The Loss of Optimism

I’m an optimistic person. I’m not unrealistic, but my natural assumption is that things will work out OK in the end. I don’t deny the bad things that happen, I just feel like we’ll be able to work through or past them. It works for me. It keeps me hopeful and looking forward. It extends into every area of my life. Or, at least, it used to. Lately, when I think about politics in the US, I realize I’ve lost my optimism.

I think the optimism generally comes from always seeing a path out of the darkness. That’s not to say I have all the answers or need to know the specifics. For example, I can be optimistic about the eventual cure for horrible diseases. Medical professionals are getting better all the time. They can treat all kinds of things now that they couldn’t before. That’s the path I follow to stay optimistic. I don’t know anything about the actual science involved. I just know that very smart people are working on it and making progress.

When it comes to politics in the US, I can’t see a path. I don’t just mean that all I see is bad, I mean that I don’t see any way out of it. I was born during the Ford administration, a direct result of Watergate, and not only have we not recovered from Watergate, things just keep getting worse. I have no actual experience of a government working properly. There don’t seem to be any smart people working on the problem.

Demographics used to give me hope. I just figured we had to hold on and stop the government from implementing full fledged apartheid for another twenty-five to thirty-five years. Then no amount of gerrymandering will be able to stop the new majority. Now that the bad guys have turned fascist and are getting away with it, I’ve lost hope in the demographics.

I started writing this a couple of weeks ago, before the midterm elections. I decided not to publish it then because I still had (a little bit of) hope. I had hope that the “blue wave” was real. That this election would be the start of something. That Trump was the final straw and things were really going to start getting better. After the election, though, all I feel is discouraged. I don’t know what would have satisfied me. I certainly needed Democratic control of the Senate. I probably needed more than 25 Democrats as governors. We got none of that. There was no blue wave. The Democrats took the House of Representatives, and that’s it. The reliably blue states went blue, and the reliably red states went red. Nothing’s changed. Well, some reliably blue states elected Republican governors, so maybe things got worse.

I’ve been wracking my brains trying to come up with a way to stay optimistic, but ultimately failing. The one thought that I keep returning to is that the United States is simply broken. There is no way to fix it. We need to start over. But, half the country doesn’t even recognize the problem. That half of the country has no interest in starting over. That leaves secession as the only path I can see to fix these problems. And that path is too flimsy for my hope to rest on.

Being a pessimist is awful. I don’t know how people do it. So, I’m asking for your help. Help me find hope. Help me find something that can make me optimistic again. Show me the path, please.

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The White Suicide Attack Threat Will Get Much Worse

Survivors of the Thousand Oaks shooting. Credit: Mike Baker, Los Angeles Times

The massacre at Thousand Oaks Bar last night gives us yet another instance to talk about the plague of mass shootings which have become standard for Americans. But instead of falling into the same arguments about gun control, mental illness, and white supremacy, I want to think about this in terms of what it means for the nation going forward as a threat in the same vein as Al-Qaeda, but far more dangerous.

To begin, let’s ask the obvious question: what is the practical difference between a Sunni Arab extremist blowing himself up and killing more than a dozen people, and a white male extremist entering a bar with a gun and killing nearly a dozen people before killing himself?

That’s not one of those rhetorical questions used to make a point. There are in fact substantive practical differences between those two scenarios, but I think those differences are illustrative of the seriousness of the danger we face. For example, the main difference between the attacks is the weapon of choice. Guns are used as the weapon of suicide attackers in the United States because they’re easier and more effective than bombs. Benjamin Wittes made an interesting point in the weekly Rational Security podcast when he noted that if a person even looks up how to make a bomb in the United States, their name goes on a list somewhere, while no one bats an eye when a person purchases a gun. Understanding that difference is crucial, because the psychology of a suicide attacker is often misunderstood as a matter of fanaticism- only someone motivated by religious zealotry or anti-imperialist fervor would kill themselves in an act of political violence. But the result of most attacks in the United States is the same as those around the world- dead civilians, and a dead perpetrator killed by his own hand.

