Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Historical Markers in Virginia, Then and Now

Within that pile full of 100-year-old sheet music (which I wrote about here and here), there was one misfit: a yellowed 124-page, soft-cover book called the Virginia Highway Historical Markers:

It was published in 1930 to list all of the state's historical markers by county, accompanied by a history and overview of each county, interspersed with photos and paid ads for tourist attractions and hotels, meant to appeal to a new audience: people traveling by car. 

The markers are indexed by proper names used in the marker text. That index specifically mentions that it does not include names that are used "with such frequency throughout the book that the reason for not including them in the index will be obvious to the reader. Among these proper names omitted are the following: Virginia, America. United States, English, French, German, Irish, Scotch-Irish, Indian, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran, Civil War, War Between the States, Revolutionary War, Confederate, Union, Federal, North, South, etc."

The words "African" or "Negro are not mentioned on that list of too-often-used names, yet are not listed in the index either. The name Nat Turner is not in the index. The words "slave" and "slavery" (though admittedly not proper names) are not included either.

It's interesting that "Indian" was too common to include in the list of words indexed. That makes it difficult to see how thorough the index is on that subject. I checked for the name Powhatan and found that there's a county named after the chief and he's mentioned a few times in the history paragraphs, but is nowhere mentioned in the markers. While looking for that, I saw the names of a couple of other tribes (nine other counties are named for tribes), but from what I could see, the markers are very light on historical detail about tribal history.

Pocahantas, of course, is indexed more often (12 times), but seems to be mentioned in only one marker, which reads:

At the mouth of this stream Captain John Smith in 1608 found an Indian "King's house" called "Petomek." The river takes its name from this. Here the Indian Princess, Pocahantas, was kidnapped by the English in June, 1612.
On page 143 in the section about the town of Petersburg in Dinwiddie County, it notes Petersburg is near the spot where Pocahantas "saved the life of Captain John Smith"... but there's no marker for that event.

As far as I could tell from looking through the book, there were no black people in Virginia in 1930 and slavery never existed. There was no marker noting the spot where the first Africans were brought to shore in Virginia in 1619. Such a marker was finally erected in 1994, and was moved to a more accurate location in 2015:

Old Point Comfort and Fort Monroe, the site of the landing and the relocated marker, does make an appearance on page 123 of the 1930 book, but it's only as a spot of later military significance and accomplishment. (Oh, and as a chance to mention that Jefferson Davis was held prisoner there for two years after the Civil War, including which cell he was in and where his window can still be seen.)

Nat Turner's 1831 rebellion finally got a marker in 1991 in Southampton County:

I wonder how many other markers about the history of Virginia's native and African-descended people have been erected since this book was published? How many are still missing?

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Old Sheet Music, Part 2

Among the beautiful lettering and illustration of the 100-year-old sheet music we recently unearthed in our basement, there were a number of ugly reminders of how sexism and racism permeated music at the time.

The sexism ranged from mild examples like this: if music has a gender, to this bit of misogyny:

...with these lyrics:

Dear little girl, they call you a Vamp,
A flapper with up-to-date ways
You may shine brightly but just like a lamp
You'll burn out one of these days.

Then your old-fashioned sister
Will come into view,
With a husband and kiddies
But what about you?

You're the kind of a girl that men forget,
Just a toy to enjoy for a while,
For when men settle down they always get
An old-fashioned girl with an old-fashioned smile,
And you'll soon realize you're not so wise,
When the years bring you tears of regret,
When they play "Here comes the bride"
You'll stand outside, just a girl that men forget.

Wallflower girl, now dry all those tears,
For you won't be left all alone
Some day you'll find yourself upon a throne,
Queen of a sweet little home

And you gay little flapper
You'll live and you'll learn,
When you've gone down the pathway
That has no return.

You're the kind of a girl that men forget,
Just a toy to enjoy for a while,
For when men settle down they always get
An old-fashioned girl with an old-fashioned smile,
And you'll soon realize you're not so wise,
When the years bring you tears of regret,
When they play "Here comes the bride"
You'll stand outside, just a girl that men forget.
Lyrics and music by Al Dubin, Fred Rath, and Joe Garren.

