Toni Morrison Deconstructs White Supremacy in America

Toni Morrison wrote against forgetting, against the institutionalization of denial necessary for maintaining racial hierarchies in the United States. But that denial is not sufficient, she also showed. Racism always falls back on brutality when confronted with change, no matter that the past will not return except to haunt us. This reality has driven a significant percentage of Americans (back) into the arms of white supremacist ideology, espoused equally by politicians and armed “loners” in networks on Facebook or YouTube or 8chan.

In a short essay for The New Yorker after the 2016 election, Morrison displayed little surprise at the turn of events. The language of white supremacy, she wrote, is a language of cowardice disguised as dominance. “These people are not so much angry as terrified, with the kind of terror that makes knees tremble.” A fear so great, it has brought back public lynching, with high-capacity semiautomatic weapons.

What did Morrison think of the idea that racist mass shootings are the acts of random mentally ill people? She did not offer a medical opinion, nor presume to diagnose particular individuals. She did say that racism is seriously disordered thinking, and she suggested that if racist killers are “crazy,” so are the millions who tacitly approve and support racist violence, or who spur it on by repeating rhetoric that dehumanizes people.

In the clip above from a 2012 interview with Charlie Rose, Morrison says “those who practice racism are bereft. There is something distorted about the psyche…. It’s like it’s a profound neurosis that nobody examines for what it is. It feels crazy, it is crazy.” Some may reasonably take issue with this as stigmatizing, but it seems she is neither scapegoating the mentally ill, nor absolving racists of responsibility.

Morrison points out that despite (and because of) its lofty delusions, white supremacy makes things worse for everyone, white people very much included. It succeeds because the belief in “whiteness” as a category of specialness covers up deep-seated insecurity and doubt. “What are you without racism?” she asks. “Are you any good? Are you still strong? Are you still smart? Do you still like yourself?”

In her masterful way, Morrison showed us how to have empathy for people in the grip of hatred and fear without diluting the consequences of their actions. She pitied racists but never gave an inch to racism. Tragically, her 2016 essay, “Mourning for Whiteness,” is making the rounds for reasons other than in tribute to its author, one of the country's greatest writers and one of its most unflinchingly candid.

In the days before her death yesterday at age 88, Americans were once again, “training their guns on the unarmed, the innocent, the scared, on subjects who are running away, exposing their unthreatening backs to bullets." Morrison dares us to look away from this:

In order to limit the possibility of this untenable change, and restore whiteness to its former status as a marker of national identity, a number of white Americans are sacrificing themselves. They have begun to do things they clearly don’t really want to be doing, and, to do so, they are (1) abandoning their sense of human dignity and (2) risking the appearance of cowardice. Much as they may hate their behavior, and know full well how craven it is, they are willing to kill small children attending Sunday school and slaughter churchgoers who invite a white boy to pray. 

Ending with a reference to William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!, she summed up the state of the nation in one deft sentence: “Rather than lose its ‘whiteness’ (once again), the family chooses murder.”

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness.

An Illustrated Version of The Mueller Report: Read Online an Edition Created by the Author of Black Hawk Down and an Illustrator from Archer

The 448 page Mueller Report doesn't make for breezy beach reading. That's for sure. But, "buried within the Mueller report, there is a narrative that reads in parts like a thriller." Working with that theory, Insider.com "hired Mark Bowden, a journalist and author known for his brilliant works of narrative nonfiction like Black Hawk Down, Killing Pablo, and Hue 1968." And they gave him an assignment: "Use the interviews and facts laid out in the Mueller Report (plus those from reliable, fact-checked sources and published firsthand accounts)" and create an account that's "so gripping it will hold your attention (and maybe your congressional representative's)." They also hired "Chad Hurd, an illustrator from the art department of Archer," and "asked him to draw out scenes from the report to bring them to life." Find the resulting illustrated edition of The Mueller Report right here.

