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Walking While Black | Literary Hub
"Within days I noticed that many people on the street seemed apprehensive of me: Some gave me a circumspect glance as they approached, and then crossed the street; others, ahead, would glance behind, register my presence, and then speed up; older white women clutched their bags; young white men nervously greeted me, as if exchanging a salutation for their safety: “What’s up, bro?” On one occasion, less than a month after my arrival, I tried to help a man whose wheelchair was stuck in the middle of a crosswalk; he threatened to shoot me in the face, then asked a white pedestrian for help.

I wasn’t prepared for any of this. I had come from a majority-black country in which no one was wary of me because of my skin color. Now I wasn’t sure who was afraid of me. I was especially unprepared for the cops. They regularly stopped and bullied me, asking questions that took my guilt for granted. I’d never received what many of my African-American friends call “The Talk”: No parents had told me how to behave when I was stopped by the police, how to be as polite and cooperative as possible, no matter what they said or did to me. So I had to cobble together my own rules of engagement. Thicken my Jamaican accent. Quickly mention my college. “Accidentally” pull out my college identification card when asked for my driver’s license.

My survival tactics began well before I left my dorm. I got out of the shower with the police in my head, assembling a cop-proof wardrobe. Light-colored oxford shirt. V-neck sweater. Khaki pants. Chukkas. Sweatshirt or T-shirt with my university insignia. When I walked I regularly had my identity challenged, but I also found ways to assert it. (So I’d dress Ivy League style, but would, later on, add my Jamaican pedigree by wearing Clarks Desert Boots, the footwear of choice of Jamaican street culture.) Yet the all-American sartorial choice of white T-shirt and jeans, which many police officers see as the uniform of black troublemakers, was off-limits to me—at least, if I wanted to have the freedom of movement I desired.

In this city of exuberant streets, walking became a complex and often oppressive negotiation. I would see a white woman walking towards me at night and cross the street to reassure her that she was safe. I would forget something at home but not immediately turn around if someone was behind me, because I discovered that a sudden backtrack could cause alarm. (I had a cardinal rule: Keep a wide perimeter from people who might consider me a danger. If not, danger might visit me.) New Orleans suddenly felt more dangerous than Jamaica. The sidewalk was a minefield, and every hesitation and self-censored compensation reduced my dignity. Despite my best efforts, the streets never felt comfortably safe. Even a simple salutation was suspect.

One night, returning to the house that, eight years after my arrival, I thought I’d earned the right to call my home, I waved to a cop driving by. Moments later, I was against his car in handcuffs. When I later asked him—sheepishly, of course; any other way would have asked for bruises—why he had detained me, he said my greeting had aroused his suspicion. “No one waves to the police,” he explained. When I told friends of his response, it was my behavior, not his, that they saw as absurd. “Now why would you do a dumb thing like that?” said one. “You know better than to make nice with police.”"

"Walking had returned to me a greater set of possibilities. And why walk, if not to create a new set of possibilities? Following serendipity, I added new routes to the mental maps I had made from constant walking in that city from childhood to young adulthood, traced variations on the old pathways. Serendipity, a mentor once told me, is a secular way of speaking of grace; it’s unearned favor. Seen theologically, then, walking is an act of faith. Walking is, after all, interrupted falling. We see, we listen, we speak, and we trust that each step we take won’t be our last, but will lead us into a richer understanding of the self and the world.

In Jamaica, I felt once again as if the only identity that mattered was my own, not the constricted one that others had constructed for me. I strolled into my better self. I said, along with Kierkegaard, “I have walked myself into my best thoughts.”"

"Walking while black restricts the experience of walking, renders inaccessible the classic Romantic experience of walking alone. It forces me to be in constant relationship with others, unable to join the New York flaneurs I had read about and hoped to join. Instead of meandering aimlessly in the footsteps of Whitman, Melville, Kazin, and Vivian Gornick, more often, I felt that I was tiptoeing in Baldwin’s—the Baldwin who wrote, way back in 1960, “Rare, indeed, is the Harlem citizen, from the most circumspect church member to the most shiftless adolescent, who does not have a long tale to tell of police incompetence, injustice, or brutality. I myself have witnessed and endured it more than once.”

Walking as a black man has made me feel simultaneously more removed from the city, in my awareness that I am perceived as suspect, and more closely connected to it, in the full attentiveness demanded by my vigilance. It has made me walk more purposefully in the city, becoming part of its flow, rather than observing, standing apart.

* * * *

But it also means that I’m still trying to arrive in a city that isn’t quite mine. One definition of home is that it’s somewhere we can most be ourselves. And when are we more ourselves but when walking, that natural state in which we repeat one of the first actions we learned? Walking—the simple, monotonous act of placing one foot before the other to prevent falling—turns out not to be so simple if you’re black. Walking alone has been anything but monotonous for me; monotony is a luxury.

A foot leaves, a foot lands, and our longing gives it momentum from rest to rest. We long to look, to think, to talk, to get away. But more than anything else, we long to be free. We want the freedom and pleasure of walking without fear—without others’ fear—wherever we choose. I’ve lived in New York City for almost a decade and have not stopped walking its fascinating streets. And I have not stopped longing to find the solace that I found as a kid on the streets of Kingston. Much as coming to know New York City’s streets has made it closer to home to me, the city also withholds itself from me via those very streets. I walk them, alternately invisible and too prominent. So I walk caught between memory and forgetting, between memory and forgiveness."
garnettecadogan  racism  blackness  race  walking  nyc  neworleans  nola  serendipity  anonymity  fear  judgement  fatswaller  waltwhitman  kingston  jamaica  us  via:ayjay  racialprofiling  police  lawenforcement  possibility  possibilities  grace  favor  faith  hermanmelville  alfredkazin  elizabethhardwick  janejacobs  memory  forgiveness  forgetting  freedom 
july 2016 by robertogreco
Transcendental Rites - The Baffler
"JS: […] Many younger persons today who haven’t traveled far enough into the professional middle class to be saddled with its go-along/get-along mode of resignation are aroused with half-articulate and semi-organized fervor over the crimes of their government. They’re struggling to connect the up-close realities of police misconduct with the world-historical bullshit peddled by the secret intelligence agencies. What can the next generation learn about the moral imagination from the writers discussed in your book?