Here's a close-up of the weeping flapper left outside the church:

That's mild, though, compared to the racism I saw in multiple songs. No one will be surprised that there was at least one example of blackface minstrelsy in music from this era. In this particular pile, it was Eddie Cantor:

Sorry to reproduce that ugliness. For a new, brief take on the history of minstrelsy and how it fits into current music, check out the article from last weekend's 1619 Project in the New York Times Magazine: "For centuries, black music, forged in bondage, has been the sound of complete artistic freedom. No wonder everybody is always stealing it." It starts on page 60 of this open-access PDF.

The last piece I'll include isn't in the minstrel tradition, but is more in the way of romanticized subordination:

Here's a close-up of "mammy" through the cabin window:

... and the lyrics, full of denigrating dialect and deprecated vocabulary like "coon" and "darky" and "pickaninny":
Close yoh dreamy eyes an' lay yoh head on Mammy's breast,
Stahs ah in de skies an' birds ah sleepin' in de nest,
Night-time is heah, honey don't feah,
Yoh on Mammy's ahm;

Great big yallah moon a shinin' down upon de stream,
Mammy's little coon will soon be floatin' in a dream,
Slumba a-while, mah honey chile,
Yoh Mammy will keep yoh from hahm,

Go to sleep, wiv yoh head on yoh Mammy's breast
Cause Mammy knows her dusky rose is tiahed an' longin' fo' rest;
Go to sleep while the shadders creep,
Des dream away till break ob day

An doan yoh eben peep
In dah sugah cane de owl's a hootin' to de moon,
Down along de lane I heah de darkies softly croon,

Now hush-a-bye, honey, don't cry,
But des close yoh eyes;
When de mawrin' come an' all de birds begin to cheep
Mammy's sugar plum a goin' to waken from his sleep

Des like a flow'h kissed by de show'h
when rain drops come down from de sky
Yoh Mammy's pickaninny, de finest an' de best,
De pride of old Virginny

So slumbah, my honey, an' rest
Go to sleep, Go to sleep.
Those stellar lyrics are by J. Will Callahan, music by Lee. S. Roberts. (Callahan also wrote the lyrics to a song called "Ching Chong." Let's guess what that's about.)

These are what passed for popular music... popular with white people, anyway.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Old Sheet Music, Part 1

We continue excavating the seemingly bottomless basement, and this week it exuded a big stack of early-20th-century sheet music to the surface. It's going to be leaving our house in some way (donated somewhere), but before that it has been photographed. Here are a few of my favorites. Tomorrow, a few of my unfavorites.

I'll put the images in order from the ones with the least ornament and illustration to the ones with the most illustration:

The range from Victoriana to Art Nouveau, almost all in lettering rather than type, was fun to see. Some of the content, as I'll show tomorrow, was less fun.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

A Really Bad Book Cover

I usually enjoy the now-retro book covers that Cory Doctorow shares on Twitter. One of his main sources is a Tumblr called jell-o biafra says, and this was a recent post there:

It's not so enjoyable to be reminded of the gross and maladaptive view of women that pervaded and still pervades society, though I'm sure Cory (and the originator on Tumblr) was sharing it ironically.

One positive thing I can say about the cover is that it shows not all of the commercial artwork of the past was technically well-done. There's not a single good thing about this design: the type is bad, the color is sickly, and the drawing is... just... wow. I'm trying to imagine how it could have been approved. Maybe it was done by the publisher's kid? I can't figure out how Miss One-eyed, Stick-limbed, Hand-and-footless, Bubble-butted, Shoulder-pad-boobs ever got to press.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

The 1619 Project

Tomorrow's edition of the New York Times Magazine is devoted to the 1619 Project, marking 400 years since the first Africans were brought to the colonies that became the U.S. I've been hearing about it for weeks, so much that I was confused about whether it had already been published, but I guess the print edition is in tomorrow morning's paper so I'm going to go get one (since I'm not a subscriber).