The use of guns in these attacks is what makes this threat so much more dangerous. The raging debate around gun control is useless now (save as a way to introduce young people who have to live with the reality of being murdered in their schools to political action), because the weapons are already out there. There are nearly four hundred million guns in the United States, and short of something magical happening, they aren’t going anywhere. With ready and easy access to weapons which can kill as many people as any improvised explosives, the only thing missing now is the organizational framework to mobilize what have largely been lone-wolf style attacks into a cohesive political and military force wielding violence to achieve its ends. We’ve seen this in America’s past with the Ku Klux Klan, so we don’t have to stretch our imaginations too far to see the shape that such an organization would take.

And the political nature of the violence in the United States is already apparent. There is a clear and consistent racial and ideological component to the suicide attacks that we see carried out here. They are overwhelmingly carried out by white men with right-wing political philosophies which combine religion, racism and patriarchy, and form the basis for a sense of grievance regarding their relative loss of power and standing which manifests in violence. We also have to be clear about this. These attackers are responding to changes in their environment. They are responding to addiction, to inadequate housing and job opportunities, and to a political class which has no interest in their concerns. Basically, they’re experiencing the types of stresses people of color in this country have experienced for hundreds of years, but their toxic ideology instructs them to commit suicide attacks against others to express their frustration.

These men did not commit suicide, but they exemplify the racial and political makeup of the shooters who do.

There are exceptions, of course, but the modern history of mass violence in the United States (that is, mass violence since the Oklahoma City bombing) has a few examples of Islamic terrorism, a few examples of workplace violence, a few examples of domestic violence, and otherwise, angry white men killing dozens of people in soft targets. Things become truly frightening when we consider the infiltration of law enforcement agencies across the nation by white extremists, a threat so real that the FBI issued a warning about it ten years ago. This is analogous to the infiltration of security forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and other nations by local extremist groups.

So while there are some important differences between the white extremists who commit suicide attacks here and extremists who do so in other countries, there are also clear similarities in grievances, tactics and expected outcomes. Those similarities are necessary to understand, not only to label white extremists as terrorists. Instead, we need to look at how these other extremist groups have functioned as a glimpse into the future of the political violence we can expect here.

There will be further suicide attacks by white extremists in the days and years ahead. There are too many guns and too many angry white men to expect otherwise. What we must prepare for is the organizational infrastructure which is surely brewing at this very moment to control and direct these future attacks. Again, the Ku Klux Klan is instructive here, as it did not simply wield random acts of violence against Black people in the South, as that had always existed. The Ku Klux Klan arose as an organization in response to a moment in time to systematize violence for political ends. They came together to terrorize Blacks in the Reconstruction South and maintain a specific social order. The grievances of extremist white men today appear less focused, but the ideology which motivates them still derives from the same sense of entitlement, made even darker with racism and misogyny.

We are in a similar moment in time today. The question is, what will be the impetus that will galvanize a new kind of national structure into existence? There are already large online communities of these people, but they lack a charismatic leader who can focus them. That man is not President Donald Trump. Despite his explicitly racist rhetoric and policies, he is neither smart enough nor strategic enough to lead the movement. He is exploiting racism for his short-term political gain. Trump is the harbinger of that leader. In the next decade, we’ll have to contend with the men who were sitting at home on election night, and watching women of color win national seats, saying, “I don’t like this.” Just as the wave of women running for and winning elected office was a response to Trump, there will be a response to them. That leader will have a network of individuals who are ready to kill and die at his disposal. That may sound like hyperbole, but it is happening right now, again and again, before our very eyes. How much longer until we start to see the forest and the trees?

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How I Lost my Dream Job


George Will is one of my favorite writers. I almost never agree with what he has to say (although, to be fair, I’ve been pleasantly surprised when we do agree), but I love the quality and arrogance of his style. Will isn’t particularly concerned if you understand the words he uses, and in fact, some of his readers have complained about it. That’s why I like Will, because I learn new words and ideas when I read him.

I also enjoy the format of his writing. The ability to make an argument, provide context and refute opponents in 750 words or less is impressive to me. I’m reminded of Blaise Pascal’s famous quote, “I would have written you a shorter letter, but I didn’t have the time.” I emulated my college essays on Will’s ability to get to the point quickly (and the irony is not lost on me that this piece is much longer than 750 words), so it’s no wonder that my first professional piece of writing would emulate him too.