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The Mueller Report Released as a Free Well-Formatted eBook (by The Digital Public Library of America)

Watch a Star-Studded Cast Read The Mueller Report: John Lithgow, Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, Annette Bening & More

Watch a Star-Studded Cast Read The Mueller Report: John Lithgow, Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, Annette Bening & More

Laughter is good medicine, but I've found little genuine humor in satire of the 2016 election and subsequent events. Political reality defies parody. So, I guess I wasn’t particularly amused by the idea of a comic staging of the Mueller Report. But aside from whether or not the report has comic potential, the exercise raises a more serious question: Should ordinary citizens read the report?

Given the snowjob summary offered by the Attorney General—and certain press outfits who repeated claims that it exonerated the president—probably. Especially (good luck) if they can score an unredacted copy. Yet, this raises yet another question: Does anyone actually want to read it? The answer appears to be a resounding yes. Even though it's free, the [redacted] report is a bestseller.




And yet, “the published version is as dry as a [redacted] saltine,” writes James Poniewozik at The New York Times. “Robert Mueller himself has the stoic G-man bearing of someone who would laugh by writing ‘ha ha’ on a memo pad.” (Now that’s a funny image.) One wonders how many people dutifully downloading it have stayed up late by the light of their tablets compelled to read it all.

But of course, one does not approach any government document with the hopes of being entertained, though unintentional hilarity can leap from the page at any time. How should we approach The Investigation: A Search for the Truth in 10 Acts? Scripted by Pulitzer Prize-winning  playwright Robert Schenkkan from the Mueller Report’s transcripts, the production is “part old-time public recitation,” writes Poneiwozik, and “part Hollywood table read.”

The staging above at New York’s Riverside Church was hosted by Law Works and performed live by a cast including Annette Bening, Kevin Kline, John Lithgow (as “Individual 1” himself), Michael Shannon, Justin Long, Jason Alexander, Wilson Cruz, Joel Gray, Kyra Sedgwick, Alfre Woodard, Zachary Quinto, Mark Ruffalo, Bob Balaban, Alyssa Milano, Sigourney Weaver, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Mark Hamill, and more. Bill Moyers serves as emcee.

Can this darkly comic production deliver some comic balm for having lived through the sordid reality of the events in question? It has its moments. Can it offer us something resembling truth? You be the judge. Or you be the producer, director, actor, etcetera. If you find value—civic, entertainment, or otherwise—in the exercise, Schenkkan encourages you to put on your own version of The Investigation. “Your production can be as modest or extravagant as you like,” he writes at Law Works, followed by a list of further instructions for a possible staging.

If, like maybe millions of other people, you’ve got an unread copy of the Mueller Report on your nightstand, maybe watching—or performing—The Investigation is the best way to get yourself to finally read it. Or the most grimly humorous, moronic, pathetic, and surreal parts of it, anyway.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Mueller Report Released as a Free Well-Formatted eBook (by The Digital Public Library of America)

Boing Boing writes: "Back in April, Andrew Albanese from Publishers Weekly wrote a column deploring the abysmal formatting in the DoJ's release of the Mueller Report, and publicly requesting that the Digital Public Library of America produce well-formatted ebook editions, which they have now done!"

The Digital Public Library of America adds:

The Report On The Investigation Into Russian Interference In The 2016 Presidential Election, or the Mueller Report, is now freely available in ebook format to read on your phone or tablet from DPLA’s website and the Open Bookshelf collection. The Mueller report was released to the public by the Department of Justice as a PDF last month, initially in a format that was not text-searchable. By making the report available as an ebook in our Open Bookshelf collection, anyone can download and read it for free, all in the SimplyE app - no library card or sign in required.

One of the primary objectives of DPLA’s ebooks work is to make the best openly-licensed e-content available to libraries and their patrons. For libraries offering New York Public Library’s SimplyE app, the Mueller Report can be easily integrated into the ebook offerings made available to their patrons. SimplyE and Open Bookshelf are freely available to anyone with an iOS or Android device.

Read the Mueller Report today

Download on the web: Visit https://muellerreport.dp.la, download it in one click, and read it with your computer’s e-reader like iBooks.

