Recommendation Round-Up

In homage to The Atlantic’s excellent feature, “The Week in Pop Culture Writing,” (which includes highlights from around the internet and various print publications, and which nicely complements their own “The Atlantic’s Week in Culture” posts) and the way that Slate podcasts always conclude with the moderators’ recommendations, I’ve decided to try something similar. Not an in-depth post, but a link round-up (with block quotes) of my favorite articles I’ve read, podcasts I’ve heard, and other media I’ve consumed recently.

Here are five that I found particularly interesting in subject and style and which include topics such as: My So-Called Life and adolescence; reality television and catharsis; Georgia O’Keeffe and art legacies; a defense of cliques and gender; and race, class, and white rage.

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1.)   Megan Garber, “What I Learned from Re-Watching My So-Called Life as an Adult,” The Atlantic (July 20, 2016).

Megan Garber (whose articles I find myself anigif_enhanced-buzz-31486-1384807866-50bookmarking almost weekly) penned this lovely tribute to My So-Called Life. What I appreciate about this piece is that its prose and tone echo its subject matter in a really wonderful way. Garber also writes beautifully about the teenage experience (a state of mind that lingers deep within most of us). I, too, share this conflicting but empathetic attitude toward adolescence and young-adulthood. All of the descriptions of teenagers (and the show itself) that Garber uses are perfect and glorious together: it is profound and absurd; there is arrogance, anxiety, agony, and joy; they’re crippled by both self-consciousness and self-confidence; everyone’s confused, hopeful, and hurting; the vagaries of adolescence (and My So-Called Life) are slight and epic, simple and deep.

Angela, the show’s protagonist, is particularly prone to making observations about the world that are as profound as they are absurd… “What I, like, dread is when people who know you in completely different ways end up in the same area. You have to develop this, like, combination you—right on the spot.”… These observations tend to get both emptier and deeper when they involve Angela’s love interest, Jordan Catalano. …

To be a teenager is to be a simmering mix of arrogance and anxiety and agony and joy and crippling self-consciousness and even more crippling self-confidence; it is, often, to feel that all the beauty and hurt and knowledge the world has ever known can be summoned and captured through one look from The Person You Like. It is, even more often, to feel that anything that is not a look from The Person You Like is offensively trivial. My So-Called Life captures all that, elegantly. The show, as Wired put it in a 2015 assessment, “treated teenagers like people, not just stereotypes of people.” …

For the most part, though, My So-Called Life takes for granted a notion that is at once obvious and profound: that adults and younger people are in it together—whatever the “it” might happen to be. They’re all confused. They’re all hopeful. They’re all hurting. They’re all figuring it out as they go along. …

My So-Called Life, in that spirit, treats high school not as a place or even as a stage of life, but as a state of mind—from which one never fully escapes. …

The series’ finale—the culmination of the love triangle between Angela, Brian, and Jordan—is magical. A little bit Cyrano de Bergerac, a little bit The Notebook, it involves a letter that contains the lines “I hate this pen I’m holding because I should be holding you. I hate this paper under my hand because it isn’t you.” The letter is slight and epic and simple and deep and about endings and also about beginnings—which is to say that it is also a lot like being a teenager.


2.) Batty Ungar-Sargon, “The pleasure of their pain: Why the punishment and humiliation of reality TV contestants provides such a satisfying and deep pleasure,” Aeon (April 5, 2016). 

Screen Shot 2016-07-25 at 5.19.31 PMPhoto-Illustration: Coco Davis and Photos from Wikipedia / Pinterest / ABC

There’s a lot of great writing about reality television, and I devour it all—way more than I actually watch reality tv (this season of The Bachelorette is actually the first time in years that I’ve sought out a reality show and watched every episode). But, writings about reality tv? Hell yes!

Batty Ungar-Sargon’s piece was a well-written rumination on why audiences enjoy such cringe-worthy entertainment. Using the classic idea of catharsis as a lens, Ungar-Sargon reclaims and normalizes our viewing habits.

First, she sets up the emotional response to reality tv: the shame and the enjoyment, and ultimately connects this to catharsis.

I’ve always resisted the phrase ‘guilty pleasure’, because that misses the point. It’s not, after all, guilt that’s at stake, but rather shame. We do no wrong by consuming the storylines starring these would-be celebrities, for haven’t they themselves asked to become part of a ridiculous spectacle for our amusement? But the fact that we commit no moral offence by indulging in these franchises fails to explain the greater mystery, which is the pleasure this experience offers, a pleasure that stymies even as it delights. Over and over, I find myself asking, in the manner of an 18th-century professor of rhetoric and Belles Lettres, how could the suffering of others bring me so much joy? 