The first piece of writing I had published was an opinion piece in the Hartford Courant in 2008. My politics were different, but my inspiration was Will. It was the beginning of a fruitful relationship: the Courant published me 3-4 times a year on a range of topics. The relationship went both ways, where I would submit to them and they would ask me to write about topical subjects. I was even invited to write featured Opinion pieces, such as my opinion piece following the Freddie Gray verdict. I got to know my editor by name and we got to know each other as more than just business associates.

My relationship with the Courant eventually led the opinion section of the paper to invite me in for an interview in 2016 for a full-time job. One of their staff members was leaving, and they thought I’d be good for the position. I made it through the first round of the interviews, and went on to meet with the paper’s publisher, Andrew Julien. Our interview went great. At the end he took me around the Courant, showing me the newsroom and letting me sit in on one of the staff meetings. He told me to give them a few weeks, and that they’d contact me soon. This was my dream job, working on the opinion page of not only a newspaper, but the paper of record for the state of Connecticut. And it came not a moment too soon, as I was in the process of flaming out at my job at Hartford Healthcare. I waited with anticipation every day for the call to come.

I did get a phone call from Andrew, but not the one I was expecting. In the week since our interview, a minor controversy had erupted when Dr. Shelly Best took a picture of a room full of white educators to point out the lack of diversity in educators in Hartford’s public schools. Andrew and a member of the paper’s opinion staff were calling to ask me to write an editorial about the picture, and to say that while Dr. Best may have had a good point, she used the wrong methods to convey it.

Before I continue, I want to point out the difference between an editorial and an opinion piece. An editorial is the official opinion of the editorial staff at a given publication. They are typically written by the editorial staff, but not always. In those cases, a freelance writer (such as myself) is hired to write the editorial. Our job is to put the editorial staff’s opinion in writing, and therefore these pieces are unsigned. This is in contrast to an opinion piece, which is the author’s opinion, and signed with the author’s name. I’ve mostly written opinion pieces, but I have written a few editorials from time to time when asked. I want that distinction to be clear, because it’s important for understanding what happened next. The Courant wasn’t telling me what to think, they were asking me to write down what they thought.

I declined the request. I told them that I would write anything else that they asked me to, but that I felt wrong about writing a piece which criticized a black woman, publicly, while she was trying to make a much-needed point about the lack of educators of color in Hartford. I told them I didn’t want to do it, even if my name wasn’t on it, because I would know that I was the one who wrote it. They said okay and that they understood.

The days turned to weeks, and the weeks turned to months. Still nothing about the job. I was eventually contacted by the Courant’s opinion staff again to write an opinion piece on some topic, and when I asked about the job, I was told that things were in flux. What had seemed like a surefire gig was now apparently not so sure. Out of frustration, I declined to write the other pieces as well. I was already a freelancer; I wasn’t looking for more freelance opportunities, I was looking for a job.

Two months later, I finally got the news. The position had been filled internally. I couldn’t really fault them for that. It must have been easier and cheaper to move someone over who was already an employee than to bring in someone completely new. But I was encouraged. I’d gotten into the final round of a job at the Courant. All I had to do was try again, and surely something would work out. So I tried. Every time a reporter job popped up at the Courant, I submitted my cover letter and resume. Again and again. I never seemed to get anywhere.

When another reporter job came open in late 2016, I pulled out all the stops. I reached out to every reporter I knew at the Courant, and asked them to put in the good word for me. I reached out to employees at other media companies, and asked them to lean on the Courant and basically say, “Hey, for a newspaper in a city that’s predominately black and brown, you sure have a lack of black and brown reporters. You could start to fix that by hiring Jamil!” I even asked people who weren’t involved in the media to help me out. I wanted this job. I needed a way into the Courant so that I could get back to the opinion section. I had been so close, all I needed was another chance.

All of the help amounted to nothing once again. But I did learn something very interesting. In all of my talking to various people about my attempts to get into the Courant, I learned that I would never work at the Courant because Andrew Julien disliked me. He believed that I had a chip on my shoulder. As I racked my brain to understand what could have changed after our excellent interview, I could only come back to one incident- my refusal to write the editorial about Shelly Best.