Read in SimplyE on your phone or tablet:

  1. Download the SimplyE app to your iOS or Android device.

  2. Use the library selector icon in the upper left corner, select Manage Accounts, then Add Library, and select Digital Public Library of America.

  3. Find the Mueller Report in the top row.

To learn more about Open Bookshelf and other DPLA ebooks offerings, visit https://ebooks.dp.la. DPLA’s Ebook work and the production of the Mueller Report ebook is supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

You can also download The Mueller Report in an epub version here.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

Also consider following Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and sharing intelligent media with your friends. Or sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

via Boing Boing

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Banksy Strikes Again in Venice

Juxtapoz writes: "Never invited to be the part of Venice Biennale, Banksy once again invited himself to showcase his work. Using a typical pop-up stand that usually sells tacky paintings and souvenirs, he assembled a selection of 9 works that collectively built an image of a massive cruise ship blocking the city."

In recent years, the flood of massive cruise ships into Venice has created tensions between Venetians and tourism companies. It's pretty clear on what side the street artist comes down.

Get more at Juxtapoz.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

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The Mueller Report Is #1, #2 and #3 on the Amazon Bestseller List: You Can Get It Free Online

Peruse the Amazon bestselling book list and you'll find that the long-awaited Mueller Report is not just the #1 bestseller. It's also the #2 bestseller and the #3 bestseller. Collusion and obstruction--it's the stuff that makes for good book sales, it appears.

You can pre-order the Mueller Report in book, ebook and even audio book formats via the links above. But if you want to download the report for free, and start reading it asap, simply head to the Washington Post and New York Times. Or go straight to the source at the Justice Department web site. Politico has a searchable PDF version here.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

Also consider following Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and sharing intelligent media with your friends. Or sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

A Virtual Time-Lapse Recreation of the Building of Notre Dame (1160)

Hundreds of gothic cathedrals dotted all over Europe have faced decimation and destruction, whether through sackings, revolutions, natural decay, or bombing raids. But since World War II, at least, the most extraordinary examples that remain have seen restoration and constant upkeep, and none of them is as well-known and as culturally and architecturally significant as Paris’s Notre Dame. One cannot imagine the city without it, which made the scenes of Parisians watching the cathedral burn yesterday as poignant as the scenes of the fire itself.

The flames claimed the rib-vaulted roof and the “spine-tingling, soul-lifting spire,” writes The Washington Post, who quote cathedral spokeman Andre Finot’s assessment of the damage as “colossal.” The exterior stone towers, famed stained-glass windows, and iconic arches and flying buttresses withstood the disaster, but the wooden interior, “a marvel,” writes the Post, “that has inspired awe and wonder for the millions who have visited over the centuries—has been gutted.” Nothing of the frame, says Finot, “will remain."




The sad irony is that the fire reportedly resulted from an accident during the medieval church’s renovation, one of many such projects that have preserved this almost 900-year-old architecture. The French government has vowed to rebuild. Will it matter to posterity that a significant portion of the Cathedral dates from hundreds of years after its original construction? Will Notre Dame lose its ancient aura, and what does this mean for Parisians and the world?

It’s too soon to answer questions like these and too soon to ask them. Now is a time to reckon with cultural and historical loss, and to appreciate the importance of what was saved. At the top of the post, you can watch a virtual time-lapse recreation of the construction of Notre Dame, begun in 1160 and mostly completed one hundred years later, though building continued into the 14th century—a jaw-dropping time scale in an era when towering new buildings go up in a matter of weeks.

After taking more than the human lifespan to complete, until yesterday the cathedral stood the test of time, as the brief France in Focus tour of its eight centuries of art and architectural history above explains. “The most visited monument in the French Capital” may be a relic of a very different, pre-modern, pre-revolutionary, France. But its imposing central setting in the city, and in modern works from Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame to Walt Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame—not to mention the tourists, religious pilgrims, scholars, and art students who pour into Paris to see it—mark Notre Dame as a very contemporary landmark. Learn more about how it became so above.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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