#324: The Best Articles Of 2021 🏆🏆
Here it is, loyal readers – the last issue of the year. I’m trying to figure out where the whole year went. (If you know the answer, please let me know!)
Thanks to your unwavering support, The Highlighter has come out every week, offering you 200 thought-provoking articles and podcast episodes on race, education, and culture. I’ve tried to share with you only the best pieces, from a variety of publications, that will nourish your mind and heart.
Your time is valuable. That’s why I’m so appreciative that you come back Thursday after Thursday. Whether you’re a new subscriber, or you’ve subscribed since the beginning, I am very grateful.
Now it’s time to reveal the four best articles of the year! Are you sufficiently ready for fanfare? Or do you already know all the winners and want to keep mum, smug with your keen ability to get inside my article-judging mind?
I’m really pleased with this year’s winners. The selection process was rigorous. After scanning all 200 pieces, I chose 13 semifinalists, reread them all, and then winnowed the list down to the best of the best. They’re outstanding, and I hope you enjoy (re)reading them. If you’re moved, I’d love to hear which one is your favorite.
A happy break and holiday to you. See you in the new year! And one more time: Thank you for your readership.
Mitchell S. Jackson: “Ahmaud Marquez Arbery was more than a viral video. He was more than a hashtag or a name on a list of tragic victims. He was more than an article or an essay or posthumous profile. He was more than a headline or an op-ed or a news package or the news cycle. He was more than a retweet or shared post. He, doubtless, was more than our likes or emoji tears or hearts or praying hands. He was more than an R.I.P. t-shirt or placard. He was more than an autopsy or a transcript or a police report or a live-streamed hearing. He, for damn sure, was more than the latest reason for your liberal white friend’s ephemeral outrage. He was more than a rally or a march. He was more than a symbol, more than a movement, more than a cause. He. Was. Loved.“ (26 min)
+ This article won the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for feature writing, “for a deeply affecting account of the killing of Ahmaud Arbery that combined vivid writing, thorough reporting, and personal experience to shed light on systemic racism in America.”
A native of Mississippi, Jeff Andrews had lived in Drew for most of his life when he jumped at a chance to buy a home in town with a beautiful view of the bayou. Next to the house stands the barn where 14-year-old Emmett Till was tortured and killed the morning of August 28, 1955. “We don’t think about it,” Mr. Andrews said. “It’s in the past.”
But Emmett’s murder is not in the past for Wheeler Parker, his cousin and the last living witness to the kidnapping. It’s not in the past for Patrick Weems, who wants to include the barn in a memorial to honor Emmett’s memory. And it wasn’t in the past for Willie Reed, who was 18 years old and on his way to work when he heard Emmett’s cries and later risked his life by testifying in the trial.
In this intimate article, Wright Thompson, who also grew up in Mississippi, follows those efforts to commemorate Emmett. But he also uncovers how white people in Drew, over the past 65 years, have dissociated themselves from the lynching. First they distanced themselves from the killers. Next they didn’t teach the event in their schools. Then they destroyed the evidence of the crime. “One of the central conflicts for white Mississippians,” Mr. Thompson writes, “is whether to shine a bright light on the past or move on.” But how to shine a bright light? How to move on? (34 min)
+ John Lewis said, “Emmett Till was my George Floyd. He was my Rayshard Brooks, Sandra Bland, and Breonna Taylor. He was 14 when he was killed, and I was only 15 years old at the time. I will never ever forget the moment when it became so clear that he could easily have been me.”
Bobby McIlvaine was 26 years old when he died on September 11, 2001. He had a mom and a dad, a brother, and a girlfriend he loved deeply. He kept a diary and wrote drafts of novels on yellow legal pads. He was a dreamer, a charmer – ambitious but moody, ruminative and philosophical.
In this tender story, brilliantly told, Jennifer Senior captures the different ways that Bobby’s loved ones have mourned and made sense of his death. As we know about grief, each person has made their own path. “We are always inventing and reinventing the dead,” Ms. Senior writes. But at some point, she adds, “The dead abandon you; then, with the passage of time, you abandon the dead.” (58 min)
Lissa Yellow Bird wants to become a foster parent. But the county social services department in North Dakota isn’t so sure. So they send a questionnaire to journalist Sierra Crane Murdoch, asking for her thoughts.
In this touching, beautifully written essay, Ms. Murdoch reflects on what it means to be a good mother in the shadow of colonization. She traces how the United States government decimated American Indian motherhood by separating families, forcing children to attend boarding schools, and sterilizing women – all the way until the mid-1970s.
Ms. Murdoch writes, “Mothering was the only conceivable role in society for a Native woman, and yet motherhood was at odds with indigeneity. To become a citizen, a woman had to become a mother; to become a mother, she had to become less Indian.”
She also writes, “In the Yellow Bird family, the antidote to intergenerational trauma is intergenerational love, the piling on of relatives. When a mother falls short, the solution is not to take the child away from the mother, but to give the child more mothers and fathers.” (27 min)
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