage of COVID cases, not to mention severe COVID outcomes. On the flip side, voters of Indigenous descent in states like Arizona helped swing the vote in favor of President elect Joe Biden and Vice President elect Kamala Harris. (You’re fired, despotic Cheeto!) Their perseverance and commitment to a democracy that frequently forgets them attest to this year’s theme.
A Q&A with Hilary Levey Friedman | The organizers could make it happen, and the contestants wanted to compete (one exception is Miss Wyoming USA, who had to withdraw due to school obligations and her first runner-up stepped in a few days before the competition started). How could they make it happen? Endeavor, which owns Miss USA, also owns UFC and manages other sporting events, and they have been successfully organizing events since May. They were able to find a network and venue—FYI and Graceland respectively—where production and contestants could be safely housed together on a timeline that worked.
Since COVID-19 elbowed its way in as a long-standing, unbidden guest, more women are losing their jobs than men. Even in our woke-ass times—we can’t wait to quit you, 2020—they’re still making reduced wages and taking on the greater brunt of childcare. For women and nonbinary entrepreneurs who are launching, funding, and growing their companies, the business landscape has been just as brutal. It shouldn’t take a pandemic to sound the alarm of gender disparity in the entrepreneurial world, an alarm we have heard but have yet to heed in earnest, but here we are. Again.
A Q&A with Rachel S. Mikva | Teaching and speaking in religious communities, I kept bumping into two assumptions. In progressive spaces, people often imagined that they had already reformed their traditions enough so their religious ideas were never dangerous. In more traditional spaces, people often worried that asking critical questions would weaken faith, when in fact it strengthens faith. I wanted people to reexamine these assumptions, to see the deep roots of self-critical faith and to recognize that its work is never done.
A Q&A with Vicki Mayk | What really drew me to the story was Owen Thomas, the young man who is at the center of my book. When he died by suicide in April 2010, I was invited to join a private memorial page that friends set up for him on Facebook. The way that everyone talked about him—from his teammates at his high school near Allentown, PA, and at the University of Pennsylvania to friends, former teachers, casual acquaintances—was mesmerizing. They told stories about him being a warrior on the field and one of the kindest humans off the field.
A Q&A with Sumbul Ali-Karamali | I grew up Muslim and bicultural (Indian and American) in a time and place where I happened to be the only Muslim most of my acquaintances knew. So I got saddled with answering all their questions! Not only did I become good at answering questions about Islam in a way that those around me could understand and relate to (starting in elementary school!), but I also found I really loved coming up with answers that built bridges between my religious-cultural community and theirs. The questions I got were never addressed in the media and still aren’t.
President Ronald Reagan won over voters with his Midwest wholesomeness, his rehearsed charisma forged from years as a B-movie actor, and more importantly, his “old-fashioned” American pride. His sense of American pride appealed massively to white conservatives, as well as converts to Republicanism, and threw obstacles in the path of civil rights legislation. His racist policies were devastating for Black and Brown Americans during his presidency, and the effects still resonate today.
This summer, the uprisings for racial justice and the marches for Black lives have been heartening. And believe me, we need something to root for during our pandemic timeline. This wake-up call to reckon with systemic racism and to dismantle it—and there have been many before—is ringing loud and clear. Now we need that same momentum to carry into the classrooms—all virtual please!—with the same gusto. Because schools are part of the system, too.
A little over half a century ago, zero federal laws made it illegal to discriminate against disabled people. Today’s accessibility accommodations in buildings and services were nonexistent. We have disability rights activist and supreme badass Judy Heumann to thank for sparking a national movement for the protection of disabled peoples’ rights that led to the creation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. And it benefits everyone.
There is no other way to put it. The start of this year’s Pride Month was painful. We can’t stop thinking of the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and of too many before and after them. Witnessing modern-day lynch mobs during a pandemic is soul-crushing. Do not be tempted to say the upheaval happening now is “unique” or “unprecedented.” Because it is not. The US has centuries of history inflicting violence and death on Black bodies. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said in his “The Other America” speech, “the riot is the language of the unheard.” And the US has not listened since the days of slavery and settler colonialism. So the protests and riots rage on.