You can read about the project here, and watch a two-hour video from the launch event held this week in New York with Nikole Hannah-Jones, the project's leader, and other contributors. This is the link to the online version, which contains interactive work I haven't seen (it's paywalled, but worth the price of admission or giving them your name for the 10 free articles a month, though I haven't done it yet).

Hannah-Jones's written contribution is the lead essay, which sounds amazing. The issue also contains stories on the brutality of the plantation system and its relation to our current economic system by Matt Desmond (author of Evicted), race-based wealth inequality by Trymaine Lee, unequal justice by Bryan Stephenson, the barbarity of sugar by Khalil Gibran Muhammad, and even how segregation caused your traffic jam by Kevin Kruse. There's poetry and prose and more I haven't mentioned.

I'm looking forward to it.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Goodbye to Pacific Standard

The news came out through Twitter a week or so ago: Pacific Standard was being killed by its owner.

Today is the final day, so this appeared in my email:

The magazine had already stopped publishing on its usual schedule, opting instead for an annual printed round-up and a full complement of web-based content. At the time of that announcment, I thought that didn't bode well for its future, but things seemed to be going ahead as promised.

The magazine was started in 2008, originally under a different name, with funding from a philanthropist who has the controlling interest in SAGE Publications Inc., publisher of academic journals and books. I have always described its purpose as translating (and sometimes synthesizing) academic work in the social sciences into good writing so it can reach a broader audience.

The philanthropist's Social Justice Foundation supported Pacific Standard consistently since its founding, and the foundation's board had recently approved the editor's 10-year plan to increase investigative reporting and had encouraged him to hire more full-time journalists. New people were hired as recently as three weeks ago, according to the Daily Beast.

The editor is looking for a new wealthy benefactor, contacting people like Oprah Winfrey and Tom Steyer. Its $3 million annual budget would be a clichéd drop in the bucket to either of them.

Again according to quotes in the Daily Beast story, it sounds as though the foundation itself is being shut down by SAGE, which "needs to focus investment on its core business of academic and professional publishing." Wah wah wah, SAGE — which gets almost all of the content it publishes for free because of the nature of publish-or-perish in academia — wants to keep more of its profits to itself. There's more going on here that's not being said.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

A New Look at the Law of the Road

Anyone who manages to slog through one of my monthly Twitter round-ups knows I have an active interest in transportation, city streets, and how to make them better for people, not in cars. But I don't usually manage to write much about it otherwise (okay, occasionally... like here and here)... (oh, and here and here). I think it's because I feel as though I don't know that much about it from a planning or street design perspective; I just want to make the streets better for people and to create places where cars are not necessary so we can stop burning fossil fuels and taking up so much space with empty metal boxes.

Here's an example of a person who knows a lot, so I'll unroll this Twitter thread to get more of these ideas represented here at Daughter Number Three. The thread is by Eric Jaffe, editorial director of Sidewalk Labs, formerly with CityLab. He's sharing bits from a law review article by Greg Shill, associate professor at Iowa Law School, titled "Should Law Subsidize Driving?" The whole article can be seen here.

Calls for car companies to automatically limit top speeds have been defeated since the 1920s, yet by definition, going that top speed would break speeding laws. Meanwhile, low-speed vehicle makers (e.g. e-scooters) are often required by law to restrict speed. (p5)

In some places, adding bus lanes, carpool lanes, or light rail is "expressly prohibited by law" or at least subject to legal assault. (p5) That was long true in California under CEQA, which considered transit or crosswalks as environmentally damaging (!) because of car delay.

Speed cameras have proven effective safety measures, yet seven states [including Minnesota, I would add] outlaw them (!) and 28 states have not passed enabling legislation to use them — only 15 states have passed legislation making them legal to use. (p10)

Even among those 15 states, camera usage is often limited by law. Until 2019, New York state restricted use to New York City school zones, and even THEN only near 140 out of 2,300 zones, making it illegal to use a life-saving device in 94% of New York City (and 100% of upstate) school areas. (p11)

The Federal Highway Administration traffic manual (MUTCD) does not require markings to define a crosswalk; the presence of an intersection creates one. Yet police will routinely note when a pedestrian was "not in a marked crosswalk," a misunderstanding that insulates drivers from liability. (p19)

In the early days of cars, there were plenty of restrictions in place: Vermont once required drivers to "hire a person to walk one-eighth of a mile ahead of the car, bearing a red flag." (p21) (And we thought today's gig economy was tough.)

