There's a very nice note in the comments section for my post below this one from a gentleman who was kind enough to read my memoir:
I read 'The Beautiful Struggle' a few weeks ago (& enjoyed it very much, & found it very affecting: sincere big thanks). In many ways, our childhoods and adolescences couldn't be more different: I'm a white guy from a comfortably affluent family who grew up a few years after you (crack still a power but very much on the downswing) in a medium sized, uglily-segregated city in the midwest.
I was given all sorts of privileges withheld from you, and grew up in a much less hostile world. I'm a little uncomfortable making comparisons: I'd be an awful jackass to diminish your experiences in any way. With that said: while in objective terms, our middle school years were very different, I really recognized atmosphere you portrayed, and that recognition had a lot to do w/ how effective it was for me, despite different settings. I'm not sure exactly what point I want to make: certainly not that privileged white boys can be self involved, though there is a little of that ... something vague and ill-thought-out about universality and uniqueness in how adolescence is experienced, I guess.
I want to stress that I really appreciate this note. While I wrote thinking mostly about a young black kid who might find himself in the sort of situation I found myself as an adolescent, I also wanted the book to be open and hoped that people who were nothing like me might find something in there. With that said, I want to offer something that may do well to tie up the past week of discussion.
I don't want to speak for any other black person, or any other black writer, but it needs to be understood that my identity isn't founded on the losing end of "white privilege." I understand the use of that term for social scientists and perhaps literature critics. But I generally find it most powerful and most illuminating when linked to an actual specific privilege--not fearing sexual violence, not weighing one's death against the labor of birthing, living in a neighborhood bracketed off by housing covenants, not having to compete for certain jobs etc. In its most general invocation, I'm often repulsed because I think these sorts of questions often break down in the face of actual individuals.
The world of the individual--and often the black individual--is the space where I write. It is true that I can tell you how racism--indirectly and directly--affected my life. But you should also know that I truly believe that I had the best pair of parents in the world, that I had six brothers and sisters (sometimes more) who took care of me. That my mother taught me to read when I was four, that my father put me to work when I was six. That my brother Malik taught me D&D when I was seven, that my brother Big Bill fed me hip-hop from the time I was eight till this very day. That my house was filled with books which I was given the privilege to dive in and out of. That my father published and printed books which gave a sense of Do For Self.
That at Lemmel Middle School, I had teachers who went to war on my behalf. That I was a drummer for Sankofa Dance Company, and learned, not simply how to play, but how to shave a goat-skin and construct a drum-head. That I used to rhyme with Big Bill up on Wabash, and for all my awful flow, no one kicked me out. That the same boys who tortured me in seventh grade, repeatedly saved my ass in eighth grade. That throughout my young life someone more street-wise than me often took me under their wing and looked out.
In short--you need to know that I was privileged. I can run you all kinds of stats on the racial wealth gap and will gladly discuss its origins. But you can't really buy two parents like I had. Money can buy experience and exposure--but it can't make you want those things. It can't make your parents curious about the world. It can't make them moral, compassionate and caring. It can't make them love their children. As I have moved on up, in that old Jeffersonian sense, I have seen families who allegedly were more privileged. But ultimately I find merit in who they are as humans. I am unconvinced that money trumps all of their flaws
White commenters who were financially "better off" than me should assume only that, and no more. They should certainly not assume they were more privileged. I certainly do not. It is the privileges which I experienced, as an individual, that brings me here. If you read something on this blog, or in one of my books, that resonates, holler at me. Don't apologize. Don't feel guilty. The guilt isn't about me anyway. Address me straight up. You didn't do anything to me. And fanatically believing in "Coatesian Exceptionalism," I can't even concede that you had more than me.
I was privileged. I got love for you. But I would not trade with you:)
A scientist and a monk compare notes on meditation, therapy, and their effects on the brain
Can training the mind make us more attentive, altruistic, and serene? Can we learn to manage our disturbing emotions in an optimal way? What are the transformations that occur in the brain when we practice meditation? In a new book titled Beyond the Self, two friends—Matthieu Ricard, who left a career as a molecular biologist to become a Buddhist monk in Nepal, and Wolf Singer, a distinguished neuroscientist—engage in an unusually well-matched conversation about meditation and the brain. Below is a condensed and edited excerpt.
