Are you getting ads you don’t want on your Samsung Galaxy phone when you open it? Sometimes they won’t let you close or click past the ad for several seconds, and it’s so frustrating. Look in your apps and see if there’s a “Peel Remote” app that’s showed up since you last allowed a phone update. (It’s black and yellow—I couldn’t find an image of it online.) Go to the Google Play Store, search for “Peel Universal,” and a list of apps will come up. Scroll down or just click on each one until you get to one that has an “uninstall” option, and uninstall it. (You can’t uninstall it from inside the app; you have to go to it in the Play Store.) Don’t pay any attention to a threat that this will affect the way your phone operates—you want it to affect the way your phone operates by getting rid of these ads! Samsung should not be able to install this app on your phone as part of an update without your permission. And there’s nothing in the ads themselves to tell you where they’re coming from or how to get rid of them. Boo, hiss, Samsung!
Recently, the town of Sandy, Utah notified residents that they couldn’t drink the city’s water (the problem has since been resolved). A release of undiluted fluoride into the water had resulted in lead and copper leaching from the city’s water pipes. City officials responsible for notifying affected residents didn’t do that until the contaminated water had been in their taps for days; residents notified the city that they were getting sick from drinking the water. The city had issued a statement only 24 hours before the “no drink” order that the water was safe to drink. Several people, including a 3-month-old baby, were sickened. And there is no safe level of lead in drinking water; it can cause neurological damage and other problems for children and infants, even infants in utero. Babies who drink formula, which is mixed with water, are especially vulnerable. The city was cited by the Utah Division of Drinking Water for failure to notify the public adequately and for exceeding safe fluoride levels. (See Amy Joi O’Donohue, “Utah City Delayed Notifying State, Public of Contaminated Water,” Deseret News, February 16, 2019, https://www.deseretnews.com/article/900056140/utah-city-delayed-notifying-state-public-of-contamination-water.html)
Your city should be sending you a water quality report once a year, but in the case of emergencies such as the city of Sandy experienced, we must rely on city officials for appropriate testing and communication to the public. Tragically, the city of Flint, Michigan, experienced contamination of its water by lead and other dangerous metals in 2014, after an emergency manager appointed by the state tried to save money by switching the source of the city’s water from Lake Huron to the heavily polluted Flint River. The Flint River water was extremely corrosive, and the city failed to treat the water (which would have cost about $100 per day); this resulted in lead and copper leaching from water pipes into the water. And city officials assured the public for 18 months, after residents began complaining about the appearance and taste of the water, that the water was safe to drink—even though they knew or should have known about the problem. Five officials have since been charged with involuntary manslaughter in relation to the water crisis in Flint.
Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician at Flint’s Hurley Medical Center, was seeing children with hair loss and rashes, and their concerned parents. By comparing Medicaid-required lead levels in children taken before the water switch and after, she was able to show that lead levels in children’s blood had doubled and even tripled. The state attacked her results for a week before admitting she was right. Then the state started handing out filters and bottled water, but 18 months of lead exposure had already affected children in ways that may not be known for years. (See Sara Ganim and Linh Tran, “How Tap Water Became Toxic in Flint, Michigan,” CNN, January 13, 2016, https://www.cnn.com/2016/01/11/health/toxic-tap-water-flint-michigan/index.html)
Dr. Mona, as she is called, wrote an excellent book about the water crisis in Flint and the investigation to uncover it, What the Eyes Don’t See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City (New York: One World, 2018). One infuriating thing is that the problem probably would have been addressed sooner, or not come about at all, in a majority-white, affluent Michigan city such as Ann Arbor or Grosse Pointe. Another infuriating thing is that the officials in Flint, and to a much lesser extent the officials in Sandy, seemed more interested in covering up mistakes and saving money, and avoiding public panic (even though it was time for intense concern), than in saving families and children from drinking water contaminated with lead.
One lesson from these types of events is that those in responsible positions must concern themselves more with taking care of the people who trusted them than with hiding their own mistakes, keeping up appearances, or saving money at the people’s expense. It is all a matter of asking, “What would I want for myself and my family?” It’s the Golden Rule: “Whatsoever ye would that man should do to you, do ye even so to them” (Matthew 7:12).
When I thought I might earn a master’s degree in art history, I wrote this cycle of poems in response to an assignment for a history class on ancient art. It may not resonate in every detail with those who don’t know about ancient Egypt, but it may still be enjoyable as poetry.
Imhotep Speaks (cinquain)
king loved by Ra
to make a City of the Dead
guard thy passage onward
temple stepped to sky
will climb the steps
enter the solar boat
sail across burning sky by day
friend to gods, friend to kings
The Scribe (Spenserian sonnet)
Much-honored scribe of their will, I record
the sacred deeds of gods and kings of all.
In my papyrus miracles are stored
and tallies of the treasures of the hall
where I sit, watching, all writ by my reed.
My eyes miss nothing; my scrolls are the source
of stories to mount up the temple, lead
the eye to power’s glorious, blessed course—
of Amun, Ra, Osiris, Ptah, Thoth, Maat, all give
our god–king’s life and so our souls delight to live.
I am no warrior, nor a laborer,
to risk the battle, brown and sweat in sun;
no sting of whip from cruel overseer.
My king is my brightness; there is none
who does not nod in passing, see my place.
My family lives in comfort and respect,
all cool and linen-clothed and white of face.
My careful hand, so fair, lets me protect
our lives. I dream of scrolls, my ink, my reed; they’re mine,
In rows that rise beyond the reach of death or time.
Amarna: Nefertiti’s Secret (blank verse)
Though Nile refuse to flood and kingdoms fall—
though storm of sand envelop all the tombs—
my record shall say “priestess of Aten,”
and Queen of Akhenaten be my name—
I, Nefertiti, “beautiful of face,”
who whispers prayers at night to my god, Re.
No zealot like a convert. I have seen
my husband Akhenaten serve one god.
His mother, Tiy, once crowned with cobra gold,
now worships Aten in a cap of blue.
This Akhetaten is no match for Thebes,
the grandeur of the Temple of Amun—
I know of columns rising to the sky,
of warriors’ deeds, carved wonder, colored bright.
With other maidens, I learned to fear Re
and love Hathor, to follow woman’s ways.
Who lives with just one god? Who dies with one?
My proud King Amunhotep is no more.
This Akhenaten must not know my heart
is following the old gods, longs for Thebes.
So easy for a wife to disappear—
even a queen and priestess may grow ill.
But my devotion works its magic now:
for on the day we named my noble son,
I showed him to Amun, showed him to Re:
before they took him from me to the priests,
I whispered “Tutankamun” in his ear.
Hatshepsut, Pharaoh of Egypt (haiku)
“I am Hatshepsut, Pharaoh of Egypt,”
says my Temple
carved in rock.
Born of Amun-Ra,
a god, and Ahmose, the queen,
fragrant in union.
Crowned by King Thutmose.
I brought myrrh trees from far Punt.
I, his majesty.
Cover my breasts with
linen headdress; bull’s tail place
between my soft legs.
Beard my stone face as
Pharaoh—my tomb shall long grace
the Valley of Kings.
Hymn of Supplication (chiasm)
Thy daughter Nefertari sings to Isis:
Welcome me to thy temple, sacred one—
queen of the moon; its crescent adorns thee;
nourisher of Horus, to thee I offer rich perfumes.
Anoint my breasts that I may nourish my children.
let the moon grow full, as I grow full of life,
blessed by the gods as queen of Ramses’ house,
daughter of Isis, queen and mother of many.
Grant my children the love of many children,
blessed by the gods to approach the temple of life.
Let them wax in strength and hope and joy.
Giver of wisdom to thy sons and daughters,
Rich as river’s flood to feed the land,
Adorn me with silence and peace, as the moon sails the night,
ask thy King to welcome me to eternity
as Nefertari, daughter of his beloved Isis.
—Lisa Bolin Hawkins
In the Come Follow Me curriculum for January 27, 2019, we are reading and studying the first chapter of the Gospel of John. In John 1:19-34, we read that John was baptizing at “Bethabara beyond Jordan,” and that Jesus came to John to be baptized there (see 1 Nephi 10:7-10). Bethabara means “place of fording,” literally “house of the crossing,” and is considered to be a ford of the Jordan River near Jericho. Traditionally, this place on the Jordanian side of the river, now called Wadi Al-Kharrar, is reputed to be the place at which Joshua led the Israelites into the Promised Land when the waters of the Jordan were miraculously stopped so they could cross (see Joshua 3:13-17; 4:1-9, 21-24). The following poem explores the relationship between these two events—the baptism of Jesus and the crossing of the Israelites into the Promised Land—in the form of a chiasm,* with the central thought being “We cross from death to life through faith in Christ.”
House of the Crossing (a chiasm)
Joshua pointed out the Promised Land
across the Jordan. They must take the step
to stop the flood and cross the riverbed
dry-shod. No vengeful Egypt drove them now,
as when the Red Sea showed escape from death
or bondage. In this quiet, peaceful spring,
Israel stepped between the Jordan’s floods,
cast off the wilderness and were reborn
into the ancient covenants with God.
And still the water flows o’er Joshua’s stones:
Remember, Israel, the covenant birth,
that crossing Jordan conquers death for life—
We cross from death to life through faith in Christ,
as He upon the Cross conquered through death
what Bethabara’s covenant birth began.
And still we take the water and the bread,
remembering our covenants with God;
we cast off sin and death to be reborn,
drowned, drenched, and streaming hope and gratitude.
In quiet peace He breaks the bonds of sin
and death and gives the gift of our escape,
His hand outstretched in love to carry us
and all our burdens through the trials and pain,
if we but take the step, take up the Cross,
as Jesus points to our eternal home.
Lisa Bolin Hawkins
*A chiasm, or chiasmus, is a Hebrew literary form where the writer’s original thoughts are echoed in a reverse sequence, usually around a central, essential point. It is frequently found in the Old Testament and in the Book of Mormon. See John W. Welch, “Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon,” New Era, February 1972, https://www.lds.org/new-era/1972/02/chiasmus-in-the-book-of-mormon?lang=eng&_r=1
“Antigone,” by Frederick, Lord Leighton
I wrote this poem after reading Jean Anouilh’s play Antigone for a French class in about 1995, although this poem, like Anouilh’s play, draws from the original tragedy by Sophocles and in my mind, a little of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, the French Revolution, and the Holocaust. Anouilh’s play was first produced in Paris during the Nazi occupation, and is widely understood to parallel the French Resistance during that time. I like the way tricot (knitting in French) sounds like the knitting needles clicking. Eurydice was the mute wife of Creon and aunt to Antigone, who performs funeral rites for her brother, Polynieces, when Creon has forbidden that as a way to dishonor Polynieces. Eteocles is Polynieces’ brother; Haemon is Eurydice’s son and Antigone’s fiance. It’s a tragedy, so everyone dies, and Eurydice is left to knit and mourn.
Her brief yet Sophoclean voice now dumb,
she knits (tricot, tricot) recording all,
The needles flash and clack; one pulls at one
(tricot, tricot) and then they turn:
There, in the space of templed needles,
Fate stares out, smiles or frowns (tricot),
and weaves out Death.
All Death. Madame DuFarge, recording all,
not silent, but the clack of needles drowned
by drums and tumbrels, pleas for mercy, prayers,
the slide and thump of metal slicing through
to wood, and then a cheer, and then the drums;
(tricot) the women watch and knit the Fates.
Eurydice, with Fate, sees Death’s parade,
The jackboots on the cobblestones, the harsh
accent of Nazis speaking le français.
Perhaps she went from safety just to see
the flock of yellow stars caged at Drancy.
(tricot, tricot) their tumbrels are boxcars
Then Auschwitz, worse than Hades. “God!” they cry.
“Gods!” She hears the cry and knits it in,
(tricot, tricot) and when she hears the news:
Antigone has gone to join them now—
Eteocles, the hero, hailed by all,
Polynieces, the rebel, left to rot,
Her own Haemon, her son, taking Death’s pact
To die with her uncompromising niece—
Antigone is dead! (tricot) Is dead!
Eurydice must pause (and no one sees):
She sighs, lets fall a tear, and
drops a stitch.
by Lisa Bolin Hawkins
I look forward to experiencing the changes in the temple ceremony that have been written about in the Salt Lake Tribune this week. In honor of that, I share this poem, written in 2011, about the temple experience.
Through the lace I touch soft evidence
of deeper meaning, like the veiled face
of a bride who sees life end and yet begin
and yet continue, called to follow
in the steps of all the brides who ever
promised. We are all brides, male or female,
old, young, layered with water, oil,
robed in carefully marked clothing,
all invited to the wedding
if we trust, submit, and enter
into death that raises us to life: eternal.
All adorned with covenant bows,
like knots of willing hands in clasp
that won’t be broken, tying together
hearts, minds, souls, and strengths.
We feel the sheer white curtains billow
in the breeze of whispered sacraments.
Our spirits hear; our lips give answer: truth.
As my hand rests on the altar,
on the lace-clothed stretch of velvet
where our hands hold to each other
as our eyes each hold the other,
seeing, as in endless mirrors,
end, beginning, all-encompassed
by our story; by the sacred word: forever.
by Lisa Bolin Hawkins
The question in the New Era, the youth magazine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to be answered in the February issue, is: “If Heavenly Father has so many children, how can He know me personally and care about me?” Because the New Era prints the responses of the youth, and is unlikely to print the thoughts of an adult, I’m printing my answer here.
1. Our Heavenly Father is the Creator and Father of our spirits, and loves each of us as a perfect parent loves his or her child.
God is our Father, and created us individually as His spirit children (Acts 17:28–20; Bible Dictionary, “God”). In Isaiah 49:15, God compares His love to that of a mother for her child—and says that even if a mother could forget her child, “yet I will not forget thee.” We are the reason for the creation of the universe and of our planet Earth, as the Lord stated, “This is my work and my glory, to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). Even if it can be difficult for earthly parents to know each of their children, pay attention to them, and even sometimes to love them as they need, these things are not difficult for our all-knowing, all-powerful Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.
2. Our Heavenly Father is not limited by time, as we are.
While it is probably impossible for us to understand the physics and physiology of Godhood, we do know that our thoughts are not like Heavenly Father’s thoughts. “My ways are higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts,” He taught the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 55:8–9). We know that God is not limited by linear time, as we are and must be in order be tested in our mortal lives (Abraham 3:24–25). Somehow, “all things are present to God” (Moses 1:6)—“all is as one day with God, and time only is measured unto man” (Alma 40:8). What this means is that, unlike us (1), Heavenly Father is able to think about and do more than one thing at a time. The Christian theologian C. S. Lewis taught this principle (2):
Our life comes to us moment by moment. One moment disappears before the next comes along: and there is room for very little in each. That is what Time is like. … Almost certainly God is not in Time. His life does not consist of moments following one another. If a million people are praying to Him at ten-thirty tonight, He need not listen to them all in that one little snippet which we call ten-thirty. Ten-thirty—and every other moment from the beginning of the world—is always the Present for Him. … He has infinite attention to spare for each one of us. He does not have to deal with us in the mass. You are as much alone with Him as if you were the only being He had ever created. When Christ died, He died for you individually just as much as if you had been the only [person] in the world.
Because He is able to see, think about, and work with all of His children as individuals in their own time and place, Heavenly Father is able to know and love each of us.
3. Our Heavenly Father works with us one by one.
It is an important principle of the gospel of Jesus Christ that the Lord works with us, and we should work with each other, one by one. When the Savior came to the Book of Mormon people after His Resurrection, He called them forth one by one, even though there were 2,500 people in the congregation (3 Nephi 17:25), so that they could know that He was the Messiah. This individual experience with the Savior was so moving that the people cried, “Hosanna! Blessed be the name of the Most High God! And they did fall down at the feet of Jesus, and did worship him” (3 Nephi 11:13–17). He also blessed and prayed for their children, “one by one” (3 Nephi 17:21). “Certainly there is a profound and tender message here,” Elder Ronald A. Rasband taught. “Jesus Christ ministers to, and love us all, one by one” (3).
Similarly, when we go to the temple to perform sacred ordinances for those who have passed away, we perform the ordinances for each individual, one at a time. Each of us is so important that we are offered the love of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, and may choose to accept it, only as an individual. Elder M. Russell Ballard taught that the Atonement “is infinite and eternal, and yet it is applied individually, one person at a time” (4).
How does Heavenly Father know and care about you, when there are so many of us? How can He know each of us personally? Because He is the Almighty God, and the rules of physics and time that we are bound by do not bind Him. He loves each of us as our tender parent, as His precious son or daughter. When you turn to Him in prayer, He is present for you as though He were kneeling beside you, ready to listen, comfort, and bless you. You are His beloved child. Just as you desire your own experience with Him, He desires His own experience with you. As Saint Augustine taught (5),
“God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.”
1. See Sanjay Gupta, “Your Brain on Multitasking,” CNN, August 1, 2016, https://www.cnn.com/2015/04/09/health/your-brain-multitasking/
2. C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 167–168.
3. Ronald A. Rasband, “One by One,” Ensign, November 2000, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2000/10/one-by-one?lang=eng
4. M. Russell Ballard, “The Atonement and the Value of One Soul,” Ensign, May 2004, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2004/04/the-atonement-and-the-value-of-one-soul?lang=eng
5. St. Augustine, quoted in “25 Historic Quotes about God’s Love,” https://www.mormon.org/blog/25-historic-quotes-about-gods-love
This year I have been reading to try to understand more about race and poverty in the United States, as I am a privileged white girl who spent her childhood in segregated neighborhoods in Texas and California and has never had the opportunity to get to know many people of color, or to appreciate their history as part of our shared American story—beyond what I learned in school, which wasn’t much. These books have really opened my eyes (and made me so angry) about the struggles of the poor and of African Americans in the United States, especially since the end of the Civil War, when things were supposed to get better with the abolition of the evil institution of slavery, but did not. I wish that we could change the systems that undermine the lives of poor people of all races, and those that have been set up to discriminate against African Americans and other people of color in this country. And we must change our hearts and minds to see those in need as people we should help, and each individual as a cherished child of God. These books are listed in the order I read them; reviews are those I posted on goodreads.com after finishing each book.
Ta-Nehisi Coates, We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy, 2017.
This is one of the most important books I have ever read. I have always been appalled by the way black people are and have been treated in the United States, but this book helps me understand the depth of the discrimination, the tragedy, the systemic aspects of our history and culture that have held people back, and the depth of justified anger that people feel (or should feel) about how African Americans have been treated, intentionally and unintentionally, for 300+ years and counting. The writer has made me think about how I think and approach history and the world, and how lacking my education has been in this regard. Although he writes in the context of the years from the beginning of Barack Obama’s run for the presidency to the recent aftermath of the election of Donald Trump, Coates intertwines the history of slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, the New Deal, the creation of ghettos through segregation and redlining, the Civil Rights movement, the so-called law-and-order and welfare reforms that have resulted in undermining black family life and the mass incarceration of black men, and all the other sorry results of white supremacy that are ingrained in American culture. He also shares the stories of his life that have led him where he is now, as a respected and talented writer for The Atlantic and other publications. Coates is not ranting—he persuasively cites sources and explains why he thinks as he does and how his opinions have been shaped. And he makes suggestions about what can be done, although I do not have high hopes that anything will be done and, indeed, things seem to be getting worse in the Age of Trump. Nevertheless, eye- and mind-opening and highly recommended.
Matthew Desmond, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in an American City, 2017.
This book is heartbreaking and angering—Americans are doing a terrible job of taking care of the poor, who face “housing insecurity” and can’t seem to get ahead without a miracle in the extortionate private rental market. And their poor choices and bad luck, as well as the shortage of public or subsidized housing, keep them out of the inadequate public housing market. I don’t know where they find the hope to keep trying, because everywhere they turn a new emergency comes up that results in eviction, constant moving, homelessness, job loss, terrible conditions—it just goes on. And the landlords are profiting from grinding the faces of the poor—other industrialized countries manage to deal with these problems, and here, as with healthcare, the United States fall short. The author, an ethnographer, lived in inner-city Milwaukee and paints a detailed portrait of the vicious spiral of poverty. The author presents the facts and stories of people (who are sometimes hard to keep track of in terms of remembering who is who) for most of the book and then presents his conclusions and recommendations. This is a brilliant book that is hard to read because the horrible circumstances are multiplied many times over in American cities and so little is being done.
Bryan Stevens, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, 2014.
This is a heartbreaking, important book. The author and other lawyers and associates of the Equal Justice Initiative have been providing legal services in behalf of the falsely convicted, those whose trials have been so tainted by racial bias or lack of effective representation that they were farcical, those condemned to death in prison (formally or effectively) who committed their crimes when they were minors or who committed nonviolent crimes, and others whom the so-called justice system has failed spectacularly. There are many others with only slightly less daunting stories who should be helped and cannot be for lack of resources. The American justice system has been undermined by racial discrimination, stemming from slavery and continuing in the terrorism of the Klan and the institution of white supremacy after Reconstruction, the conviction of African Americans of minor or created crimes so that their labor could be sold to businesses (slavery by another name), the Jim Crow laws, the practice of mass incarceration, and the continued racism that infects almost every level of our society in the United States. Even the distrust of the mainstream media and the idea of “fake news” that are part of Trumpist politics in the twenty-first century got their start in the criticism and accusations of fakery in the reporting of unwelcome facts at the time of the Civil Rights movement. This book brings all this to a personal level with the stories of falsely convicted people and others that the author worked to free in Alabama and later throughout the United States through the Equal Justice Initiative.
Kathryn Edin & Martha J. Kefalas, Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage, 2005.
This important book answers the question, “Why don’t those poor women get married before they have babies?” The authors were embedded in six poor African American, Puerto Rican, and white neighborhoods in Philadelphia for two years and interviewed hundreds of mothers. While the answers differ slightly for each ethnic group, the conclusions are that motherhood is one of the only ways of establishing a woman’s identity as a responsible adult in these neighborhoods (where women’s opportunities are so limited). The pool of marriage-able men is breathtakingly shallow, and motherhood is essential to these women—a life without children is a tragedy—but marriage is an ideal and a luxury that no one in her right mind would embark on without years of testing a man’s worth as a potential husband and without her own financial security. The actual conclusions are more nuanced than my summary, and the research is well-supported from a social science standpoint. The authors’ contrasts of the approach that makes sense to impoverished young women in the inner city with the attitudes that seem obvious to middle-class people with some financial security are especially valuable.
Kathryn Edin & Timothy J. Nelson, Doing the Best I Can: Fatherhood in the Inner City, 2013.
This companion volume to Promises I Can Keep, which focused on inner-city single mothers, tells the story of inner-city Philadelphia fathers, black and white, and their relationships to their children. These men are unable, due to economic and cultural restrictions and their own poor choices, to fulfill the traditional role of breadwinner for their children, and so they “do the best they can” on the providing front while concentrating instead on having quality time and being a real father (as opposed to “just a paycheck”) for their children. That they sometimes aren’t good at this role does not mean that their attempts do not have value for the children and especially for the men—many of them feel strongly the absence of their own fathers and are trying to make up for that with their children. Tragically, there is a tendency in some of these men, when the fathering role does not work out with one child, to turn their attention to another child with a different mother. They also expect their children’s mothers to be able to provide financially even if they, the fathers, cannot help, while still achieving all that is expected of mothers in terms of nurturing and emotional support—a very tough gig for mothers that does not result in financial or family security for children. Like the companion study, this book answers the question, “Why don’t they just get married?” These impoverished (in almost every sense) adults have not given up on marriage, but instead have such high expectations of marriage that they cannot meet them. And yet, the rewards of having children are so great that they do not see any reason to go without them, and they do not consider that they are doing the children any disservice by bringing them into this less-than-perfect situation. Thus the father-child relationship becomes paramount, while the children’s mothers become almost irrelevant and sometimes adversary to these fathers who are trying to do their best. These two books explain a lot about circumstances that have been the subject of inaccurate assumptions by more fortunate people. Perhaps Edin and colleagues could consider a study of the children of these parents, looking back on their childhoods and the assumptions that their parents and society make about them.
Michele Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, 2010.
This important book should be read by all Americans, should be required reading in law school and law enforcement academies, and should be read by every defense attorney (public defender or private practice), prosecutor, and all those working in law enforcement and the correctional system. America began controlling black people (even free black people) via slavery, and then by Jim Crow, and now with the devastating impacts of the so-called War on Drugs. Although the provisions of drug enforcement laws appear to be race-neutral, they are in effect targeted at perpetuating a permanent underclass of African Americans and, to a lesser extent, Latinos. Like Jim Crow at the end of slavery, the War on Drugs was enacted after passage of the Civil Rights Act in order to appease (especially Southern) working-class and poor white people whose votes the powerful want to attract by being “tough on crime,” which has resulted in the mass incarceration (including a post-incarceration shadowland of unemployment, housing insecurity, and ineligibility for benefits) of an alarming number of black men and their families. Because of harsh police and prosecutorial practices, harsh sentences for small amounts of drugs such marijuana and crack cocaine, and mandatory minimum sentences, the U.S. prison system has become an investment for private and government entities, with devastating consequences for African American communities and the inner-city ghettos that were initially created by discriminatory housing practices during the Jim Crow era. Amounts and types of drugs that are commonly used by white high school and college students are overlooked or lightly punished by law enforcement, but the same drugs when used or sold by young people of color result in felony records and lengthy, even lifelong, prison sentences. The people working in the law enforcement and mass incarceration systems are not intentionally racist or biased for the most part. But our country’s attempts to create a color-blind or race-neutral society, including U.S. Supreme Court decisions that refuse to look at the effects rather than the causes of police and prosecutorial practices, have resulted in devastating outcomes for communities and individuals of color that can be overcome only by a restructuring of the economy and the Civil Rights movement. We should not be color-blind, but instead should be race-conscious and caring so as to alleviate the continuing shackles that metaphorically enslave so many African Americans in the United States. The author has done her research and makes a convincing case, well-referenced.
Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, 2010.
This has got to be the definitive work on the Great Migration (which I think of as the “Great Escape”) of African Americans from the South to the North after the promises of Reconstruction failed miserably in the South. That failure began about 1870; the migration that lasted until about 1975; an imperfect redemption was attempted with the Civil Rights Act of 1964—and the imperfections last through the present day. The author focuses on three people who embarked on the Great Migration in different decades, from different homes and situations, and who ended up in different places: Los Angeles, New York City, and Chicago. She follows them throughout their lives, describing what their lives were like in the South, how they managed to leave, and how their lives were up North. Wilkerson also gives more general history as background for the three focus stories and addresses the social-scientific thinking about the Great Migration as it has evolved. The author spent hundreds, if not thousands of hours interviewing and spending time with many people and their families who migrated and who stayed in the South—this is a formidable work, and in its quest to be definitive, sometimes seem to drag a bit. But it is a great accomplishment as a record of life in the United States, and of course, the disappointing fact that the migrants met with almost as much ill treatment in the North and West as they did in the South, which led to the urban ghettos, poverty, crime, drug abuse, and other problems whose roots can be traced to the failure of white Americans to accept the humanity of black Americans. Very interesting is the author’s comparison of black migrants to immigrants of other cultures and countries who migrated to American cities, were initially treated poorly by more-established folk, but were eventually able to be accepted because they could adapt culturally and linguistically while bringing the richness of their own languages and cultures to the American “melting pot” (actually more a tossed salad). Black Americans, however, were not allowed to adapt and be accepted as part of the majority culture because their skin color always marked them as the “other.” Yet they still accomplished so much and enriched American life through music, writing, humor, language, dance, activism, and in many other ways. Despite the new problems that coming North out of the post-Reconstruction South brought to the lives of black migrants and their families, none would have preferred to remain in the South. Wilkerson explores the bittersweetness and the outrage of this history carefully and well.
Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me, 2015.
I did not learn as much from this book as I did from Coates’s We Were Eight Years in Power, but it was a valuable read, nonetheless. The book is in the form of an extended letter to the author’s son, and the author is trying to educate his son about the history, tragedy, and pride involved in being an African American man or boy at this time in the world and in America. Coates’s feelings of sadness and fury over the way he and others have been burdened and their lives made narrow and fearful and limited by the historical and contemporary actions of “those who think they are white” come through repeatedly and tragically. The book is discouraging, but there is nothing else it could be. One can hope that Coates’s son, raised in a slightly more progressive time (or at least in a time when most people think they are being more progressive—white supremacists excepted) will help him have a better and safer life. But there is much to be answered for and much change needed before we can continue to overcome the national tragedy that is the way that black Americans have been and still are treated in this country—if it can be overcome. I gather that the author is not optimistic, although he is trying to see how he can be for his son’s sake, and no feeling of optimism is granted the reader. Coates is an excellent writer.
Steven M. Gillon, Separate and Unequal: The Kerner Commission and the Unraveling of American Liberalism, 2018.
You would not think that a book about the work of a commission on the inner-city riots in the summer of 1967 would be that interesting, but this book is almost a page-turner, and it really puts things in perspective. When LBJ muscled Congress into passing the Civil Rights Act in 1964 (in part by allowing Southern segregationists to add amendments that took out a lot of its teeth), the economy was on the rise and hopes for the Great Society programs were high. The commissioners and staff who investigated the inner-city riots (Johnson was convinced that they showed a lack of gratitude on the part of African Americans for all he had accomplished for them) were shocked at conditions in the urban cores—conditions that few people outside those communities were aware of. Although some thought that increased attention to law and order was the answer, it turned out that police responses had in almost all cases begun and aggravated the intensity of the riots. And the report of the commission cited white racism as the underlying cause of the conditions that led to the riots. Unfortunately, the answer to almost all the problems was massive federal spending (due to nationwide racism and the pervasive history of racism) and desegregation of housing and employment in ways that many, if not most, white Americans were unwilling to consider. Spending on the Vietnam War was using up all the funds that might have gone to alleviate the plight of African Americans, even had the political will been present, and the economy took a downturn that further undermined possible funding. The author puts the commission’s work and report in the political and economic contexts of the time, and discusses how and why things have not gotten better, due to the militarization of the police, the so-called War on Drugs, the polarization of the American people through the Republican Southern Strategy that exacerbates racist fears, and other factors. He brings things forward to the Black Lives Matter movement and the partisanship of the electorate, and explains how the moment that could have allowed American liberalism to work toward solving some of the problems in the United States was lost.
Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, 2002.
The author spends a month each working at low-wage jobs (Merry Maids, Wal-Mart, waitressing, nursing-home caregiver, hotel housekeeping), so she can write a book about what life is like trying to support yourself on almost nothing. She seems surprised at how difficult it is to do that, even if you are sometimes working two jobs—and she had a couple of thousand dollars as a cushion against emergencies, was only supporting herself, had a reliable car, was a white, native speaker of English, and was able to pay first and last months’ rent and put down the security deposit required to get into an apartment (because she had money from her “real life”) in each city where she worked. I assume she had health insurance and other benefits from her other life, which were not offered by her employers to their actual workers. Although Ehrenreich tells the stories of the women she works with, including the demeaning aspects of some of their labor in wrenching detail, she does not seem fully invested in her experiment—she could walk away at any time. Further, she takes a superior tone toward those who are basically trapped in the jobs she spends a short time doing. Nor does she mention much about the sexual harassment that often comes with these types of jobs. While this book may be a good introduction to the world of low-wage work for those who have never had a job waitressing or housecleaning or the like, the author would have presented a more accurate picture of life in these difficult circumstances if she had cut her safety net and required herself to stick with one or two jobs for several months to a year, and live on that income alone, to make her life more like those of the women she tries to describe. Nevertheless, a valuable eye-opener and introduction to the difficulties of trying to live on next-to-nothing that resonates in part with those of us who have actually been forced to get by on these jobs.
I hope that readers of this blog will comment with recommendations for additional books that would help me learn even more about these subjects.
Last Visit Home
It was the way he made the shelf I’d asked,
and taught his younger brother as they worked.
“We carpenters must keep our tools this way.”
He smiled with patience at the eager youth,
whose ears absorbed “we carpenters” with pride,
while eyes watched craftsman’s muscles, scholar’s mind.
“Even parts that no one ever sees
“must be as fine as all the rest,” he said.
It was the way he thanked us for the food:
his favorites, made by loving sisters’ hands,
at my direction. “Yours is best,” he said
and took my hand, and teased brotherly thanks
to shy, adoring girls. He smoothed their hair.
“You follow Mother, word and deed,” he said,
“And you will be called blessed by all you serve.”
It was the way he spoke on that last night.
“You know my good friend John,” he said to me.
“Of course,” I nodded. “Your beloved John.”
“You think well of him, then?” he asked, concerned.
“My dearest son,” I said, “he is your friend,
and for your sake, I would call him my son.”
“All right, then,” he replied, and stirred the fire.
It was the way he took his leave of me;
that all-compassionate, determined smile.
I knew that I would see him next, my Son,
about his Father’s business, and I knew
that his resolved, serene, heart-piercing words
would comfort me, when from restrained hands
I later saw his blood drip to the dust
and heard triumphant suffering in his voice.
—Lisa Bolin Hawkins
People who are depressed sometimes get to the point of despair where they consider killing themselves. I have been in that place, and here are some reasons not to take that drastic, irrevocable step.
1. The world and the people you love would NOT be better off without you. They don’t need a better or perfect child, spouse, parent, sibling, or friend—they need you, as you are now and will be in times to come. No matter how much your depression is affecting them or making them unhappy, too, your death will not “free them” to enjoy a better life or better relationships; it will plunge them into painful grief and perhaps despair, also.
2. Suicide will not be an escape from your feelings of despair. Death separates your spirit from your body, but you will take your feelings with you into the next life—death is not oblivion; in some ways, it is only a change of scenery. If part of your depression is related to your brain chemistry or other organic causes, then getting rid of your body won’t help and may impair your healing. If part of your depression is related to your relationships with other people, then cutting yourself off from those relationships may interfere with your healing. Stay here.
3. There is hope. There is comfort and healing and help. Gather your energy, even if you feel like you don’t have any, and get help. Make one phone call. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Hang in there.
4. Things will get better. All the research on depression shows that people who can stick to this life feel better in time and are happy that they did not kill themselves. As painful as things are now, and as much as it seems that you may always feel so terrible, you will not. Get from one minute, hour, day, and night to the next; don’t give up. You will be glad you did; things will get better.
5. Your choice of death will bring crushing grief and anger to those who love you, and there ARE people who love you or are meant to love you in the future. Your children especially, if you have any, but everyone else in your life also, will be deeply hurt for a long time that you chose to leave them—no matter how flawed you think you may be or how miserable you are. If you have children, your suicide will make it more likely that they will someday commit suicide—in a sense, you are giving them permission to take their lives. If you are a teenager, your suicide may give your friends and acquaintances the idea that perhaps they should commit suicide, too, beginning expanding circles of grief and despair for the people who love them. Suicide is one of the most selfish acts you could commit, and no matter how miserable you are, you can choose not to do that to others.
6. You are not the horrible person you think you are and life is not the terrible place you think it is. You have an illness, like a pneumonia of the mind and spirit, and it is coloring the way you see yourself and the world and your life. You are not living in reality; reality is better, and more hopeful, than the place you are now—and you will get out of that place if you can hang in there.
7. You are a precious individual, and you are meant to touch the world and the lives of others in many important ways for a long time to come. There is a God—he is your Father in heaven, and he loves you more than you can possibly imagine and has great things in store for you. He did not cause the awful feelings you have now; he weeps with you in your sorrow. Don’t cut short the life you are meant to live; it is vitally important that you have all the experiences you are meant to have. Suicide is never one of them.
NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION LIFELINE: 1-800-273-8255