The history teacher in our family recently completed a tour of the Martin Luther King Jr. complex on Auburn Avenue.
Throughout the King memorial site, she noticed, a pantheon of civil rights greats throughout U.S. history are lauded -- with one glaring omission.
Booker T. Washington, the first great leader of African-Americans in the post-slavery era, who emphasized economic self-reliance above all else -- including the immediate pursuit of social equality -- is a nonperson at the King Center. He is an invisible man.
Some might consider the historical slight to be inconsequential. But it goes some distance toward explaining the hurdle that still faces Herman Cain and his -- so far -- surprisingly successful quest for the GOP presidential nomination.
Jim Galloway, the author of the column, doesn't really bother to explain what, specifically, Washington can tell us about Cain. It's implied that Cain has no black following because African-Americans have turned away from the self-help model of leadership, and more toward a protest model.
I can't speak for the King Center, but in the black pantheon, Booker T. Washington is anything but an invisible man. There are scores of schools named after him across the country, and parks stretching from Charlottesville to Harlem. There are statues of him in Cleveland, Franklin, Virginia and Tuskegee, Alabama where he founded an HBCU.
The black poet Dudley Randall, wrote a really bad poem about his debate with W.E.B. Du Bois which black kids, like me, were forced to recite at the point of the bayonet. My middle school divided groups of classes into teams, each named after a black hero. Only Booker T Washington got two teams (The "Booker T" team and the "Washington" team.)
Moreover, the ideas advanced by Washington, surely contested in his time, weren't exactly heretical in the history of black education. No less than Frederick Douglass once argued against sending black freedman to learn "Greek and Latin" in favor of more practical vocations:
Accustomed as we have been to the rougher and harder modes of living, and of gaining a livelihood, we cannot and we ought not to hope that in a single leap from our low condition, we can reach that of Ministers, Lawyers, Doctors, Editors, Merchants, etc. These will doubtless be attained by us; but this will only be when we have patiently and laboriously, and I may add successfully, mastered and passed through the intermediate gradations of agriculture and the mechanic arts. Besides, there are (and perhaps this is a better reason for my view of the case) numerous institutions of learning in this country, already thrown open to colored youth...
We must become mechanics; we must build as well as live in houses; we must make as well as use furniture; we must construct bridges as well as pass over them, before we can properly live or be respected by our fellow men. We need mechanics as well as ministers. We need workers in iron, clay, and leather. We have orators, authors, and other professional men, but these reach only a certain class, and get respect for our race in certain select circles. To live here as we ought we must fasten ourselves to our countrymen through their every-day, cardinal wants. We must not only be able to black boots, but to make them. At present we are, in the northern States, unknown as mechanics. We give no proof of genius or skill at the county, State, or national fairs. We are unknown at any of the great exhibitions of the industry of our fellow-citizens, and being unknown, we are unconsidered.
Sound familiar? Douglass was, at that point, attempting to raise funds for a vocational school, a dream which Washington would fulfill.
Black Republicans like to reconcile the fact that they belong to the party of Obama Waffles and birtherism by citing Booker T. Washington as a model. But whereas these Republicans tend to draw their support almost entirely from whites, Booker T. Washington was the dominant black leader of his time. Washington, much like the dominant black leader of our time, was biracial. He built a black institution, that educated black people, and took his message to black audience. In short, Washington was a legitimate organic black conservative, rooted in the black community, propelled forth by his relationship to that community.
The actual roots of Herman Cain's "brainwashed" critique lay not in the words of Washington, but in another political tradition--the tradition of telling white populists what they like to hear:
I am firmly rooted in the conviction that negroism, as exemplified in the American type, is an attitude of mental density, a kind of spiritual sensuousness...
The negro not only lacks a fair degree of intuitive knowledge, but so dense is his understanding that he blindly follows weird fantasies and hideous phantoms. So great is his predilection in this direction, that he appears incapable of understanding the difference between evidence and assertion, proof and surmise. These facts warrant the conclusion that negro intelligence is both superficial and delusive, because, though such people excel in recollections of a concrete object, their retentive memories do not enable them to make any valuable deductions, either from the object itself, or from their familiar experience with it.
That's William Hannibal Thomas a black man, who in his time, had seen his share of racism and sacrifice. But Smith ultimately decided to side with the white populists of his time, as opposed to against them. Smith enjoyed about as much black support then, as Herman Cain enjoys now. He found no quarter in the black community--least of all from one Booker T, Washington-- "It is sad to think of a man without a country," Washington wrote of Smith. "It is even sadder to think of a man without a race."
Within black leadership, the span of Washington's political progeny is rather stunning. It includes black nationalists like Marcus Garvey (who cited Washington as influence) and Malcolm X (whose parents were Garveyites.) It includes Bill Cosby and Barack Obama (as I argued here.) And it includes my Black Panther father, who used to force-feed us doses of Up From Slavery. There is, as there always has been, a large number of black conservatives. That they largely happen to vote Democratic says more about the GOP then it does about "brainwashing."