These shows do indeed traffic in suffering and humiliation. Certainly there is a veneer of plot – the pursuit of a husband, the creation of a garment, the opulent lifestyles of the rich and famous, survival on a desert island. And, no doubt, the accomplishments and loves of the characters bring us joy as spectators. And yet, the most cursory glance at any of these franchises will reveal that these weak plot-lines are a red herring, a ruse planted for no other purpose than to catalyse the humiliation of their principals… It’s precisely because of the public shaming that we indulge again and again in shows with no other real purpose than to humiliate their protagonists… The wheels of the show are greased with the public humiliation of beautiful women, and though I abhor watching people humiliated in real life, somehow, reality TV is not real enough to activate that abhorrence.

The truth is, it’s not simply a lack of abhorrence that I feel towards the humiliations of reality stars. For it is not in spite of these humiliations that we watch – and enjoy – reality TV. It’s not despite the fact that these women are humiliated again and again that we come back every week to find out whom some milquetoast bachelor, indistinguishable from the previous one, will choose. It’s not despite the hoarders’ look of horror as the cameras invade their home, revealing piles and piles of rotting food and 37 broken blenders, that we keep watching.

In fact, by shaming their characters, these shows are trafficking in a very old, very deep aesthetic pleasure. Aristotle called it ‘catharsis’.

Then Ungar-Sargon delves further into the nature of catharsis, focusing on the fact that audiences must identify with the characters in a tragedy.

Aristotle’s Poetics is the oldest work of literary criticism. In it, the Greek philosopher behind The Physics and Rhetoric outlines the principles at work in great tragedy. Crucially, the plot must be structured so that he who hears the tale will ‘thrill with horror and melt with pity at what takes place’. These emotions – pity and fear – operate like leaven in the audience’s encounter with tragic drama: as the plot unfolds, fear and pity rise and develop within the bosom of the viewer, and a magical transformation takes place. Aristotle called it ‘catharsis’ – which, depending on your interpretation, translates as purification, cleansing or clarification.

Fear and pity, the flint and steel that together ignite cathartic pleasure, require a very specific condition, namely, that the tragedy portray a man like ourselves – neither eminently good nor filled with depravity, but rather, someone whose misfortune is brought about ‘by some error or frailty’. The perfect conduit for catharsis is a character with our own foibles – someone who is otherwise a rather decent sort, but in possession of a fatal flaw that we recognise as our own.

The drama concludes when the character is publicly humiliated for that very flaw, exposing our own shameful desire and its destructive power. We watch with horror as our onstage avatar gives form to our own most shameful wishes, and is subsequently horribly punished and shamed for these desires. The fear we feel of suffering a similar fate expunges – purges– those shameful desires, leaving us with the pleasurable sensation of being conflict-free. Fully repressed, we can return safely to our fantasy of virtue, knowing that, at the very least, no one knows that we, too, are guilty of the very sins for which the character was punished. Man’s goodness is restored, and the world is returned to order. As Jonathan Lear put it in ‘Katharsis’ (1988): ‘There is consolation in realising that one has experienced the worst, there is nothing further to fear, and yet the world remains a rational, meaningful place in which a person can conduct himself with dignity.’

