What It Means to Be a Progressive
Sunday Content #21: January 10, 2016
I’ve got an older relative who will call me and ask about things she’s seen on the news. She’ll want my take. From the kinds of things she asks about and phrases she uses, I’m pretty sure she’s watching FOX, maybe CNN, and watching her local nightly news, and reading her local paper, which is written at a sixth grade level and is mostly ads. She doesn’t own a computer. Even her encyclopedia set is old. She grew up in a world where a few white men read the news, and they told the truth—or at least so everyone said. I don’t think the extent to which that’s no longer true has been explained well to her.
It used to be that during such conversations, when she’d say something that was racist or xenophobic or bigoted, I wouldn’t go into it. I’d make it clear that I was uncomfortable, but work to change topics. I did this to be respectful. In recent years, though, I’ve started changing. Now I’ll let her know when something she’s said is racist or xenophobic or bigoted, and, to the best of my understanding, why it’s inaccurate. She’s not a dumb woman; she’s interested in hearing what others have to say. That’s why she calls. Whether these conversations accomplish anything, of course, I don’t know.
On a recent short episode of Another Round, one of the producers, Meg Cramer, came on to read this letter. She wrote it because the show gets contacted by a lot of white people who want to figure out how to be better allies to people of color.
She continues: “I talk to other white people about racism. Especially the older people in my family who have an outdated idea of what it means to be progressive.”
That phrase “outdated idea of what it means to be progressive” spoke to me. This relative I’ve described, the one who’ll repeat whatever racist, xenophobic, or bigoted shit Roger Ailes wants her to, she’s the relative I’ve spoken with the most about the topic of race and that’s only because it’s her personality to call and engage in this way. I think I’d be ironically more intimidated to initiate a conversation on the topic of race with others in my family, or the others in my life who are a generation or two older than me. Mind you: almost all are liberals. Most voted for Obama, but most probably also check, when they drive into a neighborhood where black people live, that their car doors are locked. They’d never agree that they are racist, but they consider the topic of race itself to be somehow impolite.
I’ve therefore been thinking a lot about how to start having such conversations, and to encourage other white people like me to do the same with their people.
One way to start a conversation like this might be to ask what kind of media someone’s consuming, and why. Ask: who brings you the news of the day? Why is that who you trust? If you’re able, talk about what your own choices have been with regards to these questions and why you’ve made them. As you’re able and as makes sense, help them access better things.
My observation has been that most white people are grateful if they’re offered a way to begin knowing and doing better.
The best thing I listened to this week was Episode 17 of Everything Is Stories. If you’ve never heard this show, each episode features someone telling his or her story—and it’s usually a good one, usually one that wends in unexpected ways through recent American history. The interviews are edited so the only voice is the storyteller him or herself. The effect is a modern riff on the old timer aside a campfire, except it’s the first black secret service member. Or the woman who married a pretty big deal SoCal cult leader in the seventies. Or a guy who assumed a false identity for several decades after he was arrested during the crackdown against student activists in the sixties and was busted when he tried to run for local office.
Anyway this episode was about a woman named Lois Gibson, a forensic artist in Texas. She actually holds the Guinness World Record for most perpetrators caught as a result of her sketches. I can’t really begin to explain how powerful a story this is and hope you’ll just listen to it, though do heed the trigger warning they give at the top.
Song Exploder uses the same strategy, mostly, of editing the interviewer out; I’m a fan of this trend. Their episode this week was with Courtney Barnett, whom I adore, about the song Depreston:
Speaking of Another Round, this week’s episode includes a fantastic conversation with comedian Margaret Cho. They talk about a lot, including white people, and including the ways in which, as a survivor of sexual violence, she’s reclaimed her body using tattoos. I had not before realized the incredible fact that she has Lincoln and Washington tattooed on her knees:
Especially if you’ve never had sexual violence fuck up your own life, you should see Spotlight. It’s a movie that talks about sexual violence in a really real way without depicting any, which really is quite a feat.
The Times Magazine has a feature by Kathy Dobie about New Haven’s SVU detectives; it’s a thorough and clear piece that gives a sense of the scope of our society’s failure to adequately police or punish sexual violence.
Though this did a good job of that too
Anyway, the law is broken.
Here is an gorgeous, super informative Times Cooking feature called how to cook eggs. Learning how to actually cook eggs without fucking it up is a great way to begin to feel comfortable in a kitchen. To feel like a cook.
Another is to make your own stock. It’s not hard; it’s basically just boiled bone water. Then you freeze it and use it in soups or whatever later, and feel like a goddess and save hella money. I’ve moved about fifteen or so times in my adult life and something that makes me feel like I’m sorta home somewhere is when I have a freezerful of homemade stock.
Here is a recipe for the best dang coffee cake I’ve ever had.
p.p.s. I’ll prolly write about Making a Murderer when I’ve finished the series and read all the takes and had thoughts in my brain.
p.p.p.p.s. If you want to have an awesome Sunday you can spend it designing 18th century wigs and not publishing your non-emailed newsletter. Here’s one I did really fast that’s not even that good:
p.p.p.p.p.s. If I ever do email this newsletter, I’m only sending it to this commenter’s mom.