By Cornel West | Ida B. Wells is not only unique, but she is the exemplary figure full of prophetic fire in the face of American terrorism, which is American Jim Crow and Jane Crow, when lynching occurred every two and a half days for over fifty years in America. And this is very important, because Black people in the New World, in the Diaspora, Brazil, Jamaica, Barbados, were all enslaved, but no group of Black people were Jim Crowed other than US Negroes.
By Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and Dina Gilio-Whitaker | Sociologist James O. Young writes that cultural appropriation happens when people from outside a particular culture take elements of another culture in a way that is objectionable to that group. According to Young’s definition, it is the objection that constitutes appropriation, as distinguished from cultural borrowing or exchange where there is no “moral baggage” attached. Native American cultural appropriation can be thought of as a broad range of behaviors, carried out by non-Natives, that mimic Indian cultures. Typically, they are based on deeply held stereotypes, with no basis at all in knowledge of real Native cultures.
By Howard Bryant | America prefers to view itself as a civilized society and, as such, the latter is the obvious, proper, and decent response. Yet judging by its obsession with law enforcement, America acts as if the former is its natural order—that violent crime is but a bad mood away and only the shield, the Glock, and the squad car stand between life and senseless death at the hands of our neighbors. Americans cling to this contrived state of emergency despite decades of research confirming that killing as a primary instinct is extremely rare, a dystopian fantasy compared to the socioeconomic factors that drive people to violent crime.
By Lori L. Tharps | I feel like celebrating! More than five years ago, I wrote a post that then led to an opinion piece in the New York Times, advocating for journalists and publishers to capitalize the B in Black when referring to Black people. On Friday—yes, Juneteenth Day—the Associated Press officially announced that they would be making the change in their stylebook, signaling a universal change as almost every single news organization in the United States follows the guidelines set by the AP. I feel like a major victory has been won.
By Jonathan Rosenblum | Twenty years ago, in the middle of historic mass protests against the World Trade Organization, police chased hundreds of peaceful protesters out of downtown, north on First Avenue and surrounded them just half a block beyond Seattle’s iconic Labor Temple, preparing for mass arrests. It was December 1, 1999. As the police roundup unfolded, a group of us meeting inside the Labor Temple spilled out into the street. Ron Judd, the head of the King County Labor Council, whom I worked for at the time, was aghast to see the protesters essentially held at gunpoint.
By Ryan Lugalia-Hollon | After forty years of mass incarceration and roughly 150 years of police brutality, we are being called to imagine a public safety system without policing. But do our minds even let us go there? Do they let us dream beyond surface-level reforms? Can we envision a wildly new and just infrastructure for peace and protection?
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.
We support our authors, Black communities, and all those fighting against racial injustice and police violence. We can’t stop thinking of the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and of too many Black lives before and after them, and as such, we recognize this is an extremely traumatic time for many. This is exacerbated by the fact that the coronavirus pandemic rages on, disproportionately affecting communities of color. We remain committed to publishing resources to help expose and dismantle the systems of white supremacy and the carceral state. With this in mind, we put together this list of racial justice resources.
By Crystal Marie Fleming | While each person’s individual path will differ, here are ten suggestions for steps we can all take, right now, to build a less racist—and racially stupid—society. Most of these recommendations can also be implemented by organizations, communities of faith, businesses, and other groups that are ready to begin the hard work of undoing racism.
By Imani Perry | I turned eight the year Stevie Wonder’s album Hotter Than July was released. My favorite song from that album was “Master Blaster.” Like most people, I imagine, I called it “Jammin,’” from its refrain, “Nobody ever told you that you / would be jammin’ until the break of dawn.” A reggae-influenced jubilant song, it makes you want to dance and laugh. And I was listening to it, nostalgically, the day before I heard that the former and first Zimbabwean prime minister, Robert Mugabe, had died.