Prior to the car era, the verb "park" meant planting a tree or creating a patch of parkland, and city "parking" agencies were charged with such tasks. By the 1920s "parking authorities" were cutting down trees to accommodate places for cars to stop. (p23)

Federal law makes funding for state energy conservation plans conditional on adopting rules that allow right turns on red. Yet there's little evidence right turns on red reduce emissions, and lots of evidence connecting them with higher crash, injury, and death rates. (p37)

Great line: "The decision to write blank checks for free roads while starving transit of resources has distorted the transportation market for generations." (p37)

Until the 1910s, "street parking was broadly outlawed: if you owned a car in a city, you were responsible for storing it, just as you would be any other piece of movable property." Bring back the 1910s! (OK not all of it.) (p47)

Parking minimums significantly raise the cost of development in cities — regardless of whether a tenant wants or needs a space — adding 12.5–38% (!) to housing unit costs. One study put a parking spot at $200/month more in rent, and $43k more in condo asking price. (p51)

Washington DC's zoning authority notes the need to protect semi-detached dwellings "from invasion by denser types of residential development" that might support transit or reduce car reliance. Terrible policy in general, and particularly scary language given recent events. (p54)

I never realized (or forgot) that CAFE fuel economy rules — generally a good thing — have a loophole that "light trucks" don't need to be as fuel-efficient as cars. "Light trucks" have come to mean SUVs, which means SUVs are easier to produce. No coincidence that the share of "light trucks" has soared from 20% in 1976 to 69% of market today. The upshot, of course, is that SUVs are much worse for pedestrian safety: you're 3.4x more likely to be killed if hit by an SUV vs. a car. (p58)

Non-exhaust emissions (e.g. rubber particles from tire wear, or particles from disc brakes) account for 90% of PM10 and 85% of PM2.5 traffic emissions. Yet "no regulation currently exists in the U.S. to combat the problem of non-exhaust pollutants." (p60)

This is a fave: Per one study, 93% of drivers believe themselves better than the average driver. (Actually seems low.) (p66)

"Tax subsidies for commuting prioritize driving. Those who walk, bike, or carpool to work, and in some cases those who take transit, pay other people to drive to work." (p70)

U.S. criminal law makes it very hard to find drivers liable in pedestrian / bike fatalities. Contra the Netherlands, where drivers are automatically assumed to be 50% liable if the victim is over 14, with the remaining 50% determined by fault. (p71)

"Ironically, delaying 50 bus passengers by temporarily parking in the bus lane is punishable by ticket, but boarding that same bus with an expired pass can trigger jail time." (p74)
Lots of good stuff in there. I'll have to go check out the full article!

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Old Postcard Albums

Twenty years ago or so, I had a brief obsession with attending a local auction. It's confounding how many odds and ends you can convince yourself you must have when you go to an auction. The only solution is not to go at all, as I soon found out.

We recently found a couple of remnants of that period down in the basement: two early-20th-century albums full of postcards. The pages, bound into hard covers, are crumbling black construction paper with the cards attached at the corners. The cards come from all over the U.S. and the world and were sent to several members of a family in Brooklyn, New York between about 1905 and 1912.

One of the albums is vertical, with this art noveau botanical motif.

The flowers are recognizable as cyclamens.

The other cover is much plainer, with just these gold-stamped words:

Very nice post-Victorian letters, by the way.

The backs of the cards often feature the words "post card," as if the nature of this particular piece of paper might be in question. Maybe postcards were new at that time, as travel and tourism were just becoming a common thing? I don't know.

This card has particularly nice letters.

Most of the personal messages written on the cards — when I can read the handwriting— are pretty boring, communicating arrival or asking after health. There is one July 1910 postcard that contains an short but intriguing note, though.