A Q&A with M. V. Lee Badgett | The inspiration to write “The Economic Case for LGBT Equality” came from the many LGBT activists I’ve met and worked with who wanted to use the economic case to promote human rights. I have been making that economic case for LGBT equality for a long time and have seen the argument also appeal to policymakers, businesses, development agencies, and other groups. I decided to write this book to reach all of these audiences with the evidence and stories that show how stigma and discrimination against LGBT people hold back economies.
A Q&A with Alan Levinovitz | While researching people’s attitudes towards food, I found that the idea of naturalness came up constantly. The “right” diet was a “natural” diet. And yet, despite widespread agreement on the goodness of what’s natural, there was complete disagreement about the meaning of the term. As I started paying more attention to the term, I realized that using “natural” as a vague synonym for “good” or “right” was omnipresent in virtually every aspect of human culture.
A Q&A with Howard Axelrod | “The Stars in Our Pockets” considers the questions I’ve wrestled with since returning from the Vermont woods: How do environments, both natural and digital, change our orientation in the world? And if adapting to the digital environment means losing traits that you value, how do you determine which trades are worth making?
A Q&A with Carlos A. Ball | I was struck, a few years ago, by the ways in which large corporations were coming out (no pun intended) against the passage of anti-LGBTQ laws, such as so-called religious freedom laws and transgender bathroom laws. Partly in response to strong criticism by corporate America, several states, including Arizona, Indiana, and North Carolina, rescinded the anti-LGBTQ laws. That made me start wondering why corporations were taking such public stances in favor of LGBTQ equality, while remaining generally neutral on other so-called hot button social issues.
A Q&A with Andrew S. Lewis | I am a person—an American—who believes in climate change. (I hate that we even have to say “believe,” as if it were a religion and not a simple fact of science that’s been proven for decades.) More difficult was the fact that I was writing about people from my hometown, people who knew people in my family, people who members of my family have to see on a regular basis. It’s a small place. But structuring the book in an investigative way, which allowed me to lean on the core tenants of journalism, offered me the opportunity to extract myself from large sections of the narrative and to simply listen objectively.
A Q&A with Andrew S. Lewis | I grew up on the Bayshore, and my family was deeply connected to the water and wetlands that surrounded us. We fished the bay, went crabbing in the creeks. I understood that we lived within a beautiful, ecologically diverse natural space. I always wanted to be a writer, and one of my favorite books as a kid was The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. One of the main reasons that it was my favorite book was because the Mississippi River landscape Twain evokes reminded me a lot of the Bayshore. Later, in my teens, my grandfather would tell me stories about the Prohibition years, when bootleggers paid off his father to use his Bayshore land to transport booze smuggled in from the bay. For years, I toyed around with fictional stories about the Bayshore during Prohibition, just believing there was a story there.
A Q&A with Alexandra Minna Stern | I wrote Proud Boys and the White Ethnostate to bear historical witness to disturbing and reactionary political and cultural changes that were afoot in the United States in the mid-2010s. Specifically, I became interested in how and why eugenic ideas from the early 1900s, including race suicide—repackaged today as white genocide—were making a comeback and being disseminated by what came to be called the alt-right. Once I started writing the book, I became more and more interested in understanding the transnational dimensions of the rise of populist nationalism, and how this connects to the resurgence of white nationalism in the United States.
By Christian Coleman | Do you want to play a game? No, not the one in the Saw movie franchise. Let’s play the word association game. Come now. It’ll be fun! Peanut : Butter. Instagram : Celebrity. Identity politics : Divisive. Wait. Let’s back up. Divisive? That word has been coming up lately when presidential candidates make identity politics a talking point in public discourse. At an LGBT gala in Las Vegas, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg, the first openly gay candidate, said identity politics have created a “crisis of belonging,” leading us to get “divided and carved up.” Vermont senator Bernie Sanders has criticized identity politics for focusing only on the endgame of diversity—another word with contentious associations and dubious meanings depending on who’s defining it—and neglecting the needs of working people.