I don’t have any problem calling Andrew Julien a racist as a result of that exchange. It’s perfectly possible that he simply didn’t want to hire someone who said no to him on an assignment. Except that I was explicitly told during my interviews that if there was a piece I felt uncomfortable writing, that was fine, that there were enough other staff members or freelancers to handle that. “Chip on the shoulder” is a specific and racialized term too, especially in this context. It’s basically the new way of calling someone “uppity.” More to the point, the coverage of Dr. Best’s picture painted a very clear picture of the racial politics of Andrew Julien’s Courant. This is the editorial that was eventually published. One of the gems from it:

What made the post particularly controversial was that her selfie shot included, as one of the examples of the “folks talking about us,” Heather Zottola, who by all accounts has been a superb teacher devoted to the kids in her classroom for nearly a quarter-century. Ms. Zottola is part of the solution, not part of the problem. She was understandably crushed when she learned how her picture had been used.

Somehow, the hurt feelings of a white woman became the focus of the conversation. That’s the kind of shift in focus that could have been avoided if there were any people of color in the room to argue that the point wasn’t how a white woman felt, but instead that white women and men are determining the futures for thousands of kids of color, and often with negative effects. It would have been bad enough if it ended there, but the Courant then went on to publish a puff piece literally about the hurt feelings of Heather Zottola:

After the initial distress of seeing herself in the photo, Zottola said, it was scrolling through the comments that made her “really upset.” One of the first replies that a commenter posted was an old-timey photo of a little blond girl, her face scrunched up in disgust. It drew “likes” from eight people.

“I had to leave the room,” Zottola recalled. “And I left not for a long time. I talked to myself: ‘Just get over it, it doesn’t matter.’ I was, like, fighting with myself. ‘Should I be upset about this? Should I not be?’ I found, over time, I got more upset and more angry about it. And it was really more about the comments. … I felt it was snowballing.”

Or even more to the point, take a look at the staff directory of the Hartford Courant.

I haven’t written for the Courant since then. It took me two years to write this because I have alot of friends at the Courant, or who used to work there. I respect the work that they do, under difficult circumstances and distant corporate bosses who thought the name Tronc was a good idea. But I woke up this morning, thinking about writing jobs I could apply to.  I remembered that I had the job I wanted, the job I’d earned through years of writing and building relationships with people, and that it was taken from me by a man who really doesn’t care about the same things I do. I woke up and realized that I was tired of carrying Andrew Julien’s water. I’m the best opinion writer in this state. Sure, I can help myself to feel better by saying that it’s their loss, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s my loss too.

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Here we are again, about a week from a big election. So, here I am again, encouraging everyone who might read this to vote. It’s taking more effort than usual to write this little plea. I’m seeing a lot of pieces out there lately that are rationalizing people’s decision to forgo voting. They range from the classics, “It’s just one vote, one vote doesn’t matter,” to the cynical, “They’re all the same, so it doesn’t matter who wins,” to the more creative, “No one accurately represents me, I shouldn’t vote for someone who doesn’t represent me.” It’s a bummer.

I’m working through it, though, and writing about it. I don’t have anything groundbreaking or original to say. Voting does matter. The fact that so many people don’t vote, especially young people, is where a good chunk of our problems come from. Most Americans are on the right side of most issues. And I don’t mean 51%. I mean 60%, 70%, even 80% support. The only thing keeping us from having nice things is the fact that less than half of the eligible voters bother voting in most elections.

So, please vote. I’m going to. It’s the only way we have to get what we want.

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The End is Here

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

I didn’t think much about water until my friend started talking about it.

We were sharing doomsday scenarios about the future of humanity, and I checked off the usuals- climate change, nuclear war, etc. He mentioned water, and the fact that huge swaths of the global population either does not have access to clean water on a mass scale, or won’t for very long, including right here in the United States. A podcast I listened to last week paints a particularly dire picture, predicting that population shifts and droughts could lead to the collapse of entire nations.

Water crises do not supplant the traditional nuclear holocaust and severe climate change threats; it’s simply one more to add to the list. And while we’re at it, let’s consider that more and more experts are warning that the United States is heading for another economic disaster, potentially even worse than the Great Recession. It’s not just government debt, of course. Take your pick: student loan debt, credit card debt, housing debt. Interest rates are going up, and it looks like the zombie corpse of the economy which died in 2008- and was reanimated by “quantitative easing” – is falling apart, limb by limb. Oh yeah, let’s not forget the reemergence of preventable disease, the rise of populism on a global scale, and the risk of regional conflicts in places we’ve never even heard of.

In short, we’re fucked.