On its front is a sepia-toned photo of the quadrangle at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York (which is not too far from the ancestral home of Daughter Number Three, by the way). On the reverse side, the card was addressed to Miss Agnes Dwyer, one of the family members, who lived in Brooklyn's Park Slope neighborhood about a block and a half from Prospect Park. This is the complete message:

Dear Agnes,

Why don't you come up for the rest of the summer? Quite a few girls here for a good time.

I feel as though that short message could be the inspiration for a short story or maybe even a novel. Who were these women (or girls) in 1910, how do they know each other, what circumstances could make it possible for Agnes to suddenly "come up for the rest of the summer" on short notice? Were they women or actual girls? What does Alice mean by the words good time?

It occurs to me that the full 1910 Census records are public, and I can find out some details about who the Dwyers were, since I have their address. Hmm.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

A Warning

I have long wanted to write about toxic comedians. In my life experience, it started with Sam Kinison and Andrew Dice Clay back in the 1980s, then as I recall, continued with South Park and Daniel Tosh of Tosh.0 (I'm sure I'm forgetting someone, probably multiple someones). But all I ever managed was to turn them off the television whenever I was nearby; I never managed a coherent critique of why I can't stand them and why I think they are dangerous, how they have poisoned the minds of young people, particularly young white men for the past 30+ years.

This Twitter thread by media literacy educator Joanna Schroeder is not about comedians per se, but I think it fits into the same context:

Do you have white teenage sons? Listen up.

I've been watching my boys' online behavior and noticed that social media and vloggers are actively laying groundwork in white teens to turn them into alt-right/white supremacists. Here's how:

It's a system I believe is purposefully created to disillusion white boys away from progressive/liberal perspectives.

First, the boys are inundated by memes featuring subtly racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-Semitic jokes. Being kids, they don't see the nuance and repeat/share.

Then they're called out for these jokes/phrases/memes by parents, teachers, kids (mostly girls) at school and online. The boys then feel shame and embarrassment - and shame is the force that, I believe, leads people to their worst decisions.

The second step is the boys consuming media with the "people are too sensitive" and "you can't say anything anymore!" themes. For these boys, this will ring true - they're getting in trouble for "nothing". This narrative allows boys to shed the shame - replacing it w/anger.

And who is their anger with? Women, feminists, liberals, people of color, gay folks, etc etc. So-called snowflakes. And nobody is there to dismantle the "snowflake" fallacy.

These boys are being set up - they're placed like baseballs on a tee and hit right out of the park.

And NOBODY seems to notice this happening - except, it seems, moms of teenage girls who see the bizarre harassment their daughters endure. And, of course, moms like me who stalk our sons' social media.

These are often boys from progressive or moderate families - but their online behavior and viewing habits are often ignored.

Here's an early red flag: if your kid says "triggered" as a joke referring to people being sensitive, he's already being exposed and on his way.


Look through his Instagram Explore screen with him. Explain what's underlying those memes. Explain why "triggered" isn't a joke, what a PTSD trigger is actually like. Evoke empathy without shaming him.
Remind him you know he's a good person, but explain how propaganda works. Propaganda makes extreme points of view seem normal by small amounts of exposure over time - all for the purpose of converting people to more extremist points of view.

Use my baseball analogy, if you want. Tell your son that he doesn't have to be anybody's fool. Teenagers have an innate drive toward independence, and once this system is exposed, they're likely to start questioning the memes and vloggers' intentions.

Tell them you are always there, not judging, to look at content and try to spot the lie - no judgment. Then don't judge!

You can also watch political comedy shows with him, like Trevor Noah, John Oliver, Hasan Minhaj. Talk about what makes their jokes funny - who are the butt of the jokes? Do they "punch up" or down? Our boys want funny guys to relate to. Give them John Mulaney, Hannibal Burress, Hasan Minhaj, Neal Brennan, Dave Chappelle ... then TALK TO YOUR SONS about that funny shit. Break it down. (Also give them women comics, obviously, but that's beside the point here).

