This post has been a little while coming. Like many of us, I suspect, I’ve been filled with a frenetic, unfocused energy for the past few weeks. It feels like trying to put out a house fire with a bucket, except the house is the whole world and the bucket is a thimble. Sometimes I consider, if it feels this exhausting to merely keep abreast of the news coming down the pike, what will it feel like when everything truly begins to unravel? For so many people, living in the United States is and always has been a constant unraveling. Where do they turn when the spinning gets out of control? What does shelter from the storm look like, and how can we build more safe harbors where the huddled masses yearning to breathe free (to breathe at all) show up at the door with nothing to prove, no one to answer to? Where being human is always already enough?
I’ve long considered the work of social justice to be two-fold. Fight the bitter, divisive violence of oppression, and build structures that support the kind of world we actually want to inhabit. It seems to me that much of the new left has been focused for too long on the first line of defense, though not without reason. The opposition is steady, patient, and singularly focused on one goal: the consolidation of power and resources in the hands of the few by whatever means necessary. They are not interested in building or creation. Destruction is faster, cheaper, and more effective because it leaves the rest of us scrambling to claim whatever piece of the wreckage provides some semblance of security, of familiarity. It keeps us distracted from the long slog of putting together something new. As the adage goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it sure did burn in one (well, six).
A good friend of mine recently sent me a tarot deck. I’ve had my tarot read several times in the past, but I’d never tried my hand at reading the cards myself until a few days ago. The book she sent to accompany the deck suggested diving in, familiarizing oneself with the cards, and getting comfortable with the storytelling that comprises the heart of tarot’s utility. As I was playing around with the cards for the first time, I asked the question weighing most heavily on my mind: what do I need to foster, nurture, and encourage to face the new political reality?
The first card, Seven of Cups (reversed), signifies anxiety in the face of a powerful adversary. Looking at the card, I saw chalices brimming with all sorts of things, some positive and some negative, upturned and spilling their contents as an onlooker merely beholds the spectacle from the shadows. It was a perfect metaphor for my general mental state — overwhelmed by the onslaught of horrible federal policies and state-sponsored violence, and unsure where to place myself in the context of the efforts to resist.
That’s where The Magician comes in. In this context, magic is less about illusion and more about that wonderful alchemy of creating a whole greater than the sum of its parts. How do we make the best use of our emotional, spiritual, intellectual, and physical power as individuals, and come together to build collective power? The Magician calls for adaptability, cunning, wit, and concerted effort to translate ideas into reality. This is the card that demands that we build, even and especially when the world is turned upside down.
The Hermit (reversed) reminds us of the value of stepping back from the endless, out of control news spiral, to the extent that we can, to reaffirm and recommit to what we believe in. To me, when reversed, The Hermit looks like he’s staring directly into his lantern, rather than past it to the path ahead. This suggests a need to focus anew on what guides us, whether the tools we use to propel ourselves forward are up to the task. What is the promise that lights our way to a better future? Does it need rekindling? It’s not lost on me that The Hermit bears striking resemblance to Lady Liberty, and her promise is currently being torn asunder. Now more than ever is a time to summon our greatest assets to make magic together, guided by the notion that the world we envision, where everyone breathes free, is a beacon and not a mirage.
Did you know that the Bronx–home to 1.4 million people–doesn’t have any bookstores? This Afrolatina is trying to fix that, and she needs donations to make it happen.
In times of distress, I often turn to writers to make sense of the mess we find ourselves in. Language is a powerful tool for laying bare the stark realities of oppression and inequality, while simultaneously creating new possibilities for being in community with one another and plotting a road map for the journey that lies ahead. A lot of the pieces I’ve linked to this week consider the role of language, lip service, and words-into-action in the context of regimes new and old, and how we might get ourselves on the same page to forge onward.
- Why the Next Four Years Will Be a Test for All of Us by Yaa Gyasi. Sidenote: Gyasi’s Homegoing is one of the best books I’ve read in years.
Everyone would like to believe that they would have been a stop on the Underground Railroad or hidden a Jewish family in their attic. No one wants to believe they’d have been the slave owner or a part of the crowd that gathered to watch the lynchings because it was something to do, or even the person who didn’t go, but didn’t do anything to stop it either. It’s easy to see why the slave owner is bad. Harder to see why the crowd is. Cutting to see that most of us are that last person. We do nothing, or very little, to address the ruin in our homes.
- Trump’s Here. We Have Four Years to Write a Better Story. by Molly Crabapple.
In a chaotic world, many people want two things – identity and Daddy. They long for a leader who promises not just to keep them safe, fed and emotionally validated, but to accomplish these things by punishing an imagined Other – the impure, foreign, unreal source of all the homeland’s humiliations.
- Now Is the Time to Talk About What We’re Actually Talking About by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
- Paul Beatty: ‘For Me, Trump’s America Has Always Existed’ by Vidhi Doshi. Sidenote: You should absolutely read The Sellout by Paul Beatty, the first American novel to win the Man Booker Prize for fiction.
- Philip Roth E-mails on Trump by Judith Thurman.
- America Is Trembling: Jean Genet’s Answer to Donald Trump by Tim Keane.
- Trump Changed Everything. Now Everything Counts. by Barbara Kingsolver. This was published in late November 2016, but many of the points about how to consider the new regime are still relevant.
Lessons on language from Eastern Europe, during the pre- and post-Soviet eras:
- In the Face of Constant Censorship, Bulgakov Kept Writing by Julie Lekstrom Hines.
- The Power and Politics of Language, From Oppressor to Oppressed by Adelia Saunders.
On giving a lucrative platform to white supremacists under the guise of “free speech”:
- Book Publishing Is Not a Good Champion of Free Speech by Alex Shephard.
- Roxane Gay Pulls Book from Simon & Schuster, Citing Milo Yiannopolous Deal by Jackson Frons.
On being forced to leave, and come to, the United States:
- The Daylight Underground by Héctor Tobar.
- Malevolence Tempered by Incompetence: Trump’s Horrifying Executive Order on Refugees and Visas by Benjamin Wittes.
In other words, this is not a document that will cause hardship and misery because of regrettable incidental impacts on people injured in the pursuit of a public good. It will cause hardship and misery for tens or hundreds of thousands of people because that is precisely what it is intended to do.
- This Is What It’s Like to Come to the United States As a Refugee by Julia Ioffe.
On talking about what we’re really talking about:
- Four More Journalists Get Felony Charges After Covering Inauguration Unrest by Jon Swaine.
Hours After Trump Signs Muslim Ban, Texas Mosque Goes Up in Flames by Adrienne Mahsa Varkiani.
The Nihilistic Purity of the Far Left Will Kill Us All by Sammy Leonard.
And finally, #BlackWomenDidThat:
- How Clara Hale and Audre Lorde Helped to Make New York by Julie Scelfo.
If you love The Internet but were secretly yearning for a solo album, that day has also arrived. Check out SYD’s Fin.
If you thought “Consideration” was the sleeper hit on Rihanna’s ANTI, then put on SZA’s newest single, “Drew Barrymore.”
In 1988, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band played a concert in East Berlin to a crowd of approximately 300,000 people. Springsteen delivered a shaky speech in German calling for the wall to come down, 16 months before it actually happened. Then, as now, there is no place for walls between countries, families, people. Here, they perform Bob Dylan’s “Chimes of Freedom.”
Nationalism Is Strange and Unnatural, a graphic essay by Thi Bui
And because we could all use some comic relief, crank up your oven and get your Totinos ready.
Until next time, y’all.