Just Us in 2021

I finished Claudia Rankine’s Just Us: An American Conversation yesterday (coincidentally on Martin Luther King Day). Just Us is once again a fascinating mix of poetry, art, criticism and (personal) essay on the current state of race and racism in the United States. The title is (probably) adapted from a Richard Pryor quote Rankine also uses as an epigraph: “You go down there looking for justice, that’s what you find, just us.”

Even more so than Citizen, Just Us is interested in conversations between Rankine and white people, and attempts to get closer to an understanding of whiteness (and its implications for BIPOC) in the USA in 2020. Rankine talks with white men in airports about white privilege, asks Black women and white women about the benefits of blonde hair, and investigates the liminal spaces these kinds of conversations create. 

These conversations are sometimes uncomfortable, mostly challenging and always crucial for white readers like me. The book, but particularly the last passage, will guide me through 2021, from the beginning of the Biden administration to the German federal elections: 

“The murkiness as we exist alongside each other calls us forward. I  don’t want to forget that I am here; at any given moment we are, each of us, next to any other capable of both the best and the worst our democracy has to offer.”

The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio

“So I just think about all the children who have been separated from their parents, and there’s a lot of us, past and present, and some under more traumatic circumstances than other – like those who are in internment camps right now – and I just imagine us as an army of mutants. We’ve been touched by this monster, and our brains are forever changed, and we all have trees without branches in there, and what will happen to us? Who will we become? Who will take care of us?”

The Undocumented Americans is a tremendous book, maybe the most important book of the year. The best part about the book is hat it’s not for white liberals like me, but for other members of her community.

Cornejo Villavicencio created a great, impactful blend of memoir and reporting, productively angry in a way that reminded me of Audre Lorde. This combination enables her to write so clearly about the systematic trauma and PTSD of the undocumented experience, the impact it has on kids and adults, on families. She makes it so obvious that the problem is so much bigger than Trump, more systemic. These issues depicted in this book will not magically disappear when Biden and Harris are elected, but their victory might set the country’s car back on its wheels, and writers and activists like Cornejo Villavicencio might be able to then influence the administration, and the US might inch forward instead of racing further back.

If you’re still reading this and are a US citizen, I sincerely hope you already cast your ballot. If not, what are you waiting for? It’s almost too late.

Until now, the Republican Party has mainly drawn its leadership from the secular right. The Christian right has been a powerful presence during the past few decades, but mainly at the local and state level. And it has distanced itself from the xenophobic right, at least publicly. Trump is changing all of that.

Understanding Trumpism by Arlene Stein

You cannot pledge allegiance to a nation state and its flag in the name of God, for God has no political boundary. God is love, period. God is universal, nameless, faceless, and with no allegiance to anything other than love. A “Christian Nation” is absolutely heretical. Christ did not come into this world to become a modifier.

Sufjan Stevens. 

Not sure if I agree with his entire statement, but this part comes close to my own beliefs and thoughts. “Christ did not come into this world to become a modifier.” is a great line against the so-called Christian right, particularly in the contemporary United States, when lip service sometimes seems more important than service. 

Need to think about this some more.

Why, then, does anyone consider him a “populist”? It’s basically all about affect, about coming across as someone who’ll stand up to snooty liberal elitists (and of course validate salt-of-the-earth, working-class racism.) Maybe some protectionism; but there’s no hint that his economic program will look anything like populism abroad.

Orwell was prescient in other ways: a paper called “Crisis? Whose Crisis? George Orwell and Liberal Guilt” points out that Orwell was fixated on what he deemed “one of the more embarrassing moments in twentieth-century liberalism: the failure of middle-class liberals to connect with the working class.” According to scholar Rob Breton, Orwell sought to “expose the intelligentsia’s self-congratulating assumption that they were harmoniously attuned to the lower classes, the masses.” Sounds…familiar