The final connection that Ungar-Sargon makes, and which stayed with me, is that this cathartic identification with reality contestants, particularly by educated, successful female fans and the women in the Bachelor franchise, is due also to the current environment for many women.
For me – and I would venture, for millions of women watching The Bachelor – there is a central conflict at the heart of being a woman in the 21st century. As the US cultural critic Laura Kipnis put it, many women today are straddling two incompatible desires: feminism and femininity. These two forces are ‘in a big catfight, nowhere more than within each individual female psyche’, Kipnis writes in The Female Thing: Dirt, Envy, Sex, Vulnerability (2006). Furthermore, Kipnis goes on, ‘the femininity adherents aren’t giving up their social rights, while even most diehard feminists aren’t about to surrender the advantages that can be secured through deploying femininity when possible’.
Despite all the gains of the women’s movement, and despite being thrilled that we no longer have to rely on being chosen by a man to thrive, let alone survive, there remains a dark little corner of our Bachelor-lovin’ hearts in which we still want to be chosen by a man – and chosen over other women. Despite our intellectual confidence and pedigrees, and any gains we might have made in this world by the sheer force of our minds, there is a primordial vestige within many of us that wants the competition against other women for a man to be an arena – or really the arena in which we excel. ‘For every bodily advance wrested from nature or society or men, another form of submission magically appears to take its place,’ Kipnis writes. ‘For every inch of progress, a newfangled subjugation. And now, most of them self-inflicted!’ Instead of being forced to bear children, ‘women have chained themselves to the gym’. Instead of foot-binding – ‘Manolo Blahniks, surgery optional to reshape recalcitrant feet for a better fit’. Instead of far less popular The Bachelorette – which someone finally thought to launch, perhaps as an afterthought – it is mostly, regrettably, The Bachelor.
And that is what The Bachelor is purging – modern-day female ambition as it is processed through extremely traditional gender norms; the outsized desire of a 21st-century woman, but relegated to the marriage market, make-up and stilettos, success only at the expense of other women rather than writ large. With its cheeky back-and-forth between infantilising princess-themes and sexy hot-tubs, its erasure of class and race, and its mixing up of love with a competition that no one is allowed to actually compete for, The Bachelor stages the female conflict of the 21st century as a gladiatorial struggle to the death over one man. It is those contestants who are most visibly competing who are most horrendously humiliated in the Bachelor-verse. ‘I just feel like she is the kind of girl who always gets what she wants,’ one contestant on The Bachelor always says just prior to another contestant’s humiliation. Those who want to win, those who strive, rather than passively letting love find them, those whose desire is too naked – these are the women who are most viciously targeted by the other contestants, the producers of the show and Twitter for the most abject humiliation. 
Aristotle also had another requirement for great tragedy: the Scene of Suffering, ‘a destructive or painful action, such as death on the stage, bodily agony, wounds, and the like’. Surely no modern-day equivalent exists for this like the final interview of the excised contestant of a reality-TV show, weeping in a limousine ride to nowhere.
And there it is. What a wonderful interpretation. So, do you agree? Does this sound like a reality-tv-apologist, or does it make a certain amount of sense?
Batty Ungar-Sargon has a PhD in the 18th-century novel. Her dissertation is entitled ‘Coercive Pleasures: The Force and Form of the Novel 1719-1740’. She is also a freelance writer living in Brooklyn, New York.

3.) Jennifer Lyn King, “Georgia O’Keeffe and the gender debate: Can a woman be great, or only a great woman?” Salon (July 16, 2016).

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This is the article that sent me down a Georgia O’Keeffe tailspin the past week, but there are several recent articles on her due to the fact that a retrospective of her work recently opened at the Tate Modern in London, that features more than 100 of her paintings from six decades, as well as several portraits from Alfred Stieglitz, which remain part of her artistic—and feminine—legacy.

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O’Keeffe, as you probably know, “made her mark as an American artist with paintings of oversized flowers, sun-bleached bones, and curvaceous landscapes. For a century, and possibly because of Stieglitz’s influence, her work has carried with it the interpretation of depicting female genitalia, and emphasizing sexual themes. Throughout her lifetime, O’Keeffe denied her art had anything to do with the female form.”

As the Tate Modern reminds guests with a large quote at the entrance, O’Keeffe said, “Men put me down as the best woman painter… I think I’m one of the best painters.”i

This article briefly touches on some of the tension-riddled relationship between O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz.

O’Keeffe’s story is an interesting one. Stieglitz “discovered” O’Keeffe in 1916, when she sent charcoal sketches to a friend, Anita Pollitzer, in New York City. Though O’Keeffe asked Pollitzer to dispose of them, she couldn’t, and instead took them to noted art dealer and agent, Alfred Stieglitz, to see what he thought of them. He fell in love. He exhibited the sketches in his gallery, Gallery 291, without O’Keeffe’s consent.

He convinced her to be a subject for his photography, which developed into nude portraits, and in 1919, Alfred Stieglitz exhibited photographs he took of O’Keeffe… He convinced her they would stir up a reputation, and that, the nudes did. His influence on her work continued, and for decades, Stieglitz positioned O’Keeffe’s art and her image to be overtly sexual, to raise an eyebrow and hold attention the way he wanted O’Keeffe to be received. O’Keeffe’s is a story before its time.

Barbara Buhler Lynes, an O’Keeffe scholar, the editor of O’Keeffe’s Catalogue Raisonee and a founding curator of the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum… Lynes’s book, “O’Keeffe, Stieligtz and the Critics, 1916-1929,” opens wide the facts and maps in comprehensive detail how our understanding and assessment of O’Keeffe and her work evolved during those years.

