Martin Luther King, Jr. and the continuing adventures of white grievance

Americans, I’ve said, have a boundless appetite for turning useful fictions into myths; among those myths is a confusion, often naïve, between equality and freedom, or, worse, between equality and access. The Fourteenth Amendment prohibits the denial of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; the Supreme Court guts the Voting Rights Act’sContinue reading “Martin Luther King, Jr. and the continuing adventures of white grievance”

Sidney Poitier — RIP

To those of us who matured during the years when he released Little Nikita and Sneakers, “Sidney Poitier” was a name, a property. He registered as a benign presence, faintly worried, as if he had lived long enough to understand the fragility of the enterprise. As a result, the Sidney Poitier who made Joseph L.Continue reading “Sidney Poitier — RIP”

Rhapsody and rebellion: A Fourth of July playlist

Gazing at his white audience in Richmond, Frederick Douglass had, as we like to say, no fucks to give. Northern white men and women who opposed slavery but stopped at granting the Negro political or, lord help us, social equality repulsed him. Douglass: What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer:Continue reading “Rhapsody and rebellion: A Fourth of July playlist”

‘Our holidays have always been about identity politics’

Barbeques, indoor dining for the vaccinated, pool time, nap time — Father’s Day is Mother’s Day less formal relative because we Americans have decided women prefer mimosas and makeup. However my readers spend it, the probability that the new federal holiday will surface as conversation topic is assured, for better or worse, probably the latter.

Teaching is an act of criticism.

With Florida’s State Board of Education unanimously voting to keep something called Critical Race Theory™ from the curriculum of public schools, it’s important to understand what this board and the governor of Florida (the state with the prettiest name!) have said is okay with them:

Strong performances distinguish ‘Judas and the Black Messiah’

Although never confirmed one hundred percent, the anecdote concerning what President Eisenhower said to Chief Justice Earl Warren at a White House stag dinner in 1954 has drawn enough corroborating witnesses. Ike, with all his considerable powers of avuncularity at his command, asked Warren to consider the Southern point of view. “These are not badContinue reading “Strong performances distinguish ‘Judas and the Black Messiah’”

‘One Night in Miami’ maps a historical crossroads

“Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, Jim Brown, and Cassius Clay walk into a hotel room” sounds like the beginning of a joke, but it’s the premise of One Night in Miami, a fictional speculation. Thanks to her four charismatic performers, actress Regina King, making her directorial debut, generates heat addressing ideas about assimilation and conflict withContinue reading “‘One Night in Miami’ maps a historical crossroads”

‘Our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional’

Indulge me: the Martin Luther King, Jr. who emerges in Taylor Branch’s magisterial multivolume biography would have balked at a federal holiday created in his name. Americans love holidays because what they commemorate also to them represents a triumph: over the British, Big Business, wars, 365 days of an old year. Well, only the BritishContinue reading “‘Our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional’”

Songs peaking at #11, UK edition: 1990-1992

I can’t find the piece in which Robert Christgau defends “From a Distance” as an atheist’s lament. I didn’t hear it this way at the time; in 1990, it sounded like another blowzy Bette Midler paint shredder like “Wind Beneath My Wings.” The tinselly production hid the barb. At best it’s a deist’s confession —Continue reading “Songs peaking at #11, UK edition: 1990-1992”

John Lewis, RIP

Freedom Rider. Leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Along with Bayard Rustin one of the organizers of the 1962 March on Washington. The victim of a skull fracture at Bloody Selma three years later. Pioneer in the practice of “redemptive suffering.” Thirty-four years representing parts of Atlanta in the House.

‘No kingdom can maintain itself by force alone’

Just thinking aloud, but maybe James Baldwin — black, queer — understood the nature of power relations: But for power truly to feel itself menaced, it must somehow sense itself in the presence of another power—or, more accurately, an energy—which it has not known how to define and therefore does not really know how toContinue reading “‘No kingdom can maintain itself by force alone’”

A word on Minneapolis

To be an endangered pedestrian in the bullshit planned community called “Westchester” requires little more than playing chicken with the wife pushing a baby carriage, the jogger with headphones, the husband and wife huffing and puffing. For the sake of my health — for the sake of courtesy — I’ll step out of the way,Continue reading “A word on Minneapolis”