I think it’s important that we accept that something  (or multiple somethings) really, really bad is going to happen in the near future. It’s too late to prevent most of the things we’re being warned about. We’ve already spent the money, and now the bills are coming due. Persisting with the fantasy that we can head off catastrophe if only X miraculous thing occurs is going to get a lot of people killed when the inevitable happens anyway. Wars are going to happen. Economies are going to collapse. Climate is going to change. There’s no avoiding it.

But this is not a call for nihilism or despair. If we accept the reality that is before us, then we can do the work we need to be focused on right now: saving as many lives as possible. If Jakarta and Louisiana are already sinking into the ocean, how can we save those people? How can we grapple with resurgent nationalism, not to prevent the wars this ideology will cause, but to stop those wars from becoming Armageddon? The same old solutions are what has partly led us into this mess. We need really creative responses to not try and prevent catastrophes, but to deal with the ones that are happening right now.

This is not the end of the world, and it (probably) isn’t the end of the human race. It is the end of the Pax Americana and the unipolar world order; it is the end of ruthlessly exploiting natural resources without regard to consequences; it is the end of the assumption that progress is always forward and the arc of history is moving in a positive direction. Shit is about to get real, and we have to prepare for the worst if we hope to avoid it.

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The 2018 MLB Postseason – World Series

It’s October, and that means it’s time for the baseball playoffs. It’s the best time of year. While I follow baseball all season long, I understand that some people only tune in for the postseason. So, I figured I’d write up a quick and dirty rooting guide for those just tuning in.

The World Series starts on Tuesday and will be the Los Angeles Dodgers traveling to Boston to face the Red Sox. This makes the World Series easy, just pick a team to root for, you really can’t go wrong. Both teams have incredibly fun players like Kiké Hernandez, Yasiel Puig, Brock Holt and Rafael Devers. Both teams have the ultimate in talent like Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez, Manny Machado and Clayton Kershaw. They even have fun managers in Dave Roberts and Alex Cora (and both of them were really fun players in their playing days). Both teams have long, rich histories. The Dodgers haven’t won in thirty years and are going in as the underdogs. But the Sox were the best team in baseball this season and sometimes it’s nice to see greatness rewarded.

On a personal note, this is a dream World Series matchup for me and my family. My father is a die hard Dodgers fan. My mother is a loyal Red Sox fan. I go with the Sox, but my brothers side with the Dodgers. But we all genuinely root for both teams. My parents have been waiting almost fifty years for this matchup and it’s finally here.

Since you can’t go wrong, I honestly don’t know what to tell you about choosing a side. If you like the American League, go Sox, if you like the National League, go Dodgers. If you live in the western half of the country, pick the Dodgers, eastern half, pick the Red Sox. If you like Aruba, choose Sox, or if you prefer Curacao, it’s the Dodgers. Flip a coin. Or do what I’m going to do and hope for seven of the most exciting baseball games we’ve ever seen. This is going to be fun.

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Running (Or “17 Year-Old Jamil Would Kick My Ass”)

Check the short shorts

Today was the first time I’ve gone running in over fifteen years. First of all, it’s crazy to me that I’m old enough to say that it’s been fifteen years since I’ve done anything. I was on the cross country team and the indoor track team during my senior year of high school, and it was the most fun I had in all the extracurriculars I did. My main event was the 800 meter run as the anchor on the sprint medley team. We weren’t great, but we had a great time doing it. I wanted to continue running track in college, but I got there and was intimidated by the real runners, the ones who had been training since middle school. I never picked it up again, even as a hobby. Still, I enjoy being outside and looking at the world around me. I usually accomplish that by walking everywhere I can. But I’m getting older, and I don’t do any kind of exercise. This morning, I woke up and said, “Today is the day that I run.”

I got up, got dressed, stretched for about a minute and left the house. I didn’t even know where I was running to until I started. I could have taken the time to plan a route, look into proper running technique, download a running app, grab a bottle of water…but all those things would have gotten in the way of what I wanted to do. It’s been a matter of motivation for years. I said the problem was that I didn’t have any running shoes. When my ex bought me a pair, I still didn’t run. I said I didn’t have a route. When I found out the community center near me had treadmills for free, I still didn’t run I’ve had the tools and the opportunity for a while. In the end, I had to follow my brother’s advice- “There’s nothing to it but to do it.”