She says many of the critics of that time, commonly male, “assigned O’Keeffe the role of a brainless, malleable, unfulfilled creature that Stieglitz was exploiting in his role as ‘showman.’ He was defining her as an object, his property, and Luhna asserted that his proprietary claim was compromising the source of O’Keeffe’s creativity (her “unconsciousness”) and, possibly, her potential as an artist.” In O’Keeffe’s own words, “The men all thought they were right about everything”; “all the male artists I knew … made it very plain that as a woman I couldn’t hope to make it—I might as well stop painting.”
Stieglitz, Georgia O'Keeffe Hands and Horse Skull 1931 - via MoMAStieglitz, Georgia O’Keeffe Hands and Horse Skull (1931) – via MoMA 
Screen Shot 2016-07-26 at 5.08.57 AMStieglitz, assorted portraits (1918-1923)- via MoMA

King continues to consider the gendered reactions to her work, and the tangled web of ownership, intention, and artistic control.

In the 1920s, after Stieglitz’s first showing of his photographs of O’Keeffe, he exhibited her work at his gallery. Her work was received in light of the photographs he took of her and the “femme fatale” image he created. Lynes says, “Several months after the show O’Keeffe was still fuming about the way her work had been interpreted.” Her artistic talent and paintings were defined as “documents of her sexual feelings,” as women were commonly believed to be inferior in their thinking compared to the more concrete thoughts of men. As Lynes says, “The critics had been unwilling to change their hidebound ways and sought the meaning of O’Keeffe’s art in theories, both psychoanalytical and art historical.”
In light of their responses, it is remarkable that O’Keeffe did not stop painting. Perhaps she went on to paint the subjects she did want to paint. O’Keeffe objected repeatedly to the notion that her work intended to convey female things only: feelings, emotions and sexually-charged genitalia, as Stieglitz’s camps contended for years. Instead she said, on why she paints what she does, “I want to paint in terms of my own thinking, and feeling the facts and things which men know.”
“I have painted what each flower is to me and I have painted it big enough so that others would see what I see.” O’Keeffe stated, “I make them just to express myself—Things I feel and want to say—haven’t words for.”
It is possible that O’Keeffe was not controlled by the critics, but the fact is they affected her and her work. Male critics continued to rally around Stieglitz’s subjugation of O’Keeffe, and, what seems archaic now in Western culture, suggested that “the realization of her creative potential was dependent upon sexual union” with Stieglitz.

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Ultimately, though we can’t separate O’Keeffe from Stieglitz, it seems clear that we can still consider O’Keeffe on her own merits, listening to her own words, viewing her own paintings, separate from any man.

… She became bold, authentic, purposeful. She had something to say and forged her brand — she rose to the challenge Stieglitz posed. He did not make her nothing, less than him. Instead, the opposite happened — she became something, her work more iconic than his, despite him. She found her own voice and learned to use it. Yes, she was a woman, but that didn’t make her any less an artist than the men.

O’Keeffe perhaps didn’t need Stieglitz to achieve her artistic prime. Maybe she would’ve found herself in New Mexico fueled by Nature and its rugged beauty faster without him. Whether or not the world would’ve embraced a woman and her art without his controversial influence is another question. Today, would we say Georgia O’Keeffe is a great woman artist, or a great artist?

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If that article isn’t enough to satisfy you, check out these others:

  • Visit the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum website for background, a video of her home, and online collections.
  • Rachel Kramer Bussel, “Beyond ‘The Eternal Feminine’: Novelist Dawn Tripp Reimagines the Life and Work of Georgia O’Keeffe,” Salon (March 28, 2016).
  • Anna Russell, “Icons: The Real Meaning of Georgia O’Keeffe’s Flowers,” WSJ (July 1, 2016).
  • Charlotte Cowles, “Exclusive: Georgia O’Keeffe’s Younger Man,” Harpers Bazaar (February 24, 2016).
  • Jerry Saltz, “Out of the Erotic Ghetto,” New York Magazine (September 20, 2009).
  • Susan Stamberg, “Stieglitz and O’Keeffe: Their Love and Life in Letters,” NPR (July 21, 2011).

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4.) Alana Massey, “The Clique Imaginary,” The New Inquiry (May 26, 2016).

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Where does strong female friendship end and cliques begin? Massey’s article takes up the gauntlet of defending the near-universally derided concept of cliques, particularly female cliques.