EM: I hope you’re right about younger persons, and, if so, they seem to me to be facing structural problems in world society that are almost as intractable as the ones that people faced in the Cold War. It’s not exactly easy to deal with a world where governments and corporations seem to share the idea that if something is technically possible (information gathering via spying or torture, for example), then they ought to go ahead and do it. Governments used to think that way about bombs, and now they think that way about “enhanced interrogation techniques” and data-gathering. Maybe the only thing I would feel comfortable saying about the relation between moral imagination and political reality is something like this: When you think mostly in terms of partisan politics—our side versus their side—then you inevitably start worrying about whether an action or attitude helps your side or the other side, and you lose sight of what your real goal is, which (I hope anyway) has something to do with a social world that might be fit for free and responsible persons to live in. But if you think about politics as a way of putting your moral intelligence into effect, then you make it harder for other people to obfuscate the issue in order to serve their own immoral purposes.

It seems to me that in recent years the people who have done the most to make some worthwhile change possible have been the truth-tellers, those who said things that did themselves no good—they’re going to be on the run from the authorities more or less forever—but that they couldn’t stop themselves from saying because of a moral, rather than a partisan, motive. There’s a pretty clear contrast between such truth-tellers and the Nobel Prize–winning president who campaigned on a platform of moral action and then decided it was safest to forget about it. Parables about this kind of thing run through the book, and some of them complicate the whole issue. Norman Mailer, for example, was always committed, in what seems to me a thoroughly admirable way, to the democratic left, very much like Dwight Macdonald, but Mailer got himself tangled up in the idea that his own personal mythology and vision mattered more than what happened to other people. Macdonald never made that mistake, but Macdonald paid a price for seeing things as clearly as he did: he spent many years in something like passivity and despair, which didn’t do him any good, and certainly didn’t do any good for the kind of society he wanted.

Auden once said something to a friend that I think may get to the heart of both the difficulty and hopefulness of all this. He said (I’m paraphrasing from memory), “Americans get very angry when you tell them there are no answers, but in a crisis, they look forward, unlike Europeans, who look backward.”"

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johnsummers  edwardmendelson  2015  academia  citizenship  history  humanities  alfredkazin  normanmailer  lioneltrilling  dwightmacdonald  optimism  pessimism  us  europe  future  past  society  truth  morality  patisanships  barackobama  mythology  personalmythology  truthtelling 
may 2015 by robertogreco
The American Scholar: Start a Blog - William Deresiewicz
"As Jack Miles puts it in a stellar essay on the question, “It takes years of disciplined preparation to become an academic. It takes years of undisciplined preparation to become an intellectual.”"

"But celebrity, like the institutionalization that comes with being an academic, is inimical to the intellectual’s mission: questioning the mental status quo. The more a part of things you are—the more embedded in the machinery of status and position—the harder that is to do. As Kazin said, “values are our only home in the universe.” Allegiances, to any group, are fatal. The intellectual’s job is to think past the culture: to question the myths, metaphors, and assumptions that limit our collective imagination. The founder of the breed was Socrates. As Kazin also said, an intellectual is someone for whom ideas are “instruments of salvation.” Becoming one requires a little more than setting up a blog."
disruption  status  celebrity  russelljacoby  academics  academia  intellectuals  socrates  deschooling  unschooling  outsiders  thesystem  jackmiles  writing  alfredkazin  haroldrosenberg  clementgreenberg  dwightmacdonald  lioneltrilling  edmundwilson  blogging  publicintellectuals  williamderesiewicz  2012  change  allegiances  outsider 
december 2012 by robertogreco
Steven Shapin reviews ‘The Pseudoscience Wars’ by Michael Gordin · LRB 8 November 2012
"If pseudosciences are not scientific, neither are they anti-scientific. They flatter science by elaborate rituals of imitation, rejecting many of the facts, theories and presumptions of orthodoxy while embracing what are celebrated as the essential characteristics of science. That is at once a basis for the wide cultural appeal of pseudoscience and an extreme difficulty for those wanting to show what’s wrong with it. Velikovsky advertised his work as, so to speak, more royalist than the king. Did authentic science have masses of references and citations? There they were in Worlds in Collision. Was science meant to aim at the greatest possible explanatory scope, trawling as many disciplines as necessary in search of unified understanding? What in orthodoxy could rival Velikovsky’s integrative vision? Authentic science made specific predictions of what further observation and experiment would show. Velikovsky did too. Was science ideally open to all claimants, subjecting itself to…"
hyperscience  parapsychology  unorthodox  orthodoxy  predictions  logic  reasoning  haroldurey  hermankahn  stanleykubrick  counterculture  hope  fear  alfredkazin  psychoanalytictheory  darwin  uniformitarianism  massivechange  change  catastrophism  worldsincollision  mythology  astronomy  coldwar  1950  fringe  immanuelvalikovsky  books  2012  pseudoscience  science  michaelgordin  stevenshapin  charlesdarwin 
october 2012 by robertogreco

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