By Kay Whitlock | I am often drawn to historical battlefields and sites by a sense that the memories, the ghosts, the landscape will somehow reveal more than I have yet learned through book-and-documentary-related study. And by the inchoate sense that I may even be changed by it, that in mysterious ways, my justice vision will be moved toward greater wholeness. In solitary reflection in places where something terrible happened, I listen to the land, to winds, to the rustle of leaves. I cull histories, photographs, poetry, and survivor accounts to try to conjure in my imagination the people and the place and the moment. And sometimes something close to that happens, a quiet ripple in time and perception that somehow shifts how I see and experience everything. When I lived in southern Colorado, long before a national historic site was created, I periodically drove out east to Sand Creek, where a long-ago cavalry massacre of Cheyenne and Arapaho peoples—mostly women, children, and elderly people—took place. There, I sat alone for hours and in silence on land unmarked by buildings or pathways. For whatever reason, Shiloh still disquiets me in a way many other historic battlegrounds do not.
By Kay Whitlock | In the autumn of 2017, my partner and I joined a long car caravan winding slowly across White Sands Missile Range. Organized semiannually by the Alamogordo, New Mexico Chamber of Commerce, the trek set out from an empty lot adjacent to the local high school’s athletic fields. Journey’s end, Trinity Site, is where the first atomic bomb—scientists and officials working on the device called it “the gadget”—exploded at 5:29 a.m. on 16 June 1945. It is open to the public only two days each year, the first Saturdays in April and October.
This year’s Human Rights Day marks the seventieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—the perfect day to reflect on the US’s treatment of the immigrant community. And let me tell you: It’s going to be a stark reckoning. Just look at some of this year’s headlines. Many migrant families are still separated. Border patrol agents fired tear gas at migrant families at the US-Mexico border to disperse them. This is inhumane treatment. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaims the “inalienable rights which everyone is inherently entitled to as a human being—regardless of race, color, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.” That’s not what we’re seeing. Where are the inalienable rights for this community?
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.
By Kay Whitlock: Throughout my life, my most painful and wrenching experiences have become unexpected portals into new ways of seeing more deeply into the nature of old dilemmas—or at least, my old dilemmas. My initial feeling is almost always, “Oh, shit, no.” Followed by: “I won’t! I can’t! Fuck this! You can’t ask this of me! No!” And yet. And yet. One such portal appeared when, as a result of breaking my personal silence on child sexual abuse and trying to imagine what justice could possibly mean for me (and also, yes, for “the perpetrator”), I ran smack into the punishing prison archetype constellated in my own psyche. Unsettled, I began to question, then openly reject, public rituals of shaming, revenge, and retribution.
by Kay WhitlockThe legacy of the private school movement born of mass resistance to desegregation and the structural violence and inequality that animate it remain with us today. It is not possible to make the shift from Incarceration to Education without openly unmasking, naming, and uprooting them.
By Kay Whitlock | Here’s a thought I keep coming back to during this tradition month of Pride celebrations (and protests by some LGBTQ folks against the growing corporate influence and welcoming of strong police presence in Pride celebrations.) It’s not my thought alone. Any number of people—activists, organizers, scholars—have, over many years, voiced something similar. Let’s center criminalized transgender, gender nonconforming, and queer folks in the moral, cultural, and political imaginations and agendas of movements for LGBTQ liberation. Especially criminalized queer communities of color.
By Kay WhitlockThe forty-fifth President of the United States and his administration require danger and enemies to exist. They could not have come to power and cannot remain in power without continuing to mobilize against them. Especially racialized enemies: Muslims here and abroad, immigrants and refugees, “hardened criminals,” impoverished residents and gang members in “crime-infested” cities, cop-killers, fraudulent voters, Black Lives Matter, “failing public schools,” terrorist demonstrators and protestors, and cherry-picked “other countries” said to foster terrorism, breach national security, or steal American jobs and prosperity. All made to bear the weight of some illusory white nationalist “greatness,” tragically crumbling under the lethal onslaught of an increasingly multiracial, multicultural society.