…This asymmetry of concern is at the core of how cliques are commonly understood, as inherently vicious and exclusionary. Cliques are the scapegoats for all behaviors perceived as negative by those outside of it…

While social scientists, according to the Encyclopedia of Educational Psychology, use clique to describe “a grouping of persons who interact with each other more regularly and intensely than others in the same setting,” laypeople tend to use it to describe a “social grouping of persons that exhibits a great deal of peer pressure on its members and is exclusive, based on superficial differences.”
I contend that the latter definition does not take into account the gendered nature of our social distaste for cliques… Though the most common stories of sadistic hazing rituals on high school campuses feature young men’s sports teams, it is young women’s lunch tables that bear the brunt of most critiques of traumatizing adolescent social behaviors. In the public imaginary, cliques are almost universally characterized as not only female but as hyper-feminine, and they are held to demonstrate the absolute worst that young women have to offer: cattiness, exclusivity, cruelty, and ruthless social ambition.
Massey focuses on cliques in popular culture, and I liked that she included the girls from Now and Then into her considerations. They definitely muddy the waters.
Whether or not a pop-culture representation of a female friend group will be categorized as a clique hinges largely on whether viewers believe they would be accepted into the group. Few would question that Mean Girls’s Plastics are a clique; their exclusivity is explicitly stated, their group’s rules, rigid and exaggerated. The Heathers of Heathers are notable for how their group assimilates individual members to the point where their given name is obviated: Winona Rider’s Veronica is grouped in as a Heather. But what of the four preteen girls in Now and Then? They are ultra-reliant on one another for validation of their changing adolescent moods, and they appear to have no social world outside of their quartet. Cher and Dionne of Clueless are viewed as a classic cinematic example of enduring best-friendship rather than as a clique, despite Cher’s explicit statement in the opening sequence that their friendship is based on their both knowing what it is like to be envied. They accept Tai Fraser into their circle not as a friend but as a “project.” Yet audiences continue to look fondly on this pairing because we are more privy to their interior lives. They are misguided but lovable and loving, and they demonstrate these qualities from within their own small circle.
When cliques are derided, it is usually under the noble banner of uplifting and valuing nonmembers. But this attitude is based on troubling doublethink: it champions the outsider as inherently worthy of belonging to the clique while condemning the very existence of the same clique… The implication of our suspicions of cliques is that the only reason anyone has a close circle of friends is to experience the joy of excluding others, not the support of strong bonds.
Much of the academic literature about adolescent cliques views them as something closer to intentional communities, with stated missions and values, than elitist in-groups. “Positively oriented cliques, based on values of caring, empathy and respect for others provide learning experiences that augment those opportunities available in the family unit during adolescence,” writes Bette J. Freedson, LCSW, on social worker resource site Help Starts Here. But because cliques consist of members who only interact frequently and intimately with fellow members—as both the social science and lay definitions suggest—it should not be surprising that some outsiders can’t perceive that a clique’s values are “positively oriented.”… Navigating one’s own clique dynamics is challenging enough, to demand that the clique members be responsible for the negative emotions of outsiders is beyond an undue burden.
Massey concludes with the following, which focuses on adult women and the lingering stigma of groups of friends.
“Clique-y” is the pejorative used to describe young women in a friend group that is perceived to be exclusionary. But this dismissal dehumanizes them and disregards their personal reasons for maintaining a tight-knit circle of friends. The suspicion aimed at cliques targets female intimacy, particularly when it shared between women with social capital. My friend and fellow writer Rachel Syme once noted, “Two powerful men being friends is an inevitability. Two powerful women being friends is a conspiracy.”
Women who orient their social lives around a select group are held in distrust, as if women’s duty is to cast their friendship nets widely and superficially…Instead these women are reduced to “mean girls,” their interior lives and their intentions made into unflattering speculative fiction because they would not perform the emotional labor of actively expanding their social circle.
Maintaining a small group of friends is about quality control of the friendships themselves, not quality control of the group’s members. A woman entrusted with any modicum of power and capital faces enough suspicion in her professional and personal lives to make the scrutiny of her friendship choices far more cruel than any imagined slights against those outside her circle. Her approval and her confidence are seductive prospects, but they are only entitlements in the most hollow politics of solidarity. Frankly, it isn’t her job to think of you, much less be your friend.

So what do you think? Is the idea that “it isn’t her job to think of you, much less be your friend” a self-centered view or a realistic and healthy interpretation?

