Reading about Race

More and more, I think the best way that a white person can be supportive of the ongoing civil rights battles is to shut up* and just listen (and read) as much as possible to understand what is really going on in a side of society that we too often overlook. I’ve read a few very powerful articles online that I want to recommend; they are not easy reads, but they are really important.

First, Carvell Wallace’s Letter To My Mother After Charleston on The Toast really brings home how pervasive violence against people of color is and how dismissive it is to try to frame the massacre of the Mother Emanuel 9 as a one-off act by a psychopath, as many media outlets are doing.

For those few who don’t know, the South Carolina state flags were lowered to half-mast after the massacre, but the Confederate flag continued to fly at full-mast. The call to remove the flag from all government sites is overwhelming, and you can join over 500,000 signatures on MoveOn.

In the discussion about the Confederate flag, The Washington Post published Five Myths About Why The South Seceded, and debunks the argument that the Confederate Party seceded over states’ rights, taxes, or really anything other than slavery.

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery — the greatest material interest of the world,” proclaimed Mississippi in its own secession declaration, passed Jan. 9, 1861. “Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of the commerce of the earth. . . . A blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization.

Expanding on The Washington Post’s article, The Atlantic published What This Cruel War Was Over, using the Confederacy’s own words to prove that their flag symbolized exactly what Roof claimed in his own manifesto. The quotes are appalling to the extent that I began to feel physically ill. From Mississippi** Senator Albert Gallatin Brown in 1858, orating on US expansion into Central America:

I want Cuba, and I know that sooner or later we must have it. If the worm-eaten throne of Spain is willing to give it for a fair equivalent, well—if not, we must take it. I want Tamaulipas, Potosi, and one or two other Mexican Stats; and I want them all for the same reason—for the planting and spreading of slavery.

And a footing in Central America will powerfully aid us in acquiring those other states. It will render them less valuable to the other powers of the earth, and thereby diminish competition with us. Yes, I want these countries for the spread of slavery. I would spread the blessings of slavery, like the religion of our Divine Master, to the uttermost ends of the earth, and rebellious and wicked as the Yankees have been, I would even extend it to them.

I am ashamed that while I had understood that slave holders viewed slaves as less-than-people and that ownership of them was their right, reading in their own words that they viewed slavery as a cornerstone of civilized society and even a religion to be evangelized boggles my mind. It is disgusting and disturbing, but still better to know the truth than cling to ignorance.


*Ugh, this is so difficult. I mean, of course, add your voice to mass protests and such, but there is a real tendency for white voices to try to direct the messaging and that needs to stop.

**Not to single out Mississippi, since there are truly wretched quotes from all the Confederate states, but also to quote Nina Simone: Mississippi Goddam

The Yellow Wallpaper

By Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Rebecca linked to The Toast in an entry a while ago, and since then, I’ve become a complete Toast convert, going to back and trying to read just about every entry. One of my favorite series is the “Texts From…”, which is imagined text dialogues involving famous authors or characters.

Texts from The Yellow Wallpaper was so particularly good that I was inspired to read the original, a 6,000 word story first published in 1892 and available on the Kindle for free. It was so good! The story is narrated by a woman confined to a room for her health, and it is considered an early feminist narrative, which didn’t actually increase my desire to read it, since I find that capital-F feminist writing can be overly sincere for me. However, the writing and characterization are so subtly creepy that it was really just a terrific suspense story first, with feminist commentary second, and it can all be read in just an hour or two.

Oh, and I haven’t had a chance to properly explore this, but Rebecca insisted I mention it. The Toast recently promoted another website that reviews works that are on the public domain:

It is understandably somewhat overwhelming, since that is a lot of content, but it should also be hugely interesting and worthwhile.


Oscar Wilde and Walt Whitman

This is going to be a super brief post, because it’s essentially a single link out to someone else’s article:

I got linked this article some time back, and I have no idea why I didn’t post a link here immediately, but I happened to mention it this afternoon to Anna and she assured me that it needed to go up, pronto. Thus, I give you:

Literary Trysts It Gives Me Great Joy To Think About: Oscar Wilde and Walt Whitman
by Mallory Ortberg
September 17, 2013

Because mine is an evil and a petty mind, suitable more to wallowing in the sordid sexual goings-on of literary giants than in reading their work, I take every opportunity I can to inform people who may not have known that Walt Whitman and Oscar Wilde almost certainly had sex in 1882.

You are either the kind of person to whom this matters a great deal, or the kind of person to whom it matters not at all. To the latter I say: yours is the narrow road and the straight, and I extend to you a hearty and fulsome handshake, as well as my sincerest wishes for your continued good health. To the former I say: Want to hear about the time Walt Whitman and Oscar Wilde (probably) hooked up??

(For more, click the link that is the whole excerpt, and it will take you to the original article.)