The notion of self-help and economic power is deeply seductive and has always had strong appeal in the black community. It's comforting to think that black people abandoned it because they were seduced by wild-eyed activists. In fact no one did more to discredit Washington's ideas than the white populists who answered his call for conciliation with the worst wave of home-grown terror in American history, and the government officials who, at every level, either looked away or joined in.
And yet when you look at the debates over how Obama addresses black audiences, it's clear that Washington endures.
What J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic The Hobbit still has to offer, 80 years after its publication
“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” So began the legendarium that dominated a genre, changed Western literature and the field of linguistics, created a tapestry of characters and mythology that endured four generations, built an anti-war ethos that endured a World War and a Cold War, and spawned a multibillion-dollar media franchise. J.R.R. Tolkien’s work is probably best remembered today by the sword-and-sandal epic scale of The Lord of The Rings films, but it started in the quiet, fictionalized English countryside of the Shire. It started, 80 years ago in a hobbit-hole, with Bilbo Baggins.
Although Tolkien created the complicated cosmological sprawl of The Silmarillion and stories like the incestuous saga of Túrin Turambar told in The Children of Húrin, Middle-earth itself is mostly remembered today as something akin to little Bilbo in his Hobbit-hole: quaint, virtuous, and tidy. Nowadays, George R.R. Martin’s got the market cornered on heavily initialed fantasy writers, and his hand guides the field. High and epic fantasy are often expected to dip heavily into the medieval muck of realism, to contain heavy doses of sex and curses, gore and grime, sickness and believable motives and set pieces. Characters like Martin’s mercenary Bronn of the Blackwater are expected to say “fuck.” Modern stories, even when set in lands like A Song of Ice and Fire’s Essos that are filled with competing faiths, tend toward the nihilist, and mostly atheist. Heavenly beings are denuded of potency and purity; while the gods may not be dead, divinity certainly is.
The president’s latest comments shouldn’t be surprising—but his deliberate inflammation of tense situations is no less stunning.
During last year’s presidential campaign, I conducted a running feature called the “Trump Time Capsule.” Its purpose was to chronicle the things Donald Trump said or did that were entirely outside the range of previous presidents or major-party nominees. This, in turn, was meant to lay down a record of what was known about this man, as the electorate decided whether to elevate him to presidential power.
By the time the campaign ended, the series had reached installment #152. Who Donald Trump was, and is, was absolutely clear by election day: ignorant, biased, narcissistic, dishonest. As Ta-Nehisi Coates argues in our current issue, everyone who voted for him did so with ample evidence about the kind of person they considered the “better” choice, or even as a minimally acceptable choice for president. Almost nothing Trump has done since taking office should come as a surprise.
At a game played in London on Sunday afternoon, many of their fellow Ravens and Jaguars took a knee.
Before the Lions met the Falcons in Detroit on Sunday, Rico LaVelle sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.” And then he took a knee.
They were replicating the gesture of Colin Kaepernick, the former 49ers quarterback who, starting in 2016, had been kneeling during the pre-game singing of the national anthem. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick explained. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” Kaepernick’s 49ers teammates, Eric Reid and Eli Harold, took a knee. The Beaumont Bulls, a high school team, took a knee. Their collective protests, however, had been limited—deviations from the norm.
The foundation of Donald Trump’s presidency is the negation of Barack Obama’s legacy.
It is insufficient to statethe obvious of Donald Trump: that he is a white man who would not be president were it not for this fact. With one immediate exception, Trump’s predecessors made their way to high office through the passive power of whiteness—that bloody heirloom which cannot ensure mastery of all events but can conjure a tailwind for most of them. Land theft and human plunder cleared the grounds for Trump’s forefathers and barred others from it. Once upon the field, these men became soldiers, statesmen, and scholars; held court in Paris; presided at Princeton; advanced into the Wilderness and then into the White House. Their individual triumphs made this exclusive party seem above America’s founding sins, and it was forgotten that the former was in fact bound to the latter, that all their victories had transpired on cleared grounds. No such elegant detachment can be attributed to Donald Trump—a president who, more than any other, has made the awful inheritance explicit.
More comfortable online than out partying, post-Millennials are safer, physically, than adolescents have ever been. But they’re on the brink of a mental-health crisis.
One day last summer, around noon, I called Athena, a 13-year-old who lives in Houston, Texas. She answered her phone—she’s had an iPhone since she was 11—sounding as if she’d just woken up. We chatted about her favorite songs and TV shows, and I asked her what she likes to do with her friends. “We go to the mall,” she said. “Do your parents drop you off?,” I asked, recalling my own middle-school days, in the 1980s, when I’d enjoy a few parent-free hours shopping with my friends. “No—I go with my family,” she replied. “We’ll go with my mom and brothers and walk a little behind them. I just have to tell my mom where we’re going. I have to check in every hour or every 30 minutes.”