By Kay WhitlockIt’s much harder to admit to playing in one’s own dark gardens of fear.
By Kay WhitlockAlready an avid reader, TV watcher, and moviegoer, I fell easily into the gravitational pull of the Fearful Darkness through story. Sure, it was scary—but also a huge relief. Tales from the astonishing imaginations of Shelley, Wells, Stoker, Poe, Conrad, Conan Doyle, Bradbury, and Jackson, and movies like The Bad Seed and Invasion of the Body Snatchers provided emotional recompense for my fears without actually exposing me to danger. But more than that, hinting at intricate, multilayered understandings of reality, these stories produced fantastical images and symbols that struck a nerve, even if I didn’t fully understand them. I know now that it was never terror I yearned for so much as truth, no matter how slant it was served up.
By Kay WhitlockThere was only the slight shivery sense of...something else.
By Kay WhitlockIt occurs to me that, in part, I write so much about fear and its structural forms in public and private institutions because I have so often been afraid.
By Kay WhitlockThe August 2016 announcement by the Obama administration that it will phase out or “substantially reduce” contracts with private prisons to house federal prisoners provides a master lesson in the political benefit of the magician’s art of misdirection. Hailed by many as a definitive step forward in criminal justice reform and a severe blow to the continuation of mass incarceration, the focus on private prisons hides more than it reveals. It raises false hopes, offers false promises, and points many who want transformative change in the wrong direction.
By Kay Whitlock | When I am filled with pain, and seeking change in my life but unclear, uncertain, or even ambivalent about new directions and possible choices, I spend time in quiet reflection and meditation. Then I head for The Crossroads. I go to make an inchoate plea for insight, revelation, and guidance—what some folks would call a prayer. I go when the daylight language of “issues” and politics as usual sounds like meaningless gibberish and possesses such a profound aura of lifelessness that even zombies cannot arise and lurch toward us in its presence.
By Kay WhitlockMatheson’s Shrinking Man is an apt metaphor for the current moment in American politics and economic life. The lives and well-being of countless individuals, families, households, and communities are shrinking; the situation is particularly dire for those who already bear the brunt of structural racism, gender violence, and economic violence. The very concept of the Public Good is shrinking, and without intervention, it will vanish into oblivion.
By Kay WhitlockHave you, like me, noticed how, in this bizarre and unsettling presidential primary season, everybody is getting on everyone else’s last nerve? Many of us are worried about Donald Trump as political arsonist. We don’t have to tear each other apart over whether he, his campaign, his devotees, and his tactics do or don’t mesh with various academic understandings of fascism. Most of us know damn well that the growing wave of virulent and violent racism, white nativist populism, economic rage, authoritarianism, and American exceptionalism he’s riding is not only volatile but flat out dangerous.
2015 has been, to say the least, rather momentous, and continues to be as it draws to a close. We at Beacon Press are so grateful to our brilliant authors who have offered their time and insights to analyze and comment on this year's events. Their posts—with topics ranging from race to cultural or class dynamics and to the environment—have been, if you will, a true beacon for the Broadside. Before we bid farewell to 2015, we would like to share a collection of some our most-read posts. This list is by no means exhaustive. Make sure to peruse our archives. You can expect to see more thought-provoking essays and commentary from our contributors in 2016. Happy New Year!
Three people were dead and nine others treated for gunshot wounds. Even as Robert Lewis Dear, the white man who, on November 27 2015, allegedly laid armed siege to a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs was taken into custody, social media posts—from progressive advocates, pundits, and some politicians—immediately characterized his actions as “domestic terrorism.”
It’s almost that time of year again—and we don’t just mean Halloween. The eagerly anticipated fifth season of the American Horror Story anthology on the FX television channel is ready to air. AHS is something of a guilty pleasure for the two of us, not least for its superb casts, vivid (if grotesque) blending of history with American popular culture, and wild, even haunting, flights of imagination that often touch on themes of dehumanization, prejudice, fairness, and justice.
By Kay Whitlock This is the second part of the two-part discussion of Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman begun on July 17 with Michael Bronski's blog piece. *** What is always at stake in a contest of imaginations is...