Check out Alana Massey’s other writings here.

5.)   Hua Hsu, “White Plight? In working-class America, an élite-resenting identity politics has emerged in which whiteness spells dispossession,” The New Yorker (July 25, 2016).

Hsu’s article was one of several pieces about race and class I’ve read recently, many of which were tremendous, but this article stood out to me because of its interesting lead and overview of a few other scholarly works, which I always appreciate—more bang for the buck and all that.

Hsu begins by describing the curious aftermath of a famous photo taken of 15-year-old Elizabeth Eckford walking into then newly desegregated Little Rock Central High School with an irate teenage girl, Hazel Bryan, heckling her in the background. The two connected forty years later in 1997 and realized they had a lot in common. They struck up an unusual friendship and were lauded for it in the press.

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That’d be a nice way to end the story, but history doesn’t just end. Hsu explains why this story is relevant today:

Over time, however, Eckford grew tired of life as a symbol. She had misgivings about the “reconciliation” concept: after all, she had just been trying to go to school. By the time the journalist David Margolick sat down with the two women in 1999, Eckford had begun to withdraw from the friendship, wondering if it hadn’t merely been a one-sided exercise in unburdening. Bryan, for her part, thought that their friendship had been undone by Eckford’s unwillingness to move on from the past. It was a reminder that we don’t all experience history the same way.

This lack of resolution and the disparate experiences can likewise be connected to politics today.

There was, in Obama’s manner of carrying himself, something that upended traditional status relations. An early sign of this came while Obama was on the campaign trail. At a meeting with wealthy Democratic donors, he described the plight of the white working class in Midwestern small towns, where “the jobs have been gone now for twenty-five years and nothing’s replaced them,” and remarked, “It’s not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.” This certainly wasn’t the first time an authority figure had spoken patronizingly of the white working class. But now the authority figure was black, and had spoken with the confidence that the future belonged to people like him… Whiteness, among those with a title to it, is invoked only in a dance of disavowal.

Away from these predominantly liberal arenas, however, white identity has found a more potent form of salience. For poor and working-class whites, skin color no longer feels like an implicit guarantor of privilege. There is a sense that others, thanks to affirmative action or lax immigration policies, have nudged ahead of them on the ladder of social ascent. Their whiteness is, in fact, the very reason they suspect that they are under siege. Marginalized by a black President, as they imagine, and alienated by urbane élites of every hue, they have begun to understand themselves in terms of identity politics. It almost doesn’t matter whether their suspicions are true in a strictly material sense. The accident of white skin still brings with it economic and social advantages, but resentment is a powerful engine, particularly when the view from below feels unprecedented.

Hsu cites both Nancy Isenberg’s recent book White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America (2016) and Carol Anderson’s White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide (2016).

And today? There is certainly a kind of everyday snobbery toward what Isenberg calls “white trash” which has become routine and reflexive, a condescension that, for example, makes poor-white subcultures on reality television seem so exotic and fascinating. But does the fact that whiteness is no longer an unequivocal badge of privilege have any consequences for the systemic persistence of black disadvantage? These days, when we speak of white supremacy we are talking about more than hooded thugs terrorizing black America. It has become a rhetorical gesture used to link a universally deplored past with the structural advantages that white people continue to enjoy to this day, regardless of whether they harbor any feelings of racial animosity.

One of the ways in which white supremacy has sustained itself is by staying in the shadows and normalizing this structure of domination. Skepticism often awaits those who merely attempt to point out its existence, let alone to imagine solutions, such as when Rudolph Giuliani recently portrayed the Black Lives Matter movement as “inherently racist.” As the scholar Carol Anderson argues in “White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide,” one result of this has been our tendency to characterize moments of racial crisis as expressions of solely black anger. Her book grew out of an op-ed she wrote for the Washington Post, in response to the events in Ferguson. The issue, she argued, was not just “black rage.” What we were seeing was the direct consequence of “white rage,” a rage that surfaced time and again in the face of black progress, eager to roll back those gains. “With so much attention focused on the flames, everyone had ignored the logs, the kindling,” she writes.

Hua Hsu is a contributing writer for and The New Yorker. He has previously written for Artforum, The Atlantic, Grantland, Slate, and The Wire. He is currently an associate professor of English at Vassar College and a fellow at the New America Foundation. Screen Shot 2016-07-22 at 2.05.39 AM

Hope you enjoy some of what I’ve enjoyed recently!

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