Keith Gessen is a successful writer who lives in Brooklyn with his wife and 4-year-old son, Raffi. Like many white liberals, Mr. Gessen has read Nikole Hannah-Jones and therefore wants to send Raffi to a racially diverse kindergarten. But when theory becomes reality, he finds out that choosing a school is not easy.
At the presidential debate three weeks ago, Kamala Harris challenged Joe Biden on why he opposed busing as a means to achieve school desegregation. This prompted tons of half-baked articles that failed to explain the nuance of the issue. Enter Nikole Hannah-Jones to save the day.
The conclusions are stark. The data is sound. And the policy recommendations are as plain as day. But what makes this book outstanding isn’t just the hard-hitting numbers and the well-rendered charts and graphs. What I appreciated just as much was Prof. Johnson’s ability to tell a compelling story of the people behind the numbers.
Some say that reading is for people who refuse to get in the arena, who refrain from taking action, who prefer to hide. But I strongly disagree. For me, reading helps us to consider the perspectives of others, build our empathy, and most important, to follow the facts. Our lived experiences matter, and so do our personal truths, but reading offers a way to pass over, to connect, and to return transformed.
We live in a country where white people own 95 percent of the farms, while Latinx people own 3 percent and African Americans own 1 percent. Consider that Latinx people do 80 percent of the farm work, or that 100 years ago, Black people owned 14 percent of the farms — or that in South Africa, people of color own 27 percent.
According to food sovereignty activist Leah Penniman, owner of Soul Fire Farm and author of Farming While Black, our organized system of unequal food distribution amounts to food apartheid, which relegates white people to food abundance and people of color to food scarcity.
Most people think that mindfulness, “the state of active, open attention on the present,” helps us increase our happiness and sense of well-being, while decreasing our depression, anxiety, and stress. Thousands of schools across the country teach mindfulness to their students. It’s a good thing, right, despite its appropriation of Buddhist meditation teachings? Not so, says San Francisco State professor Ronald Purser, author of McMindfulness: How Mindfulness Became the New Capitalist Spirituality. Instead of helping us gain clarity, mindfulness turns us inward, isolated from others, teaching us to accept the status quo instead of fighting against injustice. Our scary, chaotic world may overwhelm us, Prof. Purser suggests, but creating a private “religion of the self” is not the solution.
Everything was fine when Hannah came out to her family as a trans woman. But when they wanted to reintroduce themself as Salem — nonbinary, gender fluid, gender expansive — they hesitated, fearing isolation from their family, while at the same time feeling disconnection with themself. More and more young people identify as neither male or female. This article poignantly explores the struggles that nonbinary people face in a society that demands we choose a side.
When Vivia Wampler was 2 years old, she fell, hit her head on the stairs, and suffered permanent brain damage that left her intellectually disabled. Now an adult, Vivia wants to raise a child but thinks she should practice being a mom first. For the past several years, Vivia has taken care of Emma, a Reborn doll that looks, at first glance, like a real infant. The experience has brought Vivia many of the joys of motherhood — alongside the sneers of passersby, the leeriness of family, and the judgments of the author.
Get ready for a wild ride. At the Green Meadow Waldorf School in Rockland County, New York, many rich white parents refused to vaccinate their children last year, wishing to “reduce the load” of foreign substances in their children’s bodies. One parent said, “I just go based on what I believe. We’re all seed of God. We’re all stardust. My instinct is a guiding force.” When the health department banned unvaccinated students from attending the school, parents became enraged and sued.
We scoffed at Felicity Huffman, Lori Loughlin, and the other rich parents who committed crimes (bribery! mail fraud! racketeering! conspiracy!) to get their kids into college. But maybe Operation Varsity Blues is just a small part of the real problem: that the college admissions process is rotten at its core.
As living in cities becomes more popular again, many say the issue of gentrification is a complicated one. But if you’re white, and you make more money and you have more wealth than current residents of color in a neighborhood, then it seems like gentrification is a pretty simple concept.
Enough is enough, you say. It’s time to practice digital minimalism, once and for all. That’s why you’ve quit Facebook and Twitter — but not Instagram. (The photos are so alluring!) You’ve taken the bold step to leave your phone outside your bedroom. (But you’re sleepwalking in the middle of the night to check it.) And you’re no longer opening your email after 8 pm (except to read The Highlighter, of course). If this is you, good job: Tristan Harris, creator of the Time Well Spent movement, who is on a mission to “reverse human downgrading,” is very proud of you. Not only will you have more time to spend with your friends and family, but you’ll also have the language to stop technology from destroying free will and wrecking democracy.
You’ve read all the dismal statistics. As a country, we’re not well. Whether it’s heart disease or obesity or high blood pressure or depression or anxiety or cancer or dementia, we’re ill. And we’re not feeling any better, no matter how many pills we take. But don’t worry, this article is a hopeful one. Many doctors are skipping the traditional approach and prescribing nature instead, and so far, the data is looking good. Preliminary research suggests that going outside — looking at trees, listening to birds, and smelling flowers — activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which reduces stress, inflammation, and disease.