A Q&A with Dan C. Goldberg | I stumbled upon an obituary for one of the men, and it mentioned the Golden Thirteen. It was not something I had ever heard of before, and I was curious. I had passing familiarity with the Tuskegee Airmen and the Buffalo soldiers but never heard of the Golden Thirteen. I looked for a book on the subject and realized that the only substantive work was Paul Stillwell’s oral history. That’s a fascinating book but it didn’t answer the question that gnawed at me. Namely, how did the Navy go from only allowing Black men as messmen in March 1942 to commissioning Black ensigns in March 1944?
If you’re jamming and head-bobbing to Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Jewel, Rihannon Giddens, and Miley Cyrus, you’re listening to the one and only Odetta. These folk roads lead back to her. She’s one of the most important singers of the last hundred years who’s influenced a huge number of artists over many decades, like the ones listed here. Where’s her Grammy?
It’ll be a while before we can go back to bookshops in person to browse the shelves, but that doesn’t mean we still can’t get excited about the next book to dive into! Our editors came together to assemble a list of titles they’ve worked on that have been released this season and ones lined up later this year. Biography, history, criminal justice reform, queer equality . . . take your pick! We can’t wait for you to read them!
Once upon a Gilded Age, Americans once treated Islam and Muslims with both fascination and respect. Hard to believe in our post-9/11 timeline, but it’s true. Swept by romanticized images of Muslims found in most popular entertainment at the time and Arabian Nights, thousands of Americans were enthralled by the Islamic Orient. Some, in fact, saw Islam as a global antiracist movement uniquely suited to people of African descent living in an era of European imperialism, Jim Crow segregation, and officially sanctioned racism. Some, like enigmatic circus performer John Walter Brister.
By Dina Gilio-Whitaker | Long before there was ever a concept called “feminism” in the US settler State, there was the knowledge of women’s power in Indigenous communities. The imposition of foreign cultures, and Christianity in particular, was corrosive to societies that were typically matrilineal or matrifocal, were foundationally equitable in the distribution of power between the genders, and often respected the existence of a third gender and non-hetero relationships. As Christianity swept over the continent, it instilled Indigenous societies with patriarchal values that sought not only to diminish women’s inherent cultural power but also to pathologize alternative gender identities, relationships, and marriage practices outside the bounds of monogamy, establishing a general pattern of gender and relationship suppression that constructs modern American society and reordered Native societies.
By Daina Ramey Berry and Kali Nicole Gross | It is true that we [Black women] embody the motto coined by Nannie Helen Burroughs for the school she headed in 1909: “We specialize in the wholly impossible.” The motto, together with Nannie’s own history, stands as evidence that a Black woman could, and did, push past daunting obstacles to live a life decidedly less ordinary.
By Adrienne Berard | The new virus emerged in December. The coronavirus, or COVID-19, originated in Wuhan, a city of 11 million located in central China. Since the initial outbreak, more than 76,000 people have been infected globally, in as many as twenty-seven countries, with more than 2,200 deaths being reported, mostly in China.
We’re in a time when the most powerful institutions in the United States are embracing the repressive and racist systems that keep many communities struggling and in fear. As the effects of aggressive policing and mass incarceration harm historically marginalized communities and tear families apart, how do we define safety? It is time to reimagine what it means.
First, the American Dirt snafu. Now this? Barely into the beginning of Black History Month, we had a teachable moment. Yes, that kind of teachable moment. To celebrate the month, Barnes & Noble Fifth Avenue announced the launch of their Diverse Editions. Alice in Wonderland, Romeo and Juliet, The Secret Garden, and nine other classic novels—“classic” meaning, of course, older works of fiction from the white literary tradition, as though other cultures don’t have longstanding literary traditions of their own, tut-tut—would have custom designed covers, each one illustrating the main characters with multiethnic backgrounds.
By Stephanie L. Pinder-Amaker and Lauren P. Wadsworth | On February 5, Penguin Random House and Barnes & Noble Fifth Avenue announced a bold plan to “kick off Black History Month” by giving “twelve classic young adult novels new covers, known as Diverse Editions.” The reimagined classics would include Alice in Wonderland, Moby Dick, Romeo and Juliet, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Treasure Island, Emma . . . well, you get the idea.