Sweet Land of Liberty

If you’re holding on to the belief that we currently live in a post-racial America, you should stop reading this post.

Still with me? Good.

I love a book that teaches me something new, and Sweet Land of Liberty: The Forgotten Struggle for Civil Rights in the North (Thomas J. Sugrue) did just that. The concept of ‘hate strikes’—moments where, due to racial desegregation, white workers walked off the job en masse—for example. I also like to learn that academics have coined terms for things that I’ve experienced, but never had a name for—‘spatial mismatch,’ for the phenomenon of jobs being created in suburbs that are isolated from public transit, and therefore difficult for inner-city residents to attain.

Sugrue has written a sweeping history of the struggle against pervasive discrimination in northern cities and suburbs. An understudied topic in American history, to be sure—most histories of the civil rights movement focus on the struggle for African American freedom in the South, and most of us can remember images of the non-violent activism of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his many allies, white and black. I found it fascinating to read about equally-compelling efforts in the North, especially the campaigns for jobs (“Don’t Shop Where You Can’t Work”) and housing.

It’s also interesting to read, in the final chapters, his analysis of why whitefolks in the US have such different perspectives on things like affirmative action and welfare reform than African Americans do, even though progress has been made. Hint–the continued prevalence of white-only, or mostly-white suburbs and schools, and the correlating lack of understanding of the devastation of federal disinvestment from our central cities has something to do with it.


July 25, 2010. books, books for grown-ups. Leave a comment.

somebody call Mark Burnett, stat!

I’ve been reading Roy Blount Jr.’s Long Time Leaving: Dispatches from Up South for the past couple of days. If you haven’t read Blount, I strongly suggest it—he has a sharp wit, combined with the ability to tell a long, rambling and sometimes wacky story to a satisfying conclusion.

I was lying in bed this morning reading it, when the Bee climbed in next to me for some cuddles. She asked me what I was reading, and I explained that it was a collection of essays and then went back to my reading. After about a minute, she said, “that is so true!”

Blount starts an essay about the Atlanta Olympics with the sentiment: “Religious argument ought to be an Olympic event, at least the way it’s practiced in the Five Points area of Atlanta.”

She was reading over my shoulder (note to self: must pick morning reading material with care), and read that sentence, and then composed a twenty-minute riff about how a game show (Arguing with the Stars, I think she called it) where every week, groups of believers in various faiths would have to get together and argue with each other and with atheists about their beliefs in answer to questions posed to them by some kind of celebrity. The questions would range from things like, “what happens after you die?” to “what kind of diet restrictions do you have?”. The celebrities would change from week to week.

I was laughing the whole time, imagining the possibilities of celebrity/faith combinations. Hasids and Fergie from the Black-Eyed Peas! Sunnis and Kim Kardashian! Buddhists and Donald Trump!

Oh, the sacrilege of it all…

December 13, 2009. books, family life. 3 comments.