Show them that progressive comedy isn't about being "politically correct" or safe. It's often about exposing oppressive systems - which is the furthest thing from "safe" or delicate as you can get.

Disprove this "snowflake" garbage once and for all. Ask your son: Who is more of a delicate "snowflake" - the person who gets offended by racism/sexism and actively wants to help end bigotry? Or the person who is offended by people saying happy holidays instead of merry Christmas?

Above all, we need to stay engaged and challenge our kids without shaming them.

I'm lucky, my kids are smart and have a smart, critical, progressive dad who isn't afraid to call bullshit when he sees it.

But I've seen SO MANY white boys falling prey to this system. So beware.
That desensitizing bit, that repeating of propaganda, the constant "lighten up" admonishments we've heard for decades about rape jokes and racist jokes... Sound familiar?

Monday, August 12, 2019

In Which I Twice Quote the Slang Word for Feces

It's a while until my monthly Twitter summary, and I keep thinking of a particular tweet from a couple of days ago by comedian Sarah Lazarus. So why not share it today?

every day we have to wake up, confront the most upsetting shit we’ve ever seen, and then walk around obeying laws and saying “it’s tomato season”
Today's new upsetting things: federal government announcements about gutting the Endangered Species Act and rejecting legal immigrants who might use SNAP or other tax-supported benefits (lots of leeway in determining who "might" need help... probably people from "shit-hole countries," right?).

All of this pairs well with this photo from a protected Twitter user, which she captioned with just the word "tush":

It is, after all, tomato season.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Singing for the Climate, Recycling a Song

Music plays an important part in all movements for social justice and social change, and it's notable that so little seems to have become prominent in recent years, given the crucial problems we face. On the climate crisis, it turns out, quite a number of people came together to put a singable, memorable song forward back in 2012, originally for the international climate gathering in Qatar, and then later presented in Paris as well. It started in Belgium, and altogether more than 380,000 people were recorded.

These are the lyrics:

Do it now!

We need to wake up
We need to wise up
We need to open our eyes
And do it now now now!
We need to build a better future
And we need to start right now!
We're on a planet
that has a problem
We've got to solve it, get involved
And do it now now now!
We need to build a better future
And we need to start right now!

Make it greener
Make it cleaner
Make it last, make it fast,
and do it now now now!
We need to build a better future
And we need to start right now!

No point in waiting
Or hesitating
We must get wise, take no more lies
And do it now now now!
We need to build a better future
And we need to start right now!
This is the video:

And here's a background video, sort of a making of piece.

"Do It Now" is sung to the tune of an Italian folk song called "Bella Ciao," which was an anti-fascist song of the Italian resistance during World War II. So I had to check that out, and according to the Wikipedia and its sources, it's true — but first it was a song of the poor women who weeded the rice paddies of northern Italy, starting in the 19th century. Called mondinas, the women spent their days in water up to their knees with their backs bent, under the watchful eyes of the padroni. Strikes and riots by the workers resulted in an eight-hour work day by 1909.

Here is the English translations of the mondina version of the lyrics:
In the morning I got up
oh bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao, ciao, ciao (goodbye beautiful)
In the morning I got up
To the paddy rice fields, I have to go.

And between insects and mosquitoes
oh bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao, ciao, ciao
and between insects and mosquitoes
a hard work I have to work.

The boss is standing with his cane
oh bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao, ciao, ciao
the boss is standing with his cane
and we work with our backs curved.

Oh my god, what a torment
oh bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao, ciao, ciao
oh my god, what a torment
as I call you every morning.

And every hour that we pass here
oh bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao, ciao, ciao
and every hour that we pass here
we lose our youth.

But the day will come when we all
oh bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao, ciao, ciao
but the day will come when we all
will work in freedom.
And the resistance version:
One morning I awakened,
oh bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao, ciao, ciao! (goodbye beautiful)
One morning I awakened
And I found the invader.

Oh partisan carry me away,
oh bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao, ciao, ciao
oh partisan carry me away
Because I feel death approaching.

And if I die as a partisan,
oh bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao, ciao, ciao
and if I die as a partisan
then you must bury me.

Bury me up in the mountain,
oh bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao, ciao, ciao
bury me up in the mountain
under the shade of a beautiful flower.

And all those who shall pass,
oh bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao, ciao, ciao
and all those who shall pass
will tell me "what a beautiful flower."

This is the flower of the partisan,
oh bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao, ciao, ciao
this is the flower of the partisan
who died for freedom
As a person who speaks no Italian, I tend to think of bella ciao as "beautiful goodbye" rather than "goodbye, beautiful" (or "goodbye beautiful" as the lyrics are given; I'm really not sure what that means). Particularly for the resistance version, I think "beautiful goodbye" makes more sense as the fighters describe how they are ready to die for the cause. For the mondina version, though, I'm not sure what "goodbye beautiful" means either — is it just a colloquial way of saying goodbye each day before leaving for a long and hard work day? Or are they saying goodbye to the beauty of each woman's youth as it's ground away by the work? Or both?

The fact that the lyric is bella rather than bel definitely indicates that women are involved, though I'm not sure if it's used because of the person being addressed or the speaker or both. And ciao can mean both "hello" and "until we meet again," rather than a final goodbye (so the speakers are probably not going to their death... unless it's meant as bravado?). All of that to say... I wonder what native Italian speakers would make of the phrase bella ciao if they were hearing it for the first time, rather than knowing it in the context of this song with all of its cultural resonance.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Five Years Since Ferguson, and What?

Five years ago yesterday, Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, launching the Black Lives Matter movement more fully into the national spotlight and proving once again that the U.S. is many things, but a land of equality is not one of them.

Today, Phillip Atiba Goff, professor of policing equity at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and who works with police departments across the country to decrease bias, gave his personal remembrance of it and his thoughts for today and tomorrow:

Officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown, Jr. on August 9, 2014. The country awoke to the explosive tensions between police and Black communities, and those of us who work in policing had our worlds turned upside down. But, for me, "Ferguson" began today. August 10.

I was still unpacking boxes in a new city when Ferguson caught fire. But my first notification was an email I received on the morning of August 10, 2014. It was from a therapist who was working with a community that had just lost a young Black man to police violence.

The therapist telling me that police killed Michael Brown was the first time I saw his name. She said that the community was hurting. Bad. And that she thought my team’s research on dehumanization could help them make sense of what had happened.

She thanked me for the work and then, as now, I was ashamed. Working in the academy and from the distance of my nonprofit can keep me insulated from the agony that is so close to communities I study and work in.

I often fear that the work we do is small when compared to the problem. Looking back on the email now—as I have every year since—gives me chills. To think about the humility and the rage and the heartache this woman was holding together for and with her community…

That Policing Equity’s work was anywhere near that trauma feels at once like we were given too great a gift and that we delivered too little to the folks whose pain would birth a movement that made the work we do possible.

Today, I look around and I wonder why the country doesn’t feel ashamed. In the 5 years since Ferguson, we have seen improvements, but national commitment to police reform has all but evaporated.

In 2017, philanthropy gave roughly $220 million to criminal justice reform efforts—a drop in the bucket compared to the size of the problem. Of that, $200 million went to decarceration efforts. The rest was split evenly between policing and re-entry.

$10 million to policing compared to $1.6 billion in federal aid to policing alone. We have delivered so little to these communities since Ferguson compared to what they need, what we owe them.

I know that the crises of climate, immigration, and whatever happened in Washington DC 13 minutes ago legitimately command the entirety of our attention. And I get that we have limited capacity to solve problems simultaneously. We have to prioritize.

But on the 5-year anniversary, I read the letter again, like I do every year. And again I think, the people of Ferguson gave the country such a gift. Awareness. Resilience. The vision of a better country in the form of engaged youth.

And, again, I am ashamed. Because we have not prioritized them. We have not given them back what their efforts are worth.

So, today, I pray we choose different. Before this Ferguson is forgotten and the next Ferguson demands our attention.
If Mike Brown were still alive, he would be 23 years old.