Ninth grader Jaelyn had straw-blond hair and turquoise eyes, believed in God, and was new to Santa Fe High School, located in a suburb of Houston. Long homeschooled, she had told her parents that God had “put it on her heart” to branch out and meet new people. Eleventh grader Sabika, who had black hair and mahogany eyes, believed in Allah, and also was new to Santa Fe. An exchange student from Pakistan, she had told her parents that she wanted be like Malala Yousafzai and have an impact on the world. This is the story of Jaelyn and Sabika’s friendship, the hope of young people, and the power of human connection across difference. You’ll cry at the end, no doubt, but please don’t let that deter you from reading this extraordinary article, so plainly and beautifully written.
There are two types of Americans — those who like to tidy up KonMari style, and those who prefer to adorn their living space with wall signs, spring candles, and pillows with tassels. No matter your leaning, you’ll love this week’s lead article, which explains how a hit TV show transformed a town in Texas — with mixed results (and major ramifications).
Sixty-five years after Brown v. Board of Education, our schools remain separate and unequal. Prof. Pedro Noguera recognizes that school desegregation is no longer a shared goal among educational leaders. Abandoning integration, however, would worsen socioeconomic and political divisions and would prevent efforts to build a prosperous, multiracial society. Most interesting to me is Prof. Noguera’s reliance on his life story in order to further his argument. He clearly benefited from integration. It’s captivating and poignant — but unfortunately, it seems a little generational now, a bit out of reach.
Highlighter favorite Ijeoma Oluo is back, this time sharing her painful experiences leading anti-racism workshops. Often, conversations on racial equity center white voices, white tears, and white fragility — thereby attacking the dignity of people of color. Ms. Oluo writes, “The white attendees decide for themselves what will be discussed, what they will hear, what they will learn. And it is their space. All spaces are.”
When Akhim Yuseff Cabey was little, growing up in the Bronx, all he wanted to do was ride the subway on his own. The subways were like space rockets, and riding to Queens to see his grandmother meant vanquishing aliens and saving the galaxy. But everything changed when Akhim turned 9 and vigilante Bernhard Goetz shot four Black boys on a subway car.
Youth violence is way down, especially in California. But that doesn’t mean juvenile halls are closing. Find out why in this week’s lead article, and ready yourself for outrage when you find out how much money counties are spending to incarcerate young people.
This week’s lead article about the roots of white nationalism in the United States came to my attention the day before the horrific act of hate in Christchurch, New Zealand, which killed 50 Muslims as they met in mosques to worship and pray. My worry is that after Charleston, after Charlottesville, after Pittsburgh, we’ve become hardened, accustomed to the terrorism carried out by white men.
The college admissions scandal riveted our attention this week, and several loyal readers reached out for my take. Besides the usual thoughts — yes, the system is rigged — I was reminded of the hard work of teachers and mentors who support young people who will be the first in their families to graduate from college. This is deeply important work. Certainly, it’s hard to compete with rich cheating parents and pricey college counselors. But still, young people persist, and they hold fast to their dreams of higher education, because of the good people who surround them.
Bryant’s Grocery & Meat Market, where Emmett Till was accused of whistling at a white woman, before two white men kidnapped and lynched him in 1955, still stands, barely, in Money, Mississippi. The Emmett Till Memorial Commission wants to restore the market. The family of Ray Tribble, who sat on the jury that acquitted the white men, and who currently owns the market, does not.
If you won the lottery, what would you do with the money? Many people say they’d share the jackpot with friends and family. But what if your financial success did not come suddenly, and in fact emerged as a result of your hard work? Today’s lead article explores how our racial identity impacts how we think about money and the responsibility we feel to share our wealth (or not). Please read it!
What should students learn about in their U.S. History class? That’s the question at the heart of this week’s lead article, which explores Chicago’s striking decision to require teachers to cover the long history of police abuse in the city. Not everyone agrees.
Also in today’s issue, read about the heavy burden of student loans, the tragic loss of young lives to gun violence, and the epic rise of alternative milks. (Poor cows.)
Do you own the 2019 Pets of The Highlighter calendar?
If so: It's time to flip to February, Layla’s month. Here are loyal readers Marni and Indie celebrating the event.
We’re in the middle of an age of activism. Teachers are striking, women are marching, people are protesting. Many of us believe that resistance must involve an outward action against injustice. But this week’s lead article, which focuses on one strand of activism among American Indians, explores the power of an inward approach — where physical health and spiritual well-being are at the center. Please read it and let me know what you think!
In the middle of my teaching career, many of my students stopped believing in the promise of college. They doubted that high-paying jobs were waiting for them on the other side. They weighed the opportunity cost, calculating their chances of graduating vs. the heavy debt they would accrue. In short, they were having millennial thoughts.
We know that hard work and good grades don’t always guarantee upward mobility and the American Dream. But surely valedictorians do well in life, right? Sort of—if you went to a suburban high school. But if you graduated top of your class at a Boston public school, most likely things didn’t pan out.