Category Archives: Articles of Note

Harper’s letter

Teaching Materials

The original letter and signatures.
“A Letter on Justice and Open Debate,” Harper’s Magazine, July 7, 2020,

A More specific letter on justice and open debate (07/10/2020?)
The Objective, “A More Specific Letter on Justice and Open Debate,” accessed July 18, 2020,

Daily Beast Response (07/07/2020)
Laura Bradley, “J.K. Rowling and Other Assorted Rich Fools Want to Cancel ‘Cancel Culture,’” The Daily Beast, July 7, 2020, sec. entertainment,

Times coverage (07/10/2020)
Jennifer Schuessler, “An Open Letter on Free Expression Draws a Counterblast,” The New York Times, July 10, 2020, sec. Arts,

Slate Coverage (07/10/2020)
Tom Scocca, “The Harper’s Letter Is What Happens When the Discourse Takes Precedence Over Reality,” Slate Magazine, July 10, 2020,

The Guardian Coverage (07/12/2020)
“Harper’s Free Speech Letter Has ‘Moved the Needle’, Says Organiser,” the Guardian, July 12, 2020,

The Atlantic (07/13/2020)
Hannah Giorgis, “A Deeply Provincial View of Free Speech,” The Atlantic, July 13, 2020,

Michelle Goldberg Editorial (07/17/2020)
“Opinion | Do Progressives Have a Free Speech Problem? – The New York Times,” accessed July 18, 2020,


Osita Nwanevu et al., “The Willful Blindness of Reactionary Liberalism,” The New Republic, July 6, 2020,

Great Piece on G Whitmer

The whole article/interview is excellent. I particularly appreciated these paragraphs near the end of the piece:

How did America arrive at this moment? Ronald Reagan famously cracked that the nine scariest words in the English language were: “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” What started as a joke about federal overreach metastasized across the decades; government was not only inefficient, but unnecessary, suspect and even dangerous. This antigovernment posture was embraced by many in government itself. Bill Clinton’s 1996 declaration that “the era of big government is over” became self-fulfilling: The less trust Americans had in the ability of government to take care of them, the less government was in fact able to do so. Failure bred cynicism, which bred disengagement. Big government became all government. By the time the pandemic hit, America had elected a president who was himself openly contemptuous of the very notion of good government.

The next paragraph begins with this sentence:

It did not take long to see that the challenge presented by the virus could only be met by strong federal leadership.


It did not take long to see that the challenge presented by racial inequality could only be met by strong federal leadership.

It did not take long to see that the challenge presented by educational inequality could only be met by strong federal leadership.

It did not take long to see that the challenge presented economic inequality could only be met by strong federal leadership.

It has taken so long.

Two other pieces address this notion from a historical perspective. Why, with so many issues, does it apparently take a long, long time?

One, Nikole Hannah-Jones on reparations.

Two, Jill Lepore on commissions formed after civil disorder.

Protests and movements

Taylor Branch from yesterday’s paper:

“A movement is different from a demonstration,” said Taylor Branch, a historian of the civil rights era.

“It’s not automatic — it’s the opposite of automatic,” he said, “that a demonstration in the street is going to lead to a movement that engages enough people, and has a clear enough goal that it has a chance to become institutionalized, like the Voting Rights Act.”

Here is Ibram Kendi from How to be antiracist:

Ibram X Kendi, How to Be an Antiracist (New York: One World Books, 2019), 215-216.

The White Whale

I love these sorts of articles, where a writer uses a book you haven’t read in a few years to explain the world.

Melville feverishly scribbled a diagnosis, prognosis and prescription for the human condition. We are all Ishmael the ingénue and Starbuck the pragmatist and Ahab the maniac, stuck on a ship driven by winds we cannot predict, helmed by a mind not fully comprehensible, whose compulsions we don’t control. The world is an elusive whale; we might choose coexistence or destruction. And though we do not decide the outcome, the hands on those oars are ours; each stroke invites consequences. And lest we overlook the obvious: The men went equipped to do harm in their quest for — oil. If we are all Ishmael and Starbuck and Ahab, caught in our collective addiction, the whales exemplify a counterculture, a way of living weightlessly, of not draining the world that floats them.

Carl Safina, “Melville’s Whale Was a Warning We Failed to Heed,” The New York Times, May 2, 2020, sec. Books,


This New Yorker piece is awesome.


“The activism of K-pop fans this week reminded me how important it is to highlight avenues of protest that don’t exclude the immunocompromised or otherwise high-risk people (for whom exposure to the coronavirus during a march or rally might be deadly), or anyone in a financially precarious situation (for whom cash donations to bail funds and other causes might feel impossible). Fan groups—especially when their members are young or female—are often ignored or scorned, which means that there’s also a spiritual kinship to K-pop stans’ support of Black Lives Matter. Their action was a moving and effective gesture of solidarity in a moment that demands exactly that.”

More readings

Wesley Morris

“This country manufactures only one product powerful enough to interrupt the greatest health and economic crisis it’s probably ever faced. We make racism, the American virus and the underlying condition of black woe. And the rage against it is strong enough to compel people to risk catching one disease in order to combat the other — in scores and scores of American cities, in cities around the world. They’re a tandem now, the pandemic bold-underlining-italicizing what’s endemic to us. The underfunded hospitals, appalling factory conditions and unequal education were readily evident last year, before Covid-19. Now, the inadequacies and inequalities expedite death and compound estrangement. The low-wage workers have been deemed essential yet remain paid inessentially. The numbers of black, Latino and Indigenous people infected, deceased and unemployed are out of whack with their share of the population. And the president has yet to offer his condolences, in earnest.”

The Kerner Commission (1968)

Here’s a .pdf of the report. From the introduction, which I would like to read blind with my students in the fall and have them guess at the origins of the document and try and locate it in time.

“This is our basic conclusion: Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white–separate and unequal.”

“This alternative will require a commitment to national action–compassionate, massive and sustained, backed by the resources of the most powerful and the richest nation on this earth. From every American it will require new attitudes, new understanding, and, above all, new will.”

“What white Americans have never fully understood but what the Negro can never forget–is that white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it.”

“It is time now to turn with all the purpose at our command to the major unfinished business of this nation. It is time to adopt strategies for action that will produce quick and visible progress. It is time to make good the promises of American democracy to all citizens-urban and rural, white and black, Spanish-surname, American Indian, and every minority group.”

Walking and thinking

The Daily is always awesome. Nikole Hannah-Jones’s reflections here spot-on. (Her thoughts build off this video.)

So the question that these two men, who are circling each other in the parking lot, are really arguing about, ultimately, is how do you get enough white Americans to care? What strikes me to the core in this video is that both of these men are right, and both of them are wrong. The truth is that we know Americans pay attention to violence. Had there been no fires, had there been no looting, no physical confrontations with the police, these stories of police protests right now would have garnered maybe a few minutes on the local news cycle, but we wouldn’t see the wall-to-wall coverage that we’re seeing every day.

The other truth is that, the truth that the 31-year-old is grappling with. It’s that that quote-unquote violence is going to be used as an excuse not to sympathize with black struggle. That the communities who are already suffering in the end are going to suffer more when this is all over with.

I was also thinking about David Remnick’s piece in the New Yorker, particularly the way he ends the piece by citing a Victor Hugo quote that Dr. King referenced in 1967:

“If a soul is left in the darkness, sins will be committed. The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but he who causes the darkness.”