Tag Archives: Frederick Douglass

Hello Stupid, My Old Friend

Now that the Olympics are over, let us return to our regularly scheduled awards for stupidity and/or obtuseness in the public sphere. Unlike Olympic champions, you won’t see these honorees standing tall and proud while their national anthem is played.

In the leadoff spot we have the Remind Me, Whose House Is This Again? Award, which goes to State Rep. Alice Emmons, for publicly pondering whether reporters should be barred from the Statehouse.

Emmons, chair of the House Corrections & Institutions Committee, is the longest-serving state lawmaker, and has a prickly attitude toward the media. I once saw her berate a reporter in front of a couple dozen people, because the reporter dared to record a committee hearing on his phone. Technically, people are supposed to check with the chair before recording, but that rule is never, ever enforced. Except when Emmons gets a bee in her bonnet. So reading this passage in VTDigger wasn’t much of a surprise:

Rep. Alice Emmons, D-Springfield, told the Joint Legislative Management Committee that while “we want to make sure the press is available to our work,” she is unsure “how that happens on their end.” She said that while it’s possible the press will be allowed to cover the Legislature in person in 2022, “they could also do it by Zoom.”

Yes, they could. But c’mon, if you’re reopening the Statehouse, you’ve got to let the reporters in. It’s a little thing called “freedom of the press.”

After the jump: A doomed attack line, a twisting of history, and the flimsiest felony,

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Waking Up to Racism

I’m 66 years old. And I’ve learned more about racism this year from reading three books than I’d managed to learn in my entire lifetime before.

The books, pictured above, read in this order: Slavery By Another Name by Douglas Blackmon, The Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan, and Stamped From the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi.

Before I explain what these books have taught me, I need to write about how I got here in the first place. I’m a white guy from the suburbs of Detroit. I went to a very good public school system and a top-notch university. I’ve been a voracious reader my whole life. I’ve been aware of racism as an issue. I’ve tried my best to not be a racist. I’ve tried to be an ally.

But there are huge gaps in my knowledge of American and world history that kept me from realizing the true depth and impact of racism in my country. I am embarrassed by my own ignorance, and I’m doing my best to rectify the situation.

Up to a point, I can blame my education. “World History” as it was taught in school and college was a joke; it basically included European history plus a Euro-centric view of Middle Eastern history. When I was in college, Black Studies was starting to be a thing — but I never thought it relevant to me, since I was already a good white liberal who marched in Open Housing protests in my lily-white suburb.

Since I graduated (in 1978), I’ve been responsible for my own intellectual diet. I’ve read tons of books and thought myself well-educated, but I’ve never consciously chosen to read anything about race relations. Offhand, I can’t think of a single book I’ve ever read by a Black author. I’ve likely read one or two, but nothing that’s ever left a mark on my thick skull.

No W.E.B. DuBois, no James Baldwin, no Ralph Ellison, no Richard Wright, no Toni Morrison or Zora Neale Hurston or Octavia Butler or Angela Davis or bell hooks, no Martin Luther King Jr. or Malcolm X. No Ta-Nehisi Coates, not even his run on Black Panther. I’ve never read a biography of a Black person, or anything focused on African history. My leisure reading is mainly sci-fi and mystery, but never have I ever read Samuel Delany or Octavia Butler or N.K. Jemisin or Walter Moseley.

And I’ll bet I’m far from alone among the ranks of NPR-listening, New Yorker-reading*, comfortable, well-meaning white folks. My lack of knowledge and perspective have severely hampered my ability to see the world clearly or to be an effective ally.

*I let my subscription lapse a couple years ago and made a deliberate decision to read more books. I’ve never regretted it.

So now, the books.

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