So I ran. I chose a brisk pace, nowhere near as fast as I ran when I was racing in high school, but more than a leisurely stroll. I still wasn’t sure where I was going, but I knew how long I was going to run- until I couldn’t anymore. The music was blasting in my ears, and the cool fall wind was whipping across my face. My first goal was to last for three songs. If each one was about four minutes long, then that would be a good twelve minutes. Of course, the first song that came on was six minutes long. Okay, scratch that. Keep running until the four-way intersection. I didn’t know how far away that was, but it was a goal I could visualize, even as I sucked air into my tar-coated lungs and felt my legs burning with use. The four-way intersection was just around the corner. I could see it in my mind, but my body was giving out. I settled for the next street instead.

Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, I was able to calculate the distance I ran with Google Maps:

0.9 miles! My first run since high school, and I almost made it a mile! Not only was I proud of making it so far, I was equally proud that I didn’t force myself to finish the mile. My body told me that I’d had enough, and I listened to it. I want to run more regularly, and now that I’ve taken the first step I can do the other things to help support that. I’m not making any grand promises about running every day or entering a marathon. I feel good about getting out of bed this morning and going for it, and I did enough for today. We’ll see what tomorrow brings.

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Apples: A Discussion

I consider myself a man of fine taste. I watch good television, I dress and groom well (since August, anyway), and I only choose the best foods to enter the temple of my body. Imagine my surprise then when I saw the following headline screaming across Facebook: “Good Riddance to the Red Delicious, an Apple That Sucks.

One of my favorite snacks is apples with peanut butter. It’s quick, easy and tastes good. I eat Red Delicious apples because…well, those are the apples I’ve always eaten. On some level I’ve been dimly aware that there are other kinds of apples, like the green ones, but no one eats those. Here was the suggestion though that not only was my preferred apple inferior, but that I’d been missing out on a series of taste sensations this whole time. Was it possible that I was an apple plebeian, stuck in the ways of orthodoxy simply because Red Delicious was what I knew?

I shared my concerns with one of my coworkers. The next morning, I came into work and found the three apples above. I was humbled by her generosity, but also baffled: what the hell is a “honey crisp” apple? I felt like I’d had a Macintosh apple before, but didn’t remember it well enough to say. And isn’t a gala a party or something? I figured it was time to stop asking myself rhetorical questions, and start letting my tastebuds do the talking.

Eating those apples one at a time was a revelation of flavor and textures. The honey crisp was sweet and sharp, biting at the corners of my mouth as I bit into it. The Macintosh had a twinge of bitterness, and I could feel my cheeks tingling with each chew. The Gala was something of an enigma, somewhere between the two but not strong enough to have its own flavor. Each apple felt like meeting someone new and distinct. And then I returned to the old standby, the Red Delicious.

Hello, old friend

After the others, the Red Delicious tasted like paper. Its flesh was dry. The skin was waxy. The seeds were big and prominent. If eating the other apples was making new acquaintances, then eating the Red Delicious was realizing that all the negative things your family has been saying about your best friend for years are true. But despite all that, your best friend is your best friend, warts and all. Those new apples might seem interesting and sexy, but their flavorfulness is also kind of disconcerting. Drake put it best- no new friends.

In the end, it seems that I am but a commoner, a man rooted in tradition and expectations of what an apple should be, instead of what it could be. Yet my eyes have been opened. The Red Delicious is an inferior apple, but that inferiority has its purposes as well. There’s no pesky flavor to get between me and my crunchy peanut butter.

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A Feeling That I Never Knew

by Anonymous

I still remember how you used to kiss me..
One kiss was never enough, You had to kiss my forehead, each cheek, my nose, and finally my lips..
That was my favorite…

There was something about you…
A flame in your eyes and a tenderness to your soul that I never knew… It intrigued me..
Drew me in like a moth to a flame..

You emanated passion.. When you made love to my mind & body it was slowly, meticulously, vulnerably…
It was as if you were trying to peel back every layer of my being until I was left bare…
Left naked…

What we had was real, it almost felt like it was destiny or divine timing…
But it came fast & it went fast..