Those mall trips are infrequent—about once a month. More often, Athena and her friends spend time together on their phones, unchaperoned. Unlike the teens of my generation, who might have spent an evening tying up the family landline with gossip, they talk on Snapchat, the smartphone app that allows users to send pictures and videos that quickly disappear. They make sure to keep up their Snapstreaks, which show how many days in a row they have Snapchatted with each other. Sometimes they save screenshots of particularly ridiculous pictures of friends. “It’s good blackmail,” Athena said. (Because she’s a minor, I’m not using her real name.) She told me she’d spent most of the summer hanging out alone in her room with her phone. That’s just the way her generation is, she said. “We didn’t have a choice to know any life without iPads or iPhones. I think we like our phones more than we like actual people.”
Colin Kaepernick and other athletes have a better claim on the United States’s symbols and their meaning.
President Trump apparently slept on it overnight and woke up early on Sunday morning thinking: “Yes, I will fight a cultural war against black athletes.”
In two Sunday morning tweets, Trump urged a boycott of the National Football League until owners punished players who refused to stand for the national anthem, in protest of police brutality and racial injustice—capping a weekend of taunting and trash-talking that began at his Alabama rally Friday night. He’s now created a situation in which it will seem almost unmanly for black athletes, and not only football players, not to take a knee during the anthem. If they stand for the anthem, they will seem to do so at Trump’s command. How can they not resist?
A new film details the reason the star postponed her recent tour—and will test cultural attitudes about gender, pain, and pop.
“Pain without a cause is pain we can’t trust,” the author Leslie Jamison wrote in 2014. “We assume it’s been chosen or fabricated.”
Jamison’s essay “Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain” unpacked the suffering-woman archetype, which encompasses literature’s broken hearts (Anna Karenina, Miss Havisham) and society’s sad girls—the depressed, the anorexic, and in the 19th century, the tubercular. Wariness about being defined by suffering, she argued, had led many modern women to adopt a new pose. She wrote, “The post-wounded woman conducts herself as if preempting certain accusations: Don’t cry too loud; don’t play victim.” Jamison questioned whether this was an overcorrection. “The possibility of fetishizing pain is no reason to stop representing it,” she wrote. “Pain that gets performed is still pain.”
Thirty minutes. That’s about how long it would take a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launched from North Korea to reach Los Angeles. With the powers in Pyongyang working doggedly toward making this possible—building an ICBM and shrinking a nuke to fit on it—analysts now predict that Kim Jong Un will have the capability before Donald Trump completes one four-year term.
About which the president has tweeted, simply, “It won’t happen!”
Though given to reckless oaths, Trump is not in this case saying anything that departs significantly from the past half century of futile American policy toward North Korea. Preventing the Kim dynasty from having a nuclear device was an American priority long before Pyongyang exploded its first nuke, in 2006, during the administration of George W. Bush. The Kim regime detonated four more while Barack Obama was in the White House. In the more than four decades since Richard Nixon held office, the U.S. has tried to control North Korea by issuing threats, conducting military exercises, ratcheting up diplomatic sanctions, leaning on China, and most recently, it seems likely, committing cybersabotage.
One reason the president cannot resist commenting on every issue in American life is that he seemingly cannot stand the actual work of American politics.
In a flurry of comments historically unsuited to any head of state, yet hardly shocking for the current American president, Donald Trump this weekend targeted the two most popular sports in the country and elicited sharp criticism from some of their most important figures.
On Friday, Trump encouraged franchise owners in the National Football League to fire players who protest during the national anthem. “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out. He’s fired,’” the president said at an Alabama rally.
Trump’s comment provoked Roger Goodell, the typically reticent commissioner of the NFL, to issue a strong statement condemning the president’s divisive language. The comment was particularly surprising, since most NFL owners who elect the league commissioner are staunch Republicans. Many of the most prominent owners donated to the Trump campaign.
Two new books explore America’s changing romantic landscape.
C.S. Lewis’s wife, Joy Davidman, died of bone cancer on July 13, 1960. The next day, the famous author wrote a letter to Peter Bide, the priest who had married them, to tell him the news.
“I’d like to meet,” Lewis writes, suggesting the two grab lunch sometime soon. “For I am—oh God that I were not—very free now. One doesn’t realize in early life that the price of freedom is loneliness. To be happy is to be tied.”
When it comes to romance, Americans are freer than they’ve ever been. Freer to marry, freer to divorce, freer to have sex when and with whom they like with fewer consequences, freer to cohabitate without getting married, freer to remain single, freer to pursue open relationships or polyamory.