Matthieu Ricard: Although one ﬁnds in the Buddhist literature many treatises on “traditional sciences”—medicine, cosmology, botanic, logic, and so on—Tibetan Buddhism has not endeavored to the same extent as Western civilizations to expand its knowledge of the world through the natural sciences. Rather it has pursued an exhaustive investigation of the mind for 2,500 years and has accumulated, in an empirical way, a wealth of experiential ﬁndings over the centuries. A great number of people have dedicated their whole lives to this contemplative science.
The GOP succeeded in delivering on many of its promises. But the new code, which Congress will vote on this week, will not be as lasting, or as simplified, as they’d hoped.
The legislation congressional Republicans finalized on Friday and are likely to enact next week delivers on many of the party’s—and President Trump’s— promises for a landmark overhaul of the tax code. But the rush to pass the bill through a narrow Senate majority and without Democratic support forced the GOP to sacrifice some of their long-held aspirations for tax reform.
The final bill permanently reduces the corporate tax rate all the way from 35 percent to 21 percent, nearly matching the 20 percent goal House Republicans set in their 2016 campaign plan (though not as low as the 15 percent Trump ran on). It cuts taxes sharply for business owners, and companies will be able to write off costly purchases of new equipment and buildings.
Breitbart is peddling holiday goods. But whatever happened to peace on earth and good will?
Surveying America back in 2013, I concluded that “Christmas Is Kicking Ass in the War on Christmas,” noting the open-air Nativity scenes in the secular progressive enclave of Santa Monica; the 76-foot Christmas tree uncontroversially erected in the heart of New York City; the choir publicly singing "Happy birthday, Jesus! Happy birthday, Lord!" in Washington, D.C., and more.
This affection for the holiday that marks the birth of Jesus Christ extended all the way to the White House, where President Barack Obama recorded videos wishing the nation “Merry Christmas” in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016. “This is such a wonderful time of year,” Michelle Obama added one year, “a time to honor the story of love and redemption that began 2,000 years ago, to see the world through a child’s eyes and rediscover the magic all around us, and to give thanks for the gifts that bless us every single day.”
Companies are going to be able to save a ton of money by locating factories abroad.
Despite Donald Trump’s “America first” rhetoric, many suspected that the tax plan he would support would actually increase the incentives for U.S. multinationals to move both profits and operations overseas. I wrote about this inevitability a few weeks ago, before the details of the Trump-GOP tax plan emerged.
Now that the bill is advancing, it’s clear that things aren’t as bad as many feared. They’re worse.
As discussed in the previous piece, Trump administration economic officials argue that by lowering the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent and moving to what is called a territorial system—mainly, companies pay taxes on foreign earnings only to the foreign nation where those profits are booked and never owe anything to the U.S. no matter how low the foreign nation’s tax rate is—would lead to more jobs and profits staying in or coming back to the United States.
Unlike most entries in the Star Wars saga, Rian Johnson’s film actually explores the systemic oppression the Resistance is fighting against—and the movie is all the more fascinating for it.
This article contains major spoilers for Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
For 40 years, the Star Wars saga has largely been one of good guys and bad guys, of the Rebels and the Empire, of the Light Side and Dark Side of the Force. Those straightforward, elemental stakes were crucial to George Lucas’s original pitch for the space-opera series. J.J. Abrams said that when he began devising the story for Star Wars: The Force Awakens—the long-awaited seventh episode of the franchise that came out in 2015—he quickly realized the film had to return to that good-versus-evil dynamic, even though Return of the Jedi (a.k.a. Episode VI) had ended with the downfall of the Empire.
“We very consciously tried to borrow familiar beats so the rest of the movie could hang on something that we knew was Star Wars,” Abrams said after the film’s release. A bold group of Rebels doing battle against a monolithic Empire was thus recast as an independent Resistance fighting off the new threat of the First Order, with both sides consciously styling their look and their tactics after their forbears. Abrams’s decision was simple almost to a fault—but forgivably so, given how much additional work the director had to do in terms of setting up the film’s new characters.
How Iris Chang tried to bridge the gap between a fading memory and a horrific lived reality
The book case in my childhood bedroom contained worlds far from my own. There was my volume of folk tales from the Childcraft encyclopedia series, along with an illustrated Bible. Sandwiched between them was the blood-red spine of Iris Chang’s The Rape of Nanking. The book had awoken the mainstream Western consciousness to the truth of the Japanese military’s horrific massacre of Chinese soldiers and civilians prior to World War II. Unlike many historians, Chang thrust stories and photographs of rape, disfigurement, killing contests, and live burials in front of her readers, forcing them to choose either to shudder and remember or look away in complicity.
While Chang faced a barrage of attacks from other historians, as well as from the publisher contracted to translate her book into Japanese, the debate over what happened in Nanking from December 1937 to January 1938 had been raging before the publication of her book. Japan, for instance, remains divided over the number of Chinese killed in Nanking during those six weeks. The massacre camp generally supports the Tokyo War Crimes Trials figure of “upwards of 100,000” deaths; skeptics claim 15,000 to 50,000, while others venture only up to 10,000. Outside of Japan, James Yin and Shi Young, whose work Chang frequently cited, place the minimum death toll as high as 369,366.
David Bentley Hart’s text recaptures the awkward, multivoiced power of the original.
In the beginning was … well, what? A clap of the divine hands and a poetic shock wave? Or an itchy node of nothingness inconceivably scratching itself into somethingness? In the beginning was the Word, says the Gospel according to John—a lovely statement of the case, as it’s always seemed to me. A pre-temporal syllable swelling to utterance in the mouth of the universe, spoken once and heard forever: God’s power chord, if you like. For David Bentley Hart, however, whose mind-bending translation of the New Testament was published in October, the Word—as a word—does not suffice: He finds it to be “a curiously bland and impenetrable designation” for the heady concept expressed in the original Greek of the Gospels as Logos. The Chinese word Tao might get at it, Hart tells us, but English has nothing with quite the metaphysical flavor of Logos, the particular sense of a formative moral energy diffusing itself, without diminution, through space and time. So he throws up his hands and leaves it where it is: “In the origin there was the Logos …”
Most of the country understands that when it comes to government, you pay for what you get.
When I was a young kid growing up in Montreal, our annual family trips to my grandparents’ Florida condo in the 1970s and ‘80s offered glimpses of a better life. Not just Bubbie and Zadie’s miniature, sun-bronzed world of Del Boca Vista, but the whole sprawling infrastructural colossus of Cold War America itself, with its famed interstate highway system and suburban sprawl. Many Canadians then saw themselves as America’s poor cousins, and our inferiority complex asserted itself the moment we got off the plane.
Decades later, the United States presents visitors from the north with a different impression. There hasn’t been a new major airport constructed in the United States since 1995. And the existing stock of terminals is badly in need of upgrades. Much of the surrounding road and rail infrastructure is in even worse shape (the trip from LaGuardia Airport to midtown Manhattan being particularly appalling). Washington, D.C.’s semi-functional subway system feels like a World’s Fair exhibit that someone forgot to close down. Detroit’s 90-year-old Ambassador Bridge—which carries close to $200 billion worth of goods across the Canada-U.S. border annually—has been operating beyond its engineering capacity for years. In 2015, the Canadian government announced it would be paying virtually the entire bill for a new bridge (including, amazingly, the U.S. customs plaza on the Detroit side), after Michigan’s government pled poverty. “We are unable to build bridges, we're unable to build airports, our inner city school kids are not graduating,” is how JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon summarized the state of things during an earnings conference call last week. “It’s almost embarrassing being an American citizen.”
Progressive clergy are pushing a new movement that’s unapologetically political—and deeply rooted in textual traditions.
Since Donald Trump was elected one year ago, I’ve heard from a number of rabbis who feel caught. They’re not sure how to speak into this moment of intense partisan division, nasty rhetoric, and outrage; how to console and advise those who are devastated while not alienating congregants who support the president. This conundrum is sharpest in the Orthodox world, where a strong majority of Jews lean Republican. But even liberal Jewish leaders—those in the Reconstructionist, Reform, and Conservative movements—many feel hemmed in by board members, funders, or their own sense of clerical propriety.
Sharon Brous does not agree. The senior rabbi at IKAR, a non-denominational spiritual community in Los Angeles, believes this is not a normal moment in American politics, and Jewish leaders need to speak out. The models of Jewish movement-building are also changing, she says: Gone are the days when the president of the Union of Reform Judaism or the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly are the only voices who can speak for American Jews. A new generation of rabbis, working outside of traditional, hierarchical structures, are building followings and defining a new, often politicized, way of expressing Judaism.