I’m Writing this so you kno that when I think about you I still smile…
There’s a shock thru my body and a tender feeling in my belly…
I Indulge in those feelings..Hungry…Greedy

When I hear jazz music my spirit smiles..
When someone mentions spaghetti I giggle to myself…

You Inspired me to open up my horizons & perceptions…
to what true intimacy feels like…
to what a real man looks like…
to not be afraid…
to be brave and love fully…

But most importantly…. you inspired me to write…
So I am writing….
About You…


This Too Shall Pass

by Jamil Rashad Ragland

I just smelled your pillow. Or is it back to being my pillow already?

It’s still your side of the bed. It was my side. Sleeping next to the wall. But you told me that you liked that side of the bed. And I liked you. So it became yours.

I don’t want to lie there because it still smells like you. Like some cheesy ass R&B song. Like something Bobby Brown would say. Who you also liked.

Venus really is in retrograde. Ain’t that a bitch? I learned that from you. My moon is in Aquarius, your sign. Air signs. Plans not grounded in reality.

Summer was really great. Really great. I kept it in the back of my head, “This too shall pass.”

I wanted holiday sex. Veteran’s Day sex. Thanksgiving sex while we tasted the grease and flavors of the day on each other’s lips. Martin Luther King Day sex.

You smelled like soap, like someone who had to be clean for a living. Airy. You became the 301st thread.

The scratches on my shoulders remind me of you. I like to look at them.

You called “Letter from Birmingham Jail” poetry. You were the first person I told that I’ve never read it.

You encouraged me to write.

So I’m writing.

About you.


Photos by Alex Jones and Rene Böhmer on Unsplash

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Black Women and Community College

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

The overwhelming majority of students I tutor at my job are Black women. Part of that is the nature of the work- you develop a rapport with students and they come back to you. But even the one-off students who just need a second set of eyes before they submit a paper are typically Black women. In the last week, every student I’ve seen has been a Black woman. They’ve hailed from the US, Jamaica, Haiti and Tanzania. They’re bright and studious and funny and dedicated. They’re also tired, frustrated and overworked in every area of their lives, and especially in school.

Others have written at length about the systemic racism within education institutions, and that usually looks at large universities, Affirmative Action and admissions, and other controversial topics such as those. What’s been bugging me lately is the little stuff though, like MLA format. I don’t understand why we force this insanity onto these students. Unless you’re going into academia later, MLA is a weird style of writing that requires alot of energy and focus to get right. The spirit of plagiarism is far more important than the letter of it, but every semester I see the same syllabi with the same dire warnings that plagiarism will not be tolerated. My students stress so much about their margins and spacing. My students also happen to be Black women.

These are the guys you have to thank for your works cited page. Source:

So is the opaqueness of MLA format a racial and gender issue? Like many things, it was developed by a bunch of white guys who probably couldn’t have predicted that someday a Black woman whose first language is French would ride a bus for an hour after her job to sit in front of a computer and try to understand why a comma goes here in her citation and not there. A thing being a racial or gender issue is not so much about whether the intentions were racial, but rather whether the effects are racial. After five years of watching women of color, particularly Black women from around the world, legitimately struggle with margins, pagination, citations and other utterly meaningless minutiae, yeah, I’m ready to say it’s a racial, gendered issue.

I’m picking on MLA because it’s easy to point a finger at a cold, lifeless style guide, but it’s honestly much bigger than that. It’s non-credit remedial classes which students are required to take and must pay for. It’s financial aid guidelines which require women with families and jobs to take more classes than they should to qualify for aid. It’s department guidelines which force students to blast through multiple styles of writing in one semester which they will literally never use again. It’s lack of access to even basic technology education. I can’t tell you how much time I’ve spent in tutoring sessions teaching students how to use a computer before we could even begin working on their writing.

It frustrates me because we tell these women to get an education to earn a better living for themselves, and give them almost nothing to actually achieve that. No child care, no time off from work, no food assistance. Then we burden them with learning a very specific kind of writing- academic writing- which is divorced from their otherwise full lives. Then we grade them on it and say, “Yeah, remember that thing about a better life through education? Well, you got a D in English 101, so that’s not gonna work out for you.”

I think I’m just venting here, because any solution I can think of requires a fundamental reorganization of education. It would be nice if students didn’t have to write in MLA format, but that wouldn’t address the myriad other issues that lead to the crazy attrition rate at our college. The more time I spend working in a school, the more I realize that I’m very lucky that I’m a man who likes to write.

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