#253: An American Founder
John Lewis died this week. He’s an inspiration to me not only because of his courage but also because of his clarity of purpose. “Freedom is not a state; it is an act,” he said. “It is not some enchanted garden perched high on a distant plateau where we can finally sit down and rest. Freedom is the continuous action we all must take.” Most of all, I’m moved by his unwavering hopefulness and his pride in young Black Lives Matter protesters, who he said “are going to help redeem the soul of America.” This week’s lead article is a tribute to Mr. Lewis. Please read it if you can.
The other three pieces in today’s issue — about how America can heal from its racism, whether antiracism trainings are effective, and whether the left’s cancel culture prevents open discourse — are also thought provoking and worth your time. Go ahead: Read (or listen to!) one or more of them, and then share with me your thoughts.
+ Loyal reader Telannia and I want to invite you to a discussion of “What Is Owed,” by Nikole Hannah-Jones, next Thursday, July 30, 5-6 pm PT. If you’re interested, hit reply, let me know you’re in, and I’ll give you more details, including the Zoom link and how to prepare. Telannia and I are looking forward to seeing you there for a thoughtful discussion of American history and the role of reparations to achieve true justice and equality.
John Lewis Was An American Founder
Many of us think of John Lewis and C. T. Vivian and other civil rights leaders as champions for justice and equality for oppressed and marginalized Americans. But writer Adam Serwer makes things plain: Without Mr. Lewis and his peers, the United States would still be a white republic, designed by law and violence to disenfranchise and subjugate Black people.
In this way, Mr. Serwer writes, we should consider Mr. Lewis and Mr. Vivian as founders of the Third American Republic, the first true attempt to apply the promises of the Declaration of Independence in order to build an interracial democracy.
Mr. Lewis’s words at the March on Washington ring true now as they did back in 1963. “We do not want our freedom gradually, but we want to be free now! We are tired. We are tired of being beaten by policemen. We are tired of seeing our people locked up in jail over and over again. And then you holler, ‘Be patient.’ How long can we be patient? We want our freedom and we want it now.” (8 min)
How American Can Heal: Bryan Stevenson on The Ezra Klein Show
In case you’re a new subscriber, yes, I’m a huge fan of Bryan Stevenson, and yes, Just Mercy should be required reading (and viewing) for all Americans. In this interview, Mr. Stevenson argues that the only way we as Americans can cleanse ourselves of the legacy of slavery is to tell the complete truth and to engage in deep reconciliation. Part of that process, he says, is to dismantle dishonorable monuments and to defund the police. (81 min)
+ If you listen to the whole piece, please reply and let me know which part you found most inspiring.
In case you haven’t seen this video, here’s John Lewis emotionally accepting the 2016 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. Reading may not be a direct line to justice, but it’s certainly part of the path. (2 min)
Does Antiracism Training Work?
Now that every white person has read Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility and attended Glenn Singleton’s Courageous Conversation training, racism is on a precipitous decline, right? Not according to Harvard sociologist Frank Dobbin, who argues that antiracist workshops can backfire, activating stereotypes, re-traumatizing people of color, and doing little to advance equity. One reason for their failure, according to Mr. Singleton: They’re not aggressive enough. (38 min)
+ For a nuanced critique of Ms. DiAngelo’s work, read “The Limits Of White Fragility,” by Lauren Michele Jackson, featured in Issue #209.
Cancel Culture And The Willful Blindness of Reactionary Liberalism
I grew up believing in free speech, the marketplace of ideas, and the promise of liberalism. But the recent complaints about cancel culture do not adequately acknowledge that current notions of open debate do not allow all voices to participate equally. In this well-written article, Osita Nwanevu makes the case that conservatives who call progressives illiberal may not appreciate the associative freedom of groups to unite to promote individual rights. Or maybe it’s just that they don’t want to face the consequences of their